4-Part Blog Series: Part 1 of 4 — Breaking Ground on a Quality Website
They say you never get a second chance to make a first impression. Knowing this, large retail chains and manufacturers spend untold billions of dollars every year on advertising campaigns that promote little more than a corporate image in order to keep the brand in the forefront of the public’s consciousness. The goal is to generate positive feelings that a customer will subconsciously associate with the brand. This goes far beyond mere product merchandising. We’re talking about large-scale do-or-die psych-ops exercises with reams of peer-reviewed and privately-executed studies behind it all to make purchasing from a particular company just feel right. From the subconscious effects of a marketing campaign’s color schemes to the body types, ethnicities and age brackets represented by the campaign’s models, everything must be analyzed by this ostensibly scientific guessing game. And the bigger the company, the greater the % of their revenue they dedicate to marketing, thus propagating the advantage of scale even in the mental space.
Start-ups, on the other hand, fling themselves out into the world with no reputation to back them up. They’re the unknown guy at the party with a solo cup in the corner. No one knows if he’s going to tear off his hoodie and break-dance in the middle of the crowded room or if he’s just going to disappear without ever talking to anybody. Unlike large, established corporations, the little guys can’t shape their public persona just by letting feel-good press releases fall out of their pockets and having myriad media outlets scramble after them. Start-ups also don’t have the means to proactively make themselves known through multi-channel marketing campaigns.
It is essential for each and every start-up to ask itself the following questions as it gets the ball rolling:
- “How do I manage my customers’ first impressions?”
- “If I can’t make myself known on a massive scale, how can I at least make it easiest for those who seek my products or services to be able to find me?”
- “How can I differentiate myself from the competition?”
This is the first in a series of four posts in which I’m going to cover some of the very basic ways a start-up can best manage a potential customer’s first impression with a minimal marketing budget. There’s nothing groundbreaking here, but it’s essential that we never lose sight of the fundamentals.
- 1/4 Website 1: Breaking Ground on a Quality Website (this very entry that you are reading right now)
- 2/4 Website 2: Design choices—Persona, Style, Competition Audit, Color Choices
- 3/4 Website 3: Customer’s Perceived Performance vs. Score
- 4/4 Platforms: Tools and Techniques. Content, Consistency, Discipline.
I cannot understate the importance of having a professional-looking website. This is your storefront. This is your window dressing. This is your sales representative’s dry-cleaned shirt and pleated pants. You do not want to get caught in flip-flops and with Cheetos on your fingers.
The good news is that this is where these metaphors end. The time expenditure and overhead costs associated with launching a quality website are nowhere near those of a physical storefront.
For the digital start-up there are three ways to go about creating a brand-new website with a tight marketing budget:
1. Use an off-the-shelf template.
- Pro: very cheap
- Con: feels prepackaged; not personalized
2. Learn how to make one from scratch.
- Pro: very cheap
- Con: very time-intensive; results may vary
3. Hire a web designer.
- Pro: professional site; to taste
- Con: higher outlay
If you follow any of a number of popular podcasts, I’m sure you’re familiar with at least a couple of companies offering website-generation services to people just like you, and it’s a tantalizing prospect, to be sure. If you’re an idea or a product person, you’re not necessarily all that savvy about how to get your idea/product out into the world. But with a click of a button, you’re offered the opportunity to instantly make a niche in the World Wide Web for your project.
And the truth is, for simple websites at least, this is a truly viable solution. If your website is to be little more than a virtual business card — a tear-off flyer on the galaxy’s largest bulletin board — or if your marketing budget has already been raided to support more R&D, then this could be the answer for you.
You won’t have to spend time preparing the layout of your site as the layout options are generally limited by design. You will, however, have to generate media assets such as logos, charts, images, etc., although for the most basic of these you can make use of royalty-free stock photo and video sites.
This is the best option for the simplest websites.
When selecting one of these services, make sure that they take care of all hosting and security aspects. Once you’ve created your website you want to make sure that it’s correctly published and that it’s safe against attacks.
Learn how to make one from scratch
Making your own website from scratch is for fans of do-it-yourself dentistry and the Flowbee. In fact, if you take a look at the Flowbee website you can see that they’ve applied their DIY philosophy to their internet presence as well!
This is a viable option as all the resources for learning how to put yourself out there on the ostensibly democratic WWW are available for free. But it’s not easy. To execute a website effectively you must be a truly self-motivated Renaissance man or woman, willing to seek out the right software solution for your particular needs and to immerse yourself in its manuals, while at the same time stirring up your creative juices to define your unique vision for your website: color palettes and balance, layout and flow. You must be able to generate your own style guide and audit your site’s UX (user experience—look + feel + usability). You must be someone who can drill down into the nitty gritty of nameservers and learn the ways of the world’s Domain Name System, fortify yourself against DDoS attacks and befriend Google’s mercurial algorithms. Make sure to select a hosting company with really good customer service.
If you have more time and self-discipline than money, if you have been hardened by a lifetime of trial and error, then this is the option for you.
Hire a web designer
This is the least cost-effective solution but, as is most often the case, it is also the fastest and most effective. Even so, Web design has a very low overhead, so you will more than likely be able to find a web designer within your budget.
A good web designer is half technical advisor and half design maven, making sure you’re aware of all of the technical possibilities and drawbacks of a given solution, while at the same time advising on the creative choices that arise.
Finding the right designer is key. Before committing, scour the designer’s portfolio and ask for references. Follow through and actually contact the references provided to ask them about their design experience. Do not fall blindly into an agreement with an unknown designer who happens to have a snazzy website. The process of confectioning a website is very dynamic. It is very important that you feel comfortable with the designer and that there is healthy feedback between the two of you.
Even if you feel that your vision is 100% precise, there will still be continual unforeseeable modifications to the site’s design at all steps of the process. For example:
- Is there an unresponsive element that looks good on the desktop but not so great on mobile?
- Do you all of a sudden want to add a new column to the features page in order to highlight a different aspect of your product?
- Has a competitor taken action on their website that you wish to counteract?
- Are there too few calls to action?
- Is the landing page’s scroll too long, obliging you to create a more complex site structure?
- Do you simply not like the focal point or the margins or the footer or the favicon?
Having a flexible, understanding web designer who is invested in your project and is willing to listen thoughtfully to your layman’s input is crucial in making this laborious process a success. They will guide you through the creative process as I detail in the second post in this miniseries which is about web design choices. Your designer should also help you to select keywords and to position your site, as I describe in my third post in the series, which I will dedicate to website positioning and performance.
I hope that this post has helped frame how important it is for start-ups to maintain a top-notch website and that it’s given you some notion of which is the right path to generating a quality website for your particular circumstances. Talk to you soon!