We will dive in the tasks that will help you to get to know your target audience. This will help you to structure your website based entirely on your business goals matching your audience needs.
If you don't have an audience yet, then this will help you to understand who could be part of your audience and what you need to focus on to get their attention.
If you have had your website up and running for already quite some time you may have already an idea of who your audience is.
But, how can you be sure that the audience you are attracting is the audience you think or you want to attract?
This exercise will help you to answer questions like:
- Why is it important to know your target audience
- Who is visiting your website
- What are clients expecting from your website
- What are the key aspects you will need to know from your target audience related to your niche
- How to define a persona character
Why is it important to know your target audience?
Who do you think your audience is VS. who is already your audience
It is recommended to review your audience at least once a year. Most likely things have changed in your website and this may have attracted or dismissed some of your target audience.
Some springs ago, we were involved in a website redesign project where the audience was already identified, or at least we were told. The client was strongly convinced that they knew perfectly well who was visiting the website and what their needs were.
Despite their beliefs, we performed a simple exercise with the idea of confirming the identified audience was still valid.
We found that a lot of the characteristics of the audience were still, in fact, valid, however, one of the most unexpected findings were related to the age groups and the frequency of use of the client's website.
These two aspects had quite an impact on the features that were chosen for implementation on the new website, given the impact they have in the behaviour and preferences of these groups.
The project would have had a different direction if we wouldn't have put some effort on finding out (or confirming) who the audience was and most likely end up offering features that were not targeted to the client's existing audience.
How to identify your target audience and define Personas?
What you need to do to identify your target audience and get to know them better
There are basically 3 steps you need to do to identify your current audience:
- Collect as much data as possible about your website visits.
- Identify patterns of character and behaviour of your visitors.
- Define Personas or Avatars based on the information collected to use in your future decisions.
Sounds easy? Yes, it is!
If you have an audience this part will be much easier. Since you already have an audience, you need to focus on getting to know more about them. You probably have a lot of data available ready to be analyzed.
In the case of new products or websites, you will need to reach your potential audience. The data collection methods described below will give you options depending on where your product and audience is or could be at the moment.
1. Collect data
Web metrics are the primary source of information about what is happening on your existing website and it can give you a lot of insights into what your audience is doing and their preferences.
To get to know your current target audience focus on location, devices used, popular pages, new vs returning visitors and referrers types.
- Location will give you an idea of how worldwide spread your target audience is and also an idea of which is their primary language. With this information, you also can deduct potential times of the day when they are online and need to consume your content. Have you considered a multicultural approach for your website? No matter how localized your business is, keep in mind that is out for the whole Internet to see it and potentially interact.
- Devices: This aspect will let you know which potential limitations your users may have in terms of screen size or browser compatibility. Are you providing an excellent experience for the types of device your visitors use?
- Popular pages: This basically tells you which content is your audience interest in. Does this match your business goals? This metric will give you only one side of the coin. You will need to find out what content is your target audience interested in but is not currently offered on your website. Perhaps you should offer additional content or perhaps no, this will only depend on how directly connected the content demanded is with your business goals.
- New v.s. returning visitors: Is the content that you provide made for frequent visitors? Are you providing enough guidance to your new users? This information will give you an idea of what type of content you will need to prioritize.
- Traffic sources: These can be direct traffic, social media, email or organic search. Depending on where your traffic is coming from you may want to consider to review your marketing strategy or provide more context when they land on your pages so they can find their way to the information they are more interested in.
Your homepage may not be the most popular point of entry for your users. Therefore, you will need to make sure users recognize where they have landed and what you can offer them.
Another source of data would be an email campaign that you have set up or have run at least once. Email campaigns are a direct channel of communication with your audience, you can reach to them at any moment and find out more about their preferences.
A potential source of data is your social media channels or public forums in your niche, who are your followers, where do they work, age, gender, etc.
Social media will help you on putting a more human face to your audience, you can collect complementary information about your target audience that you can't see in other sources.
A more targeted source of data is to launch a survey. With a survey, you can find out not only about who they are but how they behave.
Some questions to ask to identify your target audience should be:
- "Which of the following best describes you?" (Add a list of audience groups that you think you are attracting)
- "What was your main reason for visiting the website today?"
- "Would you recommend our website to your friends?"
- "Please rate how important the following functions and types of content are to you"
Always ask for comments. Give your audience opportunities to provide more insights, even if it's just to complain. You will learn a lot from the complainers!
2. Identify patterns of character and behaviour
This step will come very naturally with the more data you collect.
Patterns of character and behaviour refer to any general way of interaction that a majority of your target audience have in common.
Character similarities are also referred to as the demographics of your audience e.g. age groups, gender, occupation.
Behaviours while interacting with your product or other similar products, are the ones you want to focus on e.g. frequency of visits, times of visits.
One way that helps to recognize patterns and correlations is by using graphs to visualize your data.
Now, this doesn't have to be anything fancier than graphs in Excel.
Some of the tools you are already using may provide reports that you can use. For example your email marketing tool, your social media analytics tools
3. Define Personas or Avatars
This is the step where you consolidate the data collected in the previous two steps and prepare a visual representation of each of your target audience groups which we will call Personas from now on.
This visual representation will be your point of reference for each and every decision you take when designing your website, creating new features, removing features, creating content, removing content and (re)defining your business strategy.
How many Personas you need to identify to represent your audience?
First, you will need to identify how many types of personas you need to focus on. Normally this is not going to be more than 5 or 6.
A very common way to categorize your audience is by role. Let's imagine you own a yoga business and you have a website where you offer a variety of services. If you were going to identify your audience groups by role, you will probably have:
However, if your business goal is to focus on your yoga classes and acquire more students(clients), then your distribution of audience groups may not be based on roles but on personal circumstance or character:
- Stay home mom
- University student
Another option could be based on levels of expertise:
- Beginner yoga student
- Regular practitioner
- Master/ Certified yoga practitioner
As you may have noticed, the classification that you choose depends on two things: your business goals and the identified character pattern of your current or target audience.
Your business goals will define what do you want to focus on, while the character pattern identified during your research phase tells you who is already your audience and who is not.
Visual representation of your Personas
Now that you have a set group of Personas identified, let's give them a name. This is simply a strategy to facilitate future reference to each group:
- Stay home mom: Monica
- Businesswoman: Janet
- Businessman: John
- Teenager: Julie
- University student: Kathy
And to make it more fun and really sink them in your head, let's give them a face by creating a card for each Persona:
- Choose an image that feels like that character of your Personas.
- Give it a name
- Write down on each card the characteristics and behaviours identified for each of them. Make sure that you keep a consistent format, it is always useful to have a template to follow.
Don't spend too much time on steps 1 and 2, this is just a bit of fun to help you remember and familiarize with your Personas and create a quick reference that you will be using in the future.
You need to focus on step 3 using all the data collected before about each of these Personas.
Here is an example:
As you can see in the example above this does not require any fancy technology. Now if you are working with a team, you may want to have a digital version that you can share among team members. However, keeping the cards in a board that its always visible to everyone is the best approach.
You get the point, the idea is to have them on sight at all times, no matter if you use a digital version or a printed copy.
What can you do with these Personas?
Now, that you have gone through the research it's time to roll up your sleeves and do the dirty work.
This is where most teams stumble. Not knowing what to do with the Personas is very common. Usually, a lot of time is spent defining these personas and on very few occasions people go back to their Personas as a point of reference for their design decisions.
This just makes the whole exercise pretty pointless.
Personas should become your first point of reference whenever you need to know what your users need or behave like. Whether you need just a reminder or need to figure out missing information needed for your next project.
When to use your Personas
There will be different stages during your product or website life that you will need to refer back to your personas, in order to target their needs and benefit your business.
Evaluating the need for a redesign
Whether you are creating a new product from scratch or adding new features to existing products, the focus should always be on which need is this new product/feature is solving. That's where the profit and success will be.
How many times have you been trapped into creating a new product or adding more fancy features to an existing one? How many of those times the features have really solved a problem and become a success?
No need to answer. Some fancy guys from the Standish group have the answer for us.
You may have heard about the CHAOS report, where each year a shocking number shows how many IT projects fail. In the same report, executives were asked about the main reason that contributes to the success of a project and guesses what was it? User involvement
And the main reason for project failure? Lack of user input
In addition to those two reasons, the next one will come to be related to the definition of requirements, which ultimately is pretty impossible without user involvement. So we go back to our user, to our Personas.
When evaluating the need for a redesign, referring back to Personas will help you to see which pain points or user goals could or should be addressed and prioritized during the redesign.
Sometimes, redesigns are executed as a response to new trends in the market. In which cases, you will need to evaluate the impact of such new trends to your specific audience.
- Is this new trend, something that concerns my regular user?
- Will this new trend affect the regular behaviour of my users?
- How this new trend will trigger new habits or create new needs for my users?
New product, service or feature
Solving an identified need
Every new product or service should be in response to an existing need. (In very few occasions you can create a need but that's a totally different topic)
In order to validate your new product idea, it would be necessary to understand the current status of the need to be solved.
- Is this really a true need of my target audience?
- Does this new product help me to reach additional target groups that could increase my audience?
- Where is my audience finding solutions for this need at the moment? (Competitors)
Reconnecting with your audience
Finding the evolution of your Personas is absolutely necessary. Personas analysis is not an exercise that you do one time only. Like any other business strategy, it needs to be reviewed frequently.
The recommended frequency would be about once a year, depending on the evolution of your products or services.
The relaunch of one of your existing products is an opportunity to not only evaluate the product and possibly enhance it but also to evaluate how the product is doing with respect to your audience.
- Is this still a relevant product for my audience?
- Which other unidentified groups may be interested in this product?
- Are there any new needs, trends or behaviours that my product is not addressing?
Which tools can help you find your target audience?
- Google analytics: You probably already know that this is a must-have. Most metrics categories will be available to perform an analysis of what is currently happening on your website.
- Facebook audience insights: This one gives you insights of potential audience groups present in Facebook. Give it a try if your audience is in this social media platform or could be. Useful in particular if you are planning or already running Facebook ads.
- Twitter audience insights: Very useful for demographics if your audience is or may be on Twitter. Also allows you to compare audience groups, which is a pretty neat feature.
- Hotjar: One of our favourites. It shows you the behaviour of your audience on your website, literally shows you where they click, scroll or move. Hotjar also offers tools to collect feedback via surveys, polls, etc. If you want to know how your layout is doing and where are your visitors dropping out, this is a must-have.
- SurveyMonkey: It's a great tool for surveys. It has all the necessary functions and is very easy to use. It not only offers survey tools but other audience analysis tools worth a try.
- Mailerlite: Email marketing tool that can manage your email campaigns and provide insights into your readers.
Customer persona example - Janet the yoga teacher
So, let's go back to your yoga business and website.
We are going to assume, you already have a website but never have a look into how this fulfils your users' needs.
The first thing to do if you already have a live product is to check if all your Personas goals and behaviours are addressed by your product.
For example, let's take our yoga teacher Janet.
Questions that you may want to know about your Persona:
- What would be the motivation of your yoga teacher to come to your website? (Motivation/Goal)
- What services are yoga teachers expecting to find on my website? (Expectations)
- How often will yoga teachers come to my website? And why? (Behaviour)
- What types of yoga teachers do I currently attract? (Character)
- What type of yoga teacher do I want to attract? (Target audience)
- Where is my audience located? (Market location)
- Will they access my website on the go (mobile) or at home/office (desktop)?
- What are some aspects related to their age group that I would need to consider? (Age)
Some of these questions may seem too specific and you must be wondering how a survey or web metrics will provide you with such information.
As mentioned before behaviour and demographics patterns could be initially identified from the data collected in your web metrics, the frequency of visits, location, devices used, age.
Other aspects related to motivation and expectations could be initially derived from their interests. Social media is a great source to identify interests.
However, the best option to get to know more about expectation and motivations is to have an open channel of communication. This is where surveys with open questions, forums of discussion and even user interviews come in handy.
Interviewing representatives of your Personas is a great exercise and will give you a better overview of their entire profile. It may seem like a lot of work but especially with new products, this could be a really worthy exercise.
So, do you really need to analyze your target audience?
If you have read this far, you may have an idea of why this is important and how this can bring value to your business or projects.
The ultimate goal of having an online presence is to reach a specific audience and connect with them in exchange for some predefined benefit. This benefit could be to get your voice heard, to sell or promote a product or service or entertain people.
Whatever your goal is, you won't be able to achieve it if you don't understand who are you reaching to and what would motivate them to listen to you.
Products exist and survive in the market because there is a demand for them. Understanding where that demand comes from or could come from is key to your success.
Most of us can easily fall into the trap of believing that we represent our audience, but that's not 100% true. We may have a certain common interest with the audience that we are trying to reach but we can't represent all the audience groups that we may want to reach.
The only way possible to know whether somebody is going to be interested in your offer is getting to talk to them and getting to know them deeply.
Personas are one of many tools that you can use to identify your audience and have a better understanding of their motivations, behaviours, challenges, restrictions, advantages, etc.
However, identifying Personas alone cannot guarantee that your product or service is going to succeed.
Using Personas on every design or business decision you make will get you closer to a more accurate version of your product getting your audience attention.
Regardless of your current situation whether you are working on your own digital product or one for a client, consider to identify or review your target audience and refresh your Personas.
Let us help you in the process. Send us your questions now!