In the early days of digital marketing, websites were mostly generic brochureware. 15 years ago, the user experience on a website was not a universally-accepted integral part of a company's brand or messaging. To be fair, most companies were still familiarizing themselves with the very concept of a company website at all, and everyone was still figuring out the rules and conventions as they went along. Persona marketing, much more ubiquitous today, was essentially non-existent at that time.
Fast forward to today, and websites as well as the devices on which we view them have completely transformed into a reflection of how much a company actually resonates with the issues and stories of the buyers and end-users that view them. There is now a mountain of data available to confirm that today's potential buyers are judging your company (and your competitors, mind you) based on the experience they have on your website — even if most of them don’t consciously realize they’re doing it.
Your potential buyer and/or user is actually, consciously or unconsciously, asking the following questions:
- Does this website easily give me the information for which I’m looking?
- How easy is it to read and understand?
- Does this company understand people like me, and is the information I'm finding helping me make a decision one way or the other?
Of course, the specific thoughts of each of your visitors may vary, but the key takeaway here is that they are asking some form of the questions above, and they are not just making a judgement about your website, they are making a judgement about your company.
To ensure that your website is connecting with your prospects correctly, you need to define who your prospects are. You need to build out user personas.
Persona-based marketing can be deep enough for an elephant, but shallow enough for a bird. Developing an entire persona ecosystem is a huge task, requires numerous hours of surveys, interviews, and analysis of industry data, and oftentimes is well beyond a small-to-medium-sized company's available budget for such things. On the one hand, such extensive research is not always affordable or needed for a website. On the other hand, a solo entrepreneur sitting down with a cup of coffee and 'guessing', via their experience, what their potential customers need to see on a website is an absolute disastrous approach that almost always leads to a low-converting, failed website.
Here are three things that I recommend if you're trying to establish or develop personas that will inform your messaging, design layout, navigation, and special functionality of your website:
1) Focus on what you CAN see and know, not what is invisible to you.
If you don't have thousands of dollars to pay for research, you're simply not going to know what intelligence went into your competitor's websites. You’re not going to be able to access certain privileged information, such as your competitor’s Google Analytics metrics, who is writing their copy and why, or the topical publishing calendar they are using to produce content (if they have one at all). What you CAN see, though, is their existing copy, and what that says about their brand and messaging. Read your competitors’ websites thoroughly. Make notes on what you see. Read, read, and then read some more, and answer this question: How am I different from them? How do I stand out from them? What is my unique selling proposition, and how will I get that uniqueness to really stand out in a way that makes an impression on my site visitors?
2) Realize that your buyer is not you.
Unless you have a crystal ball, making assumptions about how your audience will view your site based on how you yourself see it, is a great way to destroy your business and is a terrible thought-process by which to design a website. Don't ask "What would I like to see on my website?". Start with this instead: Do I understand who would buy my product or service and why? Do I know, or have I asked, my existing and former customers what their decision-making process was in buying from me? What current market trends are related to, or surround, my product or service?
At the end of the day, when all is said and done, your potential buyer has a story. What is that story? It might not be what you think it is!
3) Consider professional help.
Even if you can't afford it at the moment or don’t need it right away, gathering service and pricing information on persona development services will prepare you for both a great website and deciding on the right partner to work with later on.
Do some homework on what formal persona development services cost. Make a cheat sheet out of what you found. Know what you would be getting. Ask the company you’re talking with to describe exactly what the deliverables are for, and what the end purpose is of having them. And remember that at some point in your growth as a company, you’ll need to revisit and revise, in an official capacity, your target persona and ideal buyer, as well as how their customer journey is changing over time.
Websites need to be built in order to convert the right people, in the right way, at the right time. Without building out your target personas, you're shooting in the dark on both language and design. Don't build websites blindfolded. Build with purpose.