photo credit: David Ascher
For those of you not schooled in the esoteric yet not-so-obscure art of website content management, Gerry McGovern is an industry-leading Guru. People tend to listen to what he has to say, even if they can’t convince their organizations to see the light.
Since I couldn’t attend, I thought the next best thing was to eat my colleague’s brains and steal her knowledge, but then realized that wouldn’t work, as I’d be left to do her work as well as my own. Closet Zombies are lazy.
So here’s the next-to-next best thing, an interview with Krista Vieira, my willing victim:
Part One: Getting to know your audience.
Q: In your mind, what was the strongest, most meaningful point Gerry made and why?
Get to know your audience. He couldn’t stress that point enough. It was the most repeated message of the two days we spent with him.
As content creators, we need to know whom we’re writing for. We may think we know who is coming to our website, but unless we actually talk to those people, we won’t know for sure. We need to be familiar with our primary audience as well as our secondary audience. Our first priority should be to our primary audience, but we need to be aware that a secondary audience — that we maybe didn’t anticipate — exists so over time we can address their needs as well.
Getting to know our audience will make it clear why they’re coming to our website, what tasks they are performing and how much time they spend using our site. As content creators we need to know if our audience is accessing our website during commercial breaks of their favourite TV show, or once the kids have been put to bed, the dishes have been washed, the bills have been paid and the garbage has been put out. After all of that, how much energy would that person have to spend on our website? Probably not very much.
Knowing our audience makes it easier for your web team to know what to include on the site and what to remove. This knowledge will focus the website and will enable the web team to maintain that focus because feedback will constantly be received about what is working and what isn’t.
Doctors or moms?
Gerry cited an example of a pharmaceutical company that sold products to doctors. They created a website and wrote for the medical community, using language understandable to doctors. The problem was, doctors weren’t using the site because a sales rep would come and see them. A large portion of the audience turned out to be mothers. Now, the company’s primary focal point is to sell to doctors, but patients are becoming more educated and better informed about their health and often make suggestions to their doctors. This secondary audience was using the site so content needed to be created to address their needs, presented in a language they could understand. The company decided they needed to include a section that addressed the needs of this particular audience.
When dealing with two distinct audiences, Gerry stresses to focus on the primary audience first because that’s the bread and butter of the website. You definitely want to include messaging for a secondary audience, but you wouldn’t want to focus on that group so much that you alienate the primary audience. By trying to satisfy everyone you end up satisfying no one.
Managing the managers or defending your actions.
Getting to know our audience also lends support when making requests to management or making decisions about the website. It’s harder for management to steer the website in a particular direction if web specialists have conclusive support that the audience doesn’t like a particular feature, etc. It also works in favour of the web team. By knowing the audience they can make suggestions to management about what is working with the website and what isn’t.
Tied into knowing your audience is the reality that the web isn’t an event, but a journey. There is no quick fix for knowing your audience other than taking the time to get to know them. As web people, we need to talk to them and see them interacting with our website. Then, we make some changes to the website and find out how our audience responds to the changes. The response may be good, mediocre, or poor; if improvements need to be made, we go back and tweak some more and gauge the response again.
The misconception is there is a quick fix. Very often web teams think they know who the audience is and they make assumptions about what they want. But, to know what your audience wants, web teams need to actually get to know their audience. I don’t believe any organization could spend too much time on user testing and it should be a regular scheduled event for any web team.
…this multi-part interview continues!