Whether you’re designing a website for a multi-location equipment dealer or a small landscaping company, using personas can help make sure your site reaches and converts the right customers.
Personas are a part of user-centered web design that prioritizes usability and utility over visuals. When you lead with a user-first approach, you can ensure your website isn’t just beautiful to look at, but also able to rank highly in search results, engage prospective customers, and convert high-quality leads.
What Are Personas?
Coined by Alan Cooper, a persona is “a fictitious, specific and concrete representation of target users.”
Personas are based on the real people who make up your target audience, and can be used to force stakeholders to maintain focus on a new website build. As a design tool, they are a powerful way to document the behaviors, goals, wants, needs, and frustrations of your customers, and can be especially effective for large website redesigns. Project designers, developers, business owners, and shareholders can refer back to the personas to solidify goals, expedite decision-making, and ensure a more successful final product.
The key to success? Making sure each persona is a concrete, well-developed final product, not a vague or abstract concept. When we help clients create personas, typically the end result is a well-researched document or presentation that answers the following questions:
- Who is this person? What is their name, occupation, salary, location, age? Include pictures and other relevant details.
- What are their goals? What do they need to accomplish? What information do they need in order to accomplish this goal?
- What are their pain points? What causes them frustration? Have they interacted with the brand before? If so, how will their previous experience influence their behaviors or play into their frustrations? What information do they lack that will make this process more difficult?
How to Create Personas
If you’re ready to create personas of your own, getting started can be daunting if you’re lacking the time and resources to dive into the necessary research phase. You could easily spend months conducting interviews with real customers and building robust documentation based on qualitative and quantitative data. But if that timeline and investment’s not possible—don’t worry. User persona creation isn’t exclusive to big brands and big budgets. There are a few ways to limit your investment and still have an extremely useful set of data to assist with website design.
START WITH ASSUMPTIVE PERSONAS
Start by creating assumptive or ad-hoc personas. These personas can be based on educated guesses from an initial brainstorming meeting between website managers, designers, and company stakeholders. In this conversation you can begin to paint a picture of your assumptive personas by discussing your customer base with questions like:
- Who are our current customers? What are their demographics? How do they interact with the company (primarily by phone, in person, over chat, etc.)? How many are new vs. returning customers? How many are referrals? Consider customer feedback and online reviews—how do they describe the brand? What do they value?
- Who do we want our future customers to be? What are their demographics? How are they different from current customers? How are they currently being ignored or disengaged by the website?
- Who are the customers of our competitors? Are they the same as current or future customers? How are they different? Why might they prefer a competitor’s website? How is the competition doing a better or worse job engaging these customers?
VALIDATE WITH SUPPORTING DATA
Once you have assumptive personas from your initial brainstorm, you need to validate your assumptions with research. The following resources can help you dive in and solidify your personas:
- Website analytics. Here you’ll find not only demographic information, but also information about returning vs. new users, devices, channel attribution, and engagement with the site.
- Ecommerce analytics. If your website is an ecommerce platform, you should look at top-selling items (consider how popular they are compared to other items, how often they are ordered, and whether they’re ordered multiple times by users). Don’t focus on just the completed sales—look at abandoned cart data and customers that failed to purchase to determine common pain points or site weaknesses.You can also compare your top products to buyer behavior and relevant benchmarks in your industry.
- Audience estimation tools. There are a variety of audience estimation tools that you can use to mine insights about your customers and find similar websites relevant to your users.
- Online reviews. Dig into the feedback your customers are sharing directly. What are users saying about their needs and desires? What do they have to say about the products or services? Use third-party review sites like Yelp or Google to learn why customers may or may not recommend your company.
- Social media. If you don’t already monitor social media for brand mentions, now is the time to start. Search relevant platforms for mentions of your company’s name, products, services, or related hashtags. This is a great way to learn what customers are saying about your competition as well.
- Customer interviews. This requires more time and budget to effectively gather first-hand feedback, but it is also extremely valuable. If you’re able, plan on the following resources to conduct the interviews: a trained interviewer, a private facility or room, and time to find and gather relevant customers as well as parse the qualitative data.
FINALIZE DISTINCT PERSONAS
The next step is to pair the data with your assumptive personas to create distinct user personas. Isolating the critical differences between your assumptions and reality grounds the personas and will produce real and lasting insight to positively impact the design of your new site.
Here you can move beyond simple demographics and include needs and motivations. Use the same template for each persona and make sure it answers the who, what, when and how. And remember—it can be easy to get wrapped up in this process and spend an excess of time on small details like names and photos. Use tools like online name generators and random user generators to streamline the process, and base other characteristics on your research and some basic reasoning.