The United States has the largest concentration of start-ups anywhere in the world; at present more than 70,000 are looking to make their mark, according to Startup Ranking. But only 40% of start-ups become profitable, with competition the greatest challenge for these firms.
Having an online presence is crucial to the success of a start-up in today’s business environment. Consumers, when testing or trying out a brand or service for the first time, will automatically go online to see whether the business in question is visible.
A dedicated website will therefore provide the necessary exposure for many of these businesses and provide them with insight into the response of potential customers towards the product/service being offered.
A slow or even poorly constructed website could therefore have a significant impact on company growth. Websites need to represent what a start-up does as a company, as well as what they stand for, all the while communicating their brand effectively; start-ups will want to not only capture the interest of new visitors and potential customers, but also investors.
There are several ways to achieve this, and formatting has emerged as a vital element. For start-ups, there seems to be a certain format for web design which allows them to present themselves in a particular way to remain competitive among rivals.
This article presents view from a number of experts in the start-up space to better understand the best website layout for a new startup.
A strong website homepage
It is now no longer necessary to know how to code to establish a web presence. Numerous website platforms exist to allow start-ups to create a platform and at next to no cost – some website creators are even free to use.
To ensure the success of a start-up, websites will need to attract significant amounts of traffic. This is where a prominent homepage, and social share features, come into play. The homepage should provide visitors with a snapshot of what the product/service being provided is, and why it is currently better than the rest of the market offering.
“You have to start with a strong homepage,” explains David Soffer, founder of start-up news site TechRound. “This is the first thing at people see when they visit your website and successful start-ups often have a prominent strong message or slogan explaining how they are different from their competitors and what they bring to the table, right at the top of the page.”
Effective websites will be able to tell both consumers and investors what the start-up is doing, what visitors can get out of their offering, and how they can get it quickly. In terms of brand awareness, some firms may choose to use a tagline to draw attention to the company name; this is normally integrated into the broader branding of the website.
In general, start-ups tend to use large fonts and bold colours within their homepage designs. Soffer also notes a large share of firms include graphics or images which move or change in colour as a user scrolls.
“This is a great technique which demonstrates imagination, excitement and a proactiveness about the brand,” he says.
Given the nature of start-ups, ensuring a there is a strong ‘call to action’ – where visitors can subscribe or submit their information – is also crucial. This message can be bolstered even further if firms include statistics or data to back up their claim or vision.
Like well established brands, start-ups also have an opportunity to showcase their achievements on their homepages – not only will this help to build trust around their brand, but also showcase their growth within the market. Start-ups need not be shy of displaying companies they have collaborated with, awards one, or any positive press coverage they may have received.
Social share features are also good to host on the homepage, to allow visitors to share a start-ups page with their networks. Social media integration has long been best practice for website design and most website builders will have this functionality within their platform.
Details, details, details
An element of a start-ups webpage, which arguably goes overlooked, is the ‘About Us’. Unlike small or large well-established brands, these sections – regardless of sector – place an onus on the founders and partners of the business.
When trying out a new product, consumers are often interested in why the product has been created in the first place, and where the idea may have been generated. Understanding the backgrounds of the founders, often sheds light on both the experience of those running the company, and where the innovation would have generated from.
Start-up founders are often involved in PR and other initiatives to help grow their brand. As a result, the faces of the founders, the team and any senior members are often featured prominently on these pages. Not only does this make the people running the company appear more visible, but also relatable to consumers and investors.
Furthermore, if the start-up has attained funding, there may be information about the funding partner and their involvement.
Andrew Speer of fintech start-up, Capital Bean, says the ‘About Us’ page is “very important to give trust to new and potential customers who are seeing you for the first time”. He notes that while start-ups might choose to showcase the journey from idea to product, and why they are different from competitors, there is an opportunity to tell a story.
“[For start-ups these pages are] detailed and well-thought out, they are not small and thin on content,” he says
Website interaction as a transaction
Another important element of a start-up’s website will be the page in which they transact with customers – this could be through a download, sign up to a free trial, or pay for a subscription.
Start-up websites usually come with good offers to bring on new customers, and showing the pricing through tables is a very popular theme for platforms and subscription businesses. Transparency has been the key to all new businesses and ensuring there are no hidden costs will be vital to building customer relations.
In some instances, if a customer is leaving a start-ups website, there may be a pop-up window giving the customer one final chance to purchase the product/service.
Newsletters and staying in touch
Very early-stage start-ups may be yet to launch their value proposition, so it is common for these firms to present a data capture where prospective customers can leave their email address to receive more information.
For more seasoned and repeat entrepreneurs, who are used to attracting interest or who have already gained some PR, regular traffic is likely to be more common. Therefore, having a landing page and a clear form to stay in touch is going to be effective.
A very common feature for new start-ups is to include a dedicated section for thought leadership articles. The articles can be contributions by the team or industry experts who have given their insights into a topical issue.
When Dime Alley – a US based loans service company- launched, its website was filled with articles dominated by data and statistics. Dime Alley author Ben Sweiry says this was a tactic to ensure the company was positioned as a resource from day one.
“Over time, we have included guest contributions from other experts in our industry talking about the future of the sector – and this is always a good start for a start-up, especially sharing it on LinkedIn and trying to make a name for yourself,” he says.
There is no question the type of industry or product being offered will impact the website design and layout in question.
For instance, a start-up launching an app will typically only consist of a few pages to encourage consumers to download the app rather than spend time on the site. In these instances, firms have often chosen to have a single website page which is systematically broken into digestible blocks or frames.
For platforms, there are maybe just a handful of pages. However, once a consumer has signed up to a free trial or has logged into their account, access to the remainder of the platform is unlocked. In some cases, it is as simple as the homepage looking like Google; you simply just click a button, and you are ready.
For start-ups trying to make a difference through wellbeing or health, visuals become a lot more prominent. In addition, content created or thought leadership aimed at getting a positive message across is more common.
The biggest indicator of what a start-ups website should look like however, is only one click away – look at the competitor.
Companies which have been in the space for a long time will already have a concrete idea of what tone marries well with the audience; they will understand the user journey and have honed the wording used within their messaging over time.
Using a competitor’s website as a template – while ensuring there is no brand copyright– is a good place for start-ups to understand where they are unique and what messaging can be used to position them as a competitor in the space.