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Knowing Your Audience & Doing Market Research

What It Is

Audience analysis is collecting and reviewing information about the people who use your website. You should routinely analyze who your current visitors are, who your prospective visitors are, and what they want to accomplish on your website. You need this kind of information to ensure that you’re designing and writing your website for your audience – not for your organization.

Ways to Analyze Your Audience

You should use a variety of means to learn about and analyze your audience, including:

  • Usability testing and research: Although participant numbers are typically small, you can include open-ended questions during testing to gather demographic info and general impressions about your website. Read more about usability testing.
  • Customer satisfaction surveys: You can include open-ended questions to gather demographic data and data about who your visitors are (e.g. teachers, researchers, media, etc.), why they come to your site, and what they want to accomplish. Read more about customer satisfaction surveys.
  • Focus groups: Although participant numbers may be small, you can learn about what some typical visitors think about your site.
  • Market Research: There are lots of polling firms, media research companies, and non-profit and academic research centers that collect and analyze data about web users and behavior on the web. See the section below for a list of those organizations.
  • Web server logs: Server logs can provide some data about your visitors, such as country of origin. Read more about analyzing web server logs.
  • Email, phone calls, letters, and other contacts with the public: Find out the top requests coming into your agency by phone, email, and in-person service centers. If you have a central agency phone number (like a 1-800 number), get regular reports from the operators to find out what your audience is asking for and who they are. Talk with your target audiences regularly. Reach out to your target audiences at conferences, trade shows, and other events.
  • Input from other web content managers: You can compare what common audience groups (e.g. media, teachers, kids, seniors) are requesting from other agencies. This may help you develop the same kind of content from your agency and compliment what other agencies are doing.
  • Analyze search data: Find out the terms your visitors are typing into your search engine. Make sure the terms they use are the same terms and labels you’re using on your site. And make sure the most requested items are easily accessible from your homepage.
  • Commercial products that provide demographic data about your website visitors: There are a variety of products that will collect and analyze demographic data about your website visitors. See the resources below for specific products.

Personas (Audience Profiles)

Personas have become an increasingly popular technique to help design websites based on audience needs and expectations. They’re sometimes also called “customer profiles” or “audience profiles.” Personas are hypothetical "stand-ins" for actual users that can help you envision real users, their goals, and expectations.

Personas can help you synthesize all the information you collect about your users into clear, vivid portraits of your typical site users. Having these portraits is one way to help you (and your whole team) create web sites that really connect with your audience. Here are some resources to learn more about personas and how to use them:

Resources: Government

Resources: Non-Government (See disclaimer for non-government links)

  • Pew Internet and American Life Project -- non-partisan “fact tank” that provides research on internet use, trends in online behavior, and customer expectations.
  • Clickz Stats -- latest market research on demographics, visitor traffic, geographic data, web advertising, and more.  Formerly CyberAtlas.
  • eMarketer -- statistics, news, and information about the Internet. Most information for a fee, but abstracts and press releases are freely available.
  • Nielson Net Ratings -- measures large percent of the world's Internet usage, including demographics and traffic to specific websites
  • Web Credibility, Stanford University -- research about what leads people to believe what they find on the Web.
  • Center for Technology in Government -- hosts a broad range of research papers on e-government, including some trending and audience analysis.

Specific Reports and Publications


Page Updated or Reviewed: November 2, 2006

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