Hello-small-250I had such a great time leading the “How Effective is Your Website” workshop at Women of Color Be the Media. When I talk about website effectiveness, there’s a piece of it that we start off with that I could spend a whole workshop on: being clear on who your website is for.

When it comes to audience, I encourage people to be as specific as possible.

“Nonprofits,” which sometimes clients will tell me, is not specific enough. It’s a category that includes people who work an entry-level job canvassing for environmental causes, local church board members, and executive directors of social service agencies. “Nonprofits” is a category that can often include your local hospital, as well as your local Girl Scout troop, and an all-volunteer group that organizes migrant farmworkers.

“People affected by our issue” is also not specific enough. (Although I was strangely impressed by the group that once told me, “our key audience is ‘people who eat food.'” We had a long talk about that.)

On the other hand, here are more specific audiences (drawn from different websites I’ve worked on):

  • Parents of local English Language Learner students in K-12 classrooms who want web pages in Spanish
  • People with an incarcerated loved one who will be released to this community in the next 12 months
  • Parents of young children who are concerned about not exposing their child to household chemicals

Then for each audience, the important things to think about are:

  • What questions do these folks have that we can answer with our website?
  • Are there tasks or information that they’re looking for that we can help them with?
  • What is the most useful/valuable thing I can offer these individuals?

Thinking of key audiences in terms of individuals is where it’s at: even though the web allows us to have the same interaction with people who visit the site 24 hours a day, and tens of thousands of people can interact with any one page, at its core, we’re still talking about individual interactions. Just as you answer one phone call at a time if you’re the receptionist and answer their questions, you interact with people one website visit at a time.

The more we can sit down and think about individuals who are looking at a screen with our website on it, the more effective interaction we can have with them. Or, in their minds, the more pleasant/useful interaction.

When we think of our audience as individuals, it helps us set our content priorities, tighten up our navigation, and plan our site design to suit those individuals. And that can make our website a better tool for building relationships with these individuals — one interaction at a time.

More on how to plan for your website audience: