Practical Ecommerce

Conversion: Define Your Audience

Regular readers won’t be surprised to find that this month’s column describes one of the key elements of effective conversion. In fact, this element is so critical, I consider it to be the cement that binds all the other areas of effective conversion together. Before I reveal what it is, be aware that this element is so critical it literally impacts every other aspect of site development:

It helps to determine what pages a site needs.

  • It dictates the site structure and ideal visit flow.
  • It influences graphic design and use of imagery.
  • It determines the type of messaging used on a site.
  • It controls the nature of the offers made.

As you can see, this is not an issue to be taken lightly. So what is it? Quite simply, understanding your target audience(s).

Target Audience Defined

I don’t know if there’s a widely accepted definition of “target audience,” but if there is, it probably goes something like this: “A group of individuals that constitute a set of possible buyers for a given product or service.”

The problem with this sort of definition is that it doesn’t really help us as web marketers.

So, here’s my attempt to sum it up: “A group of possible buyers for a given product or service, which share common elements that provide insights into how to communicate with them.”

The key here, of course, is that we define target audience in such a way that provides useful information. In that way, we ensure that our target audiences are specific enough to be effectively targeted.

Let’s look at an example for a local dry cleaner. Using the traditional definition, we might conclude that a valid target audience description would be “people who have dirty clothes.” It may be true, but it isn’t very helpful for marketing purposes.

Using the new approach, one of the dry cleaners’ target audience descriptions might be “busy business professionals looking for a convenient shirt laundering service.” This yields a much more useful starting point from which to develop messaging.

A key point here is that if the only commonality between members of your target audience is that they might be interested in your product, additional segmentation is required. A travel agent aiming for “people who like to travel” as a target audience needs to drill down and identify the sub-groups that could build the customer base, such as “affluent 30-somethings who are looking for adventures, not just vacations‚” or “retired couples seeking a warm getaway from the Minneapolis winter.”

Determining Target Audience

The best way I know to determine your target audience(s) is to ask a series of questions and see what possibilities emerge. Such questions include:

  • What does a typical customer look like?
  • What does an ideal customer look like?
  • What do many of my customers have in common?
  • When I started the business, who did I have in mind as a customer?

Unfortunately, there’s no specific formula for determining who your target audiences are. But hopefully, these questions will begin to give you some ideas.

Using Target Audience

From the earlier list, it should be clear that target audience has a bearing on every other element of your site. Let’s take a brief look at how that is so. Consider the impact on issues such as messaging, graphic design and offers with the following different target audiences:

  • Dentists in the Chicago region.
  • Harry Potter Fans.
  • Balding men between 40-50 years old.
  • Hobby sailors in the Great Lakes area.

For those of you who worry about the amount of work involved, I have two thoughts.

First, the return on investment for your time is likely to be considerable as you better align your website with target audiences.

Second, the principle of target audience naturally coincides with strategies such as pay-per-click, where “adgroups” bundle similar types of keywords, and the use of landing pages to specifically address similar types of visitor. This will allow you to more effectively leverage your time in the future.

Mat Greenfield

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  1. Legacy User February 15, 2007 Reply

    Understanding these audience descriptors is certainly helpful. I would
    argue that in order to be persuasive however, web copywriters need to
    understand the QUESTIONS that need to be answered in order to move a
    particular site visitor to action.

    Developing profiles based on issues that require resolution for a particular
    type of prospect gives a specific assignment to the copywriter and forces
    you to empathize with your prospects (a healthy exercise).

    You will find some great articles on this at

    — *mr*

  2. Legacy User February 15, 2007 Reply

    Thank you for writing this article! It is amazing to me how many people start businesses without a clue who they are targeting as customers. Before we design or redesign any website we have clients complete a web questionnaire identifying their target audience AND why their business is special. I could write a book about the responses we get. The latest was – target audience: "average joe" and why we are special: "because I am." The most successful websites know who they are trying to attract as ideal clients.

    — *Anita Larson*

  3. Legacy User March 17, 2007 Reply

    You are so right! It's a natural instinct to want to target as many people as possible, but since success in business depends on the ability to meet customers' needs and desires, clients must know who their customers are, what they want, where they live, how they can be reached, what they can afford. We won't build a website for a client until we (and they!) have a clear understanding of their target market. We also ask the client who actually does the buying. For instance, one of our clients — a landscape supply company — initially told us their target market was contractors. But after further discussion and study, we found it was female homeowners who were making the buying decisions, hiring the contractors to fulfill their desired results and directing the contractor to the client's business. The finished site's look and content was — as you might imagine — completely different when appealing to a woman homeowner than if the target was a company selling landscape rocks and sod.

    — *Cher Merrill, CPI Computers*

  4. Megan Plisky September 16, 2013 Reply

    This post was extremely helpful, especailly when your site is just starting out and you’re kind of lost as to how to proceed, narrowing down a target audience to a niche is extremely important.

    Social shopping sites like, and should all go about acquiring users in niches in order to get maximum effect in marketing efforts