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There are two key things you need to think about when creating or redesigning a web site. Those are

  1. What are your goals?
  2. Who is your audience?

Start with identifying your goal. Answer the question, “why do I want a web site?” What is it that you want the site to accomplish? For many business sites, the answer may be to increase awareness of your company, or to generate sales leads/contacts, or to sell a product. Those are all admirable goals, but identify one of them as the primary goal. Let’s look at how those different primary goals may change the design process.

If the goal is to sell products online, then you are going to want to get your customers to the correct product page as soon as possible and make it as easy to complete a purchase. Your home page will not necessarily have a lot of copy on it about your corporate philosophy, your employees etc. Instead, the home page is going to guide customers to the products.

If the primary goal is to generate sales leads, then your content on your home page (and secondary pages) is going to be designed to drive people to a contact form. Part of that will be convincing people to click through to other pages and to always make getting to the contact form easy and compelling. You might entice users with offers of a free white paper, or have specific calls to action on different parts of the page, such as “contact us to learn more about product A” and “Learn more about how to do xyz,” or “See how we can help you accomplish abc.”

If your primary goal is company awareness, then your home page content will strive to answer the question “who are we” and drive people to click through for more information.

Now these are not mutually exclusive goals, but you can’t, by definition, have more than one primary goal. If your goal is to sell products, the home page can have information about who you are, and have a “contact us” link. But nothing on the page should distract or confuse the customer from getting to the process of ordering the products.

If your goal is to generate leads, then everything on the home page should be focused on enticing/motivating users to go to the contact us page. In addition, the content should help the user self-qualify themselves so you are getting quality leads.

Once you have your goals identified then you need to consider who your audience is. While it is tempting to identify your audience as “everyone, you should try to be more specific. Understanding your audience will affect how you motivate users to take the actions necessary for achieving your goals. For example, if you have a nonprofit focused on legal aid for the homeless and your primary goal is to increase fund raising, then your audience might be defined has higher educated individuals with disposable income who are socially aware. This will affect the tone and style of your content and how you motivate/entice them to make donations. If you don’t define your audience and try to reach everyone, it becomes very difficult to craft compelling messages.

For example, your tone and choice of words is likely to very different if you are selling scientific equipment, than if you are selling clothing. Even for sites like audience is critical. Amazon is an example of a site whose audience is (almost) everyone. But Amazon uses technology to identify and track individual users so that the content, images, and messages are tailored to who is looking at the page. For other sites that can’t use that level of technology, but have, for example, two distinct audiences such as teachers and students, the solution might be a home page that clearly guides each audience to the appropriate second level areas of the site. Those areas will likely have different tone and style.

So start your process with goals and audience in mind. Look at the site, and also every page in the site, and ask what is the goal of the site, and of each page. Ask who the audience is for that site/page.