Understand Your Visitor Before Embarking on a Website Redesign Voyage
Failing to understand your website’s visitors before you embark on a website redesign project could get you lost at sea. Ever been there? Ever build a website and have it seem invisible to your audience? Because web design is our business we get to hear story after story about how clients built their existing sites. Some get so lost with their website that it causes them significant stress. Doing a redesign is supposed to make things better but what if it only seems to have gotten worse? The site might look more like what you wanted, but it sure could be stressful wondering why it isn’t performing or reaching the people that matter.
I compare having a website that seems to do nothing to being lost at sea because in both situations you share a feeling of helplessness. While this article tries to identify a popular cause for this problem, the reality is it’s usually not just one thing that’s broken when a website is this lost. But instead, it’s a few things working against it. Poor titling, detached incoming links, out of date traditional campaigns, all have an impact. Not knowing who your traffic is, is a big one and probably the most common. It affects new sites, old sites, redesigned sites and we call it the broken compass.
Understand your visitor by fixing your compass.
To fix your compass you really need to start by asking some questions about the traffic visiting your website. If you don’t know for sure, try to imagine who they are in your questioning. Does your visitor make decisions for big companies, are they soccer moms, do they run a small business? With these questions, you can begin to develop what a visitor could ‘look like’ theoretically.
Next, build some personas.
Building personas of the ‘typical’ website user(s) is basically identifying why someone would visit your website, what motivation they have for doing so. How interact with it would come next and probably be defined as the individual persona’s personality. Website personas begin in one of four main categories: Competitive, Spontaneous, Methodical or Humanist. These 4 categories are then classified further by traits like fast or slow, logical or emotional. As you might have already guessed, competitive & spontaneous are both fast traffic, and will want what their looking for to be easy and quick to find. But only one is logical – the ‘Competitive’ persona. While a spontaneous persona might be swayed through emotional messages on your site, a competitive persona will not. Understanding the difference is an enormous benefit before embarking on a redesign voyage. We could easily turn this article into a seminar just on personality types but for the sake of time we’ll move on.
Because most websites skip this step altogether, they easily get their website lost. How could anyone write quality, compelling content if they were not aware of who would be reading it. If we don’t know, the finished article or blog post will come across as if it were written to a lamp or a wall, some inanimate object.
This whole process can get as deep as you want it to. For instance, what if you need the traffic to buy something from you? Some additional questions you might need to ask could be, how much money do they make, or how do they spend their money, what is an important purchase to them?
However deep you take the process, the goal is to identify who the traffic is. Knowing important demographic information about your traffic can help you redesign the site in a way that makes sense to your visitors.
Once you have some personas built, use them.
Using personas to guide decisions in a redesign will help get you away from your individual ‘feelings’ about something. You instead begin addressing problems with a focus more like, “would my user appreciate this change?,” or “What expectations does my user have about…?” Asking questions with this motivation will help you make progress with your site and your visitors. A big shot corporate guy with a competitive persona won’t want to see content about searching for coupons to save $ at the grocery store. The soccer mom with a more methodical persona would, and would most likely stick around for more.
You can also learn quite a bit about your visitor, using the personas, when reviewing your site analytics. A visitor searching the keywords: ‘little league sign-up’ is a very different persona/motivation than someone searching ‘how to play baseball?’ yet both types of information could be on the same site. Depending on the type you’d like to see more of, this might help you plan future content.
How many personas should you have?
I suppose the easy answer is it depends on your site. Some suggest 3 personas (minimum) about the traffic you know you have. And another 2 (minimum) about the traffic you’d like to attract or begin reaching. While I agree that probably is a good start, it really depends on your products or services. If you offer tons of stuff like Adobe.com you’ll likely need to make clear divisions for each and build personas specific to each. I will caution you here though, it’s very easy to begin a stereotyping habit in this process, especially when you start getting super specific, and I want you to avoid that. Stereotyping begins a process that includes how you feel about those ‘types’ of personas and can sway your own decision-making process. Don’t avoid getting specific, avoid getting stereotypical.
In recap, learning the motivations of your traffic & understanding their temperaments will help you to build personas you can use to make better website decisions. Decisions that will keep your site on course. You’ll write better content, you’ll connect with your traffic more easily, your traffic will trust your messages earlier in the process & the rate at which your content gets shared will increase. If people are finding your content more helpful and share-worthy, I think you’d agree that your site definitely has a working compass.