Understanding your users
In this step in the content process, you’ll build empathy for your users by trying to understand how they interact with your website, which will inform how you create and structure content in later steps. For more information, you can view our workshop on this topic and the presentation from the workshop.
Why am I doing this?
Oftentimes, we become so embedded within our organizations that we forget how someone unfamiliar with how we operate might view us from the outside. This can lead to websites that are structured and built without much consideration for how users actually think about your organization and how they might navigate your website. By taking the time to understand your users, your website will be both more user friendly and help you better accomplish your organizational and website goals.
What does this have to do with the overall content strategy process?
This step will help to orient your content creation and structure around user needs. Similar to your overall goals, you should refer back to the work you do in this step as you progress through the next steps in the process. You should always try to put yourself in your users’ shoes as you develop your content and decide how to structure your website.
How do I identify user needs?
There are many methods for identifying user needs, but we discuss a few here: user interviews, user scenarios, and personas. User interviews can help to ground your understanding in what actual users think and say, but they can also be quite time intensive so we recognize that not everyone will have time for this. User scenarios and personas can be informed by user interviews or can be based on your existing experience with users and your understanding of how they may use your website. Developing personas and user scenarios without doing user interviews can be a quicker way to start building empathy for your users and their experience.
Option 1: User interviews
User interviews can be a great tool for understanding how your users think about and use your website. Here are some things to consider if you’re going to conduct user interviews:
- Decide who you’ll be interviewing. If you have multiple audiences (faculty, students, etc.) you should make sure to interview people from each group, but the bulk of interviews should be with your primary audience. Though we typically recommend doing between 5-10 interviews, any number you’re able to do can provide helpful insights.
- Develop interview goals and questions. You’ll want to decide what kinds of information you want to get out of your interviews and structure your questions around these goals. Interviews can be structured with a very specific set of questions or semi-structured where you prepare questions, but also ask organic follow-up questions. We typically recommend semi-structured to allow for a more conversational approach and so you can explore topics relevant to each user.
If you’re thinking about conducting user interviews, make sure to consult the resources below and feel free to reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org so we can discuss your plan and how this might work for your situation.
User interview resources
- Conducting User Interviews – Yale University
- User Interview Example Questions – Yale University
- User Interviews: How, When, and Why to Conduct Them – Nielsen Norman Group
Option 2: Personas and user scenarios
Personas and user scenarios are two methods that can be combined with user interviews or done independently. These methods provide you an opportunity to try to put yourself in your users’ shoes to help you develop content and a site structure that is geared towards user needs further along in the process.
Creating personas – These are specific instances of a particular type of user you expect to visit your website. These can be based on people you interview, people you’ve interacted with in other facets of your work, or an imagined user who you think might visit your site. Personas should help you clearly articulate the motivations, needs, and experiences of a particular audience that is important for your website. You can give each persona a name, demographic information, and explain how and why they might use your website. You should reference the following helpful resources when crafting your personas:
- Benefits and best practices for personas – Usability.gov
- Persona worksheet template – Yale University
- Persona worksheet example – Yale University
Developing user scenarios –Once you’ve created a few representative personas, you can expand on this work by working through specific scenarios that your users might experience as they interact with your website. We’re going to be adapting our steps from the 18F Methods process, which you can reference for additional information.
- For each persona you’ve created, list out their goals, motivations, and any other contextual information that might be relevant (you may have already completed most of this step when creating your personas).
- Next, using this information for each of the personas, craft a narrative that includes the following:
- who they are (persona or user group)
- why they are using your site (motivations)
- where they are (context)
- what they need to do (their goal)
- how they go about accomplishing the goal (tasks)
- The emphasis is on creating a story(s) for each user. The more you consider the details of each story and interaction, the more helpful this will be for understanding your users.
- Reference these user scenarios throughout the rest of the content process: as you develop and add new content, and when you restructure existing content.
You might find it helpful to work through this step using the framework of a user journey map, which is a particular way of thinking about user scenarios. Journey mapping is a particular visual tool that can help to fill in different aspects of a user scenario. You can reference the following resources for more information and templates for working on your own user journey maps:
- Journey map diagram – Yale University
- Journey map template – Yale University
- When and How to Create Customer Journey Maps – Nielsen Norman Group