Imagine you’re giving a speech to a room full of people. You’re given the subject matter and thrust out on stage, but the curtains are drawn. You can hear your audience muttering and murmuring, but you can’t see them directly. They might be military veterans, expecting mothers or thrill-seeking extreme sports junkies. You’re left in a tough position. You could end up addressing pregnant women as if they’d seen the horrors of war or talking to extreme sports nuts about the benefits of sipping chamomile tea with ambient music playing in the background. The only way to get the right message across is to know who you’re talking to.

Although the scenario above is extreme (plus, who would attend an event to listen to a speaker from behind a curtain?), it’s actually reminiscent of writing for an online audience. You can’t see who you’re talking to, so you need to think carefully about who you’re likely to be addressing. Once you’ve got this right you can tailor your writing accordingly, but if you get it wrong you’re setting yourself up for disaster.

What can YOU do for THEM?

The easiest way to determine your target audience is to think about the product or service you are selling. Work out what sort of person it appeals to and the problem that it solves. For example, if you’re writing about the benefits of washable diapers, you can be pretty sure that you’ll be talking to expectant mothers. After applying some basic logic, you’ll realize that they’re probably women who are concerned about the environment, and who may be interested in saving a bit of money too. From the product you’re selling, you’ve got a basic picture of the sort of person who’ll be reading your work.

To develop an even clearer picture of your audience, use any information at your disposal

For example, if the website regularly showcases high-end gadgets, you can assume that the audience has some disposable income. Your brief might also give you some valuable information, for example, that the product in question is designed to save businessmen time. In this example, your readers will want you to get straight to the point without meaningless fluff.

When you’re faced with an invisible audience, you have to build up a picture of them in any way you can. Use the information you already have, research similar products and fill in the details. Write down their age range, gender, income level, hobbies, level of education and the problem they need solving. Imagine you’ve just described one person, the average customer, and direct your article at them personally.