Identifying your Audience, and Knowing what YOU should expect from THEM

One of the most popular tips out there for blog writers is “Get to know your audience”. The theory goes that once you know your target audience, you can, well, target them. This essentially means that you can write content that appeals to this abstract group of people. I have mixed feelings on this subject if I’m honest. Yes, you need to identify an audience and target content at them, but it’s really not the e-all and end-all of content creation. I personally favour creating content that interests me and then leaving my audience dictate where my next moves should be. There’s one crucial aspect missing from these tips however, and that is, how will the target audience shape your blogging experience. This is the question I will try and cover in this post.

I happen to run a number of blogs and fully blow websites so I’m in a position where I can make comparisons between audiences. One caveat I’ll put on that is I usually write to a tech audience, so the differences between my target groups are small at best. However, even with these small differences, some trends emerge. Hopefully my experience can help you decide on how best to target your audience and whether you want to target that audience at all. For the purposes of this post, I’ll split the audience into three sections, no doubt you can figure out which type of audience your blog has from the summaries.

The Tech Savvy

Tech savvy audiences are often sought after by bloggers and site owners. They tend to be early adopters, aware of the concepts of blogging and are often heavily enrolled with Web 2.0 sites. As such, they are likely to come from some common sources. Firstly, social bookmarking and new sites,, digg, reddit etc. Secondly, linking blogs (this varies greatly depending on the blog they came from) and thirdly, RSS feeds. The awareness these users have of new technology means you have an excellent opportunity to convert these readers into subscribers. However, they are also very fickle and, as such, will unsubscribe just a quickly. They are also likely to make a snap judgement on your content, especially what lies “above the fold” (i.e. the content that is visible to users without having to scroll down the page at all). This is mainly due to the fact that they are exposed to an awfull lot of content every day. The up side of this traffic is that, as tech savvy users, they are likely to either link to your content through their own blog, or promote it in some other way, for example by adding it to digg. The downside is, these users are almost always oblivious to ads and other methods of monetisation. Many will actively employ software to prevent ads from even being displayed. I’d put myself into this category, I rarely click on advertisments (they have to be particularly compelling or I have to really want to help the site) and I subscribe and unsubscribe from multiple blogs every day. And to put things into context, I would guess that I “see”, not read, over a thousand RSS items every day and visit around 100 sites.

  • Sources: Blogs, Web 2.0 Sites.
  • Likely to Subscribe: Varies, but not put off by technology. More likely to unsubscribe for fickle reasons.
  • Profitable: Not directly, but likely to drive more profitable traffic to sites.
  • Technical:   High proportion of Linux and OSX users, FireFox the predominant browser, potential for hand held visitors and those accessing through unconventional means.   High resolution displays and tend to be cutting edge versions of everything, sometimes Beta.

The Regulars

By regular, I’m not necessarily talking about regular visitors to your site, but rather regular internet users. They are not up to the level of the tech savvy, either because they don’t want to, inexperience or lack of time. One of the crucial aspects of this demographic is the way they find your content. More so than the tech savvy, who tend to rely on social recommendations and tried and tested sources, much of this demographic will come from search engines. This demographic does cover a wide variety of users, the key to keeping them as regular readers is making them comfortable with the technology used. Things like RSS may sound familiar to them, but they don’t necessarily know what it means nor how to use it, so explain in the most basic way possible (see this RSS template). Similarly, they are unlikely to have a blog of their own or participate in social sites beyond flickr or facebook. Monetising this demographic is easier than the tech savvy visitors, contextual advertisments work best, especially inline with the content. Many users within this group like to think they belong in the tech savvy demographic, so they don’t like to think they are being tricked into advertisments, so may be resistant to some of the more questionable advertisment optimisation practices.

  • Sources: Search Engines, Other linking sites.
  • Likely to Subscribe: If they know what it means, yes, be prepared to explain the purpose and process of subscribing and make sure it’s obvious subscribing is free and they can unsubscribe at any time. If they do subscribe, you’ve got a reader for life.
  • Profitable: Yes, providing the right sort of ads are used, and used correctly.
  • Technical:   Mostly IE on Windows, less than average Mac, Linux and FireFox users.

The Uninitiated

The third of our demographics are those that may not use the internet that often, and when they do it’s usually for a specific purpose. These visitors are likely to only come from three sources, search engines, advertisments and links from major sites. Note that I’ve said major sites, the reason is trust. Many of these users have heard bad things about the internet or may have had bad experiences themselves. Therefore, they look for trusted sources for their information, mostly places they can understand from the offline world. They may regularly visit the BBC website, or the online presence for newspapers or major retail chains. These users are very unlikely to subscribe to your site and will probably switch off at the first mention of an acronym or anything remotely technical. There are two real benefits to this group of users. Firstly, they are susceptible to advertisments, including highly profitable ones that you wouldn’t usually consider (click here for free smilies etc.). Also, if you can provide some real benefit for them, it’s highly likely they will let all their friends know who are almost certainly the same demographic of user.

  • Sources: Search Engines, Links from major sites and advertisments.
  • Likely to Subscribe: No.
  • Profitable: Yes.
  • Technical:   Almost entirely IE on Windows, and quite likely to be an old version of both.   Watch out for low resolutions and colour depths.

Hopefully you’ve already identified the demographic that your site appeals to.   I’ll cover some ways to target each type of visitor in some follow up posts.   The purpose of this post is explain why some of your visitors behave in the way they do.   For example, visits from search engines are far more profitable than visits from digg or other “tech savvy” sources.   Sometimes, you have to search out the best monetisation method for your individual site and the type of traffic it attracts.

If you enjoyed this post, why not look at One Week to a Professional Blog, 5 Resources to make YOU a Better Blogger and 5 Simple Steps to a Better Blog.