When we kick off a new website project, we like to formally determine the target users for a client’s website with personas. A persona is a fictional character that marketing and user experience teams create to represent a majority of the different user types for a given product, in our case a website. A typical website project will have three to five unique personas and we create them for several beneficial reasons.
1. Understanding your target audience’s needs
We begin this process by gathering your company’s team members to share their collective experiences and insights into who they believe the core users are. By defining the archetypes through personas, you are able to have a unified consensus across the entire team as to who everyone hypothesizes are the websites real users. The personas help establish user goals, capabilities and the context in which they visit the website. Personas also provide a reference point for decisions and keep members of the team from inferring their own opinions into the design, development or marketing through a clear understanding of the user’s expectations.
2. Validating that your target audience exists
Once personas are established, we need to verify that these individuals exist. The best place to verify your personas is directly in the marketplace. There, you can informally verify your team’s hypotheses against specific real embodiments of the personas. If every persona is validated, great job! More likely, you will see some characteristics in each persona that need to be adjusted to match the research findings.
3. Understanding your user’s needs
Once all assumptions have been removed and the team clearly understands who they are building the website for, we can begin creating use cases and feature definitions that meet the users specific needs. This allows the designers, developers, and marketers to understand these archetypes in any number of scenarios and they can uncover new features, functionality, or gaps in the website conversion process that need to be addressed; giving the team a more complete picture of how the website integrates into the users daily activities and what core set of features must be included to have viable product. Everyone can then focus on only the key features during development including delivery of the website’s content in a fast manner regardless of connection speed. This ability to prioritize the initial set of features for launch and which features can be added over later iterations saves internal resources, time and money.
4. How to best market and reach your audience
In the same way personas can determined your users needs and the required features, we can also use them to determine the most effective marketing for your website. By understanding their interests we discover and refine the verbiage, imagery, and colors that the core audience will respond to best. These discussions also provide insight into the best advertising channel to reach the target users and how to bring them to the website.
5. Keeping up with an ever changing target audience
Every audience changes and grows over time. By continuously validating and adjusting the personas against the marketplace, we can keep the website up-to-date with rising trends and new features users want; providing more value to the end consumer and keeping the audience returning for a long time to come.
As you can see, personas not only help define a website’s core audience but also help streamline development and marketing efforts. For the best return on investment (ROI) for the least amount of cost over the lifetime of a website, personas are a solution worth investing in.