The most successful websites are designed and written with the users and their needs in mind. To build a site that meets these needs you need to know who the viewers are and what their needs are.
At base level, of course, you want to be creating content that is easily understood by everyone—regardless of their attributes and abilities—and sites with clear, logical navigation and flow. But beyond that, targeting a specific audience is key.
You must be part psychologist, part artist, part analyst, part editor and part instructor. Most of all, you must know the website visitors, what their needs are, and how to meet those needs.
In this post, we’ll talk using your Right Brain to understand your website visitors better. We’ll explore methods to apply the concept of Personas, and ways to develop and deploy your empathetic skills.
Knowing Your Audience
You need to learn a bewildering number of things about your client’s customers (your website audience): demographics, information consumption and buying habits, culture, level of knowledge (do you need to start at the basics?) and more.
Of course you can’t personally meet all of the potential users of your website. So start by specifically asking the client about them. Larger clients may be able to provide target audience data and marketing research. They may have built a brand community. But even smaller clients know their previous and current customers, they can reach them, they can survey or interview them:
What did they use the product/service for?
When they were prospective customers, what was their motivation?
What did they already know, and what did they need to know?
Were they in a hurry or browsing leisurely?
How diverse is the audience?
Do they tend to have any special needs or share cultural attributes?
Chances are your client won’t be able to answer all those questions, or maybe even most of them. But they may well know other details that are even more valuable to their situation. The more information you can get about the audience members, the better you’ll be able to “know” them…by using half your brain!
Split-Brain studies in the 1960s helped neuroscientists determine that the brain’s two hemispheres perform very different types of functions.
The Left Side of your brain is the analytic side, involved in things like mathematics, facts and motor control, while the creative and emotional processes are centered in your Right Brain.
Attention to Detail
Seeing the Big Picture
Take a Left/Right brain quiz…
do you favor one over the other?
Using Your Right Brain
Use your imagination! It may feel weird–society often tells us that imagination is a childish thing, not useful in the harsh adult world. We say “Nonsense!” to that. Imagination lets us apply our knowledge to problem solving in novel and creative ways. Where would we be without the imagination, vision, and innovations of imaginative people?
So put your Right Brain to work. Imagine yourself being the customer—what would you want? What would you need to know? To answer questions like this, you need to “get inside” the customer’s head. One way to do this is by using the concept of the Buyer Persona.
You may have heard of Personas, they’re a popular tool with marketing agencies for audience analysis. Large clients may even have fully developed Buyer Personas already.
But you can employ the idea of the Persona yourself to build a virtual viewer embodying your client’s typical target audience member.
A Persona is a hypothetical person, a kind of “Everycustomer”. Think of a Persona as an actual real person, with a name and a face and a life.
Constructing a well-rounded Persona requires knowledge and insights into the client’s customer base. Again, rely on your client for this. Remind them that helping you to understand their existing buyers will increase their website’s ability to attract similar customers.
Use whatever information you have to develop a Persona (this doesn’t need to be elaborate, and it doesn’t need to cost a penny…it can be as simple as a “thought experiment”. The CONCEPT of a Persona is what you can utilize. It’s a way of thinking.)
Building The Persona
There are many ways to construct a Persona. You may want to include things like:
Give the Persona a name, job title, and even a picture (or mental image) to make them more human and relatable.
Their background, location, age, education, culture, etc.
What are their challenges, objections and needs?
Goals and Wants
Identify their hopes and aspirations.
Info search/buying habits
What platforms do they use? How do they interact with the client?
“Day In the Life”
What would a typical day of your Persona’s life be like? Make it realistic and humanize them.
Don’t fall into the stereotype trap, especially when considering diversity. We’re all prone to biases, whether we know it or not. Read a superbly thoughtful post by Zumi Njongwe, Marketing Director East and Southern Africa Nestle here.
147WebDev Pro Tip: If there are multiple broad groups of customers, try to appeal to the broadest base—you may want to start with the most basic elements of the product or service, and then provide more specialized subsections/pages.
If you’re unable to limit the number of Personas to one (for instance, your client has two substantial customer bases) you may want to perform A-B Testing.
A/B testing is the process of comparing two versions of a webpage to see which one performs better. It’s an extremely useful way to determine what appeals to viewers, and to tailor your site to the target audience.
Large social media sites like Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram use A/B testing to make user experiences more successful and as a way to streamline their services.
You can run A/B tests with Google Analytics for free. More features are available from paid services like VWO and Unbounce.
Once you’ve created the Persona, spend some time getting to know him or her. Picture talking to them. Imagine what it’s like to truly be them. What are they really like, inside? What are their hopes and worries? What do they want, and when? How can your client’s product or service help them? What factors go into their decisions?
Being able to do this requires empathy.
The empathetic sense gives us the ability to recognize, understand, and share the thoughts and feelings of another person, animal, or fictional character.
Like many skills, empathy can be learned and improved with practice. Some exercises for empathy development are:
Ask How You Can Help
Don’t offer what you think someone needs—ask what they think they need.
Practice reading facial expressions and body language. Take yourself out of your own head and remind yourself that other people have their own views and problems.
Don’t automatically dismiss opposing views
Whether it’s politics, religious views, opinions or values—try to understand how someone might have reached their position and accept that their view is not invalid simply because it clashes with yours. You don’t have to adopt their views to build your awareness of why someone thinks and feels the way they do.
Put your attention firmly on someone else
This means avoiding all of the usual distractions: our gadgets, our situation, even our own thoughts and feelings. To truly empathize with another person, you must be completely present with them.
Find more empathy exercises here: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/what-would-aristotle-do
You’ll almost certainly find that practicing empathy will bring benefits to other areas of your life, both personal and professional. Empathy improves your relationships with others, enables effective collaboration and helps you build closer relationships: https://exploringyourmind.com/the-benefits-of-being-empathetic/
“Learning to stand in somebody else’s shoes, to see through their eyes, that’s how peace begins. And it’s up to you to make that happen. Empathy is a quality of character that can change the world.“
When you can understand their habits, motives and needs, you can start to see how your client’s product or service plays into all of that. Then you can craft your content to effectively target the right people. You can use words, colors and images that appeal to them.
Be an advocate for the audience…if the information provided by the client doesn’t contain an answer the viewer might need, get the information and make it available on the website. Ask the questions the customer would ask.
The success of any website hinges on how well it meets the viewers’ needs. Different users have different preferences, desires and requirements. The best sites appeal specifically to the users, providing them with a way to fill a need, satisfy a desire, or solve a problem.
By using your brain’s Right Side, utilizing Personas, and employing empathy, you can design and create truly valuable sites that appeal to the people you—and your client—want to reach.