Using Personas to write user-centric web content
Personas are hypothetical ‘stand-ins’ for actual users. They are imaginary, not real, but they represent real users. Developing Personas to represent different audience groups can help you predict how your users will respond to your content.
Walk a mile in my shoes
Content is the most important part of a web site. Users want content that is centered around their needs, and not around your needs or those of your organisation. To write user-centric content, you must learn to put yourself in the shoes of your users, who may not have your knowledge, understanding or experience.
If I could be you, if you could be me
For just one hour, if we could find a way
To get inside each other’s mind ..
— Walk a Mile in My Shoes – (words & music by Joe South).
Using Personas is a popular technique that many web developers and writers find helpful to create user-centric content.
For example, you may develop a Persona to represent the novice user, another to represent the largest segment of your audience, another to represent a highly skilled and expert user. For each Persona, you may give them a name, define their skills and requirements, and give them a personality by defining one or two fictional details about their lives. Then as you write your content, you can imagine or predict how each Persona will respond based on their profile.
What Personas are not
Personas are not a substitute for doing audience analysis. Personas should not be entirely imaginary, but should be based on audience research – going out there and interviewing and gathering facts about your real-life users. However, there may be situations where you are just beginning a project, and do not yet know who your audience will be – so imagined Personas help.
Using Personas is not a substitute for user testing. Rather, Personas should be used as an adjunct to user testing on those occasions when it it not always practical to go out and test on live users.
An alternative to using Personas
Imagining yourself with a different level of understanding
Not everyone likes the idea of using Personas. Some people find it easier to simply imagine what it would be like to read a page of content as if they themselves had a different level of knowledge and experience. “If I were a beginner, what would it be like when I read this page? Would I understand what is being said?”
Whatever way you achieve it, you must not write for yourself, or for your management team (unless they are the end-users). If you want your users to keep coming back, write for THEM.