I warn you in advance, for me 2010 is the year of the audience analysis. Recently I’ve been involved in a lot of web projects and what I continually hear is that the cart is being put before the horse. “We’re going to build a web site.” Ok for who? “For people.” Sure, but what people? “All people?”
The most important thing you can do, as a web developer, is take yourself out of the equation, and that goes for the client as well. Little visual tweaks, what color a button is, that kind of stuff is not going to impact how likely someone is to convert from a visitor to a customer, but targeting content without first doing Audience Analysis is going to create a tool for you without a mission, and a tool without a mission is a waste of space on the internet.
Growing up, my grandfather was a very highly placed Program Manager and often he’d tell me about group members asking for this tool or that, and he’d laugh at how rarely they’d actually know WHY they needed this tool they wanted fifty thousand dollars set aside to develop. More often than not a tool would be wanted because, wait for it, the guy in the next department over got something similar. So here we are, Fortune 50 company, massive military contracts and we’re still worried about keeping up with the Joneses.
The Web has gotten much easier to develop for, you can make a web site in an hour that used to take a team a few weeks. These dime store web sites are definitely pretty, and have enabled many who didn’t have the budget to get online to do so, but what you’re left with is a watered down version of the internet, where cookie cutter web sites are everywhere and you don’t really separate value from aesthetics.
Does this web site appeal to the target audience? What exactly is the target audience looking for in a web site? Once the user arrives at your site, are they given an obvious next step to going from visitor to customer? These are the areas where these cookie cutter sites lack depth, and even the best looking template will fail to convert.
So what is the solution? Audience Analysis! Get to know your audience, follow Dale Carnegie’s logic and be as attentive a listener as you are a salesman and figure out what it is your audience is looking for. Target not only the usability of the web site to these people, but also the wording of the content, and the volume of the content. If the average reader is on your site for two or three minutes, how much could they possibly read in that time? Be concise with your text and target those time frames accordingly.
Slow down, take it one step at a time, and develop that new web tool with a mission in mind. You’ll find that every dollar invested returns via increased sales, and isn’t that the goal at the end of the day?