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Chapter 4. getting to know your users > estimating audience size

estimating audience size

One of the first things you want to determine, as you begin work on a new site, is the size of your potential audience. This is crucial for three good reasons: backend, revenue, and costs.

3 reasons that size matters:

  1. Building the backend. A site’s technical needs change as its user base grows. As visitors increase, a site needs more bandwidth and more powerful servers. If you have an application-backed site, you may also have to overhaul the backend code to run more efficiently at higher capacity.

  2. Predicting costs. The more popular a site is, the more expensive it is to maintain. You need more (and more powerful) servers, more bandwidth, and possibly more staff (more customer service reps, more community moderators, more fulfillment operators, etc.).

  3. Predicting revenue. If your site needs to make money, as most do, your success will largely rest on your ability to find (and keep) customers. So before you begin, you should know they exist in sufficient numbers to support your site.

It’s easy to overestimate your potential audience, especially when you’re passionate about the site’s subject matter. And it’s also easy to overestimate your draw. In most cases, you’ll be lucky to attract 10% of your target audience.

To determine the size of your potential user base, you’ll first need to describe them. See profiling your users, p. 50, for help with creating a useful profile.

If you have the money to invest in a research service, you can get excellent numbers from agencies like Nielsen NetRatings and Media Metrix. Even if you don’t, you can learn a lot by combing through their web sites for press releases and public studies.

But if you can’t find the exact statistics you need, you can calculate a pretty good estimate by combining census data and industry estimates.

  1. Begin with the entire Internet universe (the number of people online)—whether in the world, your country, or your city.

  2. Choose the distinguishing factors of your audience, and estimate their percentage of the whole. This is your target audience.

  3. Estimate what percentage of the target audience you can reasonably expect to capture. 10% is a nice, hopeful number to start with.

Let’s take an example. Say we’re creating a new web site that targets women in Singapore. How big an audience can we hope for in our first year?

  1. According to Nielsen, Singapore’s total online population is 2.3 million.

  2. Although precise data isn’t available, we’ll estimate that 40% of Singapore’s online population is female (women usually lag behind men).

    2.3 million × 40% = 920,000 women online in Singapore.

  3. Since we have a substantial marketing budget, we’ll aim to capture 10% of this market in our first year:

    920,000 × 10% = 92,000 users

So our goal for year one is to attract 92,000 unique visitors to our site.

Finding statistics on the web

Nielsen NetRatings






action section: who are your users?

The first step toward serving your users is identifying—specifically—who they are. Though the details you include will vary depending on the focus of your site.


Age:__% Under 18__% 18–24 __% 25–34
 __% 35–49__% 50–64__% Over 65

Sex:__% Male__% Female

Race:__% African American__% Caucasian
 __% Asian/Pacific Islander__% Hispanic 
 __% American Indian, Eskimo, or Aleut  
 __% Other  

Education:__% Some high school__% High school
 __% Some college__% College
 __% Some post-grad__% Post-graduate

Marital status:__% Single__% Married
 __% Widowed__% Divorced/separated

Income:__ % Under $20,000__ % $20–49,000
 __ % $50–74,000__ % $75–100,000
 __ % $100–150,000__ % Over $150,000








What are the unique distinguishing factors of your audience?




Access point:__% Home__% Work
 __% School__% Other

Access speed:__% Modem__% Cable modem
 __% DSL__% T1/high-speed work

Frequency of use:__% <1 hour/week__% 1–3 hours/week
 __% 4–10 hours/week__% 10+ hours/week

Time of use:__% Morning__% Afternoon
 __% Evening__% Late night

Years online:__% First year online__% 1–2 years
 __% 3–4 years__% Over 5 years

Platform:__% Windows__% Mac
 __% Unix__% Other

Browser:__% Netscape__% Internet Explorer
 __% Other 


What (relevant) online activities do your users participate in?



site-specific profile

Who is your site geared toward?

□ First-time visitors, new to your organization and site.

□ Offline customers, familiar with your company but NOT the site.

□ Returning visitors, familiar with both your organization AND your site.

□ All of the above.

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