If you look around at websites that are well-designed and are effective, you’ll see that the target audience of a website has a profound impact on the design of the site. Obviously, different audiences prefer different types of websites and they will also have different needs.
The term user-focused is commonly thrown around. In this article I’ll take a look at a number of different ways (in no particular order) that the audience of your site will affect they way it is designed. This is an attempt not to be all-inclusive, but rather to show just how many ways the audience of a site can impact its design.
Deciding on a color scheme is a huge step in the process of a design. The specific target audience of the site should be considered during this decision. Different audiences will sometimes have specific tastes in color. For example, you see a lot of web 2.0 sites that target the same audience using light pastel colors. Websites that focus on celebrity news/gossip often feature many bright colors. When children are the target audience, a lot of color will be used. In certain cultures and religions, specific colors can sometime create negative feelings or emotions. Whatever audience you are targeting, make an effort to find a color scheme that will be appreciated and considered to be attractive.
2. Page Load Speed
Different audiences will have varying speeds of internet connections. A high percentage of users today have high speed connections, especially if you are targeting a technologically savvy audience. However, don’t automatically assume that your audience will have a high speed connection. Websites that are bogged down with slow-loading elements are unlikely to be successful if the audience primarily consists of visitors with dial-up connections.
The types of photographs and images that are used throughout a website should be appealing to the target audience. A site that targets photographers should obviously use very high quality photos in order to create a good impression. The people that are shown in photographs on a site are often chosen because they resemble someone that would be typical of the website’s audience.
4. Targeted Keywords and Phrases
Every well-built website should target specific words and phrases. The entire website may target similar phrases or each page may target its own set of words and phrases. Whatever the case, the target audience of the site and what they will search for should be the major deciding factor when choosing words and phrases to target.
Obviously, the written content of a website should be influenced by the target audience. They type of content should be something that appeals to the audience (examples, the use of humor, news-related content, etc.) and the voice of the writing should also be consistent with the interests of readers. Additionally, the amount of content should also be influenced by the audience.
6. Level of Interaction
Different audiences will expect to be able to interact with a website in different ways. There are increasing numbers of internet users that appreciate being able to watch video on a site. Additionally, you may have an audience that will be eager to leave comments and feedback. Does your website allow visitors to interact in a way that will appeal to them?
7. Integration of Social Media
More and more websites are including integration of social media. This can mean anything from including a “Digg this” or a link to bookmark with del.icio.us, to a system for visitors to vote content up or down right on the site itself. Will your visitors be familiar with social media? If so, which social media sites are they most likely to use? Don’t forget about niche social media sites, which will obviously be influenced by the specific audience of the website.
The terminology used on a website should always consider the audience. Are users going to be familiar with certain words, phrases, and acronyms? Jargon should be avoided unless the audience will clearly understand the meaning and appreciate the use of it. Additionally, a website should not use harsh words or vulgarity unless the audience will be ok with this type of language, as some visitors can be turned off.
On some website the fonts and typography are clearly intended to appeal to a certain audience. For example, a site that is targeting young people that are interested in skateboarding, snowboarding, or other extreme sports may use a grunge-style font.
There are a number of different general styles of websites, and these are used to appeal to specific audiences. For example, a community site for designers may use a minimalist approach with a clean and crisp look. The website of a photographer will probably focus primarily on photos, graphics and color. The website of a musician will reflect the style of music that is played, and the style of the people that listen to the music. In all of these cases, the site is created in a way that will appeal to the typical user of that site.
11. Level of Accessibility
Designers should strive to make every website accessible, but sometimes decisions are made that will affect the level of accessibility of site. With some audiences this can be even more important. For example, if a high percentage of your visitors use dial-up connections, you will want to keep that in mind and create pages that will load as quickly as possible. A website that sells goods and services to handicapped individuals will obviously want to be as accessible as possible. This seems like a no-brainer, but I’ve actually spoken with non-profits that cater to handicapped people, and they’ve told me that their website isn’t accessible.
12. Advertisements on the Site
Many websites and blogs include advertisements in order to make some money. The specific products and services that are advertised on a site should be interesting and useful for as many visitors as possible. Visitors generally won’t mind seeing advertisements if they are well chosen and appealing to them, but if they are for completely irrelevant products and services they are much more likely to be a turn off. Well-targeted ads are best for the website owner, the visitors, and the advertisers.
13. Monetization Choices
Placing ads on a website isn’t the only option for making money with the site. Whatever method you choose, it should be something that your target audience will approve of. Monetization choices that don’t fit well with the audience will produce poor results and they will likely not be appreciated by visitors.
14. Width of the Design
One of the biggest headaches of web design is dealing with the different ways that visitors can see your site, and one of the factors is the screen resolution that they are using. Fortunately, programs like Google Analytics will help you to know this type of information about your visitors, and you can make decisions accordingly.
15. Outbound Links
What websites do you link to? Are those sites appropriate, interesting, and useful for your target audience? Outbound links will be the most effective if they provide some type of additional value for visitors.
16. Attention Grabbers
What you use to grab the visitors’ attention will depend on what audience you are targeting. Something that will interest one audience will do nothing for a different audience.
17. Subscription Options
If your website offers a subscription, be sure to give your visitors what they want. Technically savvy audiences are likely to prefer RSS subscriptions, but many non-technical visitors probably aren’t even aware of what RSS is, and they will prefer email subscriptions.
Does your website mention or list any affiliations? If so, these should mean something to your target audience. If you are targeting local visitors, displaying a membership in the local chamber of commerce may be a good idea.
19. Communication Options
Some audiences prefer to communicate in specific ways. Of course, publishing a phone number and providing an email address or a contact form are the traditional choices. How about social networks that target a young audience? Instant messaging may be a preferred method of contact. How about the drastic increase in microblogging services and networks? These clearly are not appealing to all audiences.
20. Call to Action
Most websites involve some call to action, whether it’s selling a product, asking for an email address, seeking RSS subscribers, clicking on ads, soliciting referrals (email addresses of friends), etc. The call to action should always consider the audience. Sites that target children and teens will usually be more successful if they are attempting to get clicks on ads as opposed to selling products. On the other hand, a different audience may be interested in providing an email address but not something else. The action that you expect from your visitors should partially depend on the characteristics of those visitors.
21. Mood of the site
Many websites have an overall mood that is apparent to visitors. This is a way of making your target audience feel at home and helping them to connect with your site. The mood of the site should accurately reflect the mood that you expect visitors to have and to associate with.
All of the items listed above are affected by a website’s audience. Effective and successful websites will always have the user in mind when decisions are being made and when the site is being designed. I know this does not cover nearly everything that is impacted by the audience, so please feel free to share your thoughts and suggestions below.