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 a website live but aren’t able to make any significant changes to it, despite the fact that your customer's feedback is making you rethink your messaging. The struggle is real.
Website projects are deceptively complex, even if you’re using a no-code builder. Plus busy business leaders are hard-pressed to find time to think strategically about their website’s design, messaging, UX, and goals. This is why websites often get stale rather than being a dynamic part of a company’s growth toolkit.
We believe your marketing site deserves better. 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.
How much does your website matter?
There are very few items on your marketing to-do list that have a bigger ROI than your website. Your website is your most powerful brand-building tool, especially early on for your company. 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, especially if your website is where your leads will convert to customers. For example, self-serve sign-up flows are a popular option for SaaS 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 every other type of business, too. Prospects will almost always go to your website to learn more before continuing a conversation with the sales team or visiting a brick-and-mortar store.
Goals for your website
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?”
Leads want to know how your product or service 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 and speak to their needs. Tell them how buying your product or service will change their life for the better.
Establish brand credibility
Building credibility, especially for new business, is an uphill battle.
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.
Encourage the next step
Your website is usually 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? Purchase a product on your online store? Visit your physical location?
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.
How to define your brand's messaging
Brand messaging is a complex yet crucial part of any company. Businesses throw small fortunes at this problem, hoping they can crystallize their entire organization into a short statement.
You may not have thousands of dollars to hire a brand agency. Or if you do, you probably 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 brand messaging, provided you check your assumptions and keep an open mind. That, and have good sources of input.
Define core value propositions
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.
Write a headline
Now that you have a core value proposition, it’s time to write a headline.
A good website headline should contain several things:
- An action-oriented message (“get X” vs “this is X”)
- 1 or 2 of the main value propositions
- An element that makes the message unique
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.
Designing your website's layout
Website layouts can vary greatly depending on your type of business, but almost every business needs to ensure their website does three things:
- Hook leads in by telling them what you can do for them
- Explain the product or service in more detail
- Provide pricing information
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. Your priority is to do the three things above as quickly and effectively as possible.
We’re going to illustrate how to apply this structure using the example of a software company. Most software websites follow a typical design layout with the following pages:
- Product page(s)
- Pricing page(s)
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:
- Menu navigation. Always include the CTA button so that there’s no mistaking the intent of the site.
- Headline with paragraph copy. Also include a CTA button. The more opportunities the visitor has to convert the better.
- Social credibility. This could be client logos, testimonials, or other social proof.
- Value proposition section. This would contain anywhere from one to four block’s worth of value propositions. A “block” would be composed of a headline, paragraph copy, and possibly a quick feature list or a link to learn more. To the left or right of the text would be a product image or an explainer video.
- More social proof. Drive home why other people think you’re awesome. Display more testimonials, link to case studies, or show video interviews with users.
- Main call-to-action. This is an entire section dedicated to getting visitors to convert. Pull out all the stops here. Include action-oriented copy and re-emphasize your value proposition. Your CTA button should be as prominent as possible.
You also have the option to include extra sections like:
- Pricing section. This would be a short section that presents the basics of your pricing model. You can highlight your most popular price package here, and leave the rest for the more complex pricing page.
- How it works. Explain how your product works in a few simple steps. Infographic, video, or paragraph descriptions all work well here.
- Other benefits. Take the chance to highlight other important but lesser features of your product or business, such as 24/7 customer support or seamless integrations.
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:
- Product name. The product is the focus of this section, so its name should be front and center. If there are sub-products, they should either be clearly organized into their own sections within the page, or given individual pages.
- Product description. Keep the copy brief and digestible. You don’t need to go into extremely technical detail in this page. You can always create more in-depth pages later on as your site expands. Focus on the most important benefits and the features that make it happen.
- Product images. Make your product look beautiful. Don’t skimp on image quality. Get the highest resolution photos or screenshots of your product that show it in its most flattering light. Sometimes showing the product isn’t always the most beautiful experience (which is fine!) That’s where we’d recommend finding a designer who can help illustrate the product concept so the right visitors “get it”.
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.
Deciding on a website flow
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 or service is, the more it will benefit from a more focused website funnel. On the other hand, products and services with a wider appeal or numerous applications could benefit from giving visitors more autonomy in the site experience.
Building your website
Now that you’re ready to put it all together you’ll need to choose how to build your website.
A lot of business owners are tempted to outsource their website creation to a freelancer or agency rather than build it themselves. 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 people opt to outsource rather than go the DIY route. The two biggest issues with this decision are:
- Cost: Many small businesses don’t have the budget to hire a really big marketing or design firm to build their websites and unfortunately the old saying is often true — you get what you pay for.
- Time: While it may appear to be faster to outsource website creation to a specialist, the process is almost always slower than anyone expects. Lots of hurdles pop up when you’re trying to get someone else to realize a vision you have in your head.
- Flexibility: You will need to change your website often. You will be learning a lot about your target customer and their needs and you need to be able to quickly iterate on your website content to speak to what resonates with them. Regular iteration should happen across all of your web content rather than just being relegated to your landing pages and campaigns. Reliance on outsourced developers or designers for these changes creates bottlenecks that slow you down, or worse, prevent the changes from happening altogether.
Ultimately, you have to decide what matters the most to you when it comes to your website. There are a lot of options out there for those 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 business owners and leaders like you who are tired of the tradeoffs.
Learn more and apply for early access here.