I have been working with websites for the better half of my career, and one of the things I hear most often from other website professionals is that you can’t plan viral content. While I agree, I believe there is a way to best create a site that will make consuming your content as simple and comfortable as possible. Once you have your visitors connected and engaged with your site, you increase the chances that your content resonates with them and also the likelihood they will share it and often.

While we hope for our content to go viral and bring a ton of immediate traffic for free, the steady sharing of well designed and robust content could be more valuable to your business and just as lucrative.  I always think of Seth Godin’s phrase that it is not important to yell at the masses to get the attention of as many as you can, but to whisper so that those that matter move closer to hear you better.

Persona Refinement Will Help You Write Content That Matters

The first step in creating the comfortable environment for your target audience is developing an intuitive site architecture by knowing who will be using the site and why. As an agency, we spend time in advance of any large redesign working with the company to uncover as much as we can about the target audience. It is imperative to get a deep knowledge of who the client understands the target audience to be.

Interview Your Marketing Staff

We begin by interviewing the marketing staff to see who they are targeting – demographic information, psychographic information, successful marketing efforts down to the media, channel and even placements.

This interview process allows us to understand who the marketing staff  believes their prospective clients to be from the perspective of data as well as understand how much these marketing staff stated “buyer personas” have been influenced by groupthink or tribal knowledge.

We can’t stop with the ideal from the marketers, as it is widely known that there is often a huge disconnect between who the marketing team believes their customers are and who the sales team believes their customers are. To close this gap we must go to the front lines of the organization to interview the sales staff and get the reality of the daily interactions and the effort required to attract the attention of these prospective clients.

You must see what their daily routine involves, you must know what they value and what will send them away. The funny thing is that the golden rule that has always been the standard is not even remotely solid enough because it is no longer good enough to speak to anyone as you would want to be spoken to. It is imperative that you get to know them well enough to speak their language in the places that make them comfortable and about topics they want to talk about. It is also imperative that you know these people well enough to know if they want to talk and when you should shut up.

Document Your Persona Work

When all your work is done, you want to make sure it is documented, so as not to leave it to be maintained through the normal channels that lend themselves to the inaccurate and subjective needs of the client.

We have worked with a number of companies that have used various platforms to document their personas including Akoonu, Skyword, Hubspot, Marketo, and Curata. While each of these has their own benefits and challenges, the most important aspect is to document this information in a meaningful way that allows your client to access it, and shares and amends the information as data and market changes dictate. At the very basics, you should understand the following:

  • Gender
  • Age
  • Family status
  • Occupation or Title
  • Income level
  • Content Consumption Habits (where they go to get content, which media outlets do they prefer for which types of information, how these habits change at work and in their personal life, etc.)

Confirm this Data with the Actual Customer

Once you have a handle on the basic persona information, you then need to confirm this data by speaking with a sample of their current clients and their lost clients. This will give you the opportunity to test/confirm their understanding of the drivers behind their target audience.

A pivotal part of this stage is to speak to both won and lost opportunities for this data because you do not want to skew your data by only gathering information from those who fall into one of those categories. If you never speak to lost opportunities, you risk not understanding what about your site or product/service is leaving understated or not addressed that could capitalize on visitors that you already have.

It is ultimately important to document and refine the motivations of each target persona from this research because nothing is more difficult than walking into an established corporation and telling them that they do not know who their target audience is. Having statistically relevant data with identifiable information to support your claims, makes this a littler easier, but even then you may still not be very successful.

Using Buyer Personas to Develop Website Architecture

Now that you know all about the target audience – what does this have to do with the site architecture?  Your buyer personas are the basis on which you design the flow of your site. Most organizations use persona information simply to begin a content strategy or embark upon content marketing, but the more important information in this research is how the behavior of your target audience should shape the organization and architecture of your site.

You should define the various personas that will be your target audience and how they consume content along their decision process to making a purchase. Leverage the insight you have gained from the persona development into categorizing specific pain points and determine commonality between those pain points. It is here where you will see the different organizational structures begin to emerge for your site.

If you have enough common pain points across personas, you can see the importance of addressing them in the layout. Maybe you elevate a certain section to the top navigation or create a standard template across an entire level of your pages. If your audience relies on social information or referrals, then you need to consider whether it makes sense to have a testimonials or reviews section of your site and/or build one of each into each product page. If your audience does a large amount of research prior to buying your product, and has a high tendency to consume technical data from applications of your product, then you may want to consider if you should have a resources section, suggested reading on every product/service page, downloadable case studies or all of the above built into your site.

Finalize the unique value proposition of the company to each of the target personas as they reach another step in their decision making process. This is also where you make the important decisions on where to focus or limit what you decide to do. If you do too much, then you risk distracting and detracting the user from an ideal experience.

To use an analogy, if you serve a dinner guest dessert before the salad, you may not leave enough room to try the main course. You should understand the visitors well enough to determine the value of each piece of content that is placed on a page and work towards providing value for the user experience as they progress down their decision stages to conversion. You should also know that the closer a visitor comes to deciding upon your product, the more a piece of content gains or loses value.

The placement of each of the pieces of content in the experience should be planned to maximize this value – but more on that in part 2 of this blog series.