Do you hate the phrase “getting inside your reader’s head?”
Although you know you are supposed to be able to do it, you don’t have any specific instructions on how to do it.
Of course, it’s important to understand your current readers and those you are trying to attract with your content, but that’s one of the hardest skills you have to develop as a writer.
It’s going to take years of continuous improvement to become really good at it.
However, there are ways for you to get this information much sooner—namely, formulas and tools.
In this post, I’m going to focus on the latter.
I’ve put together a list of the eight best tools for getting inside your readers’ heads.
They will give you tangible data you can use to produce content that resonates with your readers.
Finally, I’ll show you how to use the key features of these tools. I promise that none of them are difficult to use and that they are worth your time.
If you want to know what your readers think, you first need to know who they are.
That’s where demographics come in.
Essentially, any statistic that describes a characteristic of your audience is a demographic. The most common are:
The tools in this section will help you figure out who you should be targeting in the first place. They can be used whether you have an existing audience or are just starting off.
This tool is one of the most complete I’ve ever come across when it comes to demographics.
The only significant limitation is that it draws its data from Twitter.
However, as long as people in your niche use Twitter (which is likely), it’s really useful.
While you can sign up for Demographics Pro directly, it’s pretty simple to use this Hootsuite app.
When you click the link in the title for this tool and then click the “Install App” button on the page, you’ll be taken to Hootsuite, where you’ll see a pop-up like this (if you’re signed in):
Once you install the app, you’ll see a new tab on your account called “Demographics Pro for Twitter.”
To use the tool, simply enter a Twitter handle (e.g., “@NeilPatel”), and click “get profile.”
That’ll automatically bring up some basic data:
More useful, though, is the “view full profile” option. Click that link, and you’ll see an extremely detailed panel like this:
From this, you can get a ton of demographic information about your (or their) followers and even some psychographics (more on that in section 2):
It’s a gold mine of information.
If you’re already using Twitter, start with your own profile.
Then, get the stats of some of your top competitors. If you don’t know who they are, head to Buzzsumo’s amplification tool, and search for some keywords that describe your niche:
This is a similar type of social audience analyzer. However, it analyzes both Facebook and Twitter, so there’s a potential to get a few different insights.
Once you sign up for an account (free trials available), you can connect your Twitter and Facebook accounts (only your own).
That will populate your account with a bunch of social trends data, but more importantly—demographics.
On top of getting a gender distribution of the audience on each platform, you get a detailed breakdown of their age brackets. That’s another important insight into your audience that will come in handy.
It might surprise you to find out that the Google Display Planner is another decent source of demographic data even though it isn’t the tool’s primary purpose.
When you open the planner, you have two options for searching:
I recommend doing both, and several times if possible. The larger your sample size, the more accurate your demographics data will be.
You can enter your own site, a competitor’s site, or keywords that you will be targeting with SEO.
Once you’ve picked an option, click the blue button to proceed:
On the next page, you’ll get a whole bunch of suggestions for ad keywords. Ignore them.
The only thing we care about here is the panel in the center of the screen that breaks down the demographics of people who search for the terms you entered (or terms found on the page you entered).
It looks like this:
Again, you get a gender and age breakdown.
Additionally, you can record which devices that audience prefers to use.
Is all this information redundant? It is to a degree, but it’s still useful. By now, you have demographic data from three different tools.
That data may look the same, but there may be differences because it’s collected from different sources.
Having data from multiple sources ensures that it won’t be skewed. You can take an average of all the data you collect or keep it as a range (i.e., average age might be 25-34 and not just one specific number).
The final tool in this section also uses Twitter to retrieve demographic data. However, it provides one important feature that the others miss.
Once you create an account, go to the “Analyze” tab on the top menu. Enter your Twitter handle, and let the tool scan your followers.
On the next page, look for a graph like the one below that shows at what times your followers are most active.
This information will be useful when you are promoting your content, especially on social media.
Once you’ve nailed down who your readers are or will be, it’s time to start figuring out how they think.
Ideally, you want to answer questions such as:
The tools in this section will help you answer these questions and eliminate guesswork.
This is a simple tool that makes getting useful data from forums easy.
Basically, you enter a keyword and sites to scan, and the tool pulls up relevant thread titles for you. You can search multiple sites at once.
Start by inputting a keyword into the first field. You could manually enter sites, but an easier option is to simply pick one of the preset categories. If you’re not sure which one to choose, pick “generic”:
The tool will load the results after a few seconds of search:
I recommend downloading the results into a spreadsheet and analyzing them there.
Remember those questions you need to answer? These results will help you do that.
You’ll have some irrelevant results, so start by removing those.
Once you have a few hundred relevant threads left, dig in.
Then, repeat this whole process at least a few times with different keywords.
If you know me well, you know I founded Crazy Egg.
I’ll let you judge the tool for yourself, but it can be incredibly useful for understanding the behavior of your readers.
The one catch is that you have to actually have readers before you can use the tool.
Assuming you do, Crazy Egg will give you a variety of heatmaps that will show you exactly how readers interact with your content.
There are two types of maps you’ll want to look at.
First is the scroll map, which tells you how people scroll through your page. You can tell what portions of the page they pay more or less attention to.
It’s natural for the percentage to decline as you scroll down, but you might see that it declines at certain sections in the middle of the content.
This is a clear indication that something on your page didn’t interest your readers.
For example, if I looked at a heatmap for this post and saw that there’s a huge drop off within this section, I could conclude that my readers don’t like reading about heatmap tools (or potentially about psychographics).
Similarly, hot spots lower down the page indicate that you’ve touched upon something that excites them.
Record this information for all your content, and you’ll start seeing patterns in the type of content, the tone, and the format your readers like.
To get even more insight into your readers’ preferences, you can use click heatmaps, which show you what readers clicked on:
You’ll see that certain things attract their attention more than others. Again, look for patterns.
The heatmaps can give you a lot of insight into what excites and bores your readers.
However, sometimes you need more, or you don’t have enough readers to use heatmaps yet.
That’s where Buzzsumo’s top content tool comes in.
You’ll want to make a list of keywords you’ll be using within your content. Then, search them one by one in the tool:
The tool will return a list of the most popular content in the past year (sorted by total shares).
Visit as many of these pages as you can, and record down the answers to these questions in your spreadsheet:
You can leave the last one blank for now if you don’t know, but come back to it later.
When you have a good understanding of your readers, you should be able to figure out why these top articles would appeal to them more than the average content.
Finally, search all the answers to all those questions for patterns.
For example, if a large chunk of the most popular posts are mainly image-based, you know that your readers love images.
If you’ve used every tool up until this point, you have a lot of useful data.
Don’t just put it on a spreadsheet and forget about it.
Instead, create reader personas. It will help you and your team when you need to be reminded for whom you are writing.
I created this final section for a single tool because I feel that—although it is a small step you need to take—it’s a very important step.
This tool was created by Hubspot, and it’s brilliant.
It guides you through a simple process that uses all the different demographic and psychographic information you’ve collected with all the other tools.
It also ensures that you don’t forget any key part of creating a reader persona, e.g., putting a real name or face to it:
Once you answer all the questions, the tool will produce a well-organized persona summary:
First, you should share this with everyone who helps you with content.
Next, you should be looking at this before you write any content yourself. Always ask yourself what this person would find valuable and interesting. Print it out, and hang it up if you need to.
Note that you can create multiple personas if that’s what the data supports.
This is not a huge list, but every tool on this list can be useful.
The better you understand your readers, the more you’ll be able to write exactly what they want to see (and value).
I recommend trying at least a few of the tools, but if you really want to get a clear picture of what your readers think and care about, use them all.
If I missed a tool that can help writers understand their audiences, please post it in the comments below, and I’ll give it a look.
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