Written by Hirsch Fishman on August 12th, 2009
When people first come to me to design a website for them, one of the first things I ask them is who their target audience is. Knowing who a website’s visitors are (or will be) is crucial for designers to know, because it helps us make all of the design decisions that will ultimately comprise the website we deliver.
Asking these questions often means stepping outside of our role as designers and putting on a marketer’s cap, because ultimately that’s what a lot of this information is all about. Marketers focus on helping clients communicate with their customers, and that’s exactly what a successful website does.
People sometimes rely on our expertise as web designers without understanding that marketing is also an important part of what we do. If information about the target audience falls through the cracks, sooner or later the client might come to realize that their website isn’t doing as well as it should be. In their mind, that’s a reflection on your product and work as a web designer.
So put on your marketing cap, and ask your clients some of the following questions in order to design a website that will truly meet the needs of a particular target audience.
The most basic information you can get about a target audience is their demographic information. While it’s important that your client is happy with the website, you need to take into account basic demographic information in order to create a design that will make the website more successful.
Here are some basic demographic questions to ask about a target audience:
- What gender are they? – Knowing whether the target audience is male, female, or both makes a huge impact on your design decisions, mainly in what colors you choose. Men and women react differently to colors, and colors symbolize different things to age groups, professions, and ethnic or social groups.
- How old are they? – Generally speaking, different age groups may be more computer savvy than others, have different familiarities with finding or doing something online, and have different expectations about what functionality they’ll find on a website.
- What keywords are they searching for? – Knowing what keywords people are using to find the product (specifically) or search online for (broadly) is useful for SEO purposes. Ask whether the website is geared towards businesses, individuals, etc., and then use keywords based on their answer.
Visitors are coming to your website for some purpose, whether to find information, make a purchase, etc. While the colors and functionality of the website are important, the content is what they’re really looking for.
Here are questions that I ask my clients about the content expectations of their target audience:
- Why are visitors coming to your website? – Websites for businesses, organizations, and news media all have very different purposes. People come to each type of website looking to do something specific. Knowing what people are most often looking for will help you, as the designer, know what content to emphasize, how to structure the information architecture, and more.
- Why should they come back again? – Designing a successful website means that you’ve convinced people that it’s worth their time (and/or money) to visit the website again in the future. That means communicating some incentive to them, either through your products or through the information they can find on the website. Getting them to visit once is great, but getting them to come back is even better.
- What should they see on the homepage? – It’s always tough to prioritize what information should be seen on the homepage. Focusing on your target audience and understanding what they want quick access to should help make those decisions easier. Also keep in mind what the purpose of your website is, and what people are coming to your website for, to help prioritize what content should go on it.
If I’m being hired by a client to redesign an existing website, I always check with them to see if they’re using an analytics program to track their website usage. Most of these programs also offer you information about the website’s visitors, which would be very useful to know when making some design decisions.
Here are a few questions that you should ask if you know that data is available from the current website:
- What kind of browser are they using? – What proportion of your visitors are using Firefox? Internet Explorer? Safari? This information might be especially useful to know if the target audience is largely using IE 6.0; if they are, then chances are you’ll have to find some workarounds for the inevitable programs with how your design will display.
- What are the most common screen resolutions? – Are they using 1280 x 1024? 800 x 600? Something in between. This information is useful because it will give you a sense of not only how wide your main content area can safely be, but of what proportions you can use in your design in order to let most people be able to see it so that it still looks nice.
What other questions do you ask about a website’s target audience when you work with clients? Share your thoughts with everyone about this topic and anything else that comes to mind by filling out the comment form below!