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.