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Plan It! Planning a Web Site

Identify Your Audience

Yes, your Web site can reach a global audience. And yes, Internet-enabled computers are available in more and more households. The internet is used by billions of people wordlwide.

But the real power of your Web site isn't just the breadth of the potential audience, it's the ability to provide the information you have to the people who really want it. Your site is going to be far more effective if it understands and targets its audience.

Target an Audience

Targeting your audience comes down to three things. You must have:

  • A clear mission. You must know what you have to offer.
  • A defined audience. You must have a sense of who'd be interested.
  • Tracking tools. You must build in ways to monitor who actually visits your site.

Sometimes a site aimed at one group of users ends up attracting an entirely different group. If that happens, you can choose to:

  • Change the content or marketing to draw in your intended audience.
  • Refocus your mission to serve your actual visitors.

For instance, the early Web site of Variety, the entertainment newspaper, was aimed squarely at executives in the TV, film and movie business. It became clear, though, from surveys and customer feedback that while the newspaper was read primarily by executives, the Web site was most frequented by their personal assistants. They were using the site multiple times a day to do instant research for their bosses. And they were also searching for "jobs" and "employment."

A redesign made the search features more powerful and added an online job database.

So keep in mind that you need to be flexible. Your initial site begins the conversation. Even as your users learn from you, you can learn from them.

Three Kinds of Users

As you begin to design and program your Web site, it's helpful to picture the kinds of users you might encounter. Instead of designing your site with an amorphous "user," create a few personas that could likely come visit your site. Here are three that you might picture (genders are chosen at random):

  • Bob Beginner: Bob is an Internet newbie who is interested in the information you offer but doesn't know much about the Internet yet. Imagine Bob sitting in front of his computer, typing in your Web address for the first time. You should flesh out Bob's persona with the demographic attributes of a typical beginner who might visit your site. Now, picture how Bob will react to the placement and functionality of your various design components. Bob will likely only return to your site regularly if you can make it easy and simple the first time. He dislikes computer jargon like "submit the form" but likes to read instructions and needs you to help him overcome any confusion he might have about your site's various features.
  • Penny Poweruser: Penny is one of your most frequent visitors and will have bookmarked your site for easy access. She will generally put up with a quirky design, as long as it doesn't slow things down for her. She values familiarity; once she gets used to your site, changes are risky. Any redesign, no matter how much better it makes the site, will probably result in an e-mail from Penny asking for the old version to come back. Penny hates having to relearn how to use it all over again, and she values her connection with the site enough to complain.
  • Sally Surfer: Lastly, there's going to probably be a significant number of average users who are fairly Internet savvy and have some general expectations, but who have never been to your site before and just stumbled across it because of a link or an Internet search. Sally is one of these nomads. She probably didn't arrive via the front page, and she may never come back unless you find some way to impress her with a unique feature or a key bit of information she couldn't find elsewhere. A good indicator of success for your site is how often you can take a "Sally" and make her into a repeat visitor. Sally is also the person that you want to direct to your mission statement because she doesn't necessarily know what you're trying to do for her.

J-Learning is an initiative of J-Lab: The Institute for Interactive Journalism. J-LabTM is an incubator for innovative, participatory news experiments and is a center of American University's School of Communication in Washington, D.C.
J-Learning was funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

American University School of Communication

Knight Foundation

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