The first step in developing successful reader personas is to decide which readers you are not going to focus on. Good Web management, after all, is often more about what you exclude than what you include.

I know of a large organization that primarily targets four key markets offline, yet it targets 20 markets online. Its Web site—with lots of poor-quality, generic content—isn't great. There is no marketing focus, and consequently the Web site delivers precious little in results.

The Web is about self-service, and self-service is about simplicity and convenience. You've got a small screen, and every time you add something to that screen, you make the world more complicated for your reader.

You must make very difficult choices if you want your Web site to work. You can't serve everybody. If you try to, you will serve nobody.

Three readers is best; five is the maximum

Aim to have no more than three core reader personas for your Web site, with a maximum of five. Having three readers gives you a much better chance of creating a simple self-service environment with clear messages that are immediately evident to each reader. is a successful low-cost airline. If you go to its Web site, you will find four clear market segments: Ireland, UK, Europe, USA. However, most of the home page shows offers for Irish people flying abroad, because for Aer Lingus that is its core market.

Like other successful Web sites, Aer Lingus makes tough decisions on who to target and who not to target.

The task is everything

Once you've identified your core readers, the next job is to identify their core tasks. Again, you should not have more than three tasks per reader, and ideally one dominant task. On the eBay home page, there are three key tasks: Find, Buy, Pay. When you go to Google, there is one: Search.

On the Web, the task is everything. You must focus relentlessly on it. Your archenemies are statements like this: "They might be interested in this; some people come to our Web site looking for information."

Nobody that matters comes to your Web site looking for information. They come because they have a task they want to complete. All information must serve task completion. Web sites that are full of aimless, vague information are a waste of time, effort and money. They should be shut down.

Put a face on your reader

Give your core readers names and faces. Buy some stock photography or do some photography yourself. Give a little background on John or Mary, and clearly articulate their tasks.

What you want to create is a set of fictional characters who will become part of the daily conversation. This is vital. Your characters must be integrated into the day-to-day thinking of the staff responsible for the Web site.

This is another reason why you should try and not have more than three key readers. If you ask your team to get to know and understand three reader personas, that's feasible. If you ask them to get to know 10 reader personas, that's highly improbable.

Our very nature leads us on an inward journey, so we need to work hard every day to ensure that we focus outward and genuinely make the customer king. Developing reader personas helps us do that.

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image of Gerry McGovern
Gerry McGovern ( is a content management consultant and author. His latest book is The Stranger's Long Neck: How to Deliver What Your Customers Really Want Online, which teaches unique techniques for identifying and measuring the performance of customers' top tasks.