Startup Websites That Work: Avoiding Common Mistakes

July 17, 2006

My prior article, “Startup Websites That Work” continues to be one of the most popular articles on this site.  I’d like to follow-up on this topic with some additional practical tips on making sure your startup’s website works for you.  I review several new startup websites a week and there are simply too many of them that are making simple, common mistakes.

You need to get good at getting your website to work for you (see prior article).  Part of this process is avoiding the common mistakes. 

Tips For Avoiding Common Startup Website Mistakes
  1. Don’t Have A Flash Intro:  Sure, a really cool Flash intro was included as part of the template you purchased from somewhere for $79.  Guess what, nobody cares.  Just because it came for free doesn’t mean you have to use it.  Today’s web users are an impatient lot.  If you’re running a startup, the last thing you need is to lose a single potential customer simply because they didn’t have the most recent version of Flash, were annoyed by the load time, couldn’t wait for the intro to finish, and didn’t have the patience to click on the “skip” link.  Unless you’re selling software to the fashion industry or some other creative sector, the chances are pretty high that a large majority of your site visitors don’t care much for Flash.  Quick question:  When was the last time you came across a website with a slick Flash intro that was just sooo cool that you were whipping our your credit card so you could buy the product/service offered?  

  1. Focus On The Message, Not The Mechanics:  If you’re like me and have a development background, you tend to want to spend time on the “structure” of the website.  Things like using CSS for layout instead of tables, making sure the site is compliant with every known universal standard, passes every possible HTML “validator” and is in general representative of The One True Way For Site Design.  The reason for this is simple:  It’s much easier to focus on the code, because that’s what we programmers do.  Passing an HTML validation test is kind of like getting code to compile.  It’s structured.  It’s clean.  There’s a clear “end result”.  Problem is, nobody cares.  Not really.  You should be spending 95% of your time figuring out what you want to say.  You need to tweak the language.  You need to have people review it, and listen really well to the feedback they give you.  Too many startup founders spend all of their time on getting the code for the site “just right” making the actual content an after-thought.  This is plain wrong.

  1. Get A Freakin’ Domain:  If I see one more startup website that is running as a sub-domain at or some other hosted service, I’ll scream.  Really, I will.  It’s not pretty.  A domain costs < $10 year.  There’s simply no reason to have a bunch of people link to  Trust me, those guys don’t need to visibility and backlinks.  You do.  It’s a pain in the neck to try and change domains later.  Avoid the hassle and just register your domain name now.  It’s just good, clean living.

  1. Don’t Write Your Own Content Management System (CMS):  As programmers, we tend to oversimplify things and end up writing code that we shouldn’t.  My rule of thumb is:  The only lines of code you should be writing are those that go into your product.  Everything else is a distraction and waste of time and money.  There are any number of workable software products out there for creating and managing a website.  Pick one.  I sincerely doubt that your needs are just so special that none of the off-the-shelf solutions will work.  Resist the temptation to roll your own.

  1. Don’t Try And Become A Designer:  Chances are, you’re not a web designer and don’t play one on TV.  Sure, you were the smartest kid in your class and can learn just about anything in an hour, but design is not about a skill – it’s about talent.  There are few people in the world that are both exceptional designers and exceptional software developers and exceptional business people.  Accept your limits and either hire a professional or use a professional designed website template.  Website templates are cheap, plentiful and there’s something out there for everyone.  Spend the money, not the time.

Summary of My Point:  None of the above should be particularly controversial.  If you think they are, we really need to talk.  As a startup founder, you have a thousand things to worry about (and that’s just today).  Your website is important.  Your message is important.  Just get the simple things right and avoid some of the common mistakes.  

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