Understanding Your Audience With Personas

When you first studied the fundamentals of effective writing, you probably learned what an audience is. For example, “My audience is people who like cats,” or “I am writing for people interested in learning about the Spanish Inquisition.” Knowing who your audience is helps you to tailor your style and the information you provide in a way that your specific audience will understand best.

However, it may not be that simple. You can sum up your audience in one lump statement, but doing so prevents you from understanding the diverse needs and qualities of those who visit your site. Fortunately, creating personas for your site is a great way to understand your audience and be a more effective writer.

What is a Persona?

In the context of web design and usability, a persona is a hypothetical user of your site based on real information you have gathered about your audience. Step Two Designs says personas “act as ‘stand-ins’ for real users and help guide decisions about functionality and design.”

Typically, you should have three to five personas that represent your site’s audience. According to Boxcar Marketing, ideally the personas you create should represent both your primary users and your secondary users. These personas should be similar in that they share a relationship with your site, but should be different enough to help you recognize variances between the groups actually viewing your site.

Creating good personas is not something you can do quickly. However, investing your time into understanding your audience will help you to communicate more effectively with them.

Steps to Creating Personas

  1. Gather Data
    • Conduct research about your audience. This might include surveys and examining your site’s web analytics if you have already created one
    • The purpose of this step is to understand what draws your viewers to your site and what they expect from you
  2. Compile the Research
    • Consider what themes and common characteristics you see in your analysis and what traits make certain groups stand out
    • The purpose of this step is to see what groups your site is reaching and how they relate to each other
  3. Separate Your Users
    • Determine who your primary and secondary users are. Remember, not everyone who visits your site is part of your target audience
    • Choose one to three groups as your primary users and one or two groups as your secondary users
  4. Refine
    • Focus on your groups and develop a single, realistic person to represent each one. As mentioned in an article on Usability.gov, consider including the following information in your description of the person:
      • Demographics, such as name, age, gender, and education
      • Experience level with your site’s topic
      • The technology they use to access your site, such as a laptop, smart phone, or tablet
      • How they found your site
      • Their motivations, including what they’re looking for on your site and why they came to you
      • Their special needs, such as requiring a screen reader of having a slow internet connection
      • Other information that is relevant to your site
  5. Stay Serious
    • While it can be tempting to inject some humor into your personas, it’s important to take creating them seriously. According to Cooper, a design and strategy firm, you should focus on the aspects of the persona that are critical design first. Once you have a solid foundation you can add a couple personal details to give your personas life. These personas represent the viewers of your site, so creating them with some seriousness in mind will keep your personas more focused and useful rather than a joke.

Example of a Persona

As an example, consider what personas would be most appropriate for this site, ClarkWP Magazine.

If you examine the contributor guidelines, you will find that ClarkWP’s intended audience includes students and educators at Clark College as well as members of the public who have an interest in WordPress.

These groups give you several possibilities for personas. For now, just create one for the student group. Your persona might look something like this:

Showing an example persona

From the perspective of a contributor to ClarkWP, you now have a persona that represents part of your audience. A fair percentage of ClarkWP’s readers are probably a lot like this example, college students with some web experience who are familiarizing themselves with WordPress. Understanding this portion of your audience will help you to write more things that are useful to them and make browsing ClarkWP worthwhile for them.

Things to Consider:

  • Are there people in your audience with special needs? Do any of your readers use a screen reader, rely on dial up, or are restricted to viewing your site on mobile devices? Creating a persona will personalize the already critical need for web accessibility. It’s much more motivating to think about what you need to do to make it easier for Jim to enjoy your site’s content than to think of it as another requirement.
  • Be specific, but not too specific. Your personas should be specific enough to be useful, but general enough that they still represent their respective groups.
  • Don’t have too many personas. Use personas to focus on your primary and secondary audiences, not everyone who may stumble upon your site.

If used properly, personas can make it much easier for you to target your site to your intended audience. Understanding who they are, why they’re visiting your site, and what you can do to get them to stay will help you to manage your site more effectively and build a better relationship between you and your audience. If you have not already, consider developing personas for your site.

Resources for Creating Personas

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