Stoney deGeyter covered this topic recently. He approached it from the perspective of building a mental image of visitor “personas.” You form a persona based on a visitor’s motivation. What do they need? Why are they on your website? Once you can answer those questions, you can think about what kind of content will help your visitors, and create it accordingly.
I don’t disagree with deGeyter, but I like to think more in terms of goals. If you really want to try to think like one of your customers, don’t just ask yourself what they need; ask yourself what they’re trying to accomplish. If your website is set up with analytics that let you track user behavior, you should be able to figure this out. Careful examination of your analytics data may also give you clues as to how your visitors hope to accomplish their goals. Understanding the “how” as well as the “what” and “why” can really assist you in creating content geared to your visitors’ needs.
By the way, you’ll need to accept that your visitors’ goals are THEIR goals, and not necessarily YOURS. Not all or even a majority of visits to your website will end with something you consider a conversion. Your visitor will consider her visit successful if she accomplished her goal – and may come back the next time she needs to do something related to your website’s topic. On that visit, or a subsequent visit, she might well convert (by your definition). If you make it as easy as possible for her to meet her goals, in her way, you’ll encourage her to come back and eventually meet your goals – when your goals and hers complement each other.
So, are your visitors looking to be entertained? Do they want information? How much do they care about getting the latest and greatest thing? Will just about anything do the trick? Why are they on your website? Before your head starts spinning with all of the possible reasons a visitor might have for dropping by, remember that you can help most visitors best by focusing on the basics. “Because there can be dozens, if not hundreds, of reasons a visitor might be coming to your site, it’s easy to get bogged down in trying to develop a persona for every possibility. Don’t get stuck in that trap. With a little work, you can boil everything into a handful of personas that you can use to craft content that meets virtually all of your potential customer’s needs,” deGeyter explains.
Which goals you choose to focus on building content to help users achieve depends very much on your field and the nature of your website. Even so, you can make a good start by thinking about and adapting to as few as three different goals. Remember, the same visitor may want to accomplish any or all of these goals at different times, so you’re not necessarily writing for different people, just different perspectives.
We’ll start with the perspective of the visitor who likes to do things himself. Say Captain America is inviting some of his friends over for a cookout to kick off summer. He wants to get a new grill set up and make sure it’s functioning well – and he’d like to keep the cussing and burns to a minimum while he’s doing this, thank you very much.
You can cater to the Captain by providing him with how-to videos, checklists, step-by-step directions, and the like. He’s already got a grill, so you may not sell him one this time around. On the other hand, since you’ve been so helpful, he might just buy that nice grill accessory set you’re selling, so he can get those steaks done properly without burning himself. Or he might talk about your website to his friend Dr. Banner, who needs a grill now that he has those anger management issues under control and wants to settle down. The point is, while your free how-to content might not win you sales right away, making a good impression on this kind of visitor can build loyalty and conversions over time.
Now let’s consider the goals and perspective of a different visitor – someone who cares a lot about your website’s topic. Dr. Banner won’t settle for just any grill. He wants to make sure that it not only gets the job done well, but that it’s as safe as possible. Having experienced firsthand the hazards of errant radiation, he’s not going to expose himself or his guests to undue risks!
If you want to sell to Dr. Banner, you need to reach him at his level. He’s an expert; treat him like one. He won’t be impressed by what you’re offering if your content is less than authoritative. You think your grill is the best one he can buy? Tell him and show him, in HIS language, that it’s the best solution for him.
But not everyone who visits your website will want detailed how-to information or care enough to compare (or even understand) all the features of your offerings. Say Captain America holds his cookout for his Avengers friends on his new grill, and Thor is impressed. It reminds him of the fun he had cooking around a campfire in his youth, but with much less hassle – no burns or overly well done meat! He’d like to get a grill for his own cook-outs, but he doesn’t really care about all the bells and whistles. He just wants a grill that will do the job.
You can cater to Thor by structuring your information correctly. Put all of the key, important parts up front. Amazon does this notoriously well; look at any of their product pages. Stoney deGeyter notes that this kind of visitor has a need but isn’t sure how best to fill that need; he just wants a product or service that gives him the desired result. If you structure your information correctly, you might get him to pay more for certain features, but you’re operating against your visitor’s assumption that all grills (or whatever) are basically the same.
So there you have it: three different kinds of visitors’ perspectives to keep in mind as you build your website’s content. Help them reach their goals, and they just might help you reach yours. Good luck!