This is a guest post by Terry Van Horne. Terry is the founder of SeoPros and a 15-year veteran of Web development, currently working out of his consulting and development firm International Website Builders . Terry's interests are primarily the socialization of search and analysis of social Web traffic and applications like Twitter.
As in all things I do for SEO, the segmentation process starts with a client interview and discovery consultation, where website and business goals of the client are established.
The discovery consultation is important in order to understand website and sales goals so the best KPIs (key performance indicators) can be put in place. Keyword research is at the early discovery stage since it hasn't been put in context of the established goals for targeting at the most qualified audience.
In order to set goals and KPIs, I like to gather a lot of intelligence about the business, its customers and the product. Serious keyword discovery research can't begin before goals are established. Targeting the phrases with the most traffic is a waste of my time and therefore my clients' money.
Audience Segmenting for Google Instant Search
I want to briefly touch on how I believe Google Instant  will affect user behavior. In the Q&A after the Google Instant Search announcement, the Google reps seemed to believe the only change that might occur would be in user behavior. However, common sense tells me the current analysis using eye tracking has a seriously flawed methodology.
They are only measuring screen activity. Here's the problem with that – the percentage of people who watch the screen as they input queries is in fact well below 30%. Common sense tells me if people aren't watching the screen as they type, their behavior won't change, and Instant should have no affect whatsoever on their behavior.
Since Instant will only affect behavior if the user is watching the screen, tech-savvy users would likely be more affected than, say, a mechanic. Therefore I would assume the majority of the people whose behavior will change due to Google Instant are "power searchers," or people for whom being proficient at keyboard work is a benefit.
Industry Experts vs. Consumers
Real search behavior indicates the target audience, and with the diverse audiences on the Internet, it is not a single user behavior but groups of users with varying levels of search querying skills. For some the first query may provide results that fulfill the task; however, often it takes a series of queries, and understanding the re-query behavior and how the queries are chained is important to prioritizing your keyword list. Over the years I've narrowed the audience down to these search behaviors:
- Industry experts/wholesalers
- Power searchers
- Informed about topic
- Topic-ignorant searchers
Industry experts, wholesalers, distributors and affiliates
Clients often only provide SEOs with phrases they use internally, and these may or may not be true industry terms. These are important if the sale is recurring or past customers are a target. These phrases are more likely to be used by the searcher since they will have been used in direct communication between vendor and buyer (for instance by a salesman on the phone). It is important to understand the relationship between vendor and buyer.
Taking this a step further in the case of wholesalers calling a few of these to see the "lingo" they might have picked up from competing vendors may not be a bad idea. This should be explored further during blogger/industry experts outreach. Learning the industry lingo is very important and often is dependent on where the client is sitting in the supply chain.
Power searchers are more likely to use Google operators like quotes, Boolean "and"/"or" and other query tactics. As I mentioned earlier I am also assuming this is where the bulk of the Google Instant search will appear. Power searchers are more likely to use the left margin filters and other advanced search features such as news, images and maps.
Informed about topic
People who are informed/enthusiasts about a topic are a key audience segment because they are more likely to be repeat buyers. If consumables are involved they are the best customers to attract, so determining their favorite brands and keywords should be a priority. Discovery of this audience will provide even more business intelligence to aid you in identifying the characteristics of other traffic sources.
This audience segment is most likely to be using general terms (category and subcategory queries rather than brands) that will require multiple refinements before the user finds results that enable them to complete the task. Depending on the product or service these users are less likely to convert as they are at the beginning of the buying process, sometimes requiring many more visits before the decision to purchase is made.
Remember the "lowest common denominator" are people who use search engines as a sort of navigation. The whole browser experience is foreign and since they start by searching the default search window (often set up/changed to Google) becomes the browser input window. She clicks the first blue link. So domainers love her and advertisers hate her.
Using Keyword Discovery To Find Audience Segments
You start by first determining the probable audience makeup based on input by the client during the discovery interview. There are many different kinds of audience segments within a site. Some people refer to these as groups. Think in terms of audience rather than groups because later we'll be seeking an audience based on a site profile and activity. The profile and activity are targeted with a suitable basket of phrases to be visible in search engines with content to engage and move the user towards the desired goals.
Once you've determined the audience segments, the next stage is to determine their ability to meet the goals of the campaign. Note the position in the hierarchy is determined by relevance to sales and website goals, not traffic, though that is also a determination in prioritization of phrases.
Tip: Do these calculations in a spreadsheet so you can add a "weighting" column for the prioritization of keyword phrases. Factors there would also include the importance of the keyword phrase/audience to meeting the goals of the campaign.
Segmenting the audience makes it much easier to determine the intent of the user in the query space and therefore determine the types of queries to expect. Some examples of query intent/type are transactional and informational; there are more but these are usually the most important. Knowing the type of query is a key to the possible verticals to expect in the Universal $ERP.
I like to call this process audience segmentation. I stumbled across this excellent video on Dr. Wilson's Web Marketing Today with Heather Lloyd Martin discussing personas. Before you leave, give it a go, it's worth it.