J.K. Rowling said that she never wrote with a specific audience in mind.
When she started to write Harry Potter in a cafe, her priority was to get the story down first and let the rest take care of itself.
This approach may work in fiction but can you apply it to business documents? In other words, how much do you need to know about your audience before you start writing?
Audience Analysis: Who are you really writing for?
We had this problem with a client recently. He brought us in and said, among other things, that we needed to write new content that would be of more value to readers.
Value and readers were the two things he emphasized.
And that makes sense. But here’s the catch.
We asked him for a profile, some idea, of this reader.
- What keywords or phrases did they use to find his site?
- What articles did they find most interesting?
- What pages on the site did they visit the most?
- What articles did they comment on the most?
- What length did they prefer? Short or long articles?
- When they left his site, where did they go?
Some of this he knew. Other points were less clear.
The issue for us was: how can you write quality material when you don’t know who you’re writing for? A second issue was how do we define a baseline so we can develop a content plan and monitor results.
Here’s what we did?
- Content Plan – created a content plan that identified the topics his company should be discussing. The goal here was to position his firm as the gold standard in the field.
- Content Audit – performed a content audit and then removed content from the site that conflicted with the content plan. This reduced the number of pages on the site, improved search engine results, which allowed more relevant pages to be delivered to readers.
- Content Mix – wrote short, medium and long articles. The purpose here was to review the results and see if any trends or preferences emerged. Note: while readers said they wanted long articles, they read more short ones. However, they also told us they printed the longer articles and read these offline. So, stats don’t tell you everything!
- Asked for feedback – We sent out emails – by far the most successful in terms of quality responses – and asked for feedback on the site. Later we added a poll in a sidebar where readers could click Short, Medium or Long to indicate the type of articles they wanted.
- Refined the Content Plan – following this we updated the content plan with consideration to what readers wanted to learn about. However, not everything was relevant to our line of business. To reach a happy medium, we deliberately mixed the content, for example, wrote posts about personal development, travel, time saving tips, and other areas that readers found useful. This mix ensured the content wasn’t too dry (technical) and allowed the writers to express themselves a little.
Audience Analysis: Guidelines
To get to this point, we prepared an audience analysis template that captured the following:
- Purpose – what’s the goal of this project, for example, define target readers for a financial services newsletter.
- Background – how much do we know about these readers? What are they expecting to read in our documents, reports, case studies or other deliverables?
- Scope – if there a specific set of sub-set we’re trying to connect with?
- Methods used – what methods will we use to gather information about our audience, how will it be gathered, tracked, and shared with team members?
- Assumptions – identify what we assume in relation to the reader, for example, their level of education, language skills, levels of expertise, knowledge of our product or service?
- Constraints – what may disallow us from gathering this information, for example, legal restrictions, timelines, technical issues?
- Risks – what happens if we do not gather this information? Are projects at risk? Are there contingencies in place?
- Those are some points you need to cover.
But there is one final point.
Remember: there is a difference between who is currently reading your site and who you want to read your site.
Some people will never buy. Others take a long time before they make an inquiry.
Develop your content to serve the type of reader you want on your site. Your current readers may not reflect this.
After all, the purpose of your content plan is that, at least for corporate and B2B sites, at some point you convert passive readers into customers. Promoting your site either through tweets, shares and word of mouth is also important.
Let’s go back to JK Rowling. For her, audience analysis was not a major factor when writing Harry Potter. It found its own voice so to speak and develop from there.
However, for you as a business writer, your chances of hitting the target improve as you understand the specific type of reader you’re writing for.
Developing an audience analysis is one way to do this. Over the coming weeks we’ll look at how to refine your target audience and also explore how to write for more than one audience.