How to Create USEFUL Customer Personas Using Your Google Analytics Data

Customer personas using Google Analytics

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September 1, 2017

First things first: What are customer personas, and why do you need to create them?

A “persona” is an idealized customer group with specific common characteristics. The use of customer personas in marketing and selling is very common, since identifying personas enables you to create messaging and content that perfectly fits specific groups of customers.

Using customer personas, you can identify different types of customers, and devise the best way to approach them and the best content to show to each group.

Plus, using Cialdini’s six principles of influence, it’s possible to devise a conversion funnel specifically suited to different personality types, and personalize the content they see or receive according to their specific needs. Personalized and relevant content that matches the needs of your visitors increases their likelihood of converting.

While we thoroughly covered the art of defining personas in a previous post, we only touched on how to track and segment by personas in Google Analytics — so today, we’ll tell you how to do that. (After all, what good is a persona if you don’t know how those users behave on your site?)

This post will provide a framework for understanding and implementing customer personas using basic Google Analytics features. We’ll show you how to use Advanced Segments to create a persona, and how to use persona segments to improve the content of your website and your customer experience.

The best part: Advanced Segments is a readily available feature in Google Analytics! The power to start tracking your customer personas is at your fingertips.

A quick overview of using Google Analytics to track customer personas

Google Analytics provides a large amount of data on different aspects of your visitors — how they get to your website, who they are, what they do on the site, etc.

Using this data, it’s possible to draw an accurate picture of visitor behavior, then sort that picture by the channels and websites from which a visitor originated, what content they viewed, and what events they triggered. All of the aforementioned data can be used to deduce patterns of behavior of different groups of customers and visitors.

You can start by using the most popular channels to see how visitors who arrive from that channel tend to behave on your site. To do this

To do this, use Advanced Segments to define a segment that shows visitors coming from a channel you want to analyze: for example, visitors who arrive via Organic Search. Here we pulled out the segment of converters to compare them with all other visitors and used Acquisition report. This can show you which channel is most effective in bringing converting visitors.

Customer personas - Google Analytics segments
An example of a popular segment

When you decide on a segment and define it, next, you can follow those visitors’ navigation and behavior on the site itself. Their behavior may uncover patterns that, when you identify and quantify them, enable you to predict the behavior of similar visitors!

For example, you may find out that one customer segment prefers a certain kind of content. Oe maybe they’re coming from certain geographical areas. Or maybe they belong to a specific age group.

Using this method, you can start to create a customer persona based on any criteria you select.

Step 1: Create a segment

The information you need to draw from Google Analytics depends on knowing who your target audience is. Before you create a persona, define the characteristics of that group of visitors or customers, and what information your persona should convey.

Then, using Advanced Segments, you can create customer personas as different segments and compare them to each other.

Creating a segment is a straightforward process in Google Analytics. Start by clicking on the “Add Segment” button in the top left corner of Google Analytics’ visualization window. A dialogue box will open, allowing you to select conditions for the segment.

“One method of incorporating personas into the ongoing maintenance of a website is to create persona-inspired segments in your analytics tool. These segments can not only check whether the user described in a persona is characteristic of your website’s real visitors, but can also help you uncover patterns of use and trends in behavior that would otherwise be masked when lumping together the data for all visitors to the site.” Aurora Harley, Norman Nielsen Group

Customer research - Google Analytics segment creation process
The segment creation process

A segment to represent a customer persona begins by using a custom segment feature in Analytics. When you select a custom segment, you can add characteristics to it that match your persona: things like demographic info and which messages or content to show that visitor.

Example of customer persona details
Example of customer persona details

Google Analytics automatically collects and reports visitors’ Age Range, Gender, and Location without the need for you to set those up. You can see those demographic details in the Audience Reports section of the Google Analytics interface:

Customer research - Age report in Demographics section of Google Analytics
Customer research – Age report in Demographics section of Google Analytics

The age report, for example, gives the proportion of each age group of visitors. This data, just like all the others in the demographic section, originates from data Google collects anonymously from other websites. When creating a persona segment, you can begin by adding a certain age range as the first criterion.

Customer research - adding age to a segment
Customer research – adding age to a segment

Adding other details to your persona is as easy as checking a box. As we add details, a persona begins to take shape, and the segment that contains those details represents a rough outline of the persona.

Here, we’re creating a persona called Jane Smith. She represents female visitors aged 18-34.

When you’ve added all the demographic data you need to add, click Save button to create your segment and then ‘Apply’ on the next screen to show the resulting segment results.

Customer research - partial persona segment
Customer research – partial persona segment

(Not so fast… you’re not done yet)

Obviously, this is not a complete persona. The mechanics of Google Analytics prevent the ability to fully and accurately track customer personas as you might design them — for example, you will not be able to directly assign a marketing message or an elevator pitch for a persona.

However, using Analytics’ aggregated data and your existing segment, you can track members of those customer personas as they navigate your website.

The data collected by Google Analytics can be directly used to identify traits and make it easy to segment visitors into customer personas according to those traits.

For example, if a visitor looks at certain types of content, triggers specific events, or views videos or images, etc., you may notice that she’s a quick, impulsive decision-maker. Alternatively, you might notice that another type of visitor tends to research a lot before buying.

This information can help you devise specific CTAs to most effectively match the personality types of your different visitors. Using experimentation and testing, you can refine these CTAs further until you identify those that work the best for each persona.

There are several personality theories that can help you discover behavioral patterns. Using these theories can be greatly helpful in determining the content types likely to make those visitors convert. For example, you can base your customer personas on the Big Five theory, which defines five basic characteristics or personality traits.

“Is there a way you can begin to recognise personality traits in your CRM? Well, probably, yes. Perhaps you can run multiple campaigns subtly using different language to attract different personality types. You know which CTA someone has responded to and you can consequently segment your email marketing workflows accordingly.” John Hughes

Step 2: Dig into your Acquisition Reports

The first place to use your partial persona segment is your Acquisition Reports in Google Analytics. These reports show how visitors reach your website and what channels (ex. organic search, paid search, social media, etc.) they use.

Work backward from your acquisition channel’s marketing message

Using the data here, we can further increase our knowledge of our persona.

Customer research - a sample Acquisition Report
Customer research – a sample Acquisition Report

As you can see, referral is the best-performing channel for visitors belonging to our “Jane Smith” persona. Since we know what the message the referral channel offers is, we can easily find out the most effective message for Jane Smiths — the message that will attract more customers like her, and convince them to convert.

Using this knowledge, you can assign a marketing message to your customer persona based on the message that the best-performing referral channel conveys.

Customer research - Google Analytics referral sources
Customer research – Google Analytics referral sources

By indirectly using the data from your acquisition reports, you can flesh out the “marketing message” and “elevator pitch” fields in your persona. You don’t even need to get complicated with your Analytics.

Use audience data to fill in gaps

Next, using audience data, you can fill other gaps in your partial persona. Within “Audience Reports,” there is a section called Interests.

Like the age section, this one uses data that Google derives from third-party sources. By observing these reports alongside your partial persona segment, you can find out what this segment is most interested in.

A list of visitor interests in the “Audience Reports” section of Analytics
A list of visitor interests in the “Audience Reports” section of Analytics

Of course, this list is far from complete. This information isn’t provided to Google if visitors use private/incognito browsing or similar options. However, most visitors won’t take that step, so their data will be visible.

By mining the interests shown by most visitors belonging to your persona, you can fill in the missing fields of values and interests. This information can be too general, though — so you should aim to augment it through qualitative research, including surveying your visitors.

You can post a survey that will help you identify what challenges and goals your visitors share, and then match them to the correct customer personas by asking questions about their general demographics (age, gender, etc).

However, there are a few other ways to match customer personas and goals in Google Analytics. Let’s take a look at three more.

Step 3: Look at site search data

While your visitors may reach your website using organic search, they will also frequently use your own site search to uncover the products or information they need.

“Site search” reports are a Google Analytics feature that enables you to track the keywords visitors use for internal search. The context of the keywords may indicate a visitor’s challenge, goal, or problem.

Looking at a keyword that is relatively “popular” will give us a glimpse into at least a few visitors’ goals and problems.

Example of site search results
Example of site search results

Again, this data may not give you a complete picture, and a large number of visitors will not actually search on your site. However, those that do will provide you with priceless data.

Step 4: Flesh out your customer personas with Behavior Reports

Visitors who reach your website are likely to navigate it in search of a solution to their problem. Google Analytics’ “All Pages” report in the Behavior section shows you what pages the majority of a given user segment visits.

A list of visitor interests in the “Audience Reports” section of Analytics
The All Pages report

You can also use the “Content Drilldown” to see what pages, and in which sequence, your visitors view. Using drilldown in visitor behavior section, you can see what pages users are viewing, and better understand what content drives conversions for different customer personas.

Content Drilldown reports
Content Drilldown reports

Step 5: Set up “events” to populate customer personas with data

Events are another good source of data for customer personas. If your website has content such as blogs, videos, or images — and most of e-commerce sites nowadays do — you can define events to in Google Analytics to understand what content your different persona segments view and enjoy.

Then, you can use that information to improve and extend your website’s personalization efforts, which is the entire point of the process of creating customer personas!

Google Analytics Event reports
Google Analytics Event reports

Before you can use event reports, you need to set up events tied to your content, so you can track visitor behavior around that content. While “events” are not a preloaded feature of Google Analytics, most e-commerce websites go to the effort of manually setting up an event structure so they can track visitors’ interactions with content.

For example, if you implement event tracking and discover that many visitors belonging to a specific persona view content about a common topic, it’s safe to conclude that those visitors share the same challenges or goals. In addition to identifying those goals and challenges, you may also get a glimpse of fears and values these visitor share.

Use Google Tag Manager to set up events — it’s the easiest available event-creation method.

Step 6: Complete your customer persona with Customer Lifetime Value & Conversion Reports

There’s one more piece of information that your persona lacks — and unfortunately, “Salary” is something that we cannot possibly get directly from any data available in Google Analytics.

But, if you dig into “Conversion Reports” (one of the default features of Google Analytics Enhanced Ecommerce reports), you can see a report on how much a persona segment spent on your website products in total.

Overview showing the total spend of an average persona member
Overview showing the total spend of an average persona member

Using this data, it is possible to assign an average monthly spend (or yearly spend, or any other time period supported by Google Analytics. Just note that as the time period lengthens, Analytics may introduce sampling.)

How can you use this data to derive the customer’s salary? This is a tricky proposal, as it requires you to have at least a starting estimate. Again, you might use a survey and pose a question like, “What percent of your income do you spend online?” or similar. You can also try to find data about similar users online and make educated guesses.

“Many companies are failing to utilize data in any form to build bonds with existing customers. In fact, a significant proportion of businesses are failing to utilize CRM and other technology to track Customer Lifetime Value (CLV) and understand the common traits of key clients.” – Maximizer.com

By using this conversion/revenue data, and comparing your customer personas with each other, you can derive insights that drive future expectations and revenue predictions. You can also use it to adjust prices or create offers personalized to the incomes and expenditures of select groups of customers.

Don’t dismiss the importance of qualitative research

So now you’ve seen that Google Analytics can be used for much more than just checking how many users come to your website. It’s technically possible to use Analytics to inform your efforts to create customer personas — whether or not your visitors volunteer their information in surveys or other qualitative methods.

There are, of course, problems with using Google Analytics this way.

First off, the data may not be 100% reliable, and visitors may withhold some data. This can distort your customer personas and make them less than accurate. (On the on the other hand, you’ll be able to create customer personas without complete reliance on qualitative research, which has its own shortfalls.)

The best option is a marriage of the two methods: use this Analytics-based persona-creation method to confirm the information you get from your qualitative customer research.

What’s next in this series? Well, while creating segments and creating customer personas is useful, it leaves a lot of work to be done manually. So next time, we’ll show you how to use Google Tag Manager to automate persona creation.

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Edin is a Senior CRO Consultant. Edin is into Google Analytics and testing (any A/B testing tool really) and likes to write about it. You can follow Edin on Twitter.