Startup Websites That Work

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Startup Websites That Work

 


I am continually amazed by the lack of attention many startup founders and management teams give to their startup websites.  Too often, it's treated as a necessary evil (they’ll spend some time on it initially and then forget about it).
 
Disclaimer:  For my latest startup venture I’m working on a web software platform to make it easier for very small businesses (less than 25 employees) to do meaningful things on the web.  So, I have a bit of a bias here – but I’m not trying to sell you anything (yet), other than my opinions.
 
If you are delivering web-based software then you should already know that your website is critical (it's your business!).  But, even if you’re selling non-web software your website is very important and worthy of you spending some time thinking it through.
 
The following are my tips for creating a website that will actually work for you.  Think of your website as a relatively important employee (like a sales person). You need to spend some money, get them trained and keep them engaged.  Your website is no different – and will likely be cheaper and more productive.
 
Tips For Startup Websites That Work
 
  1. What will you do for me?  What does the product do?  Why should I care?  Answering this is much more important than sharing with me your philosophy of the world and how you’re all about “connecting individuals on the Internet through an intelligent and collaborative engine that is scalable, AJAX-powered and cool”.  Honestly, I don’t care.  Tell me how my life is going to be at least marginally better if I use your product.

 
Example:  Our MailMinder product will make sure that you don’t forget to respond to important messages that you receive in Outlook.  Just press a single key (1-9) and MailMinder will automatically remind you if you haven’t responded to that message within the specified number of days.  So, if you press “2” on a message and haven’t replied to it in a couple of days, you’ll get a friendly reminder.  (Note:  This is a completely made up product idea and any resemblance to an actual product, living or dead, is purely coincidental).
 
  1. Who is it for?  This one is subtle.  A great way to really grab my attention is to tell me who you’ve built the product for.  The reason so many companies don’t disclose this is because they think they’re going to “lose opportunities” by being too narrow in describing their ideal customers.  Its simply not true.  Do your potential customers and yourselves a favor and be focused in your message and offering – ultimately, the right kinds of people will wind up at your site and your sales will go up not down.  

 
Example:  Our software is specially built for technical book authors that would like to start a blog as an online extension to their book and build a community for their readers.
 
  1. How does it work?  Here, a picture (or a short video) is worth a thousand words.  In a minute or less, give me a general sense of how the product works.  Examples could include screenshots, video captures, or sample results produced.

 
  1. Why your product and not something else?  Chances are, I didn’t happen upon your site randomly.  I was probably looking for something or was led to your site from somewhere else.  And, despite how unique you think you might be, chances are that I’ve already considered other alternatives (and may even have tried a few).  Tell me what makes your product different.  You can be even more clever if you know what other products I’m likely to have tried that are similar to yours.

 
Example:  Tired of the limitations of XYZPro?  So were we.  So we did it better.  Hundreds of XYZPro customers have already switched. Here’s why…
 
  1. What does it cost?  Throw out complicated pricing formulas and don’t believe the marketing professionals that tell you that you should sell a customer on your “value proposition” before telling them what it costs.  In today’s world, with so many options, if I can’t figure out what your price is in the first 5 minutes, I’m probably gone.  Don’t make me email sales@somecompany.com to get a “price quote that is tailored for my needs”.  Worse, don’t make me contact my regional sales rep.  (In fact, if you have regional sales reps, you’re probably reading the wrong blog – its meant for startups).

 
  1. How can I try it?  Its software.  There’s no reason (at least that I’d understand) that there shouldn’t be a way for me to “try before I buy”.  Offering a trial version reduces the customer’s risk and puts the burden on you to deliver something of value. 

 
  1. Who’s behind it?  I don’t need to read your life story or see a “board of advisors” list that reads like the who’s who of the business world.  But, based on how much I expect to spend (in time and/or money), I’m likely going to want to know that there are actual humans working for the company.  You don’t need to misdirect and create the illusion of size (being small or even a one-person company is perfectly fine), so be honest. 

 
  1. Where are you?  Call me old-fashioned and traditional (which I’m not), but I tend to want to know where the company is that I’m about to do business with.  A physical location disclosed on the website signals to me that the company is not “hiding” out in the virtual world.  If all I can learn about you is that you have an email address that is info@somecompany.com and that support is going to be provided by support@somecompany.com, then I get a little concerned. 

 
  1. Keep me posted:  Sometimes, customers may be interested in your product, but just not now.  Either it's too early (they’ll only use products that have 10,000 users), doesn’t support some critical feature or operating system, doesn’t have the right license (example: no source code), or isn’t at the right price point.  Provide an easy way to let customers know when you hit major milestones.  This can be done via RSS, email subscriptions or other means.

 
Extra Credit:  If you can provide an easy way for customers to tell you why they’re not interested now (example:  Let me know when you support add support for X), you win even more points.  The prospective customer becomes aware that you’ve considered this limitation and you have a way of gauging which limitations are keeping customers away.  So, if 4 out of 10 customers say they want to be notified when you support Outlook integration, it may not be a bad idea to consider that feature.
 
  1. Look Alive!  I like to see that a company is “alive”.  This can be done by the management team maintaining a blog, having product support forums (that are monitored), issuing press releases, posting release notes, etc.   Somehow, signal to me that the company isn’t already dead and that there are signs of life somewhere.  This is the Internet equivalent of walking by a store and not seeing anybody there through the window.  The immediate question most people wonder:  “Is anyone home?”

 
Though all of the above take some thought and effort, it is likely that this investment will pay off very well.  Today’s customers have short attention spans and a generally cynical nature.  There are simply too many things competing for their time and money for them to cut you any slack.  If you doubt this, monitor your own behavior when it comes to browsing the web and evaluating products.  If you’re honest with yourself, you’ll learn lots of interesting things about how/why customers buy.  Just put yourself in the shoes of the customer.  The power of empathy is amazing and will teach you a lot.  If you were a random visitor to your own website, what would you think?  And, if a website did all or most of the things above – would you be more likely to try or buy?  
 
 
 

Posted by on Sun, Apr 02, 2006

COMMENTS

I'm thinking the blog should actually be on the home page, and not buried somewhere. It's the most "alive" content a "web application" site has. For example, blogging on how to use to use the web app may instantly engage potential users to ask questions, leave comments, etc. The traditional home page is lame.

posted on Monday, April 03, 2006 at 12:51 AM by Stacy


Unconvinced that laying out pricing is always the best model, particularly for enterprise software that will be 1) big-ticket and 2) have a high degree of variation from client to client. In this circumstance, the web site should sell the dream, and encourage a next steps conversation.

That said, if you are offering a free trial, offering pricing is exactly what you should do, because you're jumping straight into the depths of a (probably individual) sales process, and whenever someone signs up for something free, I think it's good policy to tell them how much it will cost to keep it (or upgrade to the useful edition or whatever)

posted on Monday, April 03, 2006 at 10:52 AM by Ray


As for making the blog the home page, that's an interesting idea, but one needs to then ensure that the message you want to get out to potential customers is somehow captured in the blog. Often, having a blog as the home page can be a mistake as there is little consistency in the message and it puts the burden on the customer to figure out what you're about.

Dynamicness can be generated by the blog, but perhaps a simple "here's what's new" widget on the home page is sufficient.

posted on Monday, April 03, 2006 at 11:54 AM by


Point well taken on the comments for pricing. Disclosing pricing does only make sense for lower-priced products (that are less complicated).

I'd also argue that those with higher priced products (enterprise software) rely less on their website to drive sales. They generally can afford sales staff to get deals done.

The article was intended more for startups attempting to drive sales through the online channel.

In any case, I agree with the point on pricing. Duly noted.

posted on Monday, April 03, 2006 at 1:38 PM by


For high priced products (or complex products), you can offer a low end price... "i.e. Startup costs can be as low as $10,000." Or somesuch.

posted on Monday, April 03, 2006 at 2:01 PM by Tony Wright


The ten points are great but the ensuing discussion on pricing is awesome. What blog comments should be all about.
I agree with the conclusion. Big ticket items, don't post exact prices but ranges are good.

-RS

posted on Monday, April 03, 2006 at 2:43 PM by Stiennon


Great points on a web site - it's all the things I look for.

Definitely price. If it's a high priced item find some way for me to know that early on. A user (me anyway) is always considering how much more time to spend on your site. If it takes a while to figure out I've wasted my time because the price is out of my range I'm frustrated.

posted on Monday, April 03, 2006 at 9:07 PM by John Seiffer


Re. having the blog as the front page, I like this approach too, but there is something to be said for having certain info readily available, as one previous commenter said. To resolve that situation, simply make the main or "home" post sticky, so it always sits on top, and allow other content to show up underneath.

posted on Monday, April 03, 2006 at 9:15 PM by Ade


I see a difference between "web application" sites and company "brochure" sites. That's why I suggested a blog home page but I can see how it can become confusing as well, if not done right. One of my favorate webApp sites is 37signals.com. It clearly leads you to the blog for interaction, and forgoes the brochure-type site menu bar at the top which mostly serves one-way communication. That site works for me.

To generalize "startup websites that work" may not be too prudent. The pricing discussion here clearly demonstrates that too.

posted on Tuesday, April 04, 2006 at 2:05 AM by Stacy


May I ask who designed the HubSpot site?

posted on Thursday, April 06, 2006 at 4:26 AM by Eyal


I would be great to see some examples of websites that fall into the "startup that work" category that you describe in your post. Give us some please!

posted on Wednesday, April 12, 2006 at 3:23 PM by Martin Messier


All your tips are good, it's true.
But in my opinion, you can do anything you want on your website, if it has a poor design, if colors are awful, if standards are not respected, ... your tips will be useless.

posted on Friday, May 12, 2006 at 1:49 PM by Florent Solt


What do you think about this website http://www.365jobsearch.com. Seems like a wierd name for a job site.

Karl

posted on Saturday, March 24, 2007 at 4:02 AM by Karl


365jobsearch.com sound good for a job site name. It's not the name that matters but getting jobseekers and employers. Look at monster.com the name says nothing about jobs but the have lots of jobs. It's all about marketing.

rav43

posted on Tuesday, March 27, 2007 at 4:50 AM by Raven


365jobsearch.com is just a startup site. It just started up earlier this year. I know the owner. Just give it time and I am sure it will become a popular site like the others.

WWE-Fan101

posted on Thursday, March 29, 2007 at 11:17 PM by WWE-Fan101


http://www.365jobsearch.com a good site all they need
to market. Very user friendly, needs to work on homepage. Let's see how they do in a year.

posted on Thursday, April 05, 2007 at 1:07 PM by WCW-Fan


Http:/;www.365jobsearch.com ranks 7 million plus on
Alexa.

posted on Saturday, April 14, 2007 at 1:02 PM by Kevin


Thanks for the Link Michael


http://www.britec.co.uk

posted on Thursday, June 07, 2007 at 12:40 PM by Brian


thanks for your tips guys. well my problem is that im ugandan, computers arent much of a thing for most people. What does one have to do to survive in a world where technology flies as fast as a Ferrari and yet it always seems easier for the big companies to do almost anything

posted on Tuesday, August 21, 2007 at 11:49 AM by nkangi


'Who's behind it' seems quite weird) Having some experience as a customer, I can assure you: i don't give a damn who's behind it)

But still, all tips are quite useful)

posted on Monday, December 17, 2007 at 6:21 AM by Elephas Maximus


Nice article, keep up the good work. :)

posted on Wednesday, April 16, 2008 at 7:13 AM by Billy


nice place for startup companies to get exposed is http://www.eesycheesy.com

posted on Tuesday, June 17, 2008 at 2:25 AM by susie


Purchase your hosting and domain with the greatest site ever ;-)

posted on Tuesday, June 17, 2008 at 9:55 PM by Webahoo


i am in a real mess, my guy has left that handled my website, and i have no idea about such 
 
anyone out there that can help me? 
 
my website goes to china in china google and that is how i run my company help

posted on Tuesday, August 19, 2008 at 3:18 PM by j.r.


Great article! Exactly the kind of thing we at Startups Guides like to promote.  
 
I find often Start-ups don't actually realise that their new websites aren't up to the job. I am aiming to try and help inform them *before* they go out and get some numpty off the street to build them a naff site. 
 
They simply need a helping hand. :)

posted on Wednesday, January 28, 2009 at 2:14 PM by start-ups guide


Many thanks for the tips 
 
 
 
www.fatclass.com

posted on Sunday, September 06, 2009 at 11:19 PM by Julie


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