This article was updated on March 15, 2018 to reflect new UI and content strategy best practices.
Too often, websites try to appeal to every possible user. Whether it’s dictated by an army of stakeholders clamoring for real estate, or a misguided content strategy, many companies miss the mark online by trying to appeal to every possible customer – and missing the mark. The fact is, your website should rarely appeal to all visitors. Even if certain stakeholders believe your target audience is “everyone,” your organization targets specific demographics its products or services, guided by research, and your website should mirror that same targeting and share the same rigor.
But what happens when you have more than one target audience? Just like marketing a product to everyone is a sure-fire way to ensure it resonates with no one, marketing a website to everyone will just leave you with multiple mixed messages and one hot mess.
Before you throw up your hands in defeat and swear off this whole digital marketing thing — please don’t do that, seriously — there is a solution. With careful planning and a little bit of labor, you can architect a website that appeals to multiple people and personalities, while meeting your business goals.
Know Your Users
You can’t serve multiple audiences unless you clearly understand the makeup of each of your audiences and how they can be reached. If you’re selling a B2B SaaS platform, you may need to craft a website that can speak to the professionals who will use the platform, the executive who will sign off on the team purchase, and the procurement representative who will approve the purchase. And that takes careful research and planning.
You can make assumptions based on who you think your target audiences may be, but your website data and existing customers may prove something different. In today’s market, no marketing leader can afford to solely trust their instincts, no matter how reliable; cold, hard data must support or disprove those assumptions before deploying new strategies. Keep in mind, however, you’re building a website for people, not data, so you need to make sure you know what motivates each user group to share, decide, purchase or take any action on your site t so you can tailor messaging and interactions to move them further along the funnel. Do certain users respond positively to a casual tone, while decision makers prefer bullet points? User research can give you insight into the best ways to speak to your audiences and drive appropriate action.
Once you know your end users, whether through stakeholder interviews, focus groups or a combination of the two, it’s time to move into persona development.
Crafting user personas is the first step of building informative, comprehensive customer journey maps. Once you broadly understand each distinctive user group, you can begin to map the touchpoints they need to hit on your website to have a successful interaction – whether that’s a purchase, sharing with a boss, or merely downloading a whitepaper for more information.
Personas allow you to you put a face and a name with your end users. Don’t just have a list of qualifying information that talks about your audience; create personalities for each segment. Delve into what makes them tick – but make sure to keep it limited to how they might interact with your site – so these personas can help drive the decisions you make for design, navigation, features and functionality.
Build UI For Multiple Audiences
Emerging technologies make it far easier for digital platforms to communicate and adapt to the needs of multiple audiences. Just like smart devices such as the Amazon Echo have changed the way consumers search for information, modern UI design can dynamically change the way they interact with your website. We recently explored a client project where we instituted a conversational UI – a semi-intelligent, meticulously planned chatbot – that could guide users to the content they needed, no matter how or where they entered the site.
Since the platform in question needed to meet the needs of wildly diverse audiences – parents, teachers, after-school caregivers, researchers, investors, philanthropists, and more – it would require a massive, ever-shifting content strategy to meet the needs of each group. But by architecting a UI that could intercept users upon arrival to the site and gently nudge them toward content that met their needs, we were able to reduce user friction and deliver content more likely to help specific personas move along the correct customer journey, at their own pace.
Smart conversational design also gives marketers incredible leeway to test the ways that people arrive at their site, and then gauge interactions with specific experiments.
Test Acquisition Channels
Many companies feel overwhelming pressure to be everywhere at once – social media, content marketing, email marketing, SEO, PR – the list goes on. But, truthfully, you don’t have to BE everywhere to find the right customers. Nor should you. Once you know your audiences and have built your site to help them find the information they need, you need to form simple hypotheses and test to see which channels will really move the needle.
Traction marketing allows you to test acquisition channels to find new sources of potential customers. Through iterative testing, you can conduct lightweight experiments with various channels without risking a year’s worth of marketing budget. By conducting small experiments in possible acquisition channels, you’ll learn which channels are actually driving results. From there you can keep funneling more effort into what works – or pivot and improve what’s coming up short.
Keep It Centralized
“If I’m attracting different people, I need different domains, right?” Wrong. So, so wrong. While small microsites may still have their place, companies and brands are rewarded and trusted for the authority they’ve built through continual maintenance and improvement of their core digital properties. This becomes particularly important for an enterprise launching a new product or service. It can be beneficial for an enterprise to create an air-gap between itself and new, untested ventures – but you want to ensure the platform you launch meets the needs of all its possible users, rather than splitting duty across multiple microsites or domains.
Take one of our clients, Fifth Third Bank LegacyLink, as an example. Fifth Third Bank LegacyLink is a platform for people who are in the process of estate planning, people named as executors of an estate, people who have recently inherited money or are just curious about estate planning. Each of these audiences has very different needs and objective. Prior to signing up for an account, users self-identify the role that applies to them.
After selecting a role, their dashboard includes content for their respective roles such as articles and checklists – rather than overloading them with information not relevant to their immediate needs.
Centralizing content across multiple audiences doesn’t have to start with creating an account. The process can – and should – start much earlier. In the case of Fifth Third Bank LegacyLink, users can visit a learning center to get more information about executor duties and estate planning. The first section of content allows users to self-identify and find the most relevant content to start with basic “101” articles for each of the three main user groups of Fifth Third Bank LegacyLink.
The clear user paths presented and deep content give each user persona the opportunity to explore without getting lost in the weeds of a customer journey that will ultimately lead to a dead end. More importantly, the actionable content on display maps directly to specific steps on each group’s customer journey and provides multiple acquisition possibilities – social sharing, email, organic search, paid media and more.
Which leads us to understanding how users find our site.
Create Multiple Entrance Points
Although conversational design gives you the support system to accommodate users who randomly stumble upon your site, it’s better to optimize your site to know exactly how and why people find your content. For this, landing pages are your best friend. Repeat that until it’s ingrained in your brain.
Landing pages are like having retail stores with multiple entrance points for each department. Wouldn’t your life be easier if you could walk directly into the home goods section at Target and bypass the kids clothing all together?
A landing page is an opportunity to convey tailored messaging for an audience with an enticing offer or opportunity to learn more without the potential distractions of the rest of the website. Each target audience doesn’t really care about the others. So rather than forcing each audience into one entrance, use landing pages that focus on wants and objectives of each target audience.
But what are the objectives of your target audiences? You should be able to understand your users’ objectives through keyword and user research. From there, tailor the messaging of your search ads and landing pages to align with user objectives and search behaviors. For a landing page to convert, the user needs to see content that feels relevant to them right at the top of the page, with an offer in line with their specific needs.
Talk To Your Customers
These days, websites have to regularly pull double, triple or quadruple duty. You’re never serving a single audience, no matter how niche your site. Too often, marketers and webmasters rely on their current site analytics, secondary research, or some stakeholder’s gut instinct to map their content and site architecture to what they assume users want.
If you want to know exactly what your bevy of customers need from your website, there’s a simple solution: get out and talk to them. Building comprehensive customer journeys and an impactful content strategy requires real, in-depth understanding of your customer’s needs and motivations, which you’ll never uncover without talking to them.