Audience: who are you talking to?

Determining audience for site content is often one of the most difficult and contentious parts of developing websites. It’s easy to fall into the “we want the site to be for everyone” trap, but research shows this approach falls flat. By attempting to appeal to everyone, you appeal to no one.

We’ve identified several target audiences for the UMW website. The chart below provides information about the audience group, the information type most commonly sought by that group, and how that type of information sits in the prioritization hierarchy. To simplify: the top priority audience for the University website is prospective students to whom we wish to present information appropriate to the recruiting process.

Recruiting content is tailored to prospective students. Parents and counselors are secondary and tertiary audiences. The information is valuable to them, so we need to be aware of their needs, but we do so recognizing prospective students as our primary audience.

The same process is applied to the on-campus community information type. Content tailored to current students, faculty, and staff often also has value to prospective students, parents, and counselors. We recognize current student information has a primary audience of current students, but prospective students become the secondary audience. It simply means that we are aware of the value of current student information to prospective students who are investigating life at UMW as they make their decisions.

Finally, carrying this thinking through to off-campus community content, content tailored to alumni may be of interest to on-campus community members, and is often viewed by prospects and parents throughout the recruiting process. Again, we are developing alumni-focused content with the awareness that it may be viewed by current students and prospects and may impact recruiting and retention.

Audience Prioritization for the UMW website.

Rules of Thumb

  1. You can only have one primary audience. This is the group to whom you are directly communicating. That audience can be any of those identified above. It’s also very helpful to identify secondary & tertiary audiences so that you can be sure you’ve addressed all needed information appropriately.
  2. The primary audience for the website as a whole is prospective students. Different sections can have other primary audiences – Alumni Relations or Human Resources, for example – but overall we operate knowing that prospective students will see and possibly find value in any given area of the website. Audience prioritization is determined by the University’s strategic priorities.

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