Let us be honest: today, almost every piece of content you can find on the Internet is produced with a mercantile purpose behind it. Every opinion, advice, expertise or even a news story have a common objective – to gain the reader.
So, how do we make Internet users actually read and appreciate our content? One of the best practices today is the so-called User Persona approach.
The 80/20 Problem
If you just write your content with no strategy in mind, only 20% of it will be actually apprehended, and the rest 80% is going to die in loneliness in the far corners of the web. According to a research published by Neil Patel, 80% of conversions come from 20% of content.
You would think that it’s just another Pareto principle proof in action, but think again. Why would you need 80% of your content to be useless? If a hypothetical chicken farm produced only 20 good eggs out of 100, it would quickly go bankrupt.
To stay competitive, you can’t afford to be so bad at forecasting. In an effort to create content aimed at generating readers and catching the user’s attention, you’ve got to take into account who your readers are, and what exactly they prefer reading. With a User Persona approach, you can make sure to gain more successful target hits than by just firing your content blindly.
Content production control
According to Andy Grove, ex-CEO of Intel and one of the most successful top managers of all time, user-value control is crucial at every production stage, no matter what you are producing. In his High Output Management bestseller, Grove urges to “fix problems when they are small”, because the later the production stage, the bigger the cost of alteration. The defected items have to be identified and filtered ASAP, so that the factory would not continue putting its working hours into them in vain.
This statement cannot ring truer for Internet content, so we will try to apply this approach to content production.
In content production, you basically have 4 stages:
- Topic (selecting the problem which your article would cover);
- Material accumulation (research, gathering facts and opinions);
- Plan (outlining the sections to fit your material into);
- Draft (assembling the content piece).
When you have chosen a poor topic and did not check if it is actually in demand by your target audience, then you will end up doing the research in vain. Later, if your plan did not focus on the main problem, then your draft will drift away from the subject, and you’ll end up with the article that no one would be interested in reading. Moreover, you will spend a couple of days finishing the article that is predestined to be unsuccessful. What a waste!
So, how to define what’s good or bad in the piece of content you are willing to produce? Obviously, the best indicator for you would be the reader himself. I would suggest it as the best practice to have the actual representative of your TA approve your content at every production stage. But in truth, applying this practice is next to impossible. That is why we have to implement User Personas instead of real people, in order to fulfill the proof-reading purpose.
What Is A User Persona
User Persona is a dossier of your typical, average reader. Formulating a Persona is a lot like designing a fictional character: the more details you add, the more human the character would act on the pages of a book.
A good Persona should include the following data on the user:
- Personal data (sex, age, nationality, marital and social status, etc.);
- Occupation (what they do for living, job, skills, profession);
- Problems (questions they want Internet to answer for them);
- Goals (things they do not currently possess, but strive to achieve).
- Internet habits (hours and duration of online activity, bookmarked resources, preferable social media);
- Interests (likings, hobbies, inspirations);
On the picture below you can see an example of a well-portrayed User Persona (image credit: Xtensio).
How to draw up User Personas
So, how do we create a User Persona good enough to resemble our real readers?
We will explain it by example from our own practice. We are a web development company, and obviously we seek clients to produce websites for. So it is fair to say that the target audience for our blogging content must include the following types of Internet users:
- Owners and founders of various types of businesses;
- Private entrepreneurs;
- Public figures (politicians, celebrities, athletes) or – more often, their agents;
- Corporate employees (CEOs, CMOs, IT Directors etc.)
Let us see what unites these people:
- they need a website produced;
- they realize they cannot do it on their own;
- they seek a web development service;
- they want to keep timeframe and costs within reasonable boundaries;
- they are not web design professionals;
- so, they seek web development expertise, explained for non-professionals.
As an example, let us draw up a User Persona of an interior designer, who runs his own workshop, and is concerned about having a professional website.
Meet Aaron. Aaron is 35, a design school graduate and inspirational artist since childhood. After graduating, he has worked for several interior design & architecture studios, but at 30 decided to start one of his own. Aaron is married, and his wife is also a designer, so it’s fair to say that their business is family-rooted.
Aaron specializes on Loft, and over the years that his workshop has been in business, he gained a pool of loyal clients, and a solid local reputation through the word of mouth. Five years ago Aaron launched a simple, template-based website for his newly created studio, which was only updated with portfolio cases since then, but remained simple and rookie-looking.
Having become well-known locally, now Aaron is ambitious to gain international recognition, and is thinking of a website that would reflect his expertise and experience, and, more importantly, place him among the world-renowned celebrity interior designers, such as Karim Rashid or Jean-Louis Denoit.
Based on the criteria described above, we were able to formulate the following Persona “passport” for Aaron.
Persona As Your Target
So, as it was said, Aaron needs a world-class interior design website, and therefore seeks comprehensible web development expertise to find out where to start and what to expect. The online search takes him to various Internet resources, which mostly are blogs. It would be fair to assume that these blogs are not the most popular web design resources such as Smashing Magazine or Sixrevisions, but something less specialized and more plain to a non-professional.
Here is the short list of blogs where Aaron might end up:
Besides, he also spends some time networking in industry groups on Linkedin, Facebook and Twitter.
When we have gathered the resources that are likely to be favored by our Persona, we look which topics are hot there. Among these trending topics, we then shortlist the ones that we would be capable of giving valuable pieces of expertise on.
For example, Aaron would apparently be interested in the following:
- Web design project cost and timeframe;
- How to prepare a good RFP for a web development project;
- Which web platform would be better for his website and why;
- Good reference examples of interior design websites;
- Where to find a web producer with extensive experience in interior design websites.
As you probably noticed, we’ve already got the above topics covered. Having studied the search cravings of our hypothetical Persona, we came up with a number of articles, in which Aaron would find answers to all of his pressing concerns.
Persona As Your Editor
Let us rewind back a little to the concept of production control process, and see how our friend Aaron was able to help us out.
1. Choosing the topic
While browsing the topics at Website Builder Expert - one of Aaron’s bookmarked “web dev for dummies” resources, we noticed that the article titled “What You Need to Build a Website – The Definitive Checklist” was among of the most popular ones (3 000+ views, 150+ social shares, 20+ comments).
We thought that it would be a good piece of expertise to share what we consider the key website building points. We let Aaron have a look at the article, and his opinion was the following:
“A decent piece, but it’s way too general, and way too long. I ain’t got all day to read, you know”.
This judgement helped us split the general topic into several sub-topics, and cover each one in more detail. So, at this point we knew we would write about:
- Pros and cons of website templates;
- Wordpress vs Custom CMS;
- How to choose good visuals;
- How to make your visitors watch your videos.
2. Finding good material
As a web development studio, we have a team of accomplished professionals who know all about the subject. So, we had Aaron have a talk with our Lead UI designer, Front-End Team Lead, Head Project Manager and CMO.
If these people were simply asked to sit down and write their inputs, these inputs would probably be only good for other professionals like themselves. But since they had to explain it all to Aaron, we got the end material comprehensible by common folk, which we could use to produce the equally comprehensible content.
3. Article draft
Having gathered the inbound data, we had to define what to include in our articles, and what would be better left out. And again, our Persona’s help was invaluable.
Aaron wanted a world-class website, so we didn’t have to concentrate on explaining the cheap solutions. He would have liked his future website to facilitate uplifting his business to the international level - so, we decided to focus on business goals and how the site can achieve them. And, being a designer, Aaron certainly enjoyed visualizing information - therefore, we needed infographics to back up and stress our most important statements.
After the article was written, we examined it from Aaron’s perspective. This is usually good to do on the following day when your head is clear. If you did not turn down your Persona’s help on previous stages, this one should only be about polishing the rough edges.
Juggle through style, make sure you have attention focuses and engaging statements in the right places, and most importantly, that your article answers your Persona’s question in full. If all is done properly, there is a good chance your Persona shares the article, which would bring you more readers of the same type.
Undoubtedly, generating User Personas takes time and effort. Using them as reference in your content production process can be somewhat resource-consuming, too. But in the end, if you’ve done everything right, you receive the article with good chances to be read and spread by people you have written it for.