But an equally important question is, “Who is this website for?”
This is a conversation about both brand and audience.
When we consider audience at the brand level, it's more of a broad picture. It's emotional. It's about desire, broad pain, want, and need. It's about solving larger problems. However, audience focus is also a core proponent of content design on the more functional and tactical end of building online experiences. So asking directly “Who is this website for?” is a core question that isn’t always looked directly in the face.
In this article, we'll talk about:
Defining what audience is on the web
How to determine who your audience is (and is not)
How do you decide who your website is for? Three research methods.
What is a website audience?
So, you might be wondering, "What exactly is a website audience?" Well, in the simplest terms, your website audience is just the group of people who you want to visit your site. These could be potential customers, existing clients, curious onlookers, or even competitors. Anyone who's clicking around on your site is a potential part of your audience. It's super important to understand who these folks are, however, because your website should be a bit like a welcoming party for them - enticing, engaging, and easy to navigate. That said, there’s one thing to remember:
The website you’re building is (probably) not for you
Content design is the process of using data and evidence to give an audience what it needs, at the time that they need it in a way that they expect and is useful. A content designer is an audience advocate at their core.
So we honor audience-first thinking in content design in a whole bunch of ways, from asking the right questions in content discovery (more on that below) to crafting user stories and job stories, to research and interviewing, to simply having a content designer collaborating with UX, design, and development from start to finish.
Given all of that, one big thing to remember is that it’s very unlikely you are a part of the audience group you’re building that website for. But oh, you’re going to want to insert your own experience. You’ll default to thinking “I would do it this way.” And some of that is going to be valid and come from your experience as an expert digital creative. It will also come from the idea that humans behave in similar ways when using an app or website. But perspective - and knowing thine audience - is incredibly important.
Just take this as your tiny reminder to regularly step out of your skin and think “What does the research about this site’s audience tell me about what they’d think, want, or do in this situation?” If there’s no research to look to, do it. If there is, scribble a “check the research” on a Post-it. Set up an alarm to remind you every day. Take your ego out of the mix. It’s for the good of the work.
But if it’s not for you, who is it for then? And how do you know?
How do you determine who your website is for?
At Edgar Allan, we conduct audience research via collaborative workshops, interviews, and desk research.
Audience discovery is a big part of content discovery. It starts with winnowing down potential audiences into a list that’s no longer than two or three targets. Specificity works best – and keeps you focused. If you need to add more, you can. But start with bigger groups of folks and see if it’s enough before narrowing things down to something so granular it’s in the weeds.
For our purposes, let’s say your audience is moms of young kids with sweet tooths. (I guess that’d probably be pretty much all kids, but go with me here.)
Once you’ve determined what audience you’ll start with, you might want to use a grid like this one to guide your questions.
First comes audiencebasics: Who are they? Maybe they’re 25 to 30, have limited income to spend on special treats, and aren’t particularly health conscious (for example). This is the demographic box and the place that typical marketing and messaging personas tend to dwell in. Note whatever surface information you think is relevant here, and then just tuck it away, because it’s directive, but not particularly detailed. You may want to use it as a place to start digging deeper later on.
The next thing you’ll want to ask: “What are their frustrations? What bothers them?” This shouldn’t just be a broad question - it should be directly pertinent to their mindset around your general product, or ideally, the solution your product or brand is proposing. So, let’s say the fact that ice cream cartons are smaller than they used to be bothers them.
Well, you’re selling cartons of ice cream. And their frustration is that in 2020, cartons held 18 ounces and now they only have 16…and this audience is not there for that. You’ve hit on a frustration.
Moving on, you’ll want to find out about this audience’s motivations. You’ll want to ask, “Pertaining to the product or even the audience’s frustration, what motivates these people?” Well, their kids love ice cream and eat a lot of it. They are on the PTA and they need to bring ice cream once a week. They are concerned about the price of the volume they’ll have to buy now that the containers are smaller.
Next, you’ll want to explore the audience’s goals. In this case, it could be pretty simple. This audience needs to find an ice cream brand that is economical and tastes good. They need to provide something that's gonna satisfy a group. They need to do all that and perhaps find a product that is nut-free or even dairy-free. That’s this audience’s endgame.
Next, we’ll talk about sensitivities. Here I like to explore things that might give an audience pause or a bad taste in their mouths. For some industries, there can be very specific things that we as marketers might not be aware of that are great to bring to light here. But it’s also a great time to talk about conversation-stoppers like, maybe “Those Ben and Jerry guys just rub this audience the wrong way,” so we’ll want to stay away from things that remind them of that pair. Or industry-wide expectations that an audience might have absorbed and your brand will need to overcome. “All ice cream rots your teeth,” might be one there.
Finally, we come to the jobs to be done. This is one I won’t always add to a brand-specific audience discovery because it’s more tactical and pertains to a job this audience needs to accomplish via a website. But say your immediate goal is to create an audience-appropriate experience. Jobs here might be “When I’m shopping for ice cream I have to recognize the ingredients” or “When I order in bulk, I like to get some kind of volume discount.”These things will help direct the final journey on the site you’re creating – and keep you focused on this audience’s terminal goals.
One audience down, you’d then go through the same questions for every primary audience. Note the differences. They’ll inform messaging, user journey, and site flow and keep you grounded in what this audience truly wants and needs… at least from your client’s educated perspective.
What’s next? Go ask real audience members what they think.
Interviews, Surveys & Desk Research
Audience work done during content discovery is a wonderful place to start. But combining that inquiry with one-on-one audience interviews, one-to-many surveys, and/or desk research helps unveil even more juicy audience intel.
Keep reading for two other important audience research tools: