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Four frequent mistakes of start-up websites, and how to avoid them

Of the 500,000 small businesses that start trading this year, less than half will make their fifth birthday.

Some will fail because their potential customers simply can’t find them. Research suggests anywhere between 40% and 60% of small businesses have no online presence.

Today, a good website has also replaced the landline as a mark of business authenticity and credibility. It’s a vital requirement for the vast majority of start-ups.

But even those who understand the importance of a site and put one in place from the get-go make classic mistakes. As a result, their site fails to capture and convert interest. Here are the four traps into which they typically fall, and how you can dodge them.

1. Their website copy is obsessed with services or product features

People starting out in business have an expert skill or a product. They’ve spent the last few months agonising over every detail of their service or product, and now it’s ready for launch they want to tell everyone all about it.

Start-ups tend to spend too much of their website copy talking about themselves - the service they provide, the products they offer – and not enough about the customer problems they can (and have) solved.

  • Put yourself into your customers’ shoes when writing your website copy and think about how what you offer could make their life better.
  • For excellent videos on writing with influence see Amy Harrison’s light-hearted YouTube tutorials, or make use of the excellent free resources on Copyblogger.
2. They let warm leads go cold

Building website traffic from a standing start is tough. All that effort is in vain when start-ups leave hard-won visitors wandering around the site unchaperoned, eventually drifting off, perhaps never to return.

People rarely move from an initial browse directly to a sale. They need to time to get familiar with the sole trader or company. Very few sane people go directly from first date to marriage; similarly, prospects usually don’t go from prospect to customer in one fell swoop.

Sales people spend time building a relationship with a lead, until the prospect feels ready to commit. For many start-ups, the website can be a sales person.

  • Act like a dedicated sales person nurturing a lead. Consider ways that you can encourage website visitors to take steps towards a relationship with you.
  • At the very least, make it easy for them to link to connect to you on social media, then strike up a conversation with them there.
  • If possible, keep back some of your content to provide on sign-up, such as a short guide or a monthly newsletter. That way you can gather prospects’ email addresses, and prompt them to take the next step, perhaps with an offer of a free trial, consultation or discount.
3. They forget the value of social proof

Start-ups are, by definition, new. But, generally speaking, people don’t like taking risks on new things. Most prefer to wait until something has been tried, tested, reviewed and approved by others before buying it themselves.

That’s why word of mouth is so powerful in business. As people begin to use your service or buy your product, they’ll tell other people about it, and some of those other people will become your customers. The snowball begins to expand and accelerate.

But the businesses with the biggest need to prove they can be trusted are the very ones who are least able to use social proof to do so. Often start-up websites contain no testimonials, case studies or customer stories to reassure prospects.

  • Be creative about sources of social proof. Do you have recommendations on your Linkedin profile from people you have worked with prior to starting up that you could use?
  • Consider offering your service or product to several people for a discounted price or for free, in return for their comments. Don’t be afraid to ask your first customers for feedback, and if what comes back is glowingly positive, ask for permission to use it on your site.
  • If you have a significant following on social media, integrating your social feeds into your website may help to create an impression of authority and credibility.
4. They forget they won’t always be a start-up

Start-ups, understandably, think like start-ups. They must, to get off the ground. But there will come a time when they are established, thriving and growing.

Choices made at the very beginning are often driven by speed and the very real need to keep set up costs to a minimum, without reference to the future. As a result, start-up websites are often based on inflexible templates and clunky content management systems, or tie businesses into restrictive arrangements.

Start-ups need to strike a careful balance between specifying a site that is good enough to get going v over-investing in their website build – both in terms of time and money.

  • Keep one eye on the now and one on the future. Create a site that can grow as you do, but without the growing pains – one built to be flexible enough for you to add content and functionality simply, such as forms or online payments.
  • Look for a web designer or agency that will be happy to advise and support you as your needs change, without charging you every time you pick up the phone to them.