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To build a great Web site, you must understand the needs of your users. You could use market research and focus groups or even conduct surveys to understand your users better.

This fact-finding step should be completed before any site development or coding is done. To get a better understanding of your site users, you need the following information about your users:

User Profile

Gather as much information as you can about your users. Your users’ demographic profile will give you a better understanding of the types of users your site attracts and how to satisfy their needs.

Here are a sample of questions that you need the answers to:

  • What is the gender split amongst your users?
  • What age groups are they?
  • How Web savvy are they?
  • Where do they mostly use the Internet; at home or at work?
  • What types of products, or services are they looking to purchase?
  • What kind of information are they looking for?
  • Where do they live?
  • What is their annual household income?

If you don’t have any user demographic information, you can use existing market research data, or conduct your own market research to find out the information. The following links lead to some well-known Web sites in the fields of statistics and demographics.

User Likes and Dislikes

Make sure your Web site takes your users’ likes and dislikes into account.

Find out what your users particularly like or dislike about your competitors’ Web sites. What, if any, features do they particularly like? It’s to your advantage, if you incorporate features that your users like with your Web site.

Unless these features have some kind of trademark or patent on them, who says you can’t ‘steal’ your competitors’ ideas?

User Preferences

Find out what features your site needs to satisfy its users. Do your users prefer a site with lots of fun features and they don’t mind the slower download time? Or would they prefer a site with lots of time-saving features and quick Web page download times?

Design a site that your visitors want to use and your visitors will prefer your site over your competitors’.

User Limitations

Find out what, if any, technical limitations your users have.

You may discover that most of your users use a slow 56 kilobits per second Internet connection. As such, you may consider making the cool 500 kilobyte Flash intro you had planned for your site an optional feature instead!

User Habits

Everybody has certain behavioral habits. You can gain a competitive advantage over your competitors, if you can discover and include your users’ behavioral habits into the usability of your site.

Examples of Web User Habits:

  • Most people scan Web pages
  • Some Internet users nearly always head straight for a site’s search form to find what they are looking for
  • Some users like to open hyperlinks to new Web sites in a new browser window, so they can continue reading the current page, while the new Web site is downloading in a separate window

Replacing Users’ Existing Systems

Find out what systems your users are using to carry out certain tasks.

For example, UPS (United Postal Service) reduced the number of routine customer service enquiries by offering online features that their customers could use to achieve the same results they originally had to use the phone to do.

One system they replaced was the need for customers to have to call the customer service department to find out where their packages were. Now the majority of UPS customers track their packages online. UPS managed to cut their costs by not having to have so many customer service assistants. This not only improved their bottom-line, but also user satisfaction.