How personas can make your website more successful

30 Oct 2017

Profile displayed on a laptop screen
  • Read time: 4 mins
  • Tech level: low
  • Key point: personas are beneficial to your website and business.

Ask around your office for the superlative definition of ‘persona’ and a volley of definitions will fly at you ranging from close to the comical.

Opinions will range from a profile of a theoretical customer, to a marketing term that describes segments of your web traffic, or even a character assumed by an author in a foreign novel.

But when it comes to understanding what personas are to the business goals of your organisation, they are no laughing matter.

Once your organisation has identified their personas, you can then build a powerful web presence that engages customers, drives growth and increases revenue.

Personas are critical to an organisation when it comes to understanding who its ideal customers are and what they want from your website. Their value goes beyond a website project and this article explains why.

What is a persona?

A persona is a reliable representation of your key audience segments. Personas are always based on observed behaviours of real users. They are customer profiles based on both qualitative and quantitative research in conjunction with data derived from web analytics. A persona is consequent from ethnographic and behavioural user research.

Personas are developed from the observation of behaviours in order to understand the ‘why’ of the customer’s preferences and needs. Observation is key because often what people ‘say’ is not what they actually ‘do’.

A good example of this is a bookkeeper who says they do not use paper record keeping as part of their business practice. But visit their office and you find print-outs of invoices and receipts filed away in binders and piled on top of in-trays.

To demonstrate what a persona is, we’ve created an example, ie: Alice, 27 – a Motivated Digital Marketing Officer

What a persona is not

Now that you know what a persona is, you should know what it isn’t. Personas are not demographic profiles, market segment summations of even survey data. The term is often inaccurately thought of in relation to market research, including surveys and focus groups. Personas are always real representations of your target audience based on observed behaviours.

How can a good persona help you?

A good persona provides you with insight into the attitudes, goals and needs of your ideal user. A good persona will:

  • represent a major user group of your organisation
  • describe the backgrounds, goals, and values of real users
  • articulate why are they would use the product or service
  • provide clarity of the user's expectations and how and why they will use the site.

When should personas be developed?

Personas are of optimal value when they are used to inform web content. Therefore, the development of personas should commence prior to the initiation of any major website project. This will ensure that any opportunities to improve the website are maximised and weaknesses minimised.

Benefits of personas

Personas help build websites that convert website visitors into contacts and customers. By understanding the behaviour of your customers, you can build a website that meets and exceeds the needs and aspirations of your target audiences.

Personas help:

  • stakeholders get inside the shoes of the real customers
  • UI experts prioritise the key features of the new website
  • architects develop optimal wireframes and prioritise the most important content
  • designers create the right look of the website based on observed user behaviours, and
  • copy writers develop content that is written to communicate key messages that actually appeal to your ideal website visitors.

Personas also:

  • identify strengths, weaknesses and opportunities to help create effective web strategies
  • focus teams by facilitating a unified purpose
  • help developers identify with users by describing their behaviours, goals and aspirations
  • provide a methodology and use cases for testing features throughout the development process.

How to develop personas

Personas should be developed at the beginning of the project to help maximise functionality, identify weaknesses and expand on strengths. Several personas are ideal, but they need to be tailored to meet the needs of the main audience. The development of personas will involve a research process that will include planning and recruiting for the study, conducting interviews, analysis of research data and the creation of the persona.

The key steps to ensure an accurate representation of your users are:

  1. research: who are your users and why are they interested in your organisation?
  2. summarise: what are the recurring themes and issues faced by your users?
  3. categorise: organise the recurring themes and issues into persona groups that represent your users
  4. refine: separate users into at least 3 personas and their identified characteristics

How should personas be applied?

The goal of a persona is to focus on the key needs of the most important user groups of your site. So, take them to meetings and refer to them often.

We recommend that you print approved personas and stick them to the walls around your office so that internal staff are reminded about who the ideal website visitor is for your organisation. It's easy to forget about who the real people are that are accessing the website.

Speak about the personas like they are real people, eg “What would Alice think of this feature?”.

Personas by Polished Pixels

We have created many personas over the years of building enterprise size websites. 

The persona is presented as a narrative that describes Alice – her traits, motivations, skills, attitudes and goals. It outlines why Alice would need to engage a web agency for her organisation and how Polished Pixels could help her.

Do you need help identifying your personas?

The process of identifying personas can be daunting, even for the seasoned marketing team. Contact Polished Pixels for assistance in building personas for your organisation. All of our team members are experienced in developing personas for large organisations. We understand the frustrations that come with not being able to improve a company website.

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Polished Pixels has built user-friendly websites for financial service institutions, as well as market leading business schools.

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Tim McQueen, Director

About the author

Tim started his media career in 2002 at Foxtel and since 2005, Tim's worked in senior digital positions at a number of reputable organisations including The Royal Commission into Child Sex Abuse, Macquarie University and Universal Magazines.