How to do quick and effective user profiling
Your website can attract a wide variety of visitors. Trying to appeal to them all can be troublesome and the results can leave you with more unhappy customers than happy ones.
When user profiling, there are two very distinct ways to go; methodical and thorough with a reasoned and structured analysis, which is our typical user profiling project, or ‘quick and dirty’.
In the agile, nimble world of the modern Web, we appreciate you don’t always have the time to do things perfectly so here are three steps to help you with the quick and dirty approach.
Step 1. Decide on who your customers are
Break down your users into five groups, based on what they need from your site. One way to do this is with an ad hoc meeting with your team. In the meeting explain what you want, without explaining why until the end, this way you get original thinking and not prepared, canned answers.
We challenged our client Bob Barbour at the MS Society to do this. He set up a ‘flash’ meeting – putting it out as a desperate appeal for help at very short notice. He got great results as the attendees had no time to ‘over think’ the exercise and so didn’t try to serve their own objective by pushing one user group over another.
Don’t underestimate the challenge of only coming up with five user groups, it will be hard, but it is important to set a limit to help you focus. If you come up with too many groups, look at how you can merge some together.
Step 2. Come up with questions for each group
Now come up with questions for each group that they are likely to ask when looking at your website. Make sure the questions are actionable, i.e. “Is this company reputable?” Then, focus on what are the most important questions for that user group.
Choose the top three priority questions for each user group, and focus on these. For example, if we did this for our website, it might look something like this:
Group 1 – Asked to investigate usability suppliers by their boss
1. Do they appear trustworthy and competent?
2. What is different about their approach?
3. How much will it cost?
Group 2 – Understand more about usability testing
1. What is usability testing?
2. What else should I consider?
3. Can I do it myself?
Step 3. Focus on the high priority users
From your five groups, select the two most important, as a primary and secondary group. These should be your number one business priority to serve, i.e. the users that will lead to you reaching your business goals for the site.
After completing your quick and dirty approach to user profiling, you will have a better idea of who your essential customers are, what they need and where to focus your efforts on your website to help your users.
We will discuss how to use the profiles that you have created in a future article, but for the time being you can use your new user profiles to focus your website planning on addressing user needs instead of internal guesses.
What methods have you used to get a better picture of your users?
Related service: User Journey Design
About Damian Rees
Damian has worked as a usability and user experience consultant for over 13 years. He has worked in senior roles within companies like the BBC and National Air Traffic Services where he has researched and designed for users in a variety of different contexts including web applications, voice recognition, and air traffic control interfaces. Follow Damian on twitter @damianrees