Understanding Your Audience Through Conversations and Critical Analysis

The content considerations outlined earlier are incomplete. Though they are based on earlier conversations and analysis, audiences’ needs—and entire audiences—change over time. It is up to your department to keep pace with and keep track of the constantly evolving needs of your web users.

Here are three common and effective ways of understanding your audience:

Focus Groups

No two-way glass? No “statistically significant” sample size? No worries! Focus groups need not be elaborate or scientific to be effective. Be thoughtful. Be thorough. But don’t over think it. 

Focus group organizers should: 
  1. Set clear goals.
  2. Develop 5-8 well-worded questions to meet those goals.
  3. Invite 6-10 participants with first-hand knowledge of the issue.
  4. Determine how answers will be recorded and share that information with participants.
  5. Select a facilitator that will keep the conversation focused, maintain momentum, and get closure on questions.
  6. Review results with decision-makers and implement findings.

 

Analytics

Analytics is “the discovery and communication of meaningful patterns in data.” In the web world, analytics help quantify user behavior and make the abstract more concrete by measuring user interactions with your content. In short, web analytics tools identify which content users use most—and least.

All UM-Flint websites run Google Analytics. If your department has yet to access that information via the Google Analytics dashboard, contact UM-Flint Information Technology Services for access.

Google Analytics is a powerful performance-measuring tool. It enables novice web developers and content creators to “see what’s working” from a bird’s eye view. It also empowers experienced web workers to “drill down” into the data and tease out more nuanced user behaviors.

We encourage you to learn more about Google Analytics and how your unit can best utilize it. As a basic introduction, here is a glossary of key Google Analytics terms.

Personas

One might think of this method for understanding your audience as a synthesis of the previous two. Focus groups yield the subjective opinions of real people, but no hard evidence. Analytics offer objective data, but lose the human perspective.

Personas are archetypal users of a website that represent the needs of larger groups of users, particularly the personal characteristics that can influence their needs and goals. Personas serve as ‘stand-ins’ for actual users, and can help guide decisions about content, navigation, design, and more.

Like focus groups, personas can be very detailed and complex, but do not have to be in order to provide meaningful insights. The idea is to develop representative characteristics informed by specific realities, bringing users to life, and more carefully considering how their motivations, expectations, and real life situations impact online behavior. Here’s an example of how to use a persona.