“What’s one of the most important steps of building a website?”
This question could return contrasting answers from web professionals, but mine is always swift and assertive. Creating website-specific user personas. In fact, aside from defining the underlying business objectives, I’ll say this activity is THE most important step because of its profound impact on decision making. User personas help turn a moving target into a stationary one, and therefore sharpens your company’s viewpoint on who exactly is visiting your website and how to engage them.
By putting in the research to know your user, every subsequent decision gets backed by incentive to solve user’s needs — not your own. It’s highly unlikely that your website is for you. Everything from call-to-actions to copywriting tone must be inspired by the motivation and behaviors of these users. If your website is going to sell more, generate qualified leads and/or expand your brand’s reach, it simply can’t be treated as your personal canvas for self-expression and experimentation.
WHAT are website-specific user personas?
Steve Mulder, author of “The User is Always Right”, defines a user persona as:
“A realistic character sketch representing one segment of a Web site’s targeted audience. Each persona is an archetype serving as a surrogate for an entire group of real people.”
In a nutshell, these are the people you want to please with your website.
Personas will outline details such as:
- Demographics (e.g. Age, Gender, Location)
- User Goals (why are they coming to the site?)
- Business Objectives (what is your company trying to get them to do?)
- % of overall website users (helps with feature prioritization)
- Photo and First Name (to help them become more real)
Most websites will need 3-5 personas
Personas, like you see above, can easily be designed in Word/Pages or a graphics program like Illustrator, Photoshop or Pagemaker. They are used throughout the web design process from initial strategy to launch, and even post-launch for reference while adding new features.
WHY create website-specific user personas?
As Mr. Mulder emphatically states, teams assume that their users think and act like they do.
A website planned, designed and marketed on this assumption is misguided and on the path to underachieving. Users have different goals than you. Users don’t care as you do. Users aren’t all alike.
- Everyone make better decisions
- Create one shared vision
- Make user research come to life
Personas take work, but try not to be concerned with the additional time to create them. Try to think of this activity as an investment. The time you dedicate is fully recovered in subsequent steps because of increased efficiency. Decisions are made faster. Conversations are more fluid and revolve around “What do our users want?” rather than “What do we want?” Everybody involved has the proper viewpoint, which prevents rashness like leaving out FAQs (because the CEO didn’t think they were helpful) or adding a certain color (because it’s the CMO’s favorite).
For the record, mine is green.
Don’t Build your House (website) on Sand (without personas)
If you’re about to embark on building or re-building your website, ensure persona research and creation happens before a single pixel is designed or a line of code is written. It is one of the most important steps to the process.
The identification of your actual users will trailblaze clarity and focus within your organization and help everyone involved make better decisions.
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