Most search marketers understand that it's important to understand your demographics before you can be successful in an SEO campaign. You need to understand who your customers are, why they might be searching for your business, and what kinds of things they want to see when they get to your site. Accordingly, market research is one of the first steps you'll need to take when planning an SEO campaign. With it, you'll be able to target the right keywords, craft the right content, and eventually get that target market to convert more often.
Unfortunately, there are a number of misconceptions and flawed approaches that prevent search marketers from researching their prospective audiences effectively.
The first problem comes in budgeting, both in terms of time and money. As you might imagine, the more time and money you invest in market research, the more raw information you're going to get. If you don't invest enough time, for example, you may not gather enough information to form a suitable conclusion. If you don't invest enough money, you might not get reliable information. But the problem also extends to the other end of the spectrum; if you invest too much at the outset, you may end up with redundant information or waste too much time and money for your information to be worth it.
The Right Questions to Ask
You also need to know what kinds of questions to ask. Simply learning "more" about your users isn't going to help you directly when it comes to planning your target keywords, creating an overall content strategy, or sketching a plan for your link building campaign. Keep your focus not on independent identifiers (such as education level or geographic location), but instead on how those identifiers relate to your campaign (such as how familiar they are with your industry, or how they're likely to search). Most marketers get caught up in seeking information without a tie back to a practical takeaway.
Most marketers end up relying only on one or two sources of information; this is inherently flawed. Different data sets are going to offer you slightly different insights, based on their selection samples and their approaches. It's far better to collect information from multiple sources to ensure you have the broadest perspective possible on your target market.
You'll also want to make sure you consult both primary and secondary sources. Secondary sources are sources that have already conducted research and have formed conclusions; for example, the US Census Bureau offers tons of demographic information you can access for free. Primary sources rely on your own research, and often take the form of surveys, interviews, or other firsthand methods of gathering information. These have complementary advantages and disadvantages, so be sure to take advantage of both.
Buying Cycle Considerations
Many search marketers also neglect an important aspect of demographics; the buying cycle. You might know your average customer's interest level, demographic makeup, and maybe even a bit about their search behavior, but at what point in the buying cycle are you targeting them? Are you looking for customers early in the research phase, or customers ready to buy immediately? There's a broad spectrum here (for most businesses), and you can get very different answers from the same target market based on where you set your goals.
The Right Demographics
When it comes to market research, most search marketers start with a demographic in mind. They then work to find more information about this demographic, using the methods and considerations I've mentioned above. This is useful, but it depends on one crucial assumption: that you've chosen the right demographic in the first place. Part of this question ties back to a broader question of your business, but don't underestimate it, and don't leave your assumptions unchallenged. Another demographic may exist in greater numbers, with a greater interest in your business--so don't leave any rocks unturned here.
If you can proactively identify and correct these misconceptions and flawed approaches before they interfere with your market research, you'll establish a better course for your organization's SEO campaign. This isn't a guarantee that all your information will be accurate, or that all your other market research techniques are correct, but it will help you avoid some of the most common pitfalls that prevent this work from being effective. From here, you can combine your market research with your competitive research, and start collecting the best target keywords for your campaign.