Having multiple audiences on your Web site is a challenge for the entire Web team, including content strategists. How do you determine the varying needs of your multiple audiences and solve their content challenges? Here's my approach.

I recently had a strange conversation with a client. It went like this:

Client: “70% of our users come through the deep content.”
Me: “So, if they bypass the home page, then why are we spending so much time on the home page design?”
Client: “The visual aspect is really important to us. Users will leave if they don’t like the site.”
Me: “I think if the majority of your users are coming in through deep content, then we can assume that information is their goal. How can we provide context around the information so we’re being as helpful as possible?”
Client: “Just because they’re coming through the deep content, doesn’t mean the home page doesn’t need a strong visual design. Users won’t stay if they don’t like the way it looks.”

Know the Limitations of Your Knowledge

We all interpret data differently. During the above conversation, my clients articulated a valuable piece of information about user behavior on the site, but we came to different conclusions about what it meant.

It’s possible that the 70% who come through the deep content are one type of user, and the other 30% are a different type of user. In any case, we need to always think about the questions users have when using our Web sites, as well as how our information can solve their problem of the moment.

In that context we ask the questions: How do we really know what our users:

  • Already know?
  • Don’t know?
  • Need to know?

Are Personas the Answer?

Personas are valuable and useful, but sometimes your audience is too wide and far-reaching to create accurate personas for all of them. Education level, income, interests, passions -- you could have 100 users that look, sound, act and read in completely different ways. This is a multiple audience problem, and it is very challenging to solve -- particularly if finding and interpreting data that will provide accurate information to answer the above three questions is difficult.

Create Context Around Everything

You may never really be able to pinpoint what your users do and do not know. However, you can give them context around content. Here are a few examples:

  1. Let your audience self-select
    The Benjamin Moore Web site allows you to choose who you are (consumer, decorator, and industry) and then steers you into that part of site. By creating context around identity -- likely after carrying out a body of research and user testing -- Benjamin Moore can anticipate the kinds of questions their different users have about painting, as well as other types of content or tasks of importance.
  2. Use a glossary
    If you have a lot of complicated terminology in your industry, and you know that a worthwhile percentage of your users are novices, consider creating a glossary. Anytime a questionable word displays, build a rollover so the user can read the definition in a pop-up. It will avoid confusion, create context and go the extra customer service step of anticipating your users’ needs. Or just link to the glossary.
  3. Consider providing "Getting Started" or "What to Expect" guides
    By providing additional information from the user’s point of view, via an established framework, you’re delivering valuable information and answering a need. For example, in the healthcare space, where I write tons of content, I always think about the steps patients are anticipating when they get to the hospital, or when they have to undergo certain procedures. Don’t be afraid of simplicity -- it is often the better way to go.

How about you? How do you solve content problems when you have multiple audiences?