One of the things that get taken for granted far too often is the goal of any particular website. When talking with business owners across the board in the real estate industry and beyond, when I ask about the goal of their websites I’m often met with blank stares.

Sometimes the difference between the website goals and the business goal isn’t distinct. "My goal is to make a lot of money!" is the kind of goal that isn’t especially useful because it doesn’t help inform decision-making about how the website should work (or whether it’s working at all).

Other times, the business goal is simply assumed. "I’m in real estate so I want my website to generate leads!" is more helpful, but still not as useful for decision-making as putting in the effort to think it all through.

Setting goals for your website — determining what thing you want people to do while they’re on your site — is important. Maybe people are nervous about how important it is (which is underscored by how much they paid to make it operate and continue to pay in order to continue its operation). There’s really no reason not to have a clearly defined set of goals for a website.

I should note that when I use the word "goal" I’m not talking about a performance target — I’m not looking for: "Generate 500 leads every 72 hours." I’m really, in the simplest way, looking for the primary task of the website that relates to doing better business. And perhaps that’s the confusion here.

You see, a performance target for a website might be something over which you have very little control. If no one is looking to buy what you are selling, then the website will be unable to generate 500 leads because there aren’t 500 people who are even in the market. The website, whether it’s well-built or not, isn’t the problem.

Performance targets are great and useful as a form of motivation. You could talk to a sales manager if you’re looking to get the performance targets nailed down.

But if you actually want your website to work, then think about your customer: What is your customer going to do on your website that will bring that customer closer to doing business with you?

A spectrum of goals

Some things people do on a real estate website are more tightly aligned with doing better business. If someone contacts you from a page that describes a house that you are selling, then that’s likely something that would be a goal.

Other things people do on a real estate website are perhaps more loosely aligned with doing better business. For example: Someone signs up to receive an emailed copy of posts from your community blog every month.

There isn’t a clear intent to purchase or sell a house in that action, but it’s probably going to help your business — just not as much (or as quickly) as someone who wants you to show them a house.

The first kinds of goals — the ones tied directly to stuff that you know generates revenue — are hard goals. You can and should value them more highly and track them more closely.

The second kinds of goals — the ones that are more loosely tied to your marketing and business efforts — are soft goals. You should value them and track them, but it’s better not to obsess about them.

A basic tactic with hard and soft goals

If you have a collection of soft goals that are tied to getting permission to communicate with people who are interested in your geography or general topics but who aren’t necessarily interested in buying or selling a house, you can use this fairly basic tactic to help make your business better:

Track the number of people who are in your soft goal category, subscribing to your blog or newsletter, for example. Then track the number of people who are in your hard goal category, getting listings emailed to them every day or on your active customer list.

Develop a clear, but not overwhelming, call to action that helps move people from your soft goal group to your hard goal group. This could be as simple as the way you sign off your newsletters, or it could be a banner ad in the footer of your newsletter.

Doing this reminds the people in your soft goal group that you are, indeed, in business — and not as a community journalist. You may need to experiment with how aggressive to make this call to action.

I’d recommend erring on the side of nonaggressive. But this will be different for all markets, brands and audiences.

Goals should help you make your business better

Looking at goals, with an eye toward making your business better, can be helpful. There is, of course, more involved than I can cram into this column — getting the technical stuff on your site to match up with your goal to help tracking, for example.

But the hard part, really, is taking the time to determine: "What do I want people to do on this website?" and then start taking actions to make that thing easier for your customers.

The nice thing about goals is that, unlike performance targets, you are completely in control of how easy or hard you make them.

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