The start of a new website project can be messy, confusing and stressful. But there’s one thing that I’ve found helpful in answering every single question that comes up through the website project — knowing who your website audience is.

Who are you targeting with the new site? And what do they want?

Once you know your target audience for the new site, many of the other facets of your project seem to fall into place.

Determining Your Website Audience

But how do you get to know your website audience? Start by answering a few questions.

  • 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?

If you have multiple audiences, like volunteers, donors, clients or advocates, you can repeat these questions for each piece of your website audience. 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.

This is where audience personas can come in handy. A target audience persona, or one (or more) fictitious person to represent a specific section of your website audience, can help to ensure that your audience stays top of mind throughout the website project and beyond. It allows you to speak to a specific person (or people) through your website and ensure that they have all they need to accomplish what you’d like them to on the site.

Download Our Target Audience Persona Checklist

Creating target audience personas is a key step to making sure that your website connects with your audience. Get started with our full checklist of questions for persona development.

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Ways Your Website Audience Impacts Your Project

A predefined audience should have a starring role in every single website project. Your website audience, along with their needs and preferences, impacts decisions from start to finish.

Features and Functionality

Knowing your audience will help you identify the key features your site must include. What will your target audience need to be able to do on your website? That may include things like online donations directly on your site, email sign-ups, a volunteer management system and event registrations.

You may have grand dreams to incorporate all kinds of bells and whistles into your site. Narrowing the scope to those features most likely to appeal to your key audience will help you hone in on the “need-to-have” features.

Afterall, you can always incorporate the “nice to have” features down the road, but it’s helpful to know what’s necessary to start. Especially if you need to make cuts for budget, time or capacity reasons.

Design

Identifying the audience you’re designing for will help determine the best look and feel of your new site. For example, you’d likely take a different approach to appeal to middle school students than you would to target corporate donors. This has implications for a ton of elements, including:

  • Photos
  • Colors
  • Font size and style
  • Layout

Whether you’re customizing a theme or designing your new site from scratch, you’ll want to tailor the design of your site to appeal to your target audience.

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, or website structure, should be intuitive and easy to use regardless of your primary audience. 

But when you’re trying to decide what pieces of content to give a more prominent placement, lean towards the information your primary audience will be seeking. Consider using one of these common nonprofit website structures as a starting point and customizing it to work for your audience.

Content

If you know who your audience is and what they’re looking for, you can create content catered to their expectations. 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.

See our tips for developing your nonprofit’s voice and striking the right tone on each page of your site. 

Driving Traffic

Considering the intended audience for your site is especially important in efforts to drive traffic to your new site. You’ll want to ensure that you’re attracting the right people who will engage with your new site and take action for your nonprofit.

  • If you’d like to drive traffic from search engines, you’ll need to use keywords your target audience will type into those search engines.
  • If you’re looking to attract folks with little familiarity with your mission, you’ll want to avoid any jargon they may not know within your website content.
  • 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. 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.

Knowing your website audience is crucial to building a successful nonprofit website with the power to move your mission forward and achieve your organization’s goals. As you work through each step of the project, keep your audience front and center in every decision you make to ensure a website that drives results.

Have you defined the target audience for your nonprofit’s website? If so, how’d you go about doing it? Were there any decisions you made (or wish you’d made) based on your audience? As always, I’d love to hear from you in the comments.

Originally published on 3/19/14 by David Hartstein. Updated with new information and images on 2/9/22.

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