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Are You Designing for Usability or Sales?—Part 2

Did last week’s column on designing for sales leave you with enough empathy to recognize that your own website has several types of visitors, each with her own set of motivations, perspectives, and understanding of what you offer? Now, let’s discuss how this is accomplished with scenario design.

Forrester reports:

What’s the trick to improving website usability? Users. A site can’t be judged “good” or “bad” in a vacuum — its value can only be determined by looking at how well it helps users get things done. [That’s why Forrester believes firms should adopt scenario design.]

Scenario design helps users achieve their goals. How do you plan scenarios? Well, if you’re designing scenarios for a commercial website—one that demonstrates return on investment (ROI) by getting sales, leads, or registrants—you design persuasive scenarios by turning the information you have on your users into personas.

The American Heritage Dictionary defines persona as:

  1. A voice or character representing the speaker in a literary work.
  2. The characters in a dramatic or literary work.
  3. The role that one assumes or displays in public or society; one’s public image or personality, as distinguished from the inner self.

Define a Persona in Three Stages
Personas created for a persuasive experience must initially be defined by completely understanding their needs. Their needs lead into character biographies that represent and convey their worldview, attitude, personality, and behavior. Personas are constructed from research that describes their demographics, psychographics, and topographics related to how they approach the buying decision process for the products or services offered. This provides insight into the language these individuals use.

A medium-sized business owner seeking a search engine marketing (SEM) firm is likely more motivated by words such as “pay for performance” and other assertive terms than would be the director of Internet marketing for a Global 100 company. The latter is more motivated by words such as “stability,” “accountability,” and other methodical terms that would get a superior to sign off for a costly company purchase.

Keywords and trigger words for each of these personas also vary by where they are in the purchase consideration process. We tie keyword research back to our personas.

The principal value of personas developed for the sales process is in understanding how they approach the initiation of relationships, how they gather information, how they approach the decision-making process, what language they use, and how they prefer to obtain agreement and closure.

We’re not concerned with what an interface looks like at this point. We use personas to define how people will arrive at the site and what questions they have and to connect them to the content that helps them buy the way they want to.

How Personas Link to Content
Sir Tim Berners-Lee, founder of the World Wide Web and author of “Weaving the Web,” writes:

The world can be seen as only connections, nothing else…. A piece of information is really only defined by what it’s related to, and how it’s related. There really is little else to meaning. The structure is everything.

During the Persuasion Architecture wireframing phase (not what most people mistakenly think of online wireframing), we define the structure of the interaction and how each page is connected to others. This allows multiple personas to access the same pages but identifies how to address each persona’s needs on the page. The goal is to design an experiential model or persuasion scenario that can be viewed by clicking through hypertext (an interactive flowchart on steroids). The wireframe defines the hyperlinked organization of content. It isn’t content yet, but rather the definition of the content’s objectives.

Wireframing Persona Experience
Berners-Lee explains the Web is about links, connections, and the interactivity of information. Hypertext connects related pieces of information with pre-established or user-created links, allowing a user to follow associative trails. If you take the time to properly understand search engine algorithms such as PageRank, HITS, or citation analysis, you’ll discover that at their core hyperlink analysi—and keywords surrounding those hyperlinks—have the greatest value. Knowing that, wouldn’t it make sense to design those hyperlinks? They improve both search engine rankings and persuasion architecture.

The Myth of the Primary Persona
A primary challenge of traditional User-Centered Design (UCD) is that after creating diverse and distinct personas, most design efforts focus on the primary persona. That’s like building a supermarket for people who are 5 ft. 5 in. tall because that’s the average height of American females. Supermarkets plan which items are on which shelves based on who will see them. Take a walk down the cereal aisle. The majority of sweet children’s cereal is way below your eye level.

Your site has many types of visitors. Very few commercial Web sites cater to only one type of visitor with one set of demographic, psychographic, and topographic characteristics.

Forrester Research principal analyst Harley Manning writes in “The Power of Design Personas”:

In theory, satisfying the primary persona will satisfy all users. In practice, sites that need to serve many types of customers, prospects, employees, and partners are optimized for some at the expense of others. This tension will lead to a revival of interest in personalization as a way to automatically route visitors to a version of the site that matches their user archetype.

Low conversion rates of 2 to 5 percent are explained by the misunderstanding of personas’ roles in persuasion. Not every buyer is ready to buy now. Only the primary persona or, worse, an average visitor, is addressed. No surprise, then, that most sites convert badly. When a mass audience with diverse needs can self-select based on click-through, you can’t focus on the needs of only one. Account for the psychographic, emotional, and linguistic needs of your diverse buyer universe.

A mass-market product with advertising designed for tweens cannot sell to the entire market. A real-life example could involve sites that try to market to Hispanic audiences by translating an existing English Web site. The marketers don’t understand the cultural biases, idiosyncrasies, and linguistic nuances required to persuade Hispanic visitors.
Traditional UCD principles inspire, even if they don’t answer all our questions. The objective is to understand the market, the content, and the persuasion processes, not to focus on primary personas, tasks, and software interface design. The latter are important only after persuasion architecture structure and messaging are complete.

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