In the excitement of the web design process, you may be tempted to jump right in to picking your favorite colors and laying out your homepage. Instead, it makes more sense to start with what your users are trying to accomplish with your website. My name is Eva Kaniasty, and today I’ll tell you how to make your website actually engaging to your users.

Tailor Your Web Experience to Your Expected Users

Imagine that you’re designing a website for your fitness studio. Begin by thinking about who your target audience is. A college student will have a really flexible schedule, while somebody who’s working full-time will need classes that take place throughout the day. So their concerns when they come to your site and try to sign up are going to be slightly different. If your main target is women, you may know that more women than men take yoga classes, so you want to feature those classes more prominently when you’re selling to them.

Focus on 1-3 Demographics

One of the rules of thumb that I use is to focus on a very small number, 1-3 target audiences, and really figure out what their needs are. If you do that, you are more likely to succeed than if you try to please everybody.

What Info Are Users Looking For?

One of the most important things that I like to ask my clients is, is to tell me what their users are trying to accomplish when they’re coming to their website. When users come to your website, they’re usually trying to do one of two things: to find some information, or to accomplish some task. New users are likely looking for something very different from your existing users. Because they’re not yet familiar with your products and your services, they’re going to look for information that will help them make a decision: signing up for your class, getting a membership at your studio, etc.

Some users are really interested in price and are wondering whether they can afford your service. If that’s the case, featuring your promos and featuring the fact that you can beat your competitors’ prices is going to be very important.

You might have users who really want to try out a class before they make a commitment. Thinking that information through upfront will help you figure out what to prioritize on your homepage, what should be in your navigation, and whether you want to focus on different things when you’re speaking to these different groups of users.

One of the mistakes that I’ve seen clients make is to focus all of the information on the website on getting new customers. It’s just as important to think about what your existing users need. They’re probably coming to your website to accomplish a very quick task, something like signing up for tonight’s class, or paying their membership fee. They’re looking to get there very quickly and then they don’t have time to search around for any information.

Identify High-Priority User Tasks

Even with a website that will ultimately have hundreds of pages, it helps to start by figuring out what the few key high-priority user tasks for your new and existing users are going to be. To create an effective design, you will want to consider a user’s environment; something that we call the “Context of Use”.

Consider Context of Use

Consider the user’s location and environment. You can’t expect users to always be sitting at their desk, having infinite time to engage with your site. They’re likely to be running out the door or sitting in their car, so your website has to help them accomplish what they’re trying to do, very quickly and efficiently. It’s also likely that they’re using multiple devices to access your site, depending on where they are. This could be a smartphone, a tablet, or their laptop. You need to make sure that your website supports their task, wherever they are and whatever device they’re using.

Consider Building a Mobile App

If you know the majority of your users are going to be using their phones to access the functionality, you may even consider building a mobile app. To come back to the fitness studio example, showing your users just tonight’s classes when they log on their phone is a great strategy. It means that they will get what they need immediately, and they can go on with their day. By contrast, your web experience can be a lot more content-heavy, because your users will likely have a lot more time to engage and to explore.

Don’t Overload the Homepage

One of the key areas where knowing user needs can really help is prioritizing information on your homepage. Because your users will see the homepage first, it’s important that it focuses only on the very critical tasks. It may be tempting to overload the homepage with information, but this is usually a mistake: overwhelmed users are more likely to leave.

The bulk of your homepage will likely focus on answering the questions of new users and convincing them to become customers. But remembering the existing users are also coming to your website on a regular basis to find information to complete more routine tasks is just as important.

Knowing your users can also help design navigation. Your primary navigation categories need to match the user’s primary concerns. You may choose to have separate navigation categories for your key user groups, or even for new vs. returning users.

Don’t Overload Navigation Categories

Even though you’ll have more room in your navigation menu than you will on the homepage, you still want to avoid new users getting lost in very long navigation lists that give them access to information that is not as critical.

Understanding User Behavior Helps You Write Content

Finally, understanding your user needs will really help when you’re writing content. Whether it’s something they are going to be featuring on your homepage, in your blog, or in a newsletter, knowing what content is truly compelling to your users will help you keep them engaged on an ongoing basis.