Companies today face a unique set of challenges when it comes to their online presence. With increased user-dependence on the web as a primary source of researching information, and the vast amount of resources and information available, it has become progressively more difficult for companies to successfully utilize this medium as a way to attract and engage prospects.
One way to accomplish this is to build a site with your users in mind – a site that satisfies their expectations and needs, as well as yours.
Today, many companies have embraced the idea of creating personas. Not based on any ONE individual; each persona embodies a specific segment of your users with similar motivations, needs, behaviors, and preferences. They are archetype users, and it is recommended you create 3-5 for your website using existing research as well as your own user-testing, field studies, contextual inquiries, focus groups, interviews, and surveys.
Put simply, personas are the human representation of customer research, psychology, and customer empathy. By providing rich details on their lives, hobbies, and attitudes, they actually seem like real people to your designers, developers, and information architects, who can then use them as a frame of reference to properly construct navigational paths that lead each persona to the information they seek, and persuade them toward conversion.
When done correctly, personas can create a unified vision across all departments, resulting in an enhanced design that yields higher conversions.
1. Unified Vision Across Departments
With personas, it’s almost as if your users are right there offering suggestions and advice on how to speak to them effectively and give them what they seek. Since user preferences and desires affect behavior throughout the sales cycle, consider how a unified vision might improve your organization’s ability to convert prospects and serve clients. When everyone in your organization – marketing, web development, sales, content writers, etc. – has a shared understanding of your audience segments and details on how to relate to each, they can leverage this information in their specific role and every effort will be focused on supporting user goals. The result: a consistent and rewarding experience for users that propels them to take action.
2. Enhanced Design and Information Architecture
Design decisions are inevitable. Personas remove the personal egos of the designers, developers, and information architects – allowing them to design from the user’s perspective and not from the perspective of databases and diagrams. Through the development of personas, you are able to identify the unique motivations and goals for each archetype, and infer which factors could drive them toward – or away from – certain actions. What are their tasks? What information do they seek? What defines success? What are their online habits? Once you know the answers to these user-specific questions, you can incorporate this understanding into the design, information architecture (IA), and content decisions of your site.
Let me give an example. In a recent client project, we determined that advanced users of technology liked forums but disliked blogs. Why? Because within the IT circuit, forums have been the most utilized and are known to be a quick method of getting relevant answers to their questions. Blogs, on the other hand, were considered useful for general information like identifying trends, gathering lists, and expressing opinions. Additionally, response time varied greatly; with blogs, getting a response from the author might take over 24 hours, yet with forums, they could expect an immediate response.
These IT professionals were asking very detailed questions to troubleshoot technology and their information foraging behavior is part of the IT culture. Which means incorporating a forum over a blog will better enable IT users to achieve their goals in their preferred manner.
All in all, personas can influence many design decisions, including where to put the search box, how many links to put on a page, what labels to use for calls to action, and how much content to provide. Every design element should be tailored to the users’ preferences. (Maybe your marketing team will think twice about allocating 75% of the homepage real estate.)
Of course, there are minimum standards, best-practices, and learned conventions in usability, which are based on extensive research with diverse audiences. I call this, “The Universal Set of Cognitive Behaviors,” and they can serve as a great starting point when making design and IA decisions. However, some things in usability have not been tested…and this is where your user research comes into play. Testing user-specific behaviors to supplement the universal set of cognitive behaviors is essential to the successful development of personas.
It is universal knowledge that the more targeted your messaging and content, the higher your conversions will be. Your website cannot be a solution for every user; therefore, you must use personas to focus on the users you want to target.
Ultimately, personas will better enable your team to design a site that appeals to each user, serves up the content they seek in an intuitive and logical manner, and utilizes functionality to facilitate the accomplishment of their goals with minimal searching or effort.
3. Yield Conversions
A standard website, created for the masses, lacks focus. However, if you create your website with a particular audience – or persona – in mind, imagine how simple it would be to lead your target visitors through the conversion process. You can attract an audience with a specific need, predict their decision-making styles and behaviors, address their concerns, and supply persuasive content (whitepapers, case studies, newsletters, etc.) to drive them toward the desired action. When users find exactly what they want, when they want it, it will lead to less abandonment and higher conversions.
Ultimately, users should be the driving force behind your site design and development. Without them in mind, companies will fall short when it comes to delivering a successful message and/or experience. By creating personas you ensure the users’ voice is heard throughout the web design process.