The greatest gift you can give your clients and potential clients is a website that they love.

Not just because it is beautiful, but because it flows and works as expected. But how do you do it? As we often discover, just because a site works for us doesn’t mean it works for everyone else.

Let’s start with defining the goal of the site and work from there. For the majority of our website clients, their website is designed to ultimately:

  1. Get leads and/or
  2. Get sales or donations

The challenge lies in the Hows and Whys of how we accomplish the goal or goals.

The Hows

The Hows are a set of questions that we ask when we’re thinking about designing a website to achieve goals. In general, they follow the “how we are going to get people to give us their information?” theme.

Specific examples might include:

The Whys

The Why questions are much more difficult, because they dig a little deeper. They look at the purpose of the site, and centre on the “why people want to give us their information” theme.

They look at things like:

  • Why is it important to have this design element or content on the site?
  • Will this product or service fulfill the user’s needs?
  • Why is this event, product, or cause important to your users?

The challenge that we frequently see lies in analyzing our proposed answers to the How and the Why questions. Who decides what the right answers are? Website designers and their clients are very rarely the end users, so it doesn’t matter if the site appeals to them or is easy for them to use or not.

To have any kind of meaningful discussion about placement of elements on the site, you need some sort of unbiased standard to measure against. In short, you need a way to get out of your own head and into the heads of your users. You need to ask “Who”.

The Who … Knowing Your Users

Understanding who your users are and what they need is the best way for you to come up with meaningful and realistic answers to the Hows and Whys.

A really good method to follow is to develop personas. Personas are profiles of fictional people that outline their needs and goals. They help designers and marketers understand the site from the perspective of that type of user.

Creating personas should involve interviews and observing users. It’s not unheard of to follow users around for a day. This involves spending an immense amount of time and money doing the research, but works really well for discovering things you normally wouldn’t be able to guess.

The challenge is that few small companies have the budget or time to engage a marketing professional to help them go through lengthy user testing sessions. So what can you do?

Five Secrets For Creating Personas

Here are five secret methods for creating personas that won’t break the bank. We’ve been using these for years and have had great results.

Secret 1: Don’t Over Complicate Things

Remember when developing personas, you’re taking a macro view. Try to create 3 to 6 personas at most. Don’t worry about the little tiny details or every type of client or prospective client you have ever dealt with.

Secret 2: Think About How People Buy (or Donate)

Every business has a sales funnel. Use each stage of your sales funnel as the basis for a persona.

For instance, many luxury products will have a few different personas like “researchers”, “buyers” and “existing customers”. Their needs and wants will be very different.

Researchers are 6 months to 2 years from making an actual purchase. They are in ‘information collection’ mode. They want to subscribe to newsletters, look at photos, or download e-books, but are far away from committing to a decision. Buyers are ready to make the purchase now.

Secret 3: You Know Your Customers Already

Ask your accounting department to print out a list of your top 10 customers. When you take a look at the list, you’ll start recognizing some trends.

Another place to get real research data from is Google Analytics. When you drill down into the statistics on your existing site, you can start seeing what’s working and what isn’t. Also, anyone handling your customer service will be able to provide information on what your clients are trying to accomplish and what their frustrations are. Lastly, spend the day observing friends or family members who are part of the target market – most would be happy to help.

Secret 4: Reverse the Work

Let your users tell you what they think without the time consuming interview. Online survey tools are often free to use when dealing with small groups. We frequently use them to help us. They’re much more cost effective than focus groups or personal interviews, but often result in the same great insights.

Secret 5: Think About The Other Things Your Website Is Good For

We usually like to include a few non-revenue generating personas. These might be personas like career seekers or the media. These types of users could have a huge impact on the success of your business and we try to make their life easy as well.

Bring the Love

We know that talking with real people will yield the “nuggets” – those insights that you just can’t guess at on your own. But business owners have to get creative if they don’t have the money to hire a market research team. The point is not to guess at what your market wants, even if you think you know your customers well.

Creating a website that your customers love will take extra work. But at the end of the day it is worth it: you’ll attract clients you love and who will love you right back!

Happy Valentine’s Day!

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