Winning Websites Meet User’s Expectations

Sara Steever
March 5, 2012

Websites that are truly successful meet the needs of their users. Remarkably, countless websites are built addressing the needs of the companies they represent without much regard to their actual audiences.

Identifying a website’s users and building a site that caters to their needs is fundamental to the success of the website. As specialists in marketing to agriculture and rural lifestyle audiences, we devote countless hours of research and observation to better understand the website visitors we serve and the websites we build.

If you polled most people, they would probably classify farmers as luddites. In fact, 94 percent of farmers own a smartphone or cell phone – 11 percent higher than the general public1. We know from our research that farmers are tech-savvy business owners who need to make market decisions on the fly. Studying producer behaviors keeps us from assumptions that would under-serve this audience. It’s a lesson anyone building a website must learn.

The techniques below will lay the proper foundation for a website that meets your audience’s needs.

1. Gather Materials

Locate all of the marketing, educational and research materials you’ve produced over the last couple of years. These should provide clues for audience identification, and you will need them eventually for content development, branding references and stakeholder review. Sometimes documents are produced internally because marketing materials don’t do an adequate job of speaking to a specific audience. Dig deep!

2. Tap Stakeholders

Within your company or client’s operation is a cross-section of individuals who will understand the people that comprise your audiences. You will need their buy-in for many tasks during the development process, but for this exercise you need them for identifying audiences, locating potential interview candidates and participating in a goal setting session.

The best mix is representative of all viewpoints across the company, but in order to manage your group, try to keep the number of stakeholders to a minimum—seven or fewer is ideal. Marketing, sales, product or division managers, IT and C-level staff are typical, but the group depends on the size and management of your company or client. Before you meet as a group, streamline the process by gathering the following Internal Assessment information and summarizing findings for presentation.

3. Internal Assessment

Who are your audiences?

While this should be mostly understood, here are some additional places to research:

Once you have identified these audiences, you can move on to understanding their needs.

What are their goals?

Five to seven interviews per audience will provide valuable insight into their expectations. Questions should revolve around existing interactions with your company, general expectations, comfort with website functionalities, use of mobile, use of social media, examples of websites they like and use frequently, and open-ended wish list thoughts.

What are their behaviors?

An even more effective method of determining audience’s needs is to perform usability testing on your own website and competitor’s websites. This testing will close the gap between what users say and what they actually do.

Done well, usability testing is a science unto itself, so hire a professional if possible. Make sure that the testing revolves around the goals set from the interviews. Five to seven audience members tested per website is the rule of thumb. From this research, you should be able to confirm the usefulness of existing functionalities and solidify where opportunities lie. Summarize your findings for the goal identification session.

4. Goal Identification Session

Time to put all of your preparation to use and bring your stakeholders together for a working session. Bring your research summaries and functionality checklist along with an agenda to keep the meeting on task. All summarized documentation should be presented at the beginning of the meeting. If any audiences or competitors have been missed, they should be identified at this time. Glean what you can from the stakeholders and assess if there is a need to perform more research later.

A sample agenda would include:

At the end of the session, you should have a clear picture of how your website will serve each of your audiences:

This outline will serve as a touchstone during other phases of website development that will ensure the project stays on track.

Summary

While this article only covers the user’s optic, it is important to consider broader business goals as well as the internal or political goals of an organization. You can learn more about the types of goals that successful websites address in the article, “Five Steps to Smarter Website RFPs.”

Like the rest of us, users don’t know what they don’t know, so they cannot be the only perspective that drives the development of the website. However, their insight is invaluable, and overlooking it will cost you the success of the website.

1Successful Farming, 2011 Mobile Phone Study

 

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