Targeting your audience with your design is not only possible, but also recommended. Some might not think it’s important, but I am sure all of you have some favourite websites that you visit from time to time, but because of their good design, you simply can’t stay away from them for long. Those kind of sites are what we are going to talk about today. Why? Because you can have one too if you really want to – all you need is a bit of marketing knowledge, a good strategy and some design skills and you’re pretty much there.
Today we will talk about how to spot your real target audience. This is the first major step in your strategy and the most important. If you fail at this, nothing else will fall into place. Today’s article will also be about usability and web interfaces, but we will get into details further down the road.
Who is your audience?
There is no way you’ll be able to fine tune your design in order to better fit your visitors if you have no idea who those visitors are. Understanding users is not easy, but it gets easier when you use tools such as Google Analytics to see their behaviour. This is a key tool to be used in order to spot things they are not pleased with or things they enjoy.
Finding out what your visitors look for on your webpage can also be done by looking at the keyword search in your analytics dashboard. You can see in this panel exactly what they’re searching for, and using this information you can find out what kind of people they are.
Image by Spiderpops
You can also get into your readers’ minds by asking them questions. If you have a blog, then interacting with them should already be a part of your daily routine. There is a lot of valuable information you can get and this is really the best place to start. Ask questions, get their feedback, get their opinions about different things. This way you might not only find out who they are, but also find out ways to solve issues you have on your blog or website that you were unaware of.
Question them about what exactly it is they like about your site and why do they come back and don’t forget to ask about improvements they might approve of.
And if you really are into this “get to know your audience better,” but don’t know how to do it, then allow a company or a freelancer to do it. There are people out there who do this for a living and for a modest fee you can get somebody to do it for you.
Now we get to the more interesting things. The layout is the first thing that pops into my mind when I look at different unsuccessful blogs. And the ads. The ads kill me. How many columns you have or the image slider you use or whether you don’t even include a footer does not matter too much – if you know that is the style that fits you. But the mix of content, images and ads are an instant killer for many in the web industry, but also for the simple readers, who do not understand how a website is runs.
Yes, you need some money to run your blog and generating revenues through ads is not easy, so the logic move would be to insert as many ads as you can and place them in key positions. No! The logical solution would be to leave them out. For $4 per month or even less (or whatever minimal fee you get) it is not worth annoying your loyal readers. Compromising the design with poor ad placement is a mistake many rookies out there do and this will never bring them huge revenue nor an increased number of readers.
In case you really want to get some ad revenues, then track the ones that work best for you and leave the others out. Less ads will also mean visitors will not be distracted so much, so now they can focus on what is really important: your content. That’s what they came there for, give it to them!
Another annoying thing is to try tricking your readers into clicking your ads. You can see above a huge Romanian tabloid which does that. Above the fold you can not see any of the content (just the navigation) – the rest is advertising. If for one second I feel they try to push me into clicking their ads (which they do, and which I feel), I will never return (which I don’t). It is as simple as that. And yes, here’s only me thinking like that. But out there must be some other tens of thousands who think like me. But if a huge tabloid can afford losing so many readers, the questions still remains: can your website afford it too?
I wrote an article few months ago mentioning that although people could read long before we had computers, typography was overseen until 5-6 years ago, when it became a trend to work on it. If you ignore it now, it can damage you and your website. The reason behind Amazon’s Kindle products being so popular is the fact that they focus a lot on the reading experience – fonts, size, line height, spacing, light and so on. When you get the Kindle, you can’t wait to start reading a book just because it is indeed a pleasure to do it while using the tremendous device.
Image by Amazon
If you think the web is much more different than reading a book, you are mistaken. Typography is as important on the web nowadays at it is in print. Actually, it is much more important. If you bought a book with bad typography, you might end up reading it anyway because you spent money on it or because you really are interested in the subject. If a website has bad typography, you will just exit off it and find the same information somewhere else – this is the internet of 2012, anything can be found out there.
Updating your fonts and general look of the text is so much easier to do now than 10 years ago, with the bunch load of software support we have at our disposal, such as CSS3 or the capability of embedding fonts. Don’t overlook typography, it is a huge setback. You have no idea how much line spacing can mean, even for the most basic font out there. Try it, go now on your website and increase the line-spacing to 1.5 of the font size. You will be amazed how a three-second tweak will make your website look like. And then imagine, if you did that with a basic font, how much can you do actually with a beautiful typeface?
You don’t need to spend hundreds of dollars on typefaces just to see they don’t fit your website. Adjust the one that you have now. Play with line height, spacing (both between words and letters) and font size. These things are so basic and can do so much – it is incredible how many people choose to ignore them.
If you are tired of your default font, you don’t necessarily need to spend money on a premium one. Google Fonts offers lots of beautiful typefaces which can be incorporated with a CSS property called @font-face. All the fonts offered by Google’s web app are free, so there is no excuse for not playing with them for a while. You might also want to check Adobe Web Fonts.
This is another big one and has to do a lot with typography and font sizes. If you quickly scan this article, you will notice how fast you can get an overview of what I wrote about. You don’t need to read it. In less than 10 seconds you can already spot the main topic and what I covered, then you can decide if the article is worth reading or not. This has a lot to do with hierarchy and how we, at 1stwebdesigner, work with the headings.
Offtopic: Working with the headings the right way will also help your website rank better in search engines, because the keywords in the headlines are very important and help search engines find out about the content of the article (just like it helps you).
If headings are not normally something you use, get in the habit of doing it. Simply using the <h1> to <h6> tags will do a lot both for your content and readers.
The first impression
You know the saying: “There’s no second chance to make a first impression”. True in dating, true on the web, although in dating you might get a shot at a second date. On the web you will not get clicked on a second time if the first impression is bad.
Let me ask you something. From the 10-15 totally new websites you visited today, in a matter of two seconds, how many of them can you remember? Most surely no more than 2. From the approximate 500 ads you saw today on the web, street, in the bus and in the shops, how many of them you remember? Most definitely not more than 5. This is because only few manage to create powerful emotions into you at the first glance.
Designs creating a powerful emotion are always easier to remember.
Your page should make it easy for visitors to find what they want. It should combine both usability and good interaction. Not more of one than the other.
A book has a table of contents. IKEA has a map of the shop. A website has the home page, which is a top-level overview of the website and its content. Don’t make them scroll too much to find information, always keep in mind the “three click rule“.
It is very easy to find out how good your home page works by checking the statistics in Google Analytics. If the exit or bounce rate is too high, then you must be doing something wrong. You need to be better at guiding your users to the right content.
If you have a blog or a website, it is very likely for people to want to comment there. People have opinions and they do not love anything more than sharing them. But you still need to check on those from time to time, so they will not turn into a distraction. First you have the spammers, then you have the haters.
Deal with spammers the way all of us do: no pity. Use plugins and moderation to fight it and do not allow it, as it will distract your readers. Adding a Captcha is something most of us do and it works just fine.
If you wish to “break the silence” and make your content more appealing by including graphics, this is OK. You should probably have at least an image per each post, depending on how long it is. An image can set the tone for the article and take the focus out of the black and white chunk of text.
Only use images that are free and do not use a lot of time to customize them. They are not SO important. If you can, break the content every 4 to 6 paragraphs with an image (in case the article is longer). It will allow people to rest their eyes.
Offtopic: we get back to SEO for a moment here. Always add meta descriptions to your images, as it helps search engines very much.
Good example of how we break large chunks of text here at 1WD.
By embedding social media into your website you can shoot two rabbits with the same bullet. You can make your content easier to read and you can make it easier to share.
Allowing comments on different social media platforms will improve the way you interact with your readers. It is much easier to engage them on Facebook than it is to do it on your own blog. In regards with sharing the content, there are lots of plugins out there for WordPress and other platforms which make it easy for your readers to share your articles. There’s no prize for guessing how that could help you…
Make it responsive
I can’t stress enough about how important it is to have a responsive layout. People read on the go now, they are not always in front of their computer. I read books in the bus, using the Kindle app for the iPhone. Imagine how hard it would be if the layout wouldn’t fit my small device. You can see in Google Analytics how many people visit your blog or website from a mobile device. Make amends if you need to, take action! Create a responsive layout, so that I can read your blog whenever I am waiting for the bus.
To work on the design and usability of your website takes time – or at least improving these two takes time. But you simply need to be willing to do it, because there are others out there who do it constantly – and you like it or not, they are the ones getting the readers that maybe you deserve. So if you feel like you want to get a grip of them, at least now you know where to start from. Go out there and improve your website by making these few tweaks and you will see that your readers will be happier and will return more often.
Christian Vasile is an enthuziastic Romanian web designer currently living in Denmark. He is passionate for the industry and writes about design, usability, coding and freelancing and is a regular publisher here at 1WD. You can follow him on Twitter at @christianvasile or visit his web portfolio by clicking on the link above.