The role of websites continues to evolve, but what hasn’t changed is the need to design websites for the viewers that click on them. Research plays a pivotal role in learning what attracts viewers to a website, the content they want when they arrive and they like to access it.
Analytics tell part of the story, especially what pages gain the most views and sustain interest. While that gives you a clue about website content and design, it doesn’t flesh out the viewer persona. The best way to discover the needs and preferences of individual viewers is to interview them.
This kind of qualitative research doesn’t require a formal survey. You need a few basic questions to explore what a target viewer looks for on your website, how it could be packaged for ease of access and suggestions for content. You also want to find out what drives them to go to your website, so you make that access as seamless as possible.
Because websites have become engagement hubs for organizations, there are often more than one type of viewer persona for you to interview. How young eyes view your website versus older eyes can make a huge difference in what you place on a page. Make sure to chat with a reasonable sample of each viewer persona group to obtain a well rounded perspective and tailor your questions to each viewer person group.
The insight you glean from interviewing viewers is invaluable to determine the most effective architecture, navigation, content and look and feel of your website. This is a very different approach than laying out a website map and looking for great images.
Finding the desired functionality of a website from the perspective of viewers and designing to that functionality is the most reliable way to ensure the website does its job, whether it’s marketing products or services, sharing resources or providing useful information.
Contemporary websites tend to be more visual with less text. Information is packaged rather than forcing viewers to search for it via drop-down menus. Viewers appear comfortable with scrolling down a home page to find what they are looking for, but they want a one-click journey to that information. Websites, even ones with video content, need to load quickly and be optimized for mobile devices. Those broad guidelines provide the frame for the website you create. Viewer insights inform the choices you make in terms of visual assets, navigation tools and content packaging and placement.
For organizations with multiple viewer personas, the design challenge is more complex. However, that complexity is easier to address if you are following the advice of people who view, use and rely on the website.
Website redesigns offer a great moment to rethink – or think about for the first time – how to inform your internal audiences. Employees are a critical website viewer persona, which also may have varied interests and content needs. Content creation for a website should take into account how it can repurposed or promoted in internal communications vehicles that can range from an enterprise system such as Yammer or Slack or an intranet.
Refreshing your website is never ending, not a one-and-done exercise. While that may seem like a pain, talking regularly with your website audience should be viewed as a pleasure. If you tie a website refresher to viewer contacts, you will keep your website on point – and your business on track.
Examples of Viewer-Centric Website Design
Here are three examples of websites that reflect a viewer-centric design and navigation strategy. These examples, plus 12 more, were singled out by HubSpot. Click each image below to see full-size views of the websites.