How to develop User Personas for your website

In last week’s post, How to make a home page that converts I touched upon how important User Personas are to developing a good website. Crafting User Personas is a topic in of itself and so it was out of the scope of that article to really cover it. However, developing good User Personas seems to be something that is often forgotten about or done badly so I decided to write a post about how I go about developing them for my projects and websites.

Why are User Personas important?

Every website (especially company websites) should have a goal. Don’t think of having a goal necessarily as the intent of making money or converting traffic into sales. A goal can be as simple as allowing people to consume your blog or watch your videos. Nevertheless, without a clear and simple goal, a website can quite easily become confusing to new users. When a new user lands on your website for the first time they will make a split second decision whether to continue exploring your site, click back or move on somewhere else. Having a goal creates the subconscious understanding of what your website is trying to convey through a clear narrative and so it will be much less confusing.

Developing User Personas about the likely users of your website allows you to fully understand their goals, needs and frustrations. This allows you to develop a website for your end user that solves their problems and gives them the answers they are looking for. It’s easy to get caught up when designing and developing a website, but your end user should always be your number one priority. By developing detailed User Personas, you will create a much better understanding of your audience and you will develop a website that meets their needs and your goals.

A User Persona Case Study

Carrying on from last week’s post, I’ll use the same Accountancy software package website as the example for this article.

From last week’s post…
Imagine that the application allows small teams of accountants or individual business owners to manage financial data, tax and invoices. So now we have our two main user persons, small teams of accountants and small business owners.

It is very likely that you website will have more than two potential groups of end users. There is no upper and lower limit to User Personas as it all depends on the individual circumstances of your website.

Now that we have a Case Study website and our two distinct User Personas, I’ll show you how I go about writing a profile, then using that information to design and develop a website.

Personal statement

The first thing on each of my User Personas is always a personal statement that gives a quick and concise overview of the profile and can be used as an introduction or a quick refresher of what are the goals and requirements of this user. The personal statement always sits at the top of the User Persona, but it is actually always the last thing I write. In order to write a clear personal statement you need to have a thorough understanding of the contents of the profile. So instead of struggling to think of a paragraph to write about each of your Personas, just mark your document with a heading that says “Personal Statement” and move on to the next section.

Here are the personal statements for each of my end-users.

Small teams of Accountants

The small team of Accountants are technology savvy and require an accounts package that can be integrated into their current work flow. Importing and exporting data is essential and they need to be able to create attractive graphical representations of the data for their clients. This group is fairly open to pricing, but do require a thorough understanding of how the software works before making a purchase.

Small business owner

The small business owner is looking for an Accounts package to take the stress out of dealing with incomings, outgoings, payroll and tax returns. The business is too small to hire an accountant and money is too tight to outsource it so the business owner is having to take on the responsibility herself. She’s not very technology savvy and is quite price sensitive.

Who is the user

Before we get into the nitty gritty of fleshing out the goals and requirements of each of our end users, we must first create human characters for each of our profiles so that it is easier to relate to their goals and problems. By taking our User Personas from an abstract textual illustration, to a real life person, it will make your job of empathising with your end users easier and you will be more likely to remember them and distinguish the different real life people your are looking to help.

The best way I find of doing this is to actually go ahead and create a full personal profile of each of my User Personas. Here is the process I follow;

1. Find a picture

I believe it is far easier to relate to someone if you can see their face. The first thing I do is I find a picture of someone that fits the general description of the user profile I’m writing. For business related websites I usually get a picture from iStock.

2. Personal details

Next I list the personal details of this user so I can get more of an idea about their goals and requirements later down the line. The personal details I usually include are;

  • Name
  • Age
  • Job title
  • Technical ability
  • Understanding of the company
  • Referrer

From this point I usually add a lot more detail depending on the specific case. For example, for a consumer website I would write a lot more about the users personal details, interests, likes and dislikes. On the other hand, if it was a website targeting a very specific high level executive I would write down more detailed information about their job, role at the company, who they network with, what publications they read and what type of person they are in relation to the Technology Life Cycle.

Here are the personal details of each of my User Personas.

Small teams of Accountants

  • Name: Geoffrey Gold
  • Age: 33
  • Job title: Accountant / Head of IT
  • Technical ability: Very good – Deep understanding of IT and the benefits of Software as a Service
  • Understanding of the company: Good – John has been referred by multiple people within his professional network
  • Referrer: Various positive mentions on Twitter and LinkedIn

Small business Owner

  • Name: Tammy Tran
  • Age: 56
  • Job title: Managing Director
  • Technical ability: Limited – Tammy uses email extensively, but doesn’t get her hands dirty with software outside of Microsoft Office.
  • Understanding of the company: None
  • Referrer: Google Search

Goals

The next thing we should look at is “What are the goals for each of the different end-users of our website?”. This is probably the most important aspect of a User Personas as every user of your website will have a goal and it is your job to facilitate them in achieving it. By recognising the goals of your end-users, you can create effective solutions to their problems. Solving your user’s problems should be the top priority of your website and by researching and discovering these problems before anything has been designed or developed you will ensure that you are starting down the right track.

First i’ll list what my end users are looking to get out of my product.

Small teams of Accountants

A small team of accountants requires the following features from our software:

  • Work collaboratively to complete the various tasks for each client
  • Able to present the accounts to their clients easily
  • Able to import and export data

Small business owners

The goals of small business owners are:

  • Track incomings and outgoings
  • Manage payroll
  • Automatically calculate tax owed

Now that we have a better understanding of what the different end user’s problems are, we can start to think about ways to provide solutions. By understanding these problems we can specifically provide answers and a clear way of presenting the benefits of our solution in order to help with their purchasing decision.

Let’s take each of our groups and think of ways we can provide information that will help answer their problems.

Small teams of Accountants

The small team of Accountants need to be able to work on a clients account collaboratively, import and export data and present data to their clients in a easy way.

Small business owner

The small business owner wants the Accounts package to be able to track all of the financial data of the company, deal with payroll and calculate her year returns to take the stress out of managing her Accounts herself.

Now that we know what each of our different User Personas are looking to achieve we can create explicit answers to these problems in prominent places. For example, you might want to list the two different “use cases” on your home page. Under the title of each of these use cases you can then list the above points to pages with more information about how your product can solve these problems. Now you aren’t struggling to know what to place on your home page because you’ve used research and objective reasoning to find exactly the right content that is needed to aid the purchasing decision of your target potential customers.

Requirements

The next area of our User Persona we will look at is the requirements of the user. By this I mean, what are we required to provide the user in order for them to take the action that we want?

As I highlighted above, each different user of your website could have completely different objectives and so you need to ensure you are satisfying their requirements or you will lose that sale.

Here are my perceived requirements for each of my User Personas.

Small teams of Accountants

The tech savvy Head of IT wants to be able to get down and dirty with the product before he commits to buying it. We should provide a demonstration area so he can get a feel for how it will work and if it will be able meet the needs of his team.

Small business owners

The small business owner needs to have the benefits and features of the software presented in a clear and concise way so she can ensure that it is going to be able to handle her incomings and outgoings, payroll and tax returns. We should provide a clear table of benefits, features and price plans so she can be reassured that our software will meet her needs.

As you can see, in this example we only have two different end users but they have very different requirments. The first technology savvy user wants to imediatly get a feel for how the software works and won’t purchase it until he does. The second user would be overwhelemd with a free trial, but she needs to be reassured that our product will solve her problems.

In conclusion

I won’t go into every possible area you should cover on your User Personas because I believe to some extent the content should be based upon the exact situation that you find yourself in.

The most important thing to remember is that you must forget everything you already know about your business and put yourself in your end users shoes. Don’t make any assumptions or take anything for granted. You are probably so immersed in your company that it’s hard to put yourself in the shoes of someone from the outside looking in.

A really good way of crafting User Personas is to talk to people who match your target client based. You can then get an even better picture of their needs and requirements and you will be able to get a first hand insight into what problems you can solve for them.

Don’t worry about finding all the answer straight away. The best way to find out what works is to simply run experiments and let hard data show you what facilitates better conversions.

I hope this has provided you with the stimulus to create your own User Personas.

If you’ve already wrote User Personas for your website, what did you find was a good way of approaching it?

How to develop User Personas for your website
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