Website Personas: The What, Why, & How
July 3, 2011
Maybe you've heard of marketing personas, but website-specific personas? What are those? Learn the 101 of website personas, why you should create them, and how to use them during your website planning & strategy phase.
by Eric Sharp
A website persona is a realistic character sketch representing one segment of a website's targeted audience. They detail; demographics, whether they're a primary, secondary, or tertiary user, their website needs, and also the business needs. They can be designed in any graphics program (Word, Canva, etc.) and typically include a fictitious name and photo to help them become more real. Once in place, they create one shared vision and help everyone on the team make better decisions which leads to quality traffic, improved conversion, and overall success of your website. Creating website-specific user personas is one of the most important steps in your website strategy and needs budgeted for because of the increased efficiency they offer.
What’s the most important step to planning a website?
This question returns various answers from website professionals, but my answer is always swift and assertive.
Creating website-specific user personas.
Aside from documenting website goals, I’ll say this activity is THE most important step because of its profound impact on future decision making in design and development.
User personas help turn a moving target into a stationary one, and, therefore, sharpens your company’s viewpoint on who exactly is visiting your website and how to engage them. By putting in the research to know your user first, every subsequent decision gets backed by incentive to solve user’s needs.
Your website is NOT for you (sorry)
More times than not, your website is for not you.
If your website is going to sell more, generate qualified leads or expand your brand’s reach, it simply can’t be treated as your organization’s canvas for self-expression and experimentation.
What are website user personas?
Here’s a quick 3 minute video intro to website-specific user personas.
Steve Mulder, author of The User is Always Right, defines a user persona as a:
Realistic character sketch representing one segment of a Web site’s targeted audience. Each persona is an archetype serving as a surrogate for an entire group of real people.Steve Mulder
In a nutshell, these are the people you want to please with your website.
What website-specific personas include
- Demographics. Age, Gender, Location, etc.)
- First Name and realistic photo. To help them become more real.
- Primary/Secondary segmentation. Helps with feature prioritization.
- User Needs. Why are they coming to the site?
- Business Needs. What is your organization trying to get them to do?
Personas (sample below) can easily be designed in Word/Pages or a graphics program such as Illustrator, Photoshop or Pagemaker. They are used throughout the web design process from initial strategy to launch, and even post-launch for reference while adding new features.
Sample Template of Website User Personas
Why create website-specific User Personas?
As Mr. Mulder emphatically states:
Teams assume that their users think and act like they do.
A website planned, designed and marketed on this assumption is misguided and on the path to underachieving. Users have different goals than you. Users don’t care as you do. Users aren’t all alike.
How website user personas help everyone
They help the people on your team:
- Make better decisions
- Create one shared vision
- Help user research come to life
Personas take work, but try not to be concerned with the additional time to create them. Try to think of this activity as an investment.
The time you dedicate to personas is fully recovered in subsequent steps because of increased efficiency.
Decisions are made faster. Conversations are more fluid and revolve around “What do our users want?” rather than “What do we want?”Everybody involved has the proper viewpoint, which prevents uninformed decisions like leaving out FAQs (because the CEO didn’t think they were helpful) or choosing a particular color (because the Marketing Director’s daughter loves pink).
For the record, mine is green.
How user personas impact copy
Curious how you utilize website user personas with, specifically, your copy? This video will help.
Don’t build your house (website) on sand (without personas)
If you’re about to embark on building or rebuilding your website, ensure persona research and documentation happens before designs are created, or code is written.
The identification of your actual users will trail blaze clarity and focus within your organization and help everyone involved make better decisions.
Hey, thanks for being here!
There's gobs of information out there, so I'm honored you found this article interesting enough to make it this far. My hope is it helps you to a better performing website!
About the Author
Eric Sharp is the founder of ProtoFuse and has been in the website trenches since 1999 — right before the dot-com boom redefined websites forever. Since then, he's accumulated two decades of digital marketing experience and prides himself on creating websites "Loved by people and Google". He has 2 awesome kids, loves Da Bears, and is into that whole CrossFit thing.
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