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Qualitative Website Persona Development in 3 Easy Steps

Step 1: Research

For qualitative research, you should start by conducting five to ten one-on-one phone interviews. Have a ghost note taker on the line so you can focus on the conversation. Your goal here is to have conversations that eventually touch on a series of points instead of running down a list in a mechanical way. This sort of conversational approach is more likely to encourage the interviewee to open up more freely as you guide the conversation toward your preferred topics. For your candidates, try to choose a wide array of clients and prospects in various buying stages: those who are considering hiring a firm like yours, those who may refer you to others, and those who plan to make a hire in the next year or so. During your conversations, focus on goals, attitudes, and behaviors.

You should have a series of points you try to cover during each conversation so that you have consistent comparison points between conversations and to make sure that you are getting the most out of each call. Mulder has a set list of questions he recommends in his book, but I encourage you to think about creating your own list of questions. What information would help you create a site that attracts, informs, and engages?

This exercise can be an enjoyable and enlightening process. You will be surprised by how much you learn about how your firm is perceived, and the people you speak with will appreciate your considering their opinions. Since you are having meaningful conversations with clients and prospects, the act of doing this research can often be a decent marketing tool in and of itself.

Step 2: Segmentation

Qualitative segmentation is an intuitive and non-scientific process, so go with your gut when creating these segments. The goal is to create three personas, so you should aim for three user segments, and the segments should be based on user goals. Segments might look something like this:

Segment 1: The Skimmer

The Skimmers do not get too deep into details, but they might be interested in looking at the site to make sure the agency does good work and is a legitimate business that deserves attention. They are interested in the portfolio, the principal biographies, and the office locations.

Segment 2: The Researcher

The Researchers do research in order to hire an expert in the industry. They might engage with the site through such calls to action as signing up for newsletters or blogs, registering for webinars or events, or downloading white papers.

Segment 3: The Buyer

The Buyers have done their research, know what they want, and are ready to make a hire. These people would likely either place a call or fill out a project profile.

After you create your segments, test them by asking a specific series of questions. Mulder recommends the following questions:

1. Are the segments unique enough?

2. Do they feel like real people?

3. Can they be easily described?

4. Do they cover all key user types?

5. Is it clear how these segments will affect decision making?

Step 3: Persona Creation

Once you create your segments, most of the hard work is done. The next step is to create one persona per segment. For each persona, define specific and realistic attributes, including a fictitious name, title, business, location, age, a believable photo, and a short professional personality description.

As you formulate these attributes, you should also create a cheat sheet for each persona.This should be an actual sheet—something you could print out and share with your web planning team. Precision is more important than accuracy here. Create a sketch of someone who could be a real person. You should also write scenarios for each persona describing who they are, how their problems relate to your services, how they found your site, what calls to action may interest them, and how they would be involved in hiring or referring your firm.


This post is an excerpt from my book, “A Website That Works.”

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