When you’re designing a new nonprofit website, there are a ton of things to think about.  What do you want the website to do?  What should it look like?  Who’ll be involved in the project? How will you drive the right people to the site? But before getting into the details of your new website, it’s important to answer one key question:

Who are you targeting with the new site?

This all-important question has implications for many facets of your project.

Impact on Site Features and Functionality

Knowing your audience will help you identify the key features your site must include.  You’ll need to make sure you’re including whatever it is that your target audience will want to be able to do on your website. You likely have grand dreams to incorporate all kinds of bells and whistles into your site.  But narrowing the scope to those features most likely to appeal to your key audience will help you hone in on the features that are most important off the bat.  You can always expand later if necessary.

Impact on Design

Identifying the audience you’re designing for will help a designer figure out the best way to approach your new site’s look and feel.  You’ll likely take a different approach to appeal to middle school students than you will to target corporate donors. This has implications for a ton of elements, including:

  • Photos
  • Colors
  • Font size and style
  • Layout

Ultimately you’ll want to tailor the design of your site to appeal to your target audience.

Impact on Content and Tone

If you know who your audience is and what they’re looking for, you can create content catered to their expectations.  Write about the sorts of things your primary audience will be after. And while you generally want to write in a conversational tone, it’s important to tailor this to your audience as well.  For instance, you’ll likely write a bit differently for kids than you would for adults in academia. By knowing who your visitors will likely be, you can deliver the content they’re looking for in a way that they’ll find engaging and accessible.

Impact on Navigation

Once you’ve identified the primary target audience for your website, you can prioritize the content these folks will be looking for.  Your navigation should be intuitive and easy to use regardless of your primary audience.  But when you’re trying to decide what content to give a more prominent placement, lean towards the information your primary audience will be seeking.

Impact on Driving Traffic

Knowing who you’re after has many implications when it comes to driving traffic. First off, you’ll need to use keywords your target audience will type into search engines if you’d like to drive traffic from search.  If you’re looking to drive folks with little familiarity with your mission, you’ll want to avoid any jargon they may not know.  Alternatively, if you’re trying to draw visitors with an in-depth knowledge of your area of expertise, some industry-specific terminology will likely be more appropriate. It’s also important to consider your target audience to determine the best way to drive traffic by way of links.  Referral traffic, or visits from people clicking links, can be a huge boost to your overall website traffic.  But you don’t want visits from just anyone.  You want them from the right people. Knowing your audience will help you determine the best places to earn links to your website.  This can include industry-specific blogs, forums, social media channels and related websites. You need to know who you’re trying to drive to your website before determining the best way to do so.

Questions to Ask to Determine Your Audience

Knowing your audience clearly impacts pretty much every aspect of your website in some way.  So how do you get to know them? To get started, ask yourself a few questions, including:

  • What are you trying to accomplish with the website?
  • Who needs to visit the website in order for you to accomplish these things?
  • What do they care about?
  • How much prior knowledge do they have about your organization and mission?
  • Is there any important or defining demographic information?
  • What will they see as the reason for visiting your website?

Download Our Target Audience Persona Checklist

Creating target audience personas is a crucial step in your nonprofit marketing. Get started with our full checklist of questions for persona development.

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If you have multiple audiences, you can repeat these questions for each.  But try to be selective, tailoring your site to the audience most likely to help your organization fulfill the goals you’ve outlined for the site. Have you defined the key target audience for your nonprofit’s website?  If so, how’d you go about doing it?  Did you find it helpful?  If not, do you think it would be helpful in your circumstances?  As always I’d love to hear from you in the comments.

Image courtesy of Roger Reuver