Knowing your audience is one of the most fundamentally important things involved in redesigning your institutional website. Every decision you make—from the overall design to the copy’s tone to the functionality of the newsfeed—should be made with their needs in mind.

Not long ago, I wrote a QuickTAKES article about crafting an effective web presence. In it, I discussed the importance of making sure everyone in charge of your website is keeping the same audience in mind when they work on it. This ensures that your site is effectively and consistently speaking to your audience in the right way and about the right things.

But guaranteeing this internal consistency isn’t always easy. Content authors change. Different departments oversee certain pages. Employees come and go. It can be difficult to keep everyone focused on the same goal at all times.

User personas can help simplify your efforts. These personalized profiles give you insight into the minds of your core audiences and are easy-to-understand reference guides for you and your campus-wide website maintenance team.

How to Build Effective User Personas

The most important place to start when crafting user personas is with research. In order for your personas to be effective, you need to be able to back up what they say with facts.

You can be as thorough or as basic as you’d like with the research you conduct; however, the more you do, the more the information will help guide your creation of useful personas. Some good ways to build up valuable insights into the minds of your core audiences include surveys, one-on-one interviews, group discussions, and market data gathering.

After you better understand what your audiences care about, you can take that information and turn it into individualized profiles that act as a stand-in for each audience type. Information in the personas could include:

  • Key website tasks
  • Social media accounts frequently used
  • Technology comfort level
  • Features they like most on websites
  • Website features they find annoying

At this stage, you’ll also want to make the profiles as personalized as possible. This helps you and your web team see them as real people who have needs you must meet. It’s not necessary to write down your fictional characters’ life stories, but it is helpful to give them names (Fake Name Generator is a great tool for this.) and short bios that describe information about them that your web team might find helpful.

Putting Your Personas to Use

After you finalize the profiles, disseminate them to your website contributors across campus. Ask them to think of these people when they’re maintaining your online presence. Would the profiled individuals find the information they’re uploading helpful? If they think the answer is no, ask them to rework what they’re doing in a way that would attract the attention of the people who matter most to your institution.

Once you begin crafting your website around what your users care about most, you will be on your way to developing a tool that best meets your audiences’ needs. This will deliver a higher return on your investment by more deeply engaging your online users in your material, making them more likely to contact you for more information or further consider attending your college or university.

Building a website is no easy task; it’s well worth your while to make sure you’re doing it in the most effective way possible.

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