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Content Strategy: Creating User Personas to Test Your Business Hypotheses

Jun 19 '15

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Content strategy is a substantive and practical approach to modern web development. It offers you the opportunity to examine your current business goals, find out who's really using your site, create content and delivery systems that serve your needs, and develop a framework for adapting to new objectives in the future. In this series of posts, we'll cover some of the most salient benefits of incorporating content strategy into your development process. Click this link if you missed the first content strategy post.

Benefit II: Find out who your users really are

Once you've determined your short-term business goals, turn your attention to the how and who: your voice and branding and the definition of your audience. Formulate one primary message based on these business goals, the single most important thing you want a user to learn about you. This message should support all your business objectives.

Create user personas

This doesn't have to be a long, drawn-out, expensive process involving months of research. What you should aim for is to use the resources at your disposal, as well as your informed knowledge about your business, to group the main audiences for your site into just 3-5 user profiles. You can start with a bit of quick and dirty user research (what you know from web metrics, competitor analysis, or customer feedback you've already received), but don't be afraid to combine it with your projections of users' needs and expectations of your website. Think about who these people are and why they use your system. When and where will they use your site? From which devices? What kind of personal and professional characteristics do they have? What motivates them?

By developing user personas, you'll be able to test metrics against concrete models once you've put your content strategy into place. Think of each persona as a hypothesis, a starting point; something that allows you to define your approach to each group of users, then discard the approaches that don’t work and strengthen the ones that do. You're not bound to these user personas forever, but they give you an actionable way to test who your users really are and the assumptions you have made about them.

Formulate secondary messages

Once you've got these personas in place, formulate secondary messages about your product or business geared to each one of them. These messages will vary in importance according to the audience, but they shouldn't be more or less important to your business as a whole. The secondary messages derive from your business goals as they relate to these specific personas and the different use scenarios that each one implies.

Map content to messages

Now, analyze your content inventory and map the current or proposed content to your primary and secondary messages. Create content tables detailing the content items (facts, data, functionalities, anecdotes and philosophies) that support your messages. Analyze your calls to action (what you want users to do once they receive your messages) and define their relationship to the content, creating actionable experiences for each user profile. Rank your content for your profiles, and only then create your sitemap and wireframes.

The point of planning your website in this way is to give your content a target and a specific purpose. As we'll cover more in Part IV of this series, when you later analyze your site's effectiveness (the essential yin to content planning's yang), you'll be able to gain tangible insights. Are your audiences finding your content? Has your audience-specific approach been persuasive? Are you getting attention from the users you thought you were? What are they responding to? Which calls to action are effectively achieving your goals? What are your customers’ entry points? Is there high-value content (based on user feedback) that's not getting any traffic? You'll be able to employ user path analysis or engagement analysis of top sources for given pages, as well as leverage experimentation and testing tools to try out different solutions and generate the most engagement for your website.

For more specific information and perspectives on developing user personas, check out the following links:


Stay tuned for our next post in the series, Benefit III: Create Useful Content and Delivery Systems.