The bedrock of any digital transformation project for a charity has always got to be an in-depth understanding of your digital audience.  In this blog post, we provide an outline for the most important things to consider when trying to define your audience for a charity website project.

Why it’s important to understand audiences

When we talk about audiences, we are referring to the key groups of people who will be interacting with your organisation in one way or another. Whilst many people will still use the telephone, or prefer a face to face meeting, increasingly interactions are made online. In terms of digital, this area is referred to as ‘user experience’ or ‘UX’ for short. 

What do we know about them?

In order to help users find what they are looking for, it is essential to understand what their intentions are and to consider their behaviour online - i.e. their habits when using the internet. For example, how digitally savvy are beneficiaries? What else do they like to do online? Read news articles, watch videos, shop for groceries, online banking or do they spend their time on skype with their grandchildren? 

What are they trying to do?

When they arrive at your website, what are the most important things they need to be able to do to find what they’re looking for and/or get the help they need? The web has been around for long enough, and plenty of research has been conducted that tells us most people want to find what they are looking for as fast as possible without too many distractions or options. There are plenty of real life examples such as the often cited study involving a choice of jam flavours, which indicate that ‘more isn’t always better

Priority goals

This is the bit where most organisations struggle, often at all levels from senior management through to team level. We want to be many things to a lot of people and whilst some charities can and do offer a wide range of help and services, this can cause confusion and prove to be counter-productive if the offering is not prioritised for online audiences. Consider, for example, how the Google homepage is set up with their main offering surrounded by white space in order not to distract from what most of their users are trying to do - search for something. Compare this to the clustered Yahoo homepage and you start to get an idea why one is the world’s leading search engine and the later has had to change tack. 

Content and Information Architecture

Once we have an understanding of our users and what they are trying to do, we can start to develop our ideas around the sort of content we can produce to help them get to that goal. This could be anything from simple ‘how to’ factsheets, case studies demonstrating the impact of work and how it helps people, or information about services and how to get in touch, make a referral or self-refer. 

All this content needs to be arranged in a logical manner so that users can navigate around the site to find what they need without confusion or dead ends. This is all happening in a relatively short space of time and we know that users don’t tend to have much patience with badly organised websites. Consider how supermarkets cleverly nudge shoppers around the aisles in order to encourage as much spending as possible. The bread and the milk are placed at the back for a reason - it’s difficult to leave with just the one or two items you went in with the intention to buy. Compare this to somewhere such as TK Max and you can start to understand how it can become easier to leave empty handed when things are all over the place. As with a traditional library, websites need to have information categorised and organised in a way that users (and search engine crawlers) can navigate and understand easily. 

Design based on user needs

Having an understanding of the above means that designers can create and develop websites and user experiences that make sense to priority audiences whilst taking into account and incorporating industry best practices and understanding of online behaviours. 

Working in this way means that websites are designed and developed with appropriate consideration for user need. It’s important to distinguish this from an organisation’s needs, or what an organisation thinks their users need are. This in turn leads to organisations achieving better results and delivering more impact for their beneficiaries, meaning they are more likely to interact with them again or recommend them to someone else.