What It Is
Simply put, audience analysis is figuring out who uses—or should use—your website, what information they need, and which tasks they must complete.
Why It's Important
Your goal is to build the right website for the people who need it, not for stakeholders who may have other objectives. To achieve the goal of providing excellent web service, you must learn as much as you can about your customers and what they do, and be able to communicate this effectively to management.
With the information you gain from audience analysis, you'll be able to develop several personas—fictional character descriptions, each of which represents a specific type of site customer.
How to Implement Audience Analysis
You should use various means to analyze your audience, including:
- Web analytics: With appropriate steps to protect privacy, Google Analytics and similar tools can give you a wealth of information about the people who use your website and the tasks they try to complete on your site. For example, how did they get there? What page did they first visit? Where did they go from that page? If they used your site search, what page were they on at the time? What terms did they use to search for what they were looking for?
- Usability testing: Usability tests begin with a short series of questions about the participants’ background, needs, and familiarity with your website. Don’t miss this opportunity to learn from a real site visitor. Use open- as well as closed-ended questions to get to know them well. Learn more at the Usability Testing section at Usability.gov or our own Usability Testing page.
- Customer satisfaction surveys: You can include questions to ask about your visitors’ occupations, why they come to your site, and what they want to accomplish. Read more about Customer Satisfaction Metrics.
- Focus groups: Even with a few participants, a focus group can tell you what some typical visitors think about your site. Use focus groups to get information about general impressions and ideas for new and useful features. Don’t ask participants what they would do. Instead, use usability testing to get that answer.
- Market Research: Many polling firms, media research companies, and nonprofit and academic research centers collect and analyze data about web users and their behavior on the web. See the section below for a list of those organizations.
- Web server logs: Server logs can provide some data about your visitors, such as country of origin.
- Email, phone calls, letters, and other contacts with the public: Find out the top requests and complaints coming into your agency by phone, email, and in-person service centers. If you have a central agency phone number (such as a 1-800 number), get regular reports from the operators to find out what your audience is asking for and who they are.
- Anticipating customer needs: To determine what your customers want on common types of web pages, review Users' Questions and Guidance for Common Types of Web Pages (PDF, 88 KB, 8 pages, April 2009).
- Input from other web content managers: Touch base with your colleagues at other agencies. Are you serving the same audiences? If so, work with them to make sure your websites complement, but don't duplicate, each other.
- Search data: Find out the terms your visitors are typing into your search engine. Determine which types of users they map to. Make sure the terms they use are the same terms and labels you’re using on your site. And make sure the most requested items are easily accessible from your homepage.
- Commercial products that provide demographic data about your website visitors: There are a variety of products that will collect and analyze demographic data about your website visitors.
Personas (Audience Profiles)
Personas are a popular technique to help design websites based on audience needs and expectations. They’re also called "customer profiles" or "audience profiles." As hypothetical "stand-ins" for actual visitors, personas can help you envision real customers, their goals, and their expectations.
By using personas, you can synthesize the key information you collect into clear portraits of typical visitors to your website. Having these portraits is one way to help you (and your whole team) create a website that really connects with your audiences. Use these resources to learn more about personas and how to use them:
- Persona Modeler: A Framework for Essential Personal Attributes
- Three Important Benefits of Personas
- Personas: Setting the Stage for Building Usable Information Sites
- What’s on Americans’ Minds—Top–requested government information, based on most popular pages and links on USA.gov
(See disclaimer for non-government links)
- The Pew Internet & American Life Project—Nonpartisan “fact tank” that provides research on Internet use, trends in online behavior, and customer expectations
- Nielsen Online Measurement—Measures large percentage of the world's Internet usage, including demographics and traffic to specific websites
- Web Credibility Project, Stanford University—Research about what leads people to believe what they find on the Web