User Personas: The Cheapest Way To Make More Money With Your Site

smiling woman looking in camera

User personas are fictional characters with a detailed background. Their made-up stories help force you into specific use-case scenario's. Through their use you can discover new insights about your site or sales processes and easily identify places where you can improve.


User personas are fictional characters. They're like the people in a book or a movie: they're just like real people ... only they're not.

Like all characters they're often somewhat archetypical: The Thinker, The Geek, The Dude, The Soccer Mom.

Archetypes can easily become stereotypes and to prevent that happening to your user persona we give them names, ages, and a detailed background.

And we're not talking a personal file here: rank, file and number. No, we're talking flesh and blood. Who is he? What's her name? Why does he always bite his nails? And you know she loves whiskey, right?


User personas help you test use cases of your web site by having your persona live through use case scenario's.

Let's say that simpler. By using little stories about fictional characters you can step out of your head a moment and experience your web site through the eyes of one of your customers for a moment.

The goal of that process is to check and test "is this working?", "can we do better?", and "can we make more money".


You're going to need a place to brainstorm and a place to take real notes; a place where you can keep the dossiers on these people.

You'll want to have a  fixed set of user personas: these are the people against which you'll test "stuff" on your site. They're going to be your family, friends, and co-workers for the months and maybe years to come. You'll grow to love some and despise others.

Think of both your ideal target user and those that arent. Think of their parents and children who might want to buy your product as a gift for what was your ideal target user

start today,
details next
week, finish later
Start with names... or ages... hair color... eye color... Start with any idea in mind and paint it in.

The more detail, the better.

Details become constraints in the scenario's you have your persona live through: your 65 year old first time computer user, on Linux because his son thought that would be cool, who has bad eye sight but doesn't like to wear his reading glasses because it makes him feel ancient ... picture him on your web site with the Windows-only download. What's happening? Does he try to download and install anyway or has he understood the difference by now? How can you capture him as a prospect or an evangelist anyway?

Add visuals. Photos of their faces. Clips of clothes they would wear. Images of their house, car. Links to web sites they like.

No reason to do it all in one go: start today, add details next week, finish later.


I want to see how Google Hotpots home page is doing for users between 30-50. Meet two of them.

USER: Brigitte Haldon

Brigitte is a 32 year old, bright woman. She has studied economy but in the place where she lives the recession is hitting hard. Hers was a choice between working in the supermarket, becoming a night guard, or moving out of region. She preferred to become a night guard. It paid better than working in the supermarket (and she would be caught _dead_ before "serving" her friends there!) and leaving the region was out of the question. Not only did she love it here -- it felt like part of who she was -- but with her father's health being like it is, she can't get it over her heart to leave her parents behind.

Brigitte came of age with the web and loves it. She spends a lot of time on Facebook with her 187 friends: more than she'll ever have in town or in region. She doesn't search but Googles but she knows the things she finds aren't "on" Google but on their own sites.

Solution-driven she enjoys the way the web makes her life easier in region.

USER: Vincent Clark

At 48 Vincent feels like life has started over -- in a good way. His two previous relations and one marriage went nowhere although the kids came from it, so that was good. Really good. Sandra, his 15 year old daughter, is the apple of his eye. He admires her dedication, her perseverance. She has set her mind on becoming a doctor and already puts in the hours of study that requires.

But yeah, he feels like life has started over. After Charlotte he thought there would never be another one but now that he's with Monica... It's like... It's... It's like his life is lived in exclamation marks!! She is that good to him! She's happy! Outgoing! Bubbles! And makes him feel alive! She's the best thing ever! ... if only she too would want to live together.

He's already come back from the idea of marriage " that clearly is a level of commitment she's uncomfortable with! -- but living together... that's the very basis base, isn't it?

Satisfied with his work, Vincent is a loner. Not a hermit but between his running, his daughter and the sport programs he likes to watch he has enough to himself. To himself and Tom. Tom doesn't really count as a friend, does he? Tom walks in without knocking, especially during hockey nights (on Saturday's of course, duh!). They grab a beer and some ribs together. At home too, of course; why go all the way to a bar to sit there staring at each other and pay way too much good money when you can have all the good stuff at home _and_ entertainment on the new flat screen?


Brigitte likes online communities. It gives her a lot of contact she cant have in town and it gives her places to go at night when shes done doing her rounds.

One of her online friends told her she really likes Google Hotpot to check if places she heard about for her visits to Toronto were cool or not.

Tonight Brigitte has a bit of time and she logs onto the office machine. What was that thing again? Google Hotspot?

google hotspot typo search


Since theres no connection with the name (its not a brand or is otherwise established) its easy to forget what her friend told her: Hot Pot? Hotspot? Hot Spot? Hot Spots?

The search brings up results related to Google but these are for different services, it seems. The news story is about wireless Internet access. A Nexus is a car, right? And Google Maps Mania she doesnt need maps but well maybe

Having brought our friend in on the case weve already identified a need: Google could be (should be) buying Adwords to capture users whove heard about but arent sure about the new service.

Now lets see for the site itself.

Google hotpot landing page

A stark, severe, empty-ish page appears.

Sign in to rate places and personalize your Google Maps search results.


Thats not what she thought Kate was talking about. Personalizing your Google Maps search results? She doesnt have Google Maps search result. And why would she want to personalize them?

Rate places? Places is vague. Rate cool bars, in dancings & other places to go. Thats maybe something but no, not even. She wants to find out which are the places to go in Toronto; reviewed & rated by your friends (are you taking notes, Google?)

Lets compare it for a moment with Yelp. Lets assume another friend heard Brigittes miserable story and told her look, girl, I dont know what Kate was thinking but shes always a bit out there, if you ask me I mean, not saying shes weird but anyway, try Yelp

Yelp comes up in a search. Bladam.

Yelp Canada home page

And here we are to to to what?

Yelp is the fun and easy way to find and talk about great (and not so great) local businesses. Bladam again. Compare that to sign in to rate places and personalize your Google Maps search results.

Not sure still, Brigitte looks at the branding: yelp " Real People, Real Reviews. Triple bladam. We have lift off.

Vincent doesnt want to find cool places in Toronto at all. He needs to make a good impression with Monica. He wants to take her out, woo her old school, but the last time he dined out was in 1982 The place wasnt even there anymore. Sure, he eats out but thats a bit different, now is it? He can hardly take her to Burger King " hellooo! Tssss.

He tried asking Tom. Tom had shrugged his shoulders and mumbled something about Skores. Not helpful at all.

Not too well connected he had resorted to asking if Sandra knew of a place. Sandra didnt " she knows good fast food places and a lot of Tim Hortons where you can hang out with friends for hours before they start kicking you out --  but she did know Google Hotpot.  He wrote a note down and went online later that evening.

His mission: to find a good, classy, nice, clean, but also affordable restaurant in his city, Belleville, Ontario.

Now look at the Google Hotpot place. Does this confirm hes at the right place? Does it indicate at all that this site will help him achieve his goals? Look at the Yelp page. Does that?

If we fast forward a moment and believe that Vincent goes through the the trouble of signing up and then signing in " instead of just using Yelp right away --  then what happens?

Google Hotpot signed in

Well, then he gets to fill out his nickname.

And you know what he finally can do after that? Start rating. Oh wait " that wasnt what he was eager to do at all, wasnt it?

Lets click the button.

Google Hotpot restaurants search


Oh goodie: at least the search term is correct. Do you think Vincent would still be here?

restaurants belleville ontario google hotpot search results

Yes. OK. Right.

Now lets try this whole thing on Yelp.

Mission statement matches Vincents needs. No sign-up.

Yelp Canada search box

Easy to start. Notice how Vincent can search for restaurants but also for qualifiers like cheap dinner?

Yelp Canada autocomplete

If you perform that search for Belleville, Ontario, what happens? How would Vincent react? Would Brigitte act different?


  • Conversion: if this person would add that product to the cart and then see this button what would likely happen next in that story?
  • Trust: 68 year old grandmother lands at this page with the desire to buy a laptop for her grandson. Shes scared to have her identity stolen like all the newspapers say. What happens here?
  • Findability: instant-clicker Hank gets to your site. He buys instantly, clicks instantly, lives instantly. Watches everything, reads nothing. Is he going to get those $400 running shoes? Why? How? Where?
  • Voice: 15 year old comes to your site. Are you talking their language?
  • Audience: do the last 10 articles talk to the 5 user personas I have created for the site?

What use cases can you think of to make your site and business work better?

About the Author: Ruud Hein

My paid passion at Search Engine People sees me applying my passions and knowledge to a wide array of problems, ones I usually experience as challenges. People who know me know I love coffee.

Ruud Hein

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