<p>The other day, as I was sitting in a presentation where major project findings were being shared, the subject of Website visitors came up. One of the members of the client side team stated that it would be almost impossible to implement the findings and recommendations...</p>

The other day, as I was sitting in a presentation where major project findings were being shared, the subject of Website visitors came up.

One of the members of the client side team stated that it would be almost impossible to implement the findings and recommendations into anything cohesive, because that would mean setting a preference for one type of Website visitor over another. He continued by stating that a Website must try to be all things to all people ... because so many different people use their site (this is a higher-ed site serving students, faculty, researchers, staff, media, community, etc.). Therefore, our mission was impossible. Of course, we disagreed.

Often, these are the very problems we are called in to correct. As I watched his face contort as our response was gently doled out, and as he was identified as the perpetrator of exactly the thing that creates runaway, out of control, sprawling messes of Websites, I did what I often do: I tried to think of a metaphor to assist in the visualization of the situation.

As unfair as it might seem, you must prioritize your audience and cater to those priorities, or you are setting yourself up for big problems.

Let's say you are having a party.

You are expecting a variety of guests and some family members. Each segment of your guest list will prompt you to do things you wouldn't typically do to prepare. For example, you know Aunt Debbie only likes Grey Goose, so you make sure you pick some up for her. (Or you clear the cabinets, depending on Aunt Debbie.) You also pull out that hideous ceramic bulldog statuette your mother-in-law gave you for Christmas last year because you have a bulldog and so now that's all she gets for you, and you place it on the coffee table so she doesn't know it lives in the basement in a box. Now, you don't line these things up by the front door and shout, "Look, Aunt Debbie, I got you booze!" or "Look, Mother-in-Law, I love that hideous statuette so much I keep it here by the front door all the time!" But you do place those things where you know Aunt Deb and your mom-in-law will be sure to spot them. You get the point.

You also spend a fair amount of time worrying yourself over areas of your house you normally never pay attention to, especially the entryways and areas in the house everyone is most likely to congregate. While you no longer pay attention to your foyer, you do realize your guests will, and you want it to look nice. While your pride and joy is the game room you've built yourself in the basement, you recognize that most people will be taking in your whole house, as they move through it - so you can't rely on some deep dark hidden cool thing to provide the positive experience you are looking to give off. Plus, you have to recognize your game room will only appeal to some, and if these "some" aren't the majority of your guest list, don't count on it doing all your work for you.

Continuing with this metaphor: You make some assumptions. Let's say this is a neighborhood party, where your guests will vary in age, and you also have some friends and co-workers stopping by. You make sure the X-Box is ready to go for your pals because, let's face it, you'll be stuck being the hostess and chatting up your neighbors.

It's ALL about the audience, and you can't treat them all the same.

Your friends don't expect you to spend the whole party talking to them, because they realize it's a neighborhood party and you have obligations to play hostess to your neighbors. It's almost unnatural for us to treat all people with equal importance in the real world, and yet in the world of Websites, it's a common infraction.

In fact, it would seem rather kooky and even rude if you seemed indifferent to your guests' preferences and just put out what you liked to drink and eat. A party of Amstel Lights and cheese sticks might float my boat, but come on. I don't think my guests would stick around, let alone come to my next party.

By catering your information architecture and your content to your expected guests' interests, you show that you are a gracious hostess who is going out of her way to make a positive experience. I might even go so far as to say that if you DON'T go out of your way, you may come across as snobby, self-absorbed, and rude. You have to realize who your target audiences are and prioritize them. Otherwise, you are doomed to failure. So don't take it personally, people. Just realize your Website is a party. Now go throw a good one!

Got some good party-throwing tips? How do you find ways to deal with the variety of audience types and set priorities? Do you think it is important?

Share on Twitter or Facebook Published July 12th 2011