The ethnographic method is an approach of studying a person or group of people by participating in the culture of interest while still remaining a bit of an outsider. At its core is the focus on cultural relativism, which is seeing something through the eyes of the involved. Thus, to get to know someone or a group of people, you have to lose your own set of beliefs and views and start from scratch as you seek out the functional reasons why things happen.
This method is critical for successfully connecting to people, especially online when you have no physical cues to tell you about a person. In essence, you have to lose your own identity at first, in order to get a better idea of how to best connect to someone new. When you approach a potential link partner, you know very little about that person except for a few clues picked up in the analysis of the site that he or she controls. Your best bet is to pick up that information as quickly as possible, because you have a very limited amount of time to make or break that connection.
Personas makes use of the ethnographic method in SEO and are intensely valuable. This process helps you learn about your audience and mindset, and the resulting personas can help you to compare the output of your efforts to the target market in question. It’s commonplace to use personas in areas like usability and social media, but they also can be a tremendous help when written specifically for link development. An audience IS an audience, after all.
To get started on writing a few personas, you have to think about your target audience for link building, in the same way that you’d think about it for anything else related to marketing. Who are these people, what are their age groups, what is their “culture”, what will speak to them and open up the connection in a positive manner? If you’re in doubt about your target audience, talk to the owner of the site you’re working on. Once you get basic information, start to dream up a few actual people who fit the profiles that you have, and flesh them out as much as you can.
A typical persona should contain as much identifying information as possible without being so unique that it cannot be used to speak to a larger group. That’s the tricky part, but you can overcome it by imagining common characteristics of users (they like punk rock) rather than specifics that will only fit a tiny percentage of your audience (they like early Avail). Start out by identifying a few different segments of your audience, writing a persona for each. Once you have these, take one and read it until you can get into the mindset of it, and write your link request accordingly. Remember that this persona represents your target link partners, so make use of language and references that this group will respond to, and adjust as needed.
Below is a persona created by one of my link builders for use on a restaurant review site:
Caren is a 43 year old mother of 3. Her children are 15, 17, and 21. Before having children, Caren obtained a degree in elementary education and taught until her second child was born. Since then, she has been a stay at home mom. She has been in charge of cleaning, cooking, carpooling to and from soccer and rugby practices. Her oldest child is attending a university in the city. Her husband is the local family doctor and can still be found making house calls. Caren’s happiness comes from her family and baking. She bakes often and makes the occasional trip into the city to check in on her oldest child.
This persona does make use of some serious specific. However, that’s just so we can get into the mindset of knowing how to approach someone like Caren. If you take the basics, you’ll see our target market for link building here, which is a woman in her 40s who wants a few restaurant suggestions for when she’s in the big city every now and then. We hope to approach the Carens of the world in such a way that they will find it in their hearts to link to our site. Thus, we probably aren’t going to speak to them as if they’re college-age males who are heavily into sports. We also can make more informed decisions on other relevant sites to approach for link building once we’re in Caren’s mindset, as we think about other interests that someone like Caren might have. Once you have the basics (woman in her 40s making a few trips to the big city), you’re well on your way to identifying other types of interests that Caren might have. Armed with this information, your link building efforts should be just the slightest bit easier.