A Step-by-Step Guide to Creating Reader Personas

reader personas

There’s only one key behind producing great content, day after day…

You don’t need to be the best writer.

You don’t need to be a top expert (although it can help).

You don’t need any fancy tools (although they can also help).

What you do need to do is understand your reader.

Most marketers would rather spend time learning about a new traffic tactic than spend time learning about their readers, and it’s the reason why they struggle.

Let me illustrate the importance of this with a simple example:

Imagine: You’re writing for an audience that consists of one person – yourself.

Do you think you could come up with something that you’d love to read?

I’d be worried if you said no.

You know not only what you want to learn about but also how you want to consume that information.

If you can’t write something great for yourself, there’s no way you can write something great for any other audience.

There’s no tactic or strategy that will make up for a fundamental lack of understanding of your reader.

Hopefully, you’re nodding your head at this point.

The question you should be asking is:

How can you understand your readers better if you don’t happen to fall into that audience?

And that is a great question.

The answer is that through research, you can create reader personasavatars of your typical readers.

The more fleshed out these are, the more effective they will be.

Personas aren’t created out of thin air.

Although your experience may help you create them, you need to follow a system, which is what I’m going to detail for you today.

Download this quick step by step guideto learn how to create reader personas.

Step #1 – Start with stats—demographics

Certain characteristics of a persona are easier to research than others.

We’re going to start with the easiest one: demographics.

The reason why demographics are the easiest to research is because they are statistics. A demographic is any statistic or value that can describe a group of people.

Here’s a list of common demographics, but there are more:

  • location
  • age
  • gender
  • income
  • educational level
  • religion
  • ethnicity
  • marital status
  • number of children

If you already have a blog and some readership, it’s much easier to determine demographics.

However, you can nail down some important attributes of any audience with a few free tools.

Always start with Alexa.

You can enter you site, or a close competitor’s site (which has the audience you want), into the search bar. It works best on high traffic sites.

When you do, you’ll get information on gender, education, and browsing locations.

image08

Write down these rough percentages somewhere.

Next, go to the Google AdWords Display Planner. It gives you more than just search volume data.

Put in a keyword into the first text box that fits your niche well, target whichever countries you’d like, and then submit the form:

image07

Front and center of the next page will be a graphic that looks like this:

image05

Most people ignore it because they’re only looking for search volumes.

However, this is some of the most accurate data you can get for gender and age.

Repeat this process for a bunch of keywords, and then average out your results.

Next, we’re going to use Google Analytics (GA), but only if you already have a decent-size audience.

Go to “Audience > Demographics > Overview” in GA, and enable data collection if you haven’t yet.

Then, come back a day or two later, and you will see a bunch of data collected from your actual visitors, including age and gender.

image02

This is the most accurate data, so use this as a primary source and the others as supplementary.

Still in GA, go to the “Audience” menu option. Browse through the tabs such as “geo,” which will give you language and location results.

By now, you should have 4-5 core demographics about your readers. Write them down in point form in a file somewhere. For example:

  • Gender – about an even 50/50 split, might be skewed toward more females
  • Education – slightly less educated than the average Internet user
  • Location – most likely readers are from the US, the UK, and India
  • Age – average age is about 30, very few senior readers
  • Income – likely low to medium due to a relatively young age

Some demographics, such as income, are tough to research. However, you can take educated guesses about them based on other demographic stats.

That’s a very good start, but if you want to get even more detailed demographics, you can use some of the tools I compiled here.

Step #2 – What is your reader thinking?—Psychographics

Next up are psychographics, which inform you about the values, attitudes, preferences, and thoughts of a group. In this case, it’s your readers.

Here’s a basic list of questions you’ll eventually need to answer:

  • Why do they want to learn about (your niche)?
  • How important is (your niche) to them, i.e., is it a hobby or part of their job?
  • What common questions do they have about (your niche)?
  • How knowledgeable are they about (your niche)?

Unfortunately, we can’t just look these up on Alexa or GA.

You need to spend time observing your readers and learning about them before you can answer these questions.

To do this, first you need to find your audience.

Option #1 – Start with Reddit: You’re looking for any specific forum or group where your potential audience is active. You need to be able to see discussion among the people whom you’re trying to understand.

I suggest starting with Reddit unless you already have a specific group in mind.

You can find most audiences on Reddit. All you need to do is use the subreddit search function and type in your niche.

For a nutrition site, I’d search for “nutrition”:

image04

Subreddits are essentially small forums within the site.

In this case, “r/nutrition” is the subreddit where people discuss nutrition, while “r/bodybuilding” is where people discuss bodybuilding.

Pick the most relevant subreddit that has at least a few thousand subscribers.

If you’ve never used Reddit before, check out my guide to marketing on Reddit, which will walk you through the basics of how the site works.

Start by clicking the “top” filter, and set it to show links from “all time”:

image01

This will show you the most popular (upvoted) posts in the subreddit of all time.

It tells you what the readers of the subreddit care about the most.

In this case, nutrition enthusiasts care about:

  • busting myths (i.e., cholesterol in eggs is unhealthy)
  • the current nutritional guidelines (and why they are wrong)
  • learning about nutrition (good courses and tutorials)
  • creating practical, healthy, and enjoyable diets

Look through at least 50-100 threads.

Then, go back to the default subreddit filters, and go through another few hundred threads.

Look for things they don’t like (get zero votes) or don’t care much about (get a few votes).

From doing this, you can start answering the questions we identified earlier, understand what your audience’s big problems are, and what helps them the most.

Option #2 – There’s always a forum: Any audience that uses the Internet participates in at least one forum.

Google “(your niche) forum,” and you’ll find at least 2-3, if not several.

image06

Employ the same process as you did with Reddit. Go through at least a few hundred threads, observe, and note down what the readers like and dislike.

Now, go back to your sheet with your demographics, and jot down the answers to those questions I asked at the start of this section.

Step #3 – Base your decisions on behavior

People don’t always act how they should.

People on a diet shouldn’t eat that piece of cake, but sometimes they do.

That’s because behavior doesn’t always follow intent, which means that psychographics alone are not enough.

When it comes to content, there are a few main questions about your audience that you should be able to answer.

Question #1 – How do they like to consume content? Every audience likes to consume content differently.

There are 3 main aspects of content that you need to determine:

  • What format do they prefer (e.g., video, text, audio)?
  • How often? (an hour a week? an hour a day?)
  • What length of content do they prefer?

There are many ways in which the answers to these questions can be combined to produce different optimal types of content.

You find these answers by going back to those forums.

Note down the three aspects for all the content that gets voted up or gets a lot of replies.

You might find that your potential audience likes to consume long, in-depth (>2,000 words) written articles once every few days.

Or you might find that they prefer to watch quick videos multiple times per week.

Regardless, this will tell you how they connect their problems to their behavior.

Questions #2 – What are they most convinced by? The first question is the most important, but it’s also important to understand what your readers trust.

If someone has a problem they want to solve, they need to trust you and your content before your content can help them.

Again, go back to a forum or two, and read through the most popular threads.

Take note of the credibility of each post.

For example, here’s a post from “r/nutrition” that was highly upvoted. It links to official sources and studies:

image03

After browsing more threads, I saw that this was common.

The readers in that nutrition audience trust only research, so all posts written for them should be well-cited and data-driven.

Alternatively, you might find that your audience prefers quotes and advice from experts in the field.

Or you might find that people are open to learning from hobbyists.

Once you find out this information, add it to your sheet, which should be getting pretty detailed by now.

Step 4: Put your reader persona together, and use it

The goal here is to take all that information and apply it to a specific avatar. Give him or her a name.

Then, turn all those bullet points into sentences that describe your avatar. Essentially, you’re describing his or her life situation (as it pertains to your content).

Here’s an example:

Reader name: Sneil Patel

image00

Sneil is a 30-year-old man living in New York, USA. After going to community college, he was able to find a job as a data entry clerk, making approximately $60,000 a year.

Sneil has developed an interest in getting healthier through nutrition, and he spends time actively learning about this subject online.

He particularly likes to read about nutrition myths and ways to create a diet that works for him and his professional lifestyle, which sometimes requires him to work long hours. In addition to reading, he tries to take at least one in-depth course or tutorial a month.

Since Sneil likes to investigate the truth behind claims, he appreciates content that cites credible research studies. He prefers medium-long content (1,000-2,000 words) that is mostly text. He has time to read a few of these articles a day.

Do you see how that story brings all the data we’ve collected together?

Paragraph 1 is all about demographics.

Paragraphs 2 and 3 both contain psychographic information.

Finally, paragraph 4 addresses your avatar’s behavior.

Using your reader persona: At this point, you should have a persona that you can use. I recommend printing it out and putting it close to where you write.

Every piece of content should be written with this person in mind.

Now that you understand your persona almost as well as you understand yourself, if you keep asking yourself what would Sneil want to read here?, you’ll be able to create content that resonates with a large part of your audience.

One final note: an avatar can evolve. This first version is your best guess at what your readers are like, but as you get feedback from them through comments and emails, you can revise it.

Conclusion

There is nothing more important than understanding your reader if you want to create content that truly makes an impact.

Simply put, a reader persona is the best way to understand your reader.

That’s why I’ve given you this simple 4-step process to creating your own reader persona.

I encourage you to use it as soon as possible and start integrating your reader persona into your content creation processes.

Finally, I’d love it if you shared the reader persona(s) you’ve created in a comment below.

Comments

  1. Greg Beuerle :

    Neil, I’m always blown away by the level of detail you provide! Thanks so much for putting this together. I think so many times people write for themselves (I fall into this trap too often) instead of realizing you should be writing for a specific audience. Great info, keep ’em coming!

    • I’m happy I could help Greg, that’s what gives me enjoyment. Let me know if you have any questions or have anything else I can help with.

  2. Kandra Wilko :

    If you target people who you think most of the population cannot buy online, what should you do neil?
    And also the community is not financially independent

    • Find a new audience to target. Why make it difficult on yourself, there is an abundance of people who will buy online.

  3. Carol Hanson :

    Another great post Neil. I’ve started to do this profiling for a new project as well as my current website. It’s going to be a whole lot easier with the useful tips you’ve shared here particularly about Reddit and forums! Thanks

  4. Abhishek Kalra :

    Great post Neil Sir. Understanding reader is really important if we want to build relationship and deliver great value. The information you shared about Reddit was worth reading.

  5. Frank Siano :

    Neil, always such detail and right on point. Good reminder to always put the customer first and write to their needs. I’ve recently been asking readers what they want and its been interesting to hear some of the topics that come up time and time again that wouldn’t be first on my list.

    I definitely plan to read this again and put some areas into action.Thanks again!

  6. Great post! Neil. I liked this post. Most of Content Marketers are only concerned about the traffic to their websites. This post will give an exceptional boost to the traffic of their websites.

    • That way is simply short term thinking. It will only last you so long before you’ll have to start again.

  7. Neil,

    Your posts are truly awesome. I hope i could think like you. You motivate us. Sometimes i try to write contents but i get confused when it comes to pick a topic.

    • Joe Elliott :

      Alok,

      Follow these tips, especially the forum stuff!

      This is your target audience and they are asking questions, write ideas around these.

      You can also check out your competitors and use buzzsumo to see what their most popular content is. Then all you have to do is make a better version, if there’s is poorly designed, you make it beautiful. If there’s is 2000 words, you write 4000 (if it is all relevant! don’t write crap) get the idea?

      Hope this helps 🙂

      Joe

    • You can, just keep reading and eventually you will 🙂

  8. Thanks for such a nice article this makes me feel good about content marketing.

    We have got an awesome blog that provides natural solution to almost all sort of health issues plus some best content.

    I would love to implement your teaching to drive traffic to my blog. Hoping the Readers would love to get the most of it.

    Thanks again Neil you are the champ. Kudos

    • Great to hear! Let me know how these techniques work out for you, or if you have any questions about implementation.

  9. I think your knowledge is exceptional and im very grateful for any help I can get. I hope im doing the right things with my site https://costadelsolpropertygroup.com
    Regards Neil

  10. Hi Neil,

    Very timely indeed, I was just writing a post today that was talking about this, wasn’t the main topic, though. This absolutely great, though, if you do this it really does make other things a lot easier.

    What I like to do with forums is ask a question like, what is your biggest struggle? I always write what mines is, this shows that I am participating as well as just getting info. when you do this you can get huge amounts of content ideas, straight from your audience.

    Thanks again
    Joe 🙂

    • It’s also a great question that most people quickly gravitate towards. Awesome way to spark engagement 😉

  11. Hi Neil,

    For and ecommerce business in a particular niche, would there be a few aspect (questions) that would need to be covered that are not necessarily relevant for blogs?
    May be on the lines of – What is the purpose of them buying the product that you sell?
    Any other key aspects that you think should be covered?

    Thanks
    KJ

    • Joe Elliott :

      Hi KJ,

      Ecommerce follows the same principals, find out who your audience is and what they want and give it to them.

      If your product is aimed at a 25 yr old man make sure you are writing in a style aimed for that market. If you write your content aimed at 60 yr old woman, do you think the guy will buy in?

      Adding a blog to your store is a great way to get more SEO value and you can give more value to your customers through case studies, product walkthrough etc…

      Hope this helps
      Joe

    • I think this is the right place to start and then you can develop your strategy from there.

  12. Listen, there are a lot of things that can be arranged in Google Adwords.
    The success give me good tips, thanks

  13. This post would be a terrific candidate for a content upgrade

  14. Neil, I read you every week and I think your posts are the most useful ones. I am an entrepreneur and I created a experimental website which analyzes people’s personality. Just because you are talking about psychology on social media I would like to invite you to try my project and test it, It might be useful in a marketers toolkit to get a reader persona. It is called Ocean People analytics and the URL is http://ocean.na8.com.ar
    Hope you like it. Thanks.

  15. Aynn Daniels :

    Neil as always you are “too cool for school”. Will be using these tips in a post I.m preparing. Thanks sooooo much!

  16. Great Article… I love to read your articles because your writing style is too good, its is very very helpful for all of us and I never get bored while reading your article because it becomes more and more interesting from the starting lines until the end. So Thankyou Neil for sharing a COOL Meaningful stuff with us…Keep it up :)))

  17. Ivona Nozarová :

    Neil, thanks for useful article. I have read about personas and I try to use it, but you gave me some more tips how to improve it.

  18. Thanks for this one. love making the personas.

  19. Creating Reader Personas is very easier than what i imagine

  20. Fabian Pontén Söderlind :

    Thanks Neil, great stuff as always!

    Followed all your steps and calculated all the stats and it seems that my Reader Persona, Gimmick Boltimore, is extremely similar to me (apart from the funky name), so hopefully when I soon launch my new blog I can just go all in on writing what I love!

    Thanks again and have a great day!

    Kind regards,
    Fabian

    • Nice! Yes, hopefully this feels effortless and easy for you. Keep me posted with any questions you may have.

  21. Awesome article Neil. Thanks for sharing!

    Cheers. 🙂

  22. Serhii Kushchenko :

    Hello, Neil!

    I have an off-topic question, but quite important.

    I have just read your post “How Machine Learning is Changing SEO” – https://www.searchenginejournal.com/machine-learning-changing-seo/153799/.

    ?When you talk about how machine learning impacts SEO, I think, you discuss the completely wrong things. Machine learning gives incredible power, much more than just gradually upgrade Google ranking algorithm. And it seems like big players in a few months will have enough computing power to implement the wildest dreams we can think about.

    If i would be Google, what would I do first? I would completely cancel all the links ranking factors as soon as possible. Why? For webmasters to spend their time, money and efforts on creating great content instead of f***ing link building.

    Sounds good? There is also the second thing, much more important. Probably, in 1-2 years computers will be able to write great texts without human participation, also create videos, diagrams and other types of content.

    Now Google tries to sort the matching web pages and to redirect the user to some page. Probably, soon it will generate pages in the fly instead of redirecting users to your site. When it happens, the content sites will loose all it’s value, only e-commerce and services will remain. Machine learning experts believe it will happen much sooner than everybody think. Probably, in 1-2 years.

    I have stopped investing into SEO and content marketing because I’m afraid it will not have time to pay off. What do you think about all that?

    • I disagree… just thinking about creativity, how do you teach a computer to be really creative? I am not say it isn’t possible, but I don’t see that happening in the next year or two, which is why things like content marketing are really important.

      It’s hard for a computer to write personalized content that conveys some sort of emotion…

  23. I’ve been meaning to do this for a while but I’ve never really found a good way of doing it and your article has given me all the info I need. I’ve just spent some time doing everything you’ve suggested and I now know exactly the kind of things I need to write about, no more just write and hope, thanks Neil you’re a star!

  24. Donna Merrill :

    Hi Neil,

    Thanks so much for this information, especially about reddit. I’m just tip toeing into there and needed more guidance. Clicked those links and will follow them closely.

    I already know my audience on my blog and by the comments and messages I get I can say they are pretty happy. I created an avatar that has so much research behind it about my target audience. It’s easy for me to write to the avatar because she is on my computer screen.

    Now, building my first e-Com site, there is a entire different group to be found. This is why I must thank you for this article because I’m starting from square one there.

    Cheers!

    -Donna

    • Awesome, congrats on getting to the e-com world. Yes, it sounds like you’re on the right track seeing as how you’ve already put together the perfect avatar. That should help you make a much smoother transition too.

  25. Neil, thanks for this article! Althought this idea is quite logical and simple, we (writers) often forget about it! Thanks for boosting inspiration as I want to craft something now 😀

  26. I was unlucky on that time when I started my project and stopped due to proper guideline and inspiration. I wish if I was able to get a mentor like you in 2 years back then some of my project could be strong enough. I really like your in-depth thoughts and thank you for sharing it. Pray for me so that I can start again my project beside my job. Big thanks to you.

    • You can, I know you can, it just takes a little bit of a creative effort on your part to get some momentum going.

  27. Michael Mcdonald :

    Great article Neil,
    If I may be bold to add a few points.
    – What is the most urgent problem they are trying to solve?
    Most of us want people to pay money so…
    – Who are the most lucrative people already consuming the information we(‘ll) produce?

    I like Frank Kern’s approach that we are our ideal avatar.

    demographics
    45yo, male, Osaka;
    University, compsci
    $75,000 pa
    psychographics
    health, exercise, diet,
    IM learning home based business
    one high end online program annually;
    behaviour
    prefers research to implementation
    short content from credible authors mostly detailed images
    dislikes reading
    enjoys watching/listening

    I think knowing the personality as in Myers/Briggs is as important as the ones you covered. If a person has a preferred visual learning style and we only create wordy articles then it’s not a good match.
    L8r

    • Exactly, you need to know how to accommodate your message to the readers effective learning style.

      Some people are visual, some are auditory, some need a book they can hold in their hands etc.

  28. Boon Electrical :

    Hi Neil,

    Great piece of information. You blog is always inspiring and full of new things. Creating reader personas is a challenge and it need very detailed analysis of reader behaviour.

    The steps you have mentioned seems very useful and would definitely apply it for my website as well.

    Cheers!

    • It’s definitely a pain in the butt at first, but it’s something that makes a HUGE difference with your marketing effectiveness.

  29. WatchMeTech :

    Neil really you’re great. How you write this much of word count in every Article you post in your blogs, really your’e awesome

  30. I never thought creating personas could help so much

  31. Dual Boot Phoenix OS :

    Your University SEO training is really awesome

  32. Dual Boot Cub Linux :

    Thanks Neil, great stuff as always!

  33. Hey Neil,

    I really love what you´re doing, great post again!

    At http://www.doktor-conversion.de we´re struggling with getting to know our audience better. We WANT people that are interested in making money online with digital infoproducts. We get readers that are mostly interested in online marketing (since we´re blogging a lot about it i guess).

    Any ideas whether or not one can combine both interest groups?

    • If that’s what you’re blogging about, that’s what you’ll attract, so I would suggest blogging more about digital infoproducts.

  34. Transport George :

    Thank you for this guide Neil!

  35. Soumyakanti Ray :

    Great informative article as always Neil. Thank you so much.

  36. It’s an amazing with the level of readers customer satisfactions, thanks for this great post.

  37. Before I start any major project I spend some time actually becoming the consumer of my product, much like you show in this guide. I go through the buying process from start to finish to see what’s missing, and I fill that gap. I’ve never used the display planner though, thanks for that idea!

  38. Roland Hedges :

    This is a difficult subject to teach others who may find it hard to see other peoples perspectives. I feel that you have introduced this concept quite succinctly and have further encapsulated the entire topic within this one post quite brilliantly. Very easy to read and follow through on. Thank you Neil.

  39. some other exceptional publish Neil. I’ve commenced to try this profiling for a new project as well as my cutting-edge website. It’s going to be a whole lot less complicated with the useful recommendations you’ve shared right here mainly approximately Reddit and forums! thank you

  40. Great post…it just takes a little creative brainpower and the ability to put yourself in someone else’s position. Creating a persona doesn’t have to be a one-person effort, either — try to get a small team together, including people from marketing, customer service, product team managers, and stakeholders, in order to get the broadest perspective possible.
    Each group should put together ideas on the ideal customer goals, common activities, and problems with products.Put these lists up on a whiteboard and solicit feedback in order to get as clear a picture as possible.

  41. This is a great post. I’ve started to do this profiling for a new project as well as my current website. It’s going to be a whole lot easier with the useful tips you’ve shared here particularly about Reddit and forums! Thanks

  42. Allison Oguejiofor :

    Hi Neil!

    I am making a request to you to be my mentor/coach in online business career. You have so influenced me!
    I’m a complete newbie with a blog called Online IncomeDrive. I will publish my first post this April.
    Would you kindly review my posts and the entire blog from time to time, and give me any other assistance you may find useful to the blog. I’ll appreciate any help, Neil.

    Thanks for your time.

    • How about if you have questions about anything you’re doing, feel free to ask, I’d happy to take a look at give you any feedback 🙂

  43. Allison Oguejiofor :

    That for me is enough, and I’m grateful for it. Thanks so much, Neil.

  44. Pankaj Singh :

    Hi Neil,

    Thank you so much for sharing such a great knowledge. I am very much inspired by you. Considering your tips and vast experience I would definitely use this on my blog. As I am new to this filed, I would highly appreciate any advice from your side, I should focus on first. This is like a online class, college or school to me where I can come any time and learn. Really thank you so much.

    Regards,
    Pankaj Singh

  45. Great article Neil. I found it hard to answer the question “what are they most convinced by” using forums. I used Google Analytics data instead: filter to get the most popular landing pages by session duration, and then see how the top 10 pages are different from other pages (example: include screen shots, links, case studies, images, videos, etc.)

    • Yeah, that will give you a ton of information to work with. So how will you use it to create reader personas?

  46. Analyses results and creating content based on the result, and care for readers, it’s definitely perfect.

  47. Sue J. Maselli :

    Great post

  48. We have got an awesome blog that provides natural solution to almost all sort of health issues plus some best content.
    Thanks for sharing this article!!

  49. Ruben Baestaens :

    Thanks Neil, Long time follower.
    Thanks for the information

  50. some other exceptional publish Neil. I’ve commenced to try this profiling for a new project as well as my cutting-edge website. It’s going to be a whole lot less complicated with the useful recommendations you’ve shared right here mainly approximately Reddit and forums! thank you

  51. S. Hickman Blog :

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on alabama lifestyle blogger
    description. Regards

  52. Vidya | AWritersSafari :

    Thanks Neil. I love all the examples you give. I am a data-driven individual and it helps to connect data with the info you are gving us.Am just getting started on understanding my audience and I have come to the right place.

  53. Thanks Neil. This is a fantastic article. Would it be possible for you to re-share the “step by step guide to learn how to create reader personas” The link above is no longer working.

  54. Elizabeth Mbata :

    Hello Neil, this is great info. I want to start a blog, since I am a beginner, how do I create my reader persona?

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