Is Your Web Plan Missing an Audience Chart?

The longer you have a web site the more you realize you can't just wing it. You need clear and measurable objectives and a written plan to meet them.

Web sites exist to create a connection between the site owners and the site visitors. The web plan should clearly identify who those audience groups are and what they want from the site. Without these critical bits of information, your web plan isn't worth the paper it is printed on.

What Is an Audience Chart?

An audience chart is essentially a table that, at a glance, shows who your different audience groups are, what they want, and how they can interact with your site. It can show other information as well, like what priority a group has and what some key tasks they might perform on your site are.

An Example

The following table is a fictitious breakdown of just two possible audience groups for an academic department at a university.

Audience Wants Interactions
Students Course descriptions, faculty pages/bios, events (e.g., guest speakers) Email updates about upcoming events/news
Faculty Faculty pages/bios/CVs, events (e.g., guest speakers) Submit final grades and new book lists for courses via department web site

The table should continue, including audience groups like alumni/donors, staff, and university administrators.

How Do you Use This Table?

This table serves to ground your web development. You can do all kinds of wild things with your site, but you probably should not do those things unless they meet a perceived desire of your audience.

How Do You Know What Your Audience Wants?

The temptation is to think, "Well, if I were a student, I'd want a study group sign-up form." Not that signing up to study groups is a bad idea, but you should first check with some students to see what they think.

When you check with the students, it isn't enough to ask them if they think it is a good idea. Instead, ask them if they really think they would use it. Is there another way that they get in touch with study partners that they probably wouldn't change from?

Watch for Patterns

A real value of an audience chart is seeing how your different audience groups' desires and interactions intersect and depart from one another. You may find that both students and faculty want en email newsletter, though perhaps for different reasons.

When you can identify site features that will satisfy multiple audience groups, you are able to start really getting the value out of an audience chart.

Additional Resources

There are many ways to think about your web audience and connect with them better. Here are a few:

  • A user profile is a character sketch of an individual who represents an audience group. This sketch is complete with personality information, daily routine, home life, motivations, and even a photograph. This profile helps the development team build towards individuals and helps to keep them focused on the users.
  • User testing is a means of getting feedback about how your site works for people. Generally, you watch as test users complete different tasks at the web site, and then you engage them in a dialogue about their experience.
  • Task analysis sees how people do things offline and designs workflows that make sense to users online.
  • Surveys and focus groups are ways of gathering additional information on a variety of issues regarding your web site. These range from determining preferences in visual designs to brainstorming ideas for site features.