An excerpt from The Ultimate Startup Guide…
In their earliest days, startups either have no website or have a thin site consisting of ‘brochure-ware’. The purposes of this site are two-fold: 1) to attract potential employees, and 2) to attract the interest of early influencers by creating a sense of anticipation or by, sometimes literally, featuring a “watch this space” advertisement for something big coming later.
But as our clients get ready to launch, the website has to morph from a billboard into a powerful sales tool. Which brings us back to the mantra of ‘content, conversions, and competition.’
It’s almost always the content that lags
In StartupLand you can never have enough content. For written (not rich media) content, that means well-crafted, easily accessible, easily shareable, visually-rich content that drives your message home for your different targets (buyer, partner, analyst, etc.) that moves them through the sales cycle. That’s why we urge every client to start as early as possible to lay out a plan for content (one that reflects your sales cycle and conversion points) so that there is ample time to write, edit and review your content and to ensure that every piece is designed to move a prospect to the next stage in the sales process.
Planning more time for content, somewhat conversely, also allows for your content to “gel” so that each piece of content can be shorter, pithier and more substantive. In this ADHD world, where 12-page papers have been replaced by 6-pagers and 8-minute videos are now never more than 2 minutes in length, every content creator knows that it takes more time to create a shorter piece than its larger counterpart. And remember that it’s quality content in the age of inbound marketing that will enable your company to attract and engage prospects. Finally, start early: more time will allow your content team (both internal and external to your startup) to plan for ways to repurpose, say, that 5-7-page white paper into blog posts, contributed articles, and perhaps newsletter copy.
When it comes to creating a new website for launch, it’s almost always the content that lags, not the design or coding. That’s another reason why we recommend startups begin development early. And after launch, it’s axiomatic that there’s never enough content to be able to offer prospects new, fresh information in support of sales or to be able to stay top of mind with relevant, timely content in support of building thought leadership for your brand.
Why a startup focuses on conversions
When a startup is ready to build a true business-centric website, we steer our clients to start with conversions as part of building a solid structural plan for the site that will scale as your startup grows. A conversion is the click or tap that brings your target customer to a specific step in the sales cycle. Even though it’s early days, articulate that cycle as specifically as possible, either based on initial customer response or the path you want them to take. At every step, ask: what action do you want your target to take next and how can I facilitate it? And then, what content do you have to offer to move your target to the next step in the sales process? In other words, how do you convert a website visitor into a sales prospect as quickly as possible? By starting with a focus on conversions, startups are making their website a customer acquisition and growth strategy, rather than just an expression of their brand.
Because every startup uses content to tell a story on its website, compelling the visitor to take the journey you want them to take and to consume the content you want them to consume requires a plan. And that plan needs to address content and conversions, which we’ve just covered, as well as site navigation and the “under the hood” structure. The plan for your website should be developed in concert with a web design and development pro who has the experience to help you build your site in phases, from stealth to launch to sales acceleration. For that, you want to choose a web design partner with a track record of success who is steeped in best practices of both information architecture and web design. Your goal should be to build a site that can scale with your startup, rather than one that becomes disposable because it was built without a plan.
Your website pro should bring a breadth of best practices covering design, usability and accessibility. Elements of your site plan will include, for example, establishing and following an essential but basic SEO strategy of URL structure, keywords and on-page and off-page link-building to ensure your target customers can find your company online. It will include items such as consistent use of structural items like title and meta tags; calls-to-action, sharing widgets to promote the spread of your content; decisions on the use of flash and animation in content that can impact the accessibility of content by some users; what content you will give away versus “gate” behind a form capture that you will require. Working with a solid website pro will yield a well-structured site that will optimize the experience on your website for all your stakeholders. And you should be able to measure that experience in terms of overall traffic, time on site, page load times, bounce rates, etc.
Competition: their claims and their offers
Saying ‘we don’t have any competition’ might sound good at the start, but consider this: if you don’t have any competition, you don’t have a market. And you need that market: customers want to be able to find you; investors want to know the size of your market and who else is in it. Your website can play an important role in this process: your audience knows you have competition and they’re looking for ways to compare, contrast and decide. Your website can either be delusional (we have no competition) or help your customer/investor understand your market better and your unique place in it.
Part of your website design is studying and accounting for the competition. That doesn’t mean having a section on the site that contrasts you directly with them (though, if you’ve got a clear feature-by-feature advantage that’s an advisable route to go), but it means knowing what they’re claiming, how their site is structured, what they’re offering—and how all that stacks up against your website and underlying process. It’s easy, after months or years of slogging through internal product development and early customer support issues, to stay inwardly focused on what you’ve developed and how it works best. But it’s the lazy startup that stays inwardly focused: you simply can’t afford it in today’s fast-changing market. Track your competition and respond quickly and forcefully, starting with your website