I know... it is a phrase that has been beat to death and held up as a banner to internet marketers everywhere. It is the elephant in the room wearing a tu-tu, so I felt I had to address it at least once.
Mark Jackson sums the meaning behind this phrase very well in his Search Engine Watch article last year, but I would like to take it one step further and focus on his first point- engaging your reader.
During a phone call this afternoon when the all-too-famous phrase came up I could not help but add that "Relevant" content is king. When you consider that engaging your reader is probably the single most important thing your content can do for you, relevance is king. And you can only be relevant when you know who you are writing and speaking to.
For example, imagine yourself talking to someone who is between 25-30, lives in New Hampshire, and makes between 30-41k per year about your product or service. You can list all the great features, how it would benefit them, even tell them they can get a discount for ordering today. You would probably be pretty general and tell them everything you can, because you are not sure about what will stick with them. Some companies are so paralyzed by this fact that they can not decide what to put up on their sites, and so they never change their content.
Now imagine that you are talking to your aunt, or co-worker about your product or service. You know something about them, the conversation is geared to their way of thinking and you can address their motivations in relation to your offering. You know what is important to them, and that is what you speak to.
As a youngster I was a Girl Scout, and yes, I sold the cookies. All the Girl Scouts get the same cookies, and they all cost the same price. So one day as I was hitting up my family to buy cookies from me, my aunt responded to me, "And why should I buy these cookies from you?" I remember being dumbstruck, not because I was surprised she asked the question, that is just how she was, but because I did not know what so special about my cookies from anyone else's. So I went with the one advantage I knew I had with her. "Because I am your niece and you love me." She bought 5 boxes because I knew what would motivate her to buy from me and not the neighbor (that and I knew she could not resist the Sandies).
So how can you get to that level with the visitor on your website? How can you possibly know what will motivate that person to buy from you and not your competitor? How can you anticipate what questions they are asking, and know if you are answering those questions?
This is where personas come in. A persona should be much more than a character that represents the different user types for design. When used as stand-ins for the possible modes of behavior that people will interact with you and your business online you get an idea of what motivates them. When you can understand the different modes of behavior of your customers, you can anticipate their motivations and questions, and ensure that your website content engages them by answering those questions in a way that they prefer.