But not all visitors are created equal, are they? Websites have come a long way since they were online brochures, but many sites are not performing any better than if they were still just that.

If you’re approaching a website design, you’re keenly aware of all of the moving parts and demands, but the main purpose of a website is often overlooked, both in RFPs and in function. Here it is:

A website is a marketing tool that should generate sales leads.

It’s simple, you trade your expert and useful information in exchange for your audience to identify themselves. Then what? If you are in business to sell online learning courses, then you are collecting contact info so that you can convert visitors to buyers.

I had to write this post because I have encountered a few people who say, ‘no, that’s not what our website is about.’ If your website is not a conversion machine, then it is out of step with what is possible and demanded today.

Just because five years ago a website was a repository for tons of useful information which couldn’t easily be directly connected to sales or other business goals doesn’t mean that is what it is today. A state of the art website from five years ago isn’t worth a penny today.

Here is what every website should be about.

1. You show that you’re the expert in your niche, by providing content on your site to inform, help and attract visitors.
2. Visitors become leads by providing their contact information in exchange for information that they value.
3. Now you can learn from your visitors and market to and convert those leads.

Since no one has just one audience, this does beg the question how can your website serve them all without being diluted in its efficacy. Let’s say that you have three marketing personas: apartment building owners, apartment building managers, and the apartment building’s maintenance person. Let’s call them Owen Owner, Maria Manager and Mack Maintenance.

Let’s look at what each persona is interested in.

Owen Owner:
• Helpful information to lower costs/increase profits of a building
• Tips to do more with less
• Advice on how to get higher rents

Maria Manager:
• Ideas to have no months with unrented units
• Easier, automated process for providing information and scheduling visits
• Guidance on keeping her processes current and legally compliant

Mack Maintenance:
• How-to information for common maintenance headaches
• Resources for product information
• Access to a community that will answer his maintenance questions in a timely manner

Are you thinking what I am thinking? How can one website serve all of their needs? Thought so. Well, you could have separate menu items for each persona’s needs, but that’s so 2010. Or you can leave it up to them to find what is important to them.

Well, there are solutions such as smart content. With smart content, you can have your site content and images customized so that Owen Owner see one set of messages while Maria Manager sees another. You can achieve this kind of functionality through an AMS or marketing automation software.

It is important to create a more personalized web experience for your visitors. That’s what they have become accustomed to. Because when they go to Amazon, the ads they see are perfect fits for them, the specials and the items that show up first are just what they are interested in. And the same holds true for almost any website they go to, as well as when they are searching. So, when they come to your site, the experience will feel removed from them, clunky, or simply not a fit if the content is not adjusting for them. Mack is not interested in what Owen is interested in.

Sound expensive? Time-consuming? Technically challenging? No, no and no.

The idea of coding this functionality into a site this way isn’t new necessarily, but having it be easier, more achievable is new. And mostly it is necessary in 2014. Your website must offer a personalized experience to your visitors. Whether they can articulate it that way or not, they expect it. And if they don’t get it, they won’t stick around for very long.