You’re a startup founder and you have a lot on your plate. We get it because we’re in the same boat. There are endless engineering problems to solve, business model and go-to-market decisions to make, operational systems to implement, and the list goes on.
We also know that your website can end up pretty low on the priority list. Maybe you have a landing page acting as a placeholder, but building out your actual website keeps getting pushed down on your to-do list. Or maybe you already got your first website live but aren’t able to make any significant changes to it, despite the fact that your customer research is making you rethink your messaging. Wherever you’re at in the process, we feel your pain.
Website projects are deceptively complex, even if you’re using a no-code builder. Plus busy founders like us are hard-pressed to find time to think strategically about our website’s design, messaging, UX, and goals. This is why early-stage startup websites often get stale rather than being a dynamic part of a company’s initial growth toolkit.
.We believe your marketing site deserves better. In fact, your early website is your marketing MVP. Why not leverage it to validate your initial go-to-market ideas? In the same way that getting early user feedback on your product will save you a lot of time and trouble down the line, you should absolutely treat your first website as your marketing MVP.
We wrote this guide to help you get started on that path. We’ve included tactical messaging tips and recommendations for how to structure your startup’s website. Hopefully this gives you a starting point on how to think about your website and gets your creative juices flowing.
There’s no item on your early-stage to-do list that has a bigger ROI than your website. Your website is your most powerful brand-building tool in the early days. It’s the first thing people will check when they hear about you, and it’s often the very first impression they get of your business.
This is your chance to establish your credibility. Some might even say it’s your only chance. According to a study from Adobe, 38% of people will stop engaging with a website if the content or layout is unattractive.
Poor design isn’t the only turnoff – visitors will also leave if they can’t find engaging content, if they can’t find the right contact information, or even if the site takes too long to load.
And you’ll want to keep all of these visitors around, because your website is where your leads will convert to customers. Self-serve sign-up flows are a popular option for startup companies — and not just early-stage ones, either. Even SaaS giants like Ahrefs and Prezi operate on self-serve models.
But websites are valuable for sales-led operations, too. Prospects will almost always go to your website to check if you’re legit before continuing a conversation with the sales team.
As with anything related to marketing, your website should have clearly defined goals. The more your site is designed with these goals in mind, the more likely it is to succeed.
Your website shouldn’t answer the question, “what do we do?”
It should answer “what do we do for you, right now?”
Customers want to know how your startup's product will help them. They don't want fluff. They want to know whether or not your product will solve a pressing problem they are experiencing. You need to show them exactly how your product will help them. Talk directly to your target customer (assuming you know who that is) and speak to their needs. Tell them how buying your software will change their life for the better.
You have an uphill battle as a new venture.
Customers will have past experience working with your competitors, many of whom will be established brands. If you don’t have direct competitors, you most assuredly have competitive alternatives — solutions or processes that prospects are using instead of your product.
Those experiences may be good, or they may be bad. Either way, they will color how prospects view you as the new kid on the block.
You need to get some credibility.
Credibility isn’t just something you can order from Amazon. Credibility is built over time as customers get to know you and your business. Credibility is the reputation you earn.
But credibility has to start somewhere, and your website is square one.
Your website is the start of the customer’s journey with you, but it’s definitely not the end.
They took a step in the right direction by visiting your website. Now, you have to maintain or increase that momentum and steer them towards the next touchpoint.
What that touchpoint actually is depends on your goals. Do you want them to schedule a demo? Watch an explainer video? Browse through technical specs?
Your website should be designed in such a way that the next step is obvious and easy to take. You have to know what to say in order to draw them in and encourage that behavior.
You need to work on your messaging.
Brand messaging is a complex yet crucial part of any company, startup or not. Businesses throw small fortunes at this problem, hoping they can crystallize their entire organization into a short statement.
You probably don’t have thousands of dollars to hire a brand agency. Or if you do, you can’t afford to spend that much of your budget on messaging (not while you have a website to build). Does that mean you’re stuck?
Nope! It doesn’t.
You can still define your product’s messaging, provided you check your assumptions and keep an open mind. That, and have good sources of input.
A value proposition is the main reason a customer should buy from you. It’s a promise of “value to be delivered.”
If you don’t already have one, there are many resources that can help you come up with one on your own. One of our favorites is the process shared by tech founder Julian Shapiro.
In Julian’s method, you simply match a quality of your product with its corresponding benefit.
Quality: Low cost
Benefit: Greater volume
For example, let’s say you have a product that is cheap to make and therefore affordable to your consumers. They will be able to benefit by buying more of it. The value proposition can then be written as:
Get more for your money.
Julian encourages further prioritization of all of your value proposition ideas until you have the value proposition that would be most relevant to your top target customers. This is your core value proposition, and is what will influence what goes on your website.
Now that you have a core value proposition, it’s time to write a headline.
A good website headline should contain several things:
So instead of saying, “The best project management solution,” you’d probably write something closer to, “Deliver more projects on time with a happy team.”
You may have to work through several versions before you arrive at the one you want. You could even conduct an A/B test using a tool like Google Optimize when the site is live to see which message resonates with customers more.
And if you’re really stuck, try asking your customers this question: what’s the number one thing you’re able to do now that you’re using XYZ product that you weren’t able to before?
The perfect headline lives in that answer. If you don’t have that many paying customers, you can try asking prospects or use your best guess until you’re able to validate against customer research.
Most startup websites follow a typical design layout. While a case can be made for innovative and clever website design as a way of standing out, that’s not your priority right now.
You do not want to turn your website project into a time-sink. As an early-stage founder, you want to quickly build a simple yet effective website layout that’ll attract customer interest. So for now, it’s best to focus on a standard layout that is proven to work.
This standard layout comes with the following pages:
Let’s go into each page in detail:
Startup homepages are usually very long, which is a consequence of using a responsive layout. Responsive layouts allow the website to display properly on multiple devices, including smartphones and tablets.
From top to bottom, the typical elements of a startup homepage are:
You also have the option to include extra sections like:
This layout may seem templatized, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. You want to build something decent and within your current level of expertise.
Wait until you have access to a professional website designer before you do anything ambitious. They’re much better at it than you are, and by then you’ll have the budget for such a specialized role.
A good product page helps potential customers learn more about the products and/or services you’re offering. This section allows you to speak in more depth about the product’s features and how the customer will benefit.
The product page will be composed of the following sections:
If your product or service has complex pricing considerations such as multiple tiers or package-based pricing, you can list them on their own separate pricing page.
Best practice for communicating tiers is to list them all side by side in ascending order, with each tier’s price clearly listed along with a bulleted list of features and capabilities included in each tier below.
An increasing number of startups, particularly SaaS companies, are not listing their prices along with their tiers. Instead, they put a contact link that sends people to the sales team instead. While these companies are well within their rights to do so, not being forthcoming with the price makes it harder for the user to evaluate your service and erodes trust.
When we talk about a “website flow,” we’re referring to the path that a visitor will follow. There are generally two kinds:
An open website flow is when a user has complete freedom to navigate the site as they wish. They can jump to any page on the site at any point. The main menu contains many different options, and there are lots of secondary pages and subsections to choose from.
A focused website flow follows a more traditional funnel. Visitors have few options when visiting a website with a focused flow. The navigation is very lean, which encourages users to follow a predetermined path — usually to a CTA or some other end point that benefits the business.
Churnbuster.io is a prime example of a site with a focused website flow. When visitors land on the homepage, they self-select their customer segment (ecommerce, SaaS, or digital subscription), and are provided with persona-appropriate content. They are then given the opportunity to review pricing and can begin the sign-up process from the same page.
You will need to decide which path makes the most sense for your target market. The more niche a product is, the more it will benefit from a more focused website funnel. On the other hand, products with a wider appeal or numerous applications could benefit from giving visitors more autonomy in the site experience.
Now that you’re ready to put it all together you’ll need to choose how to build your startup's website.
A lot of founding teams are tempted to utilize their engineering resources to custom code their marketing site in order to build the site they are envisioning. This is understandable since there are very real constraints and limitations to what can be achieved with a no-code website builder.
Let’s take a look at the website builder landscape and where some of the most popular tools fall.
Many website builders can help you get a website up and running quickly, but you are generally stuck in a template with very little creative control. On the other hand, you can opt for a more customizable solution, but you will be dealing with a lot more complexity.
It’s often because of these tradeoffs that many founders opt to use internal technical talent to get their first site live. The two biggest issues with this decision are:
Ultimately, you have to decide what matters the most to you as a founder when it comes to your website. There are a lot of options out there for founders who don’t mind staying within the constraints of a template.
If making sure your website looks unique is important to you but you don’t want to rely on technical resources or specialists to get the job done, Makeswift might be a good fit. Many of our early access users are founders like you who are tired of the tradeoffs.
Sign up for Makeswift here.