Everything You Need to Include on Your Startup’s First Website
A startup’s first website should come long before you’re ready to enter the market. Setting up a website is relatively low-cost, easy to do, and it speaks volumes to your credibility. Even before you have a solid business model or working product/service, your site can set the tone for what’s to come and help people understand your vision.
Your first website is there to serve as a simple reference — a digital flyer to send out to people you connect with early on in your startup journey, include in pitch competition applications, and share with future investors. At this phase, you don’t have to worry about developing a robust SEO strategy or building an online shop. You simply need to show:
- What you do
- What problem you’re solving
- What value you bring
- Who you serve
- Who you are, both as a company and as founders
- What credibility you have in your industry
- Any traction you’ve gained so far
- How someone can contact you
If you want to keep it really simple, you can do this with a single page. But if you prefer to break it up, you can start with four or fewer key pages:
However you decide to set up your startup’s first website, the goal is to make what you do (or plan to do) very clear. Put the most important information first and save the technical jargon and in-depth research for support pages that will come later.
To make things easy, I’ve broken down sections of each key page listed above, so that you know exactly what to include and where to place important information about your startup. Even if you prefer a single-page format, the following will still apply — just stack each section in the order listed in this post.
In most cases, your homepage is going to be the most frequently visited page on your website, especially at the beginning. Anything “above the fold” — what’s visible on a browser before a visitor needs to scroll down — is especially crucial real estate.
So how do you make the most out of this valuable section of your website?
I recommend including your business name or logo, a memorable headline followed by a strong value proposition. Pair this with an appealing high-quality image and/or video about your business, followed by a clear call to action and you have a great start. Now, let’s break that all down!
Business Name or Logo
Typically, you’ll see a company’s name or logo in the upper left corner or top center of every page on a website. Even if you don’t have a logo yet, you’ll want to include your business name.
Think of your headline as your website’s first impression. You want it to stand out in your visitors’ memories and help them recall the real value your business delivers.
That means staying away from a dry description of your product or service.
That means avoiding industry jargon that will turn into white noise whether or not your visitor is familiar with those terms.
That means keeping the language short, sweet, and specific. I’m talking six words or less, and staying away from abstract buzzwords like: innovative, disruptive, bespoke, synergistic, etc.
You’ll have plenty of room to elaborate later, but the headline of your startup’s first website needs to stand out!
Need an example? Even though Exact Sciences has a massive portfolio of products and services under their belt, their headline is clear and bold.
Immediately follow your powerful headline with your full value proposition. Explain the value you bring and how your product or service accomplished that. Make sure it relates to your headline, is easy to understand, and is no more than three sentences.
Use an active voice and speak directly to your audience whenever possible. This is especially true with the sub-header of your website and applies to the value proposition you use in other business cases as well.
The Call to Action
For many early-stage startups, your Call to Action (CTA) can simply be to contact you. Whatever you decide your CTA should be, it should be in alignment with the next step you want your visitors to take. Are you looking for collaborators or partnerships? Do you want people to sign up for updates about future product offerings? Are you ready to start pre-selling and can offer quotes to interested customers? Make sure your visitors know why they should get in touch, and use a CTA button to make it easy for them to take that action.
Having a high-quality image or graphic behind the text above the fold looks great, but make sure it relates to your business doesn't overpower the text. Many website builders allow you to add an overlay to help reduce the contrast and brightness of your chosen image. Even if you’re not a Photoshop expert, you can add a blur using something like Microsoft PowerPoint and exporting the slide as a JPG.
If you don’t have anything on-hand, you can find lots of royalty free images on websites like Unsplash, Pexels, or Pixabay. But if you can’t find an image that works with both the text and logo, a plain color block will work better than something that appears too busy.
If you have a short video already made for your business, embedding it “above the fold” is a great way to increase viewing time on your website and can help your visitors easily understand your business. You’ll often see this video embedded to the right of the text, as shown in the example below.
What goes beneath “the fold”?
Now that you’ve top-loaded your homepage with the most impactful messages, you have room to go a little deeper and have some more flexibility. If you decide to go with a single page layout, then the rest of the content described below will fall below the fold. But if you prefer to break it up into shorter pages, here are some optional sections for the homepage:
Why is your product or service needed? What is the glaring problem that your customer faces, and how are you solving it with a solution that’s better than all of your competitors?
This next section needs to relate to your customer’s pain-point and explain how you can give them the advantage to overcome an obstacle, save them time or money, or somehow make their lives easier.
And if you’re going after investment, this is a good spot to explain the financial cost of the problem, the market size, and your potential market share.
2 - 4 Benefits or Advantages
You’ve captured your website visitor’s attention, explained what you do, and demonstrated the value you bring. Now you need to support those initial statements.
What makes your startup stand out from your competitors? What are the key benefits of working with you or buying your product? This is where you can elaborate. Even if this section mentions certain features, you still need to be customer-centric and put value first.
Slack’s homepage is a great example of how their platform provides unique advantages and connects how their features benefit the customer.
Description of Products or Services
The header and sub-header act as a hook, but now it’s time to go a little deeper on what you offer. This is especially helpful if you have (or plan to have) multiple offerings.
No matter how complicated your technology is, do your very best to keep it simple and brief. If possible, keep it to one short paragraph and test your product/service descriptions with people outside of your industry. Does it make sense to your friends and family as well as your technical peers? I know this won’t always be possible, but keep in mind that the advisors or investors won’t always have the same background as you!
A Customer/Partner List
If you have existing customers or partners and are able to publicize this information, you won’t want to miss out on this opportunity to show some credibility. Whether it’s simply displaying their logos or featuring customer quotes, this section can act as social proof and help build trust with website visitors and future customers. If you don’t have customers yet, you can also include statements from people who have successfully trialled your prototypes.
Moz's homepage shows a simple way to incorporate your client list without detracting from your brand and website layout.
If you have a blog or newsfeed, you can include a Featured Post section with 3 - 6 visible posts towards the bottom of this page. If you don’t expect to have regular updates or announcements in the near future, this section can wait.
Blog or News Feed
Like I just mentioned, a blog or news feed will only make sense if you’ll actually use it. While I would recommend that you have one, you should only take on what you have capacity to maintain.
If you think it’s something you can make time for, a blog or news feed is a great way to organize and present updates. When you have posts regularly going up, website visitors will know that you’re actively working on your product/service, hitting milestones, and (hopefully) gaining some recognition for your startup.
In the beginning, your posts can be super simple. Make sure the headline is straightforward and keep the announcement to a couple paragraphs. It helps if you have a graphic to go with the piece, but don’t worry if you don’t! What matters here is that you’re keeping track of your early-stage success.
As your business grows, you can start to put more thought into the blog and even build an SEO strategy around it. But for now, share what you can!
About Us/Company Profile
Your company “About Us” section is an essential message that is brief, but never easy to write. Although you’ll often see a boilerplate company profile on other startup websites — the same short summary they copy and paste at the end of a press release or in a business directory — I challenge you to dive deeper!
More important than the “who” and “what” of a business, a good company profile addresses the “why” and “for who”. Like everything else you do in your startup, this should also be customer oriented. To craft a good story for your about page, try asking yourself the following questions:
- What do you do? Explain this in a way that a 10-year old can understand.
- What inspired you to start your business?
- What motivates you and your team to come to work everyday?
- Who are you helping and how?
- What makes your startup special (whether that’s a competitive advantage or a unique point of interest)?
- What are your values and how do they show up in your business?
Make it easy to read, relatable, and interesting. This is your chance to tell your startup’s unique story and explain the driving force behind the business.
Need some examples? Take a look at this helpful blog post by HubSpot for some great ideas!
In addition to explaining more about your company, you need to show who you and your co-founders are. You also need to demonstrate why you’re the right people to solve this particular problem.
Including this information is important because it gives your startup more credibility and puts a face (or faces) to the business. To set up the team section of your page, I recommend including the following for each team member:
- Headshot. Make sure it’s clear, high-quality, and that your face is centered in the frame. Don’t have money or access to a professional photographer? With some nice even lighting (i.e. window lighting or bright shade), an iPhone in portrait mode can do wonders!
- First and Last Name. Don’t forget any academic credentials if you have them.
- Job Title. Wear too many hats? “Founder” or “Co-Founder” is usually a good start.
- Short Personal Bio. Keep it brief and highlight your best skills and biggest accomplishments.
- Social Media Links (optional). Including a link to your LinkedIn profile is a great start, but any social media accounts that are appropriate to associate with your business works too. However, avoid linking any accounts that are used to share personal updates with friends and family. In fact, you should make those private if you haven’t already!
To beef up your team section even more, you can add key advisors to show that you're getting guidance and support from industry experts.
This is the most straightforward part of your website, but people still make lots of mistakes here! When you create a contact page or section, make sure you include these critical parts.
Brief Contact Copy
Give examples of WHY someone might want to contact you. Do you need partners? Are you looking for more team members? What about future customers for market validation? Encourage people to take action and reach out.
All too often, people only include a form for visitors to fill out. Although this simplifies inquiries, not everyone feels comfortable submitting their questions through a faceless form. And unless you have an automated email response set up, they might feel like they’ll never hear from you again.
Make sure to give people an email address, phone number, and physical address (whenever possible), so that they can reach you on their terms.
Ideally, your email address will be set up with your website domain (e.g. email@example.com), but creating a Gmail account with your business as the username is common practice for early-stage startups (e.g. firstname.lastname@example.org).
Although I would never recommend only using this, some visitors may prefer the simplicity of the contact form. Just make sure it’s connected to an inbox you regularly check, and either has an automated thank you email that triggers when they hit the “submit” button or a similar thank you message appears on-screen. This will confirm that their inquiry was sent so they don’t feel left hanging.
Do you have social media profiles set up for your business yet?
Yes? Good! Add social media icons to your website and link to them!
No? Go set them up ASAP, and then link to them on your website!
Once you've added all this information, you have a well-optimized contact page where people can find all the ways they can get in touch.
Last but definitely not least is your website footer. Your footer is a valuable part of your website, especially if you have multiple pages.
I like to add essential contact information to this space, that way your visitors know how to contact you no matter what page they’re on. Some other ideas for footer content include:
- Site navigation links
- Social icons
- A subscription button (if you have a newsletter)
Don’t clutter this space, but don’t leave it empty either!
Do you feel prepared to launch your startup’s first website?
Setting up your first website is a big milestone for many startups, and I hope this gives you lots to think about! If you take anything away from this, don't forget the following:
- Make sure your content is clear and easy to understand by people both in and outside of your industry. When possible, write like you're explaining your business to a young person who knows nothing about your industry!
- Keep sentences and paragraphs short
- Prioritize value and benefit over product/service features
- Write like you're speak directly to your ideal customer
- Get as much feedback as you can and iterate content as your business grows
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