Creating Killer Web Personas in Under 30 Minutes

Shaun Of The Dead isn’t your typical zombie movie. In fact, the zombies don’t truly enter the story until almost a third of the way in.

But that’s beside the point.

If you have seen the movie, then you’ll remember the part where Shaun and Ed are sitting in the pub making up personal histories for the other bar patrons.

Turns out this is not just a fun way to kill time over a few pints–it can also be an important tactic in evaluating your customer base for you marketing efforts.

Creating the Perfect Personas–without the Long Nights

According to, personas are fictional people who represent a major user group for your site.

The idea is to invent entire back stories, personalities, quirks, and needs for all of your personas…then evaluate how each of them would likely react to your website, blog or marketing.

This is a great way to get into your client’s head. But it can be time consuming and complex. So time consuming and complex that the time-spent outweighs the benefit.

See, at the least, you should create 9 personas. You should define these personas by age, income, experience, occupation…basically, whatever psychographic you can get your hands on.

Sounds like a lot of work, doesn’t it? But it doesn’t have to be. Follow me.

Typical Approaches to Creating Personas

There are lots of ways to sketch out personas. Ian Lurie has a convincing but complex persona method he’s been using since 1990.

In a video at SEOmoz Lurie expands his persona thinking with a far-fetched but compelling case for the use of Persona modeling.

Web Strategist Jeremiah Owyang waxes about early adopter personas. Theoretical. Real world? Jury still out.

There’s persona recommendations I mentioned above. Clear cut and organized better, I think.

And finally, my scaled-down, paper-sketch approach to personas that multiplies the result with minimal work.

Magically Create 9 Personas in 30 Minutes

This way of creating personas occurred to me during a 30-minute, 29-member “brainstorm” session I was involved in with a client when trying to redesign their website.

As you can imagine, it was a chaotic event. Bordering on stupidity.

In the middle of the battle over the definition of what this client’s website should do, I stood and stated, “You have 3 people you need to cater to. Basically.”

In a nutshell, this is what I sketched out on the white board in less than 30 minutes:

Persona 1: The Fanatic

The Fanatic is someone who has been to your website and crawled every inch of the site looking for every piece of information you offer. They are likely checking back to the site every week to see if you have added anything new.

[Recommendation 1: If you are certain one of your major user groups is a Fanatic, please, pretty please, offer a news feed. They will love you for it.]

Persona 2: The Periodic

This person comes back only when they want to buy something. Once, maybe twice a year.

[At the User Experience 2007 conference I learned that average Amazon Power Reviewer visits Amazon 4 times a year. 4 whole times. That meant most of our sites are visited and engaged a lot less than we think. In fact, only 8% of adults are deep Web 2.0 users.]

Persona 3: The Newbie

The Newbie has never been to your site. Ever.

The Reaction to My Personas

This oversimplification seemed to work for my client. But I needed to take it a bit further.

[Word of caution here: The following is standard practice, and essential. So pay attention. This alone will pay divedends for your website.]

One important thing to remember about any of your marketing is this: you are probably not your target.

Yes–it helps to put yourself in your targets shoes…but you really can’t do that until you figure out who your target is.

How do you figure out who your target is? Use one of these five tools to identify your major market groups.

Learning Styles and Web Personas

Now, what I’m about to share with you I figured out by working backward from popular and usable websites.

It’s based upon learning styles: audio, visual and kinesthetics.

The Audio Learner

The audio person tends to be the person who is attracted by copy.

They’re typically your book readers, curious, a tad more patient [not by much]. The important thing to remember about them is that they’re superior way of interacting and learning on the web is through the written word.

So ample [Myth 9], concise, scannable and objective copy is essential to your website.

The Visual Learner

Your visual person will be the person who steers towards the videos. The photos. This is their preferred style of interacting and learning on the web.

Finally, you have your kinesthetics.

The Kinesthetic Learner

This is the most often neglected group. Most often neglected because the kinesthetic wants to interact by leaving comments, rating, reviewing on your website…and surprisingly enough, a lot of website owners are still resistant to letting go of the conversation and allowing comments and reviews.

The kinesthetic is your feeler, bent to emotions. It’s your people person. No matter their age, they want to see a community.

[On a side note, bringing up the needs of the kinesthetic to a web owner has been my best argument for a web site’s user-generated strategy but not yet an air tight case].

Putting all of this together now, you have potentially nine different personas:

The Fanatic who could be an audio, visual or kinesthetic.

The Periodic who prefers audio, visual or kinesthetic.

Then your Newbie who leans toward audio, visual or kinesthetic.

How to Apply Your New Knowledge on Personas to Your Web Marketing

Now, if you find that your major user group to your website is a kinesthetic Fanatic, it’s essential you provide not only a new feed to new content…but the ability to leave comments as well.

If comments scare you, at the least allow someone to rate content. This is also a good low-barrier entry point to invite people to interact.

Say your other major group is the visual Newbie. That means you must have video feeds in your golden triangle.

Or perhaps you discover you cater to an audio Periodic, then copy, and links to more copy, better be in that golden triangle.

Your Turn

Sometime this week work this out for yourself and then share with me your results.

One thing you have to keep in mind: my goal is to make this easy and personal. You may want to call them something other than Newbies. Your show, champ. Just keep it easy.

Personas can be helpful–as long as the time-spent vs. benefit is in favor of the benefit and not the time. So get to working.

Looking forward to hearing from you.

Click Here to Leave a Comment Below 7 comments
Gary Elwood

You’re absolutely right. Another level to add to the grid would be web competency. However, to keep it simple wouldn’t it be best to design a site to the lowest common denominator?

Gary Elwood

Got it, Sam. And thank you for the comment.


I’m a huge fan of your strong advocacy for rapid persona development. While there is undoubtedly value of having research to support your persona set, you rightly call out the time spent vs. benefit that the personas bring – getting up to speed faster is always a benefit in most high-paced industries that are starting to look to using personas.

When I craft personas, I tend to group them differently; not around site visiting behavior, but instead around technological comfort and familiarity crossed with goals. For example, take an expert computer user who has his own blog and is comfortable on the web. His style might be to learn everything about a site, but that person might still be a Newbie as you’ve defined them. Does “Newbie” really represent that individual well? From an information-consumption paradigm, yes, but from a usability paradigm, I’m not so sure.

Anyway, terrific article. I was actually browsing for ways to incorporate learning styles into personas and I’m really impressed with your idea here. Great work!


Most of the time, yes. I guess my point was just to share an alternate experience: Web competency and site familiarity are equally viable dimensions for determining your lowest common denominator. Which one you choose simply depends on your design goals.

Bookmarks about Personas

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Does these persona’s really help in a positive manner or way?? Please help me here.


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