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How to Determine a Website's Audience

Before you can design a website, you must first understand the target audience who will be using it. If (for example) you’re designing a website for a cruise line and you’re not familiar with the cruise industry, you could assume mistakenly that the audience for the site would be families.

Unless you sit down with your client and ask a lot of questions, you’ll never know that the real audience for the client’s particular business is (in this case) empty-nesters looking for a unique travel experience, or the young singles crowd looking for a party vacation and the chance to meet new people. This changes everything about your concept for the website — from the graphical appearance and photography choices to the content features and site organization.

Having structured conversations with your clients and asking them many questions about their industry, competition, and intended audience is a critical step in the design process.

Question checklist for web design clients

The best way to extract customer profile information from your clients is to have a chat with them and run through a list of prepared questions. What sorts of questions should you ask? Here’s a generic list to get you started. You should ultimately create your own list and modify it for each new project.

Customer Questionnaire
Question Reason for Asking
How many different types of customers do you have? Some businesses have a segmented customer base. For instance, they may have current customers, prospective customers, business customers, and consumer customers. Your web interface may need to cater to different customer segments.
How would you describe each customer type? Have the client describe each customer type in detail. Are the customers primarily male or female? Are they professionals? What is their income bracket? Are they web-savvy? What’s their level of education? What is each customer segment trying to accomplish online?
What are the barriers for each customer? Customers always have at least one thing that will make them hesitant to engage in your client’s offerings. For example, is the product perceived as too expensive? If so, your content has to really push the value and/or financing options.
What’s the biggest value this new website will provide to customers? You need to know what the website will offer that solves a customer’s need. For example, will the new site offer exclusive site discounts or help each customer zero in on the right product for him or her and compare product features side by side?

Personas

The client checklist can give you a good idea of the customers you’re after, but sometimes going a step further and developing a one-sheet profile for each customer type is helpful. In the web industry, these one-sheets that profile a unique customer segment are called personas.

Each persona has a name (fake, of course) and even a picture along with a short bio, age, income, and other detail. The idea is to make the customer come alive in the minds of the web team.

While clients usually have a good idea of the characteristics, wants, and needs of their customers, for projects that can afford it, it’s a good idea to schedule workshops with actual customers to get a better view into their heads. These workshops make each persona you create that much more accurate.

[Credit: © Volkswagen of America]
Credit: © Volkswagen of America

Website user scenarios

Scenarios are plausible situations involving each persona. For example, a scenario for “Helen” might run as follows. Helen is moving cross-country to accept a new job in Los Angeles. She has accumulated enough stuff throughout her first couple of years out of college that her car just won’t do. She needs to find an affordable moving solution for her small amount of stuff that’s not a semi.

From this example, you can see that an online moving company targeting this customer needs to quickly convey multiple affordable options from small vans she can rent to full-service, small-scale moving services.

By thinking through a couple of different real-life scenarios, you have a better context from which to design the site’s architecture, suggest rich media (such as interactive Flash elements and videos) that serve a real purpose, and plan a content strategy that anticipates and meets the customer’s needs.

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