Article: Ralph Hilliard

The Small Business Library

August 28, 2000

"What's really going on with your web site?"
Defining your primary goal and audience.

With any good business plan, the defining of a primary goal and primary audience goes hand in hand with deciding what product or service you will market. However, with the flood of entrepreneurs to the Internet, I have watched an interesting reverse trend occur.

That trend goes something like this. Pick a product or service, get a domain name, build a web site and then figure out who will buy it.

I love the Internet and the ability it affords to even the playing field between the big corporation and the home entrepreneur, but the fact remains that sound business practices such as defining the primary goal and audience works the same on the Internet as they do off-line.

For this reason, it is a necessity to do your research before one line of code is written, a domain name is chosen or a single graphic is created. It's what I call "Defining before designing."

Why do I emphasize this in a series of articles about web design?

Simply because every aspect of designing your web site will flow out of the definition of your primary goal and primary audience. If you have not done your homework in this area, you can be sure your online venture will be like a ship with no engine or sails, merely tossed about by the whims of the ocean.

Now onto the business of defining. Right up front I'll tell you that "making money" is a lousy primary goal. Making money is a result of setting and sticking to a good primary goal and properly defining a primary audience.

Here are three elements to consider in your definitions.


    It is just that, a primary goal, not goals. I'm not saying that you can't have secondary goals, but the key is picking a singular primary goal because that's your beacon, your cornerstone in the design, without it, the site crumbles.

    Many new entrepreneurs approach the web with a "one-stop" approach. I'm going to sell everything I've ever been interested in to all people everywhere.

    It's understandable how this happens. In offline marketing, you are limited to space, be it a 15 second television spot or a two sided brochure. The bottom line is that you have limited space to sell yourself and by necessity, this narrows the focus.

    The Internet brings the new element of limitless space to advertise. You really have more space than you will ever need, so the tendency is to say something like, "In addition to this marketing pamphlett, I think I'll sell memberships to this timeshare vacation program, an affiliate hosting program and maybe even this VCR since I just got a DVD player. Keep in mind that your web site is not a garage sale.

    It feels good to dream you can sell everything to everyone, but the truth is you'll be more succesful selling one thing very well to a specific group of people.


    I could define my primary goal as "Selling books on the Internet" but does that really help me make and decisions about what should be on my web site?

    I could define it as "Selling books using real-time processing on the Internet". It's getting better, at least I now know that I will need to get a merchant account, digital certificate, SSL and a shopping cart on my site to make "real-time" a reality.

    I could define it as "Selling fishing books using real-time processing on the Internet". Hey now we are getting somewhere, or are we?

    I could define it as "Selling fly-fishing books using real-time processing on the Internet."
    This could go on and it should. The more specific you can be, the better.


    The primary goal examples listed so far are missing at least one element. The audience. A primary goal and primary audience are inseparable. Let's add a primary audience to the definition we have so far.

    "Selling fly-fishing books to fishermen using real-time processing on the Internet."

    So we added our audience, 'fishermen'. Of course this is still a vague and poor definition for a specific goal.

    To cut to the chase, let me just finish this with what I believe would be a good final definition for the primary goal and audience for our fly-fishing book salesman.

    "To sell fly-fishing books authored by Randall Kaufmann to fly-fishing hobbyists who have subscribed to at least one fly-fishing magazine within the past year. These books will be sold solely over the Internet using real-time processing and an automated fulfillment center."

    Yes, it is quite okay to be this specific, you can always approach wider audiences at a later date after you have been successful with smaller ones.

    I trust that you can see how this will assist you as you begin to design a web site. Instead of approaching your web site as a blank canvas that you have to creatively fill, you have a very specific course of action.

From the definition above, I can see several things that will be a must for this web site.

  1. A bio for Randall Kaufmann, who he is and why his books are the best on fly-fishing. A picture of Randall Kaufmann.
  2. A collage of the major fly-fishing magazines with a caption that reads something like "If you enjoyed your subscription to these, wait until you get your hands on this fly fishing book".
  3. Lots of keyword content full of fly-fishing, Randall Kaufmann book titles and the fishing magazine names.
  4. A graphical layout that captures the beauty and peace of a running river, the fly-fisherman's paradise.

The defining of a primary goal and audience sets the tone for your entire web site design. Give your web site design and your business the preparation it demands and it will demand much less from you in the future.

About the Contributor: Ralph Hilliard is a professional web designer and web design instructor. Ralph's latest project is the WordNet University Visual Learning Center, a site dedicated to turning beginners into web designing fools. Go to