The 3 SEO/SEM Conference Personas

I recently returned from the successful SMX-Advanced search engine optimization and advertising conference, and I had an epiphany: as a speaker, usability principles are applicable to these conferences. Which usability principle, you might ask? Before usability professionals create an information architecture and corresponding interfaces, they must identify and address various personas or profiles.

The primary persona is the group of people whose needs and expectations must be met at all times. Normally, for a website, there is only one primary persona. However, I believe that for search engine conferences, there are three primary personas:

  • Decision makers
  • Hands-on
  • How-tos

The decision-maker persona

I did learn something new and interesting this year about search engine conference personas. For the most part, conference attendees do not want to hear what appears to be a pure sales pitch…or so I thought.

Attendees who have management positions often like to hear sales pitches and case studies. They do not always want to know the hows and the whys, the nuts-and-bolts of search engine optimization or search engine advertising. They want to know about companies or consultants who have successfully performed SEO and/or search engine advertising on sites in their industry — and the same optimization techniques are applicable to their sites.

Additionally, some attendees are in a position where they must convince decision makers that search engine marketing is a viable marketing strategy. And part of the marketing budget should be allocated to search. They need third-party case studies to support their cases.

This persona is very much one whose needs should be addressed.

The hands-on persona

This persona encompasses a wide variety of jobs:

  • Website designers and developers
  • Programmers and other IT staff
  • Copywriters and content providers
  • Advertisers

For example, many people who fit this persona want to know how to optimize a website. They will return to their company and do it themselves. They want to know the latest and the greatest coding, scripting, and programming strategies that are applicable to their types of websites. They want these search engine strategies to be scalable and as easy to implement as possible.

Copywriters, advertisers, and marketers also fit the “how-to” persona. They want to know how to write effective ads and website copy. They want to write effective calls to action. They want to monitor the effectiveness of their work via web analytics and other reporting software. I love addressing this type of persona because members not only want to know how to optimize websites and ads, they also want to know why to optimize websites and ads.

Personally, I find this persona to be the most detail oriented.

The how-to persona

On the surface, might seem that the hands-on persona and the how-to persona are the same persona. There is one crucial difference — people who fit “hands-on” persona want to actually apply the tip or strategy themselves. People who fit the “how-to” persona want to know how to implement a strategy but will not necessarily implement it themselves.

Here is an example. Many people in the marketing department must communicate with people in an IT department to do something, such as ensure 301 redirects are implemented appropriately. Duplicate content delivery is a common problem. Many IT professionals unwittingly deliver duplicate content to the search engines because, in their eyes, the content isn’t redundant. And it is often left up to marketing staff to explain the concept and give IT staff direction to address the issue. Therefore, people who fit the “how-to” persona need assistance in how to communicate some very technical concepts and strategies.

In addition, many companies do not host their own sites. These website owners want to know how to communicate effectively to the companies that do host their sites.

Finding the critical balance

Remember when you were a college or university freshman, and during freshman orientation, an orientation speaker said, “Look at the person sitting to your left. Look at the person sitting to your right. Only one of you will graduate,” ?

Well, I like to think of conference personas in a similar way. Look at the person sitting to your left. It might be a “hands-on” web developer, who wants to know an AJAX workaround and could care less about a case study. Look at the person to your right. That person might be a marketing manager who is having problems deciding whether or not to use Flash on a the site, and must report back to the Chief Marketing Officer.

All types of people with a wide variety of job responsibilities attend search engine conferences. And these appear to be the 3 personas, from my perspective. Personally, I wish all presenters and attendees would remember that. Do any of you see other types of personas?

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: Content | Search & Usability


About The Author: is the Founder and SEO Director at Omni Marketing Interactive and the author of the books Search Engine Visibility and When Search Meets Web Usability. Shari currently serves on the Board of Directors of the Information Architecture Institute (IAI) and the ASLIB Journal of Information Management. She also served on the board of the User Experience Professionals Association (UXPA).

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  • nickstamoulis

    Hi Shari – Your analysis of the 3 SEO/SEM conference personas is right on the money!

    The only other type of persona that I would add is the schmoozer and self promoter…basically the person that is there to promote themselves and hand their business card out to everyone they introduce themselves to, whether they plan on doing business with them or not…how annoying! :)

  • Shari Thurow

    Hi Nick-

    Yeah, I hate the schmoozers, too. I chose to ignore them because they don’t usually last long as speakers. But you have to remember, management types like to see case studies, no matter how annoying the schmoozer.

    I like to think of the hands-on person as a do-it-yourselfer (DIY).

    Personally, I find it terribly annoying when speakers forget that people in the audience might not be as tech-savvy as they are, especially in advanced sessions. I try to do my best to help if I’m on a panel, but it isn’t always possible. And egos can be easily bruised….

    Then again, I find it equally as annoying when “advanced” people don’t seem to grasp the fundamentals. But they honestly believe they do. I think plenty of IT people have advanced IT skills but are what I’d consider to be beginner SEO professionals.

    Anyway, it’s always a mixed audience. I just wish speakers and attendees alike would remember that.

    Thanks for the feedback!


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