Site Persona: Your site better be your best employee 30 Sep 2005

25 comments Latest by Frederic B. van West

When’s the last time you saw your web site framed on a wall with “Employee of the Year” etched into a gold plaque underneath?

Your site should be your best employee. It should be the most knowledgeable, most polite, friendliest, and most useful member of your team. It should have the best grasp of language and the ability to clearly explain who it is and why it’s there to help you. It should especially have good people skills.

Almost all the talk about user personas ignores the most important persona: The site persona. Your site is the one employee that meets, greets, and helps more of your customers than any other person on your team — and probably by a factor of ten thousand.

If you site was a person, how would he act? How would she talk? If you were standing face to face with him, would you trust him? Is she a salesman on commission or someone genuinely interested in helping you find what you need? Is he strict or forgiving? Would you be friends with her? Would you take your site home to mom?

Go to your site and answer these questions. It may be time to fire — or promote — “someone.”

25 comments so far (Jump to latest)

Eamon 30 Sep 05

I love my site, but all my friends think she’s two-dimensional.

Raymond Brigleb 30 Sep 05

Our best employee is Basecamp, who puts a wonderful face on our organization and our interaction with our clients. Our best employee, in fact, just got promoted a few months ago - and now gets paid $49/month! That’s one affordable employee!!

Only problem with this nutty employee is that s/he completely ignores his/her emails for upwards of a week, then replies with a confusing and unfriendly message. Such bad etiquette! :)

JF 30 Sep 05

Our best employee is Basecamp, who puts a wonderful face on our organization and our interaction with our clients.

Oh, yeah, I meant besides Basecamp. ;)

Tim Uruski 30 Sep 05

One more reason that writing good copy is such a crucial, yet often overlooked, part of website design.

chris sivori 30 Sep 05

Great points. When I’m trying to pitch a website design job I always tell prospective clients that their website will be the first thing most people check out before they decide to do business with you.

If your site is not professional and of high quality many people will make the same conclusion about your business.

David Barrett 30 Sep 05

There’s a disturbing image. Bring the site home to mom? I can see it now: “Hi Mom, I’d like you to meet the site I’m going to marry.”

Are you suggesting that during development a site should have a “formal” persona, or are you just stressing the importance of the visitor’s perception of your company through their experience with your site?

Emily 30 Sep 05

I never thought of it that way. Another brilliant insight…whoosh…and on a Friday too.

Raymond Brigleb 30 Sep 05

The analogy of your site being your public face really holds true for us. With a good search ranking, and a good stats program like Mint, you can literally watch your new referrals and potential clients ‘walking in the door.’ Often visitors have questions, so it’s a good idea to put up a FAQ, as we have (which has a side benefit of getting a ton more traffic from search engines). They may want to know what you’re company has been up to lately, so a blog and a portfolio are present to answer to that. Your analogy is a very useful way to start a discussion about a website’s features and requirements.

And it’s just vital to keep it looking nice and up-to-date, because who wants to walk into a dingy, dated office? Frankly, our offices are converted, glass-enclosed porches in an old house in Portland, Oregon, so our website is a good deal more impressive! Clients are regularly surprised that we’re a company of two - which certainly wouldn’t be possible without the Web!

Steve Agalloco 30 Sep 05

While I see your point, I don’t really understand how this fits into a discussion on personas. Personas are used to conceptualize and design a site. To help a designer know it’s audience and design the site to the variety of users and their needs.

What you are really doing is stating a case for user centered design. The site’s persona should mesh the goals of the business with the needs of the audience. While you can develop your site’s persona, it’s more important to understand what your visitors expect of you.

While it’s important to put your best foot forward, I’d be a little concerned if all your emphasis was on representing ‘yourself’ and not on catering to your users.

Steve Agalloco 30 Sep 05

A few too many uses of the word while in there, I think I need to brush up on my writing skills. :-)

Deirdre Saoirse Moen 30 Sep 05

When I was job hunting, I always looked at the company’s web site. If I couldn’t figure out what they do from reading their site, probably their customers wouldn’t be able to either.

Mark Sigal 30 Sep 05

Timely discussion. Over the past day or so, my colleagues and I have been having this exact discussion regarding our (still stealth) web service.

We have semi-settled on thinking about this one along four dimensions:

1. First impressions of first-time visitor landing on the site (how does it engage and impress them in 30 seconds or less).

2. First time visitor clicking down deeper into the site (how do they occupy themselves for 10 or 15 minutes; can we get them to tell a friend).

3. Return visitor (how do we improve up the first visit so that on the second they will register to personalize and customize the site to their needs).

4. Returning registered user (how do we reward them for this emotional investment).

Side comment: I think your notion of a site persona and agalloco’s perceived disconnect relative to user personas kind of goes away when your business is a web service since the personas of the users and how the persona of the site satisfies and thrills those users is pretty inseparable. It is both face and function of the business.

Nollind Whachell 30 Sep 05

“Your site should be your best employee. It should be the most knowledgeable, most polite, friendliest, and most useful member of your team.”

Uh, that’s just it though isn’t it. Your website should be your employees. Your real ones. Forget this fictitious middleman entity crap. That is exactly what business are doing wrong today. They are focusing on the business instead of the people within it. Your use of the word “trust” only emphasizes this even more. Forget the website, how many businesses would you trust period? It is a question of culture within the company not window dressing on the exterior of it. No matter how great a site may be to look at or to use, if that company’s culture doesn’t promote a feeling of trust (based upon the company’s words and actions) then nothing you can do to the website will help any.

Tom 30 Sep 05

It’s an interesting analogy and a very good point. I chuckled, because my site is defintely due for a firing; I’ve been in one of those overwhelmed holding patterns of having been swamped with projects and my own site always gets put on the back burner. Thinking of the site in these terms though was yet another good wake-up call and hopefully will serve as one more kick in the pants to get it redesigned and updated — er, I mean, fire the hungover, rude-to-customers employee and hire “someone.”

Anders Toxboe 30 Sep 05

Great twist.

Vic Russell 01 Oct 05

Please assist us in developing a stronger content for our site.

(972) 394-3324-direct dial

Don Wilson 01 Oct 05

Vic, I see that you have a 972 number. Where in and around Dallas do you live?

Jens Meiert 02 Oct 05

Interesting thoughts!

jackie goldberg 02 Oct 05

interesting, but i wouldn’t let “personality” get in the way of being clear and informative. ever.

Kathlene LaCour 03 Oct 05

Development of relationships through being personable and being yourself is what builds connections with people and trust. If there is a service or expertise that people need that you have been able to develop a relationship and trust with they will come to you (and/or their friends). Interesting - I like the idea of the Website Personality!

Dylan Berry 04 Oct 05

I know exactly what you’re saying Jason. This week I finally took a look at my site stats. I�m getting about TEN TIMES the amount of traffic I estimated.

After seeing the numbers, I realised my site needed major work. I was missing crucial content and had no contact information available. Due to my paranoia of email harvesters, I had no contact information posted! How ridiculous is that? I was so uptight about spam I denied myself possible clients, I never thought about it until now. My site was like an office without a receptionist.

I�m now taking the steps required to correct my mistakes. My site wants the employee of the month award and is working hard to earn it.

Eoin Dubsky 04 Oct 05

Brilliant! Very well put indeed. I believe our current website (which is under redesign) would be the very last candidate for “employee of the month”. And not just because that sort of thing is considered patronising here in France!

Alex 04 Nov 05


Chuck 11 May 06

Well said.


Frederic B. van West 11 May 06

Well, it’s about time that websites caught up to interactive voice response (IVR). Personas have been under development for auto attendants for a number of years (I refer you to my friends at for hearty examples of personas for IVR). Consider that if your site or IVR is replacing a human being in the call center that the only thing separating your customer from his money is your site and that ours is a people-facing business. People skills count whether the presentation layer is voice or visual.