I used to think websites were all about me. I'd make a website, and then it would go live, and then people would come to my website. The more people who came to my website, the better my website was. It took me a long time to realize that thinking was wrong—my websites weren't about me at all, they were about my visitors. And if my visitors didn't love the websites I made for them, those websites failed completely. If you're reading this post, you've probably encountered a similar problem: you built your dream site or app or product or whatever it is, and then reality set in—your amazing idea wasn't quite as amazing as you thought it was. If that's happened (or if it hasn't), read on for our process that we use when creating client projects (and even our own stuff) so that we can be sure they'll be received with open arms instead of closed doors.
A persona is a fictional representation of your ideal customer. It’s not enough to know that you have customers, you need to understand their motivations, goals, and challenges before designing their experience with your product or service.
Personas help us create user-centered websites. They help us empathize with our users by putting faces on them and giving them names. In turn, we can build better products because we know who they are and what they need from us. Without personas, it’s all too easy for teams to fall into the trap of thinking of themselves when making decisions about design; this leads to overcomplicated interfaces that don't serve any real purpose other than appeasing internal stakeholders or trying out new technologies (think: "we should use flexbox!"). Personas keep everyone focused on the people who actually matter for success: customers!
To understand who you are building for and what their needs are, you need to do a bit of research into the problem(s) that your website is trying to solve, the users that it serves, and the context in which they will be using your site. By doing this research up front, we can ensure that our efforts are focused on building something people actually want—and more importantly—use! This will ensure that we aren’t wasting time or money on things that don’t matter as much for our specific business goals.
You should invite users and non-users to give you feedback. They will probably tell you that they love your website, but they might also tell you what they don't like (and why). It's important to get this type of feedback because it helps us understand how our users are thinking about the site, which in turn helps us make changes that are more likely to resonate with them.
We've found that asking people for their opinions after showing them something new is one of the most effective ways of getting feedback from our audience. We're able to see how someone reacts in real time as we present them with a new design or feature—it’s not often that we get such an intimate window into someone's thought process!
A/B testing is a great way to learn what works, but it can also be an excuse for inaction. If you have a website that isn’t doing what you want it to do, don’t just run an A/B test and wait for the results. You need to analyze your data and ask yourself what you can learn from it—and then take action accordingly.
The first thing we do at The Trade Desk after running an A/B test is make a list of things we could do differently in order to improve our website. We usually start by prioritizing those improvements based on how much traffic they could bring in (and how much they would cost). Then we use our personas as filters; if one persona likes something better than another persona does, then there’s probably no reason to do anything else until we get her feedback on this change as well!
Your website is not a “one-stop shop” for information. It's a communication tool, with specific goals and needs. Don't make assumptions about what your visitors want or need; take time to find out.
You should have clear ideas about who your visitors are and why they visit your site. Use analytics to see what content is popular and what isn't, then use that data to figure out how best to communicate with them in the future.
No, we're not saying that you need to spend a million dollars building your website. But we are asking for you to take the time to make sure your website is working for its intended purpose before putting it out there on the web. When people come to your site, what do they want? What do they expect? If you don't know the answer to these questions (or if your answer is "I just want them to see my content"), then it's time for some user testing!