Strong SEO (Search Engine Optimization) should play an important role within every digital marketing strategy. However, when it comes to SEO, we need to think about the people using the search engines just as much as we think about the search engines themselves. While the concept of demographic marketing often highlights the importance of splitting users up into groups based on age, gender and even geographic location, it’s often difficult to apply these categories to the faceless data provided by search engines. The question then becomes, how can we understand online traffic in a way that helps us maximize SEO most effectively?
Digital marketing mainstays, like UX and paid digital advertising, have been driving home the importance of personas and age-based segments for years. But in today’s mobile and smartphone-obsessed “Impulse Generation” – where people of every age group, gender, and interest digitally behave the same way – marketers need to focus more on the commonalities between these groups, which far outweigh the differences. There are currently four generations of digital customers, all engaging with the internet in fundamentally similar ways: Baby Boomers, Generation X, Generation Y (or Millenials), and Gen Z. Marketing across these generations through search requires paying more attention to what these groups have in common, rather than getting bogged down in the subtle differences between them as “personas.”
So what does this mean for SEO, a channel that hasn’t historically focused on fixed personas?
Understanding the 'Anonymous' Searcher
Since its inception as a true vertical, SEO has had one big, perceived disadvantage: unlike paid channels, almost all organic search data is anonymous.
SEOs have the basic task of attracting more users to web pages organically. Who those users are is usually less important than whether or not more of them exist and can be measured.
How Organic Visitors Can Be Segmented
Of course, we rely on a whole constellation of evidence to support our ideas of who our organic audiences are, and how we can curate the right experiences for them. Far and away, intention has always been the most important tool for segmenting organic audiences. Ultimately, though, this is a way of segmenting search terms themselves, not the users typing them in.
For example, a single person might conduct several unrelated searches throughout the day, each of which checks a very different box when it comes to intention. So conceivably, as you segment keywords into groups based on intention for a website, one person could end up being represented across multiple groups, taking on the appearance of multiple audiences. But this is a good thing.
Think of it this way: it doesn't matter whether it's you or your significantly older relative searching for sneakers for you if the query itself (in this case, "cool men's sneakers") remains the same. We should be focusing on the self-sameness of the intention – the "why" behind the search term – more than we focus on who is doing the typing. SEOs have been thinking this way all along.
With the concept of the Impulse Generation in mind, we can rearrange our thinking so that the underlying behavioral consistency of searchers across age groups outweigh their differences.
But Wait - Does This Mean Everyone's the Same?!
No. In fact, it might help to wade through some of the known differences among search behaviors – if only to further illustrate why the underlying similarities cut even deeper.
Let's start with an easy one: age. While Google is the undisputed global leader in search, users aged 45 and up are increasingly likely to use either Yahoo or Bing instead.
A similar schism occurs across gender lines. Females are several times more likely to use a search engine that isn't Google.
And these differences certainly tell us some valuable things. Commitment to Google as a singular online resource is not distributed equally, for instance. This means we would be wise not to exclude paid avenues on Bing and Yahoo from our efforts if the target audience of our campaign is older, and female – a shift which could certainly impact the bottom line.
But while users of different ages might gravitate toward (or settle for) different search engines, the fundamentals of their behavior—and what they're expecting out of their experience—are deeply consistent.
What time of day do users of different ages perform searches?
Let's look at timing. What time of day are users turning to search engines to find what they need?
The answer is, sometime between 10:30AM and 6:30PM. Regardless of search engine, irrespective of age or gender.
What we want from our experiences, across both search engines and the sites they bring us to, is also the same across demographic lines:
- Constant connectedness, zero wait times
- The ability to find what they're looking for easily
- Questions answered
- A mobile-first experience
We're all looking for something in particular, and we would rather re-type our search term than click the 'page 2' button. 18% of searchers change their query without clicking any search results at all. One in every six questions typed into Google have never been asked before.
The Impulse Generation is united by a set of high expectations, specific intentions, and always-on behaviors—and these factors end up being much more important than classical criteria like age and gender when it comes to getting our marketing activities aligned toward the right audience.
We should think critically before basing our approach on assumptions about users of different age groups. I've personally worked with clients on both sides of this coin – clients who write off mobile completely because their "audience is older, and mostly on desktop", and clients who completely ignore users above a certain age because they think they lack the mobile-first savviness of future generations. Neither of these approaches gets the fact that users of all age groups are unified by both a set of high digital expectations and digital behaviors.
SEO for the Impulse Generation means embracing the anonymity of search data and placing a premium on less "objective" but more dynamic criteria like intention and behavior. It means finding your voice online, leaning heavily into web best practices like mobile-first architecture, structured data, and long-tail search term strategies to capture the rise of voice search across age groups.