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Know Your Audience and Establish a Voice – Blogging 101

Online marketing information can change quickly This article is 15 years and 118 days old, and the facts and opinions contained in it may be out of date.

Some recent golden advice from Sir Mike Grehan on “knowing your audience”, sent me down an avenue of thinking about the topic. I’ve heard it come up quite often, but I think the value in this information is grossly understated.

Mike says:
And for anyone coming into communications, I have some sage advice I’d like to pass on. It was given to me years ago by the BBC, where I was trained. And that is: Know your audience.

ClickZ is an online network for marketers in general, which is why I write specifically from a marketers point of view in a professional marketers voice.

I’ve been astounded by the feedback I’ve received from this blog, and I think I owe a large part of it’s success to trying to write things that I would want to read. I try to refrain from writing about what I cooked this weekend, or my thoughts of purchasing a dog, or my latest movie review to keep from boring into tears YOU my loyal reader. I do tend to get wordy at times, and I enjoy being a wordsmith. I don’t try to do it to be haughty…but only because I enjoy the art of crafting words so much. To me, using strong vocabulary and writing with the assumption that you understand search engine optimization and internet marketing to it’s fullest is not an arrogant assumption. Assuming that you would give a damn about my personal life, what I cooked, or the dog I’m not getting certainly would be an arrogant proposition.

So dear reader, I propose to you that you consider Mike’s advice to Mr. Angry. I am certainly tempted at many times to argue with some of Mike’s perspectives, but I have to remind myself of how hard he has worked to become an industry “A-lister”, and when I review 99% of his work it is obvious why he has acheived that recognition. He’s been catering to his audience and refining the way he does so for years…to hell with the rest. If you try to please everyone…you will end up pleasing no one.

I also urge you to consider to the advice of the emo-seo who has spent some time on the self-actualization front to develop a truly unique voice that is consistent and valuable to his readership.

I like to think I have a pretty good judge of character, and that same judge of character trancscends to the online world where I am only able to judge someone based upone their words, actions, and observations of them from others. The “SEO audience” is a very open, honest, and candid bunch. The second you start bullsh*tting, you’re going to be called out very quickly, or ignored entirely. I don’t really think this is a position that is unique to SEO’s. I think everyone wants trust, honest, and candor from others, and for this reason, the same voice applies to ALL industries. The only time extremely open dialogue ISN’T appreciated is when someone is a close-minded bigot who can’t accept the views and opinions of others and at least have the respect to agree to disagree when arguments get heated.

The SEO audience is also quite fickle and advertising sensitive. Your not going to make your millions marketing to other SEO’s unless you develop an amazing tool that cracks the Google algorithm. You are definitely not going to make big money off Adsense on an SEO site. This is why Rand and Threadwatch try more non-traditional marketing approaches, of just trying to garner a few minutes of the users time for review or advice on a product. They know this about their audience, and they are trying to find alternative methods to create value for their advertisers.

Why Blogging is the New SEO
Every SEO has a blog now. Why? Because it is the next form of public relations. We can handle our own public relations through a blog. We can talk to our clients through a blog. We can give ideas, strategy, assistance, and much more through simple words communicated in nearly real time in a one to many form. Aaron has talked quite often about search being communication (read this post, then read it again, then read it again) and how blogging *is* SEO. I’m sure I could find some points to debate with him, but the fascination with communication is at the heart of search engine optimization. We are not optimizing *for* search engines. We are optimizing for PEOPLE to find us THROUGH search engines! Why not cut out the middle man and talk right to your audience? If you do have to optimize to attract them, why not talk to them and KEEP them when they stop by?

I’m still surprised at how much I’ve come to talk about blogging now. Nick and Patrick jumped ship from SEO to being full time experts on blogging because of their insights into the evolution of communication within these spaces. When I first started blogging, I didn’t even USE the “b-word” for fear of associating myself with the stigma that comes from blogging. I have come to accept it, and tried to let others realize that it wouldn’t effect “vaulted” information. I’ve been willing to accept the tradeoffs of less privacy and more possibility for mistakes and miscommunication for the ability to reach more people in a quicker amount of time. There are certainly pros and cons to blogging, but as most are realizing there is exceptional value in it once you re-learn the rules of new media communication. The value of immediate feedback on ideas is tremendous. Validation or termination of the ideas with your early adopters is an incredibly valuable tool that all business owners should be armed with.

So what’s the best “voice” for your audience?
Well, correct me if I’m wrong, but I like to think that the best voice for this site is informative, thought provoking honesty mixed with somewhat well thought out insights on the world of internet marketing, and the subset of this community that refer to themselves as “SEOs”. Many successful blogs I’ve seen hold fairly consistent with many of these traits being associated with their blog voice. For this audience, candor is specifically important since we all deal with the BS of advertising and marketing all day long and understand it’s effects. A mix of dry sarcastic humor with occasional irreverence for the corporate world written at a little higher reading level (without spell or grammar check for balance) is the voice I have decided to go with. If my voice comes across a little high and mighty, it’s because I’m sitting here typing away on a laptop having an arguement with my fictional audience in my own mind (and I really like to win those arguements). This has to be among the most difficult audience in the world to try to get to click on an adsense ad, or buy through an affiliate code. There are certainly other things that they consume and value, however. Whether or not some folks agree with what I say, they are certainly taking the time to read and think about why they disagree which leads to new and better insights on my part when I have to explain my position. This is probably 80% of the value that I get from this site – the feedback from others! (it sure isn’t for the non-existent affiliate income)

Knowing your audience can be both a science and an art. You can track things and test until you are blue in the face. This approach definitely works, and I subscribe to it many times myself. I also think it’s great to try to p*ss of your users every now and then to see how passionate they really are, and to see if you can find something knew.

Questions to ask when developing your voice:

  • Can I maintain this voice through success and higher demand?
  • Who is my audience?
  • What are my goals in reaching my audience?
  • How will I deal with dissenting ideals?
  • How will I deal with people who are just plain wrong and delusional?
  • What is considered “professional” by my audience?
  • What is considered “too uptight” by my audience?

I’m sure there are plenty of other questions to ask about developing the voice for your audience. It’s certainly much more difficult to choose a voice that is outside of yourself, I’m sure it can be a rewarding experience that would improve your skillset. Thinking “as someone else” certainly lends to learning about and understanding different demographics more effectively.

On occasion, I like to jump into blogosphere’s outside the search space to see how their world works. Finding similarities between the different industries in regards to what works for blogging effectively helps to reveal some interesting insights.

I think understanding your audience goes beyond focus groups and demographic personas. It goes to the point of having dialogue with those that CARE enough to talk about you outside of your conversation with them. This is the Cluetrain 101 stuff. Dialogue with your consumer. Technology has made the conversation incredibly easy. Use that ability to communicate. React to the communication. If you get 10 questions a month about how to install widgets within your wodget then write a tutorial for goodness sake! It isn’t rocket science to actively solicit feedback from your audience. I know you people are reading this…give me a little validation or talk a little sh*t to me! :)

Tips to Understand Your Audience and Communicate With Them Better

  • Don’t be afraid to link to people to get their attention! – Followup when you do.
  • Discuss the work of others
  • Track what people say on Technorati – setup RSS feeds for you and any major keywords
  • Do the same for other blog aggregation majors (Feedster, Google blogsearch,, or others)
  • RESPOND to dialogue – even just to say hi and thanks
  • SOLICIT dialogue and feedback with the right questions
  • Do the same with Google news, and Yahoo news. Setup web and news alerts for important phrases – these are GOLD to keep you current and involved in the industry dialogue
  • Consider the characteristics of your readership

Now that you’ve had a little time to think about it…what characteristics should blog voices share in common? What is unique to your voice that will attract your readers?

More information about Todd Malicoat aka stuntdubl.

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  • graywolf

    There are two things I and do on a regular basis, the first is come up with a title or subject that makes you spit milk up through your nose as you laugh say something like ‘damn I can’t believe he just wrote that’. The second is take things that you know, see or experience in everyday life and show how they can play a role in SEO. Be it traditional marketing, buzz and psyco-social marketing (I just made that word up), or just plain cross pollination of ideas.

    I’m shooting for he’s either completely crazy or a genius and I’m not sure which.

  • Jason Hendricks

    There are TONS of internet marketing blogs and plenty of talented people like yourself that do a great job of posting interesting, thought-provoking content and news. When I started blogging a few months ago, I didn’t want to just regurgitate the same things other people were posting about, I wanted to find a truly unique voice. I pondered the all important question anyone should ask themselves when starting a blog: “What sets me apart from others in the industry and how will I convey that in my writing?”

    Although I definitely haven’t done as well as I initially hoped (but promise to improve), I try to set myself apart by offering opinions and information from an online business owner’s perspective first, then an SEO’s. Although I am an SEO consultant for my clients and my own companies, first and foremost I’m an entrepreneur and try to keep my point if view consistent with that fact.

    As usual, awesome topic Todd!

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