A friend of mine has been asking me for quite a while to write a small post on best practices for building a website for a pre-revenue pre-seed/ seed stage start-up. This is by no means exhaustive but will help CEOs point their marketing team (which likely has frugal resources) in the right direction. Start-ups in this stage usually don’t have a ton of cash to burn but need to have a spiffy looking website that will appeal to prospects and can be used as a vehicle for overall marketing and lead gen.

Here are a few things that come to mind on how to get an easy peasy website going but one that still looks very professional.

First job is to choose the domain name. I will not cover this in detail because I believe this topic well covered and understood. Simply put, your domain name should be catchy and the domain name extension should be something that your target audience is familiar with, based on where they are in the adoption curve. For example, if your target audience is traditional companies in the mid-west, your choices will be very different compared to if the audience is start-ups in Silicon Valley. But this is a moving target and users become familiar with domain extensions at a fast pace. For example, .ai extension was somewhat obscure 18 months ago but now is likely well recognized by a broad audience.

Next is the Content management System (CMS). Couple of good options would be WordPress or Hubspot. I’m going to steer the conversation towards WordPress because I’m specifically talking about websites. Hubspot takes us into the territory of having an integrated platform with CRM, social, blogging etc. which ought to be a topic for another post.

For WordPress, you have two options – WordPress.com and WordPress.org. I would lean towards wordpress.org since it can be hosted on your own servers and offers greater flexibility in terms of modifying website templates etc.

Next would be to consider where you will be hosting the site. Choose a reliable provider that will offer consistent uptime.

With WordPress, the beauty is that you can run apps that will address different issues:

  • increasing page access speeds by serving/caching your content on the edge. Cloudflare is a good option
  • Your will want to be SEO compliant at all times. Yoast is a great plugin for this and allows you to build a XML file that google can read. In addition, you can input meta tags for content as well as images. Overall, will help you build reputation in the eyes of Google and help you rank for relevant keywords.
  • I’ve discovered that Sucuri might be a good plugin to have to track and prevent attacks on the website.

So those are a few things on the backend. From my front end perspective, you should be thinking about messaging and product positioning.

  • What sort of homepage banner do I need? Image + tagline should communicate as much as possible of why the start-up exists in the first place.
  • What are my main pillars from a messaging standpoint? Which goes into product positioning and from there flows down into the content strategy. This need not be an elaborate exercise. We’re talking only a few pages to begin with.
  • An “About Us” page that talks about the founder/s and the management team. You should use this page to build credibility and speak to why you are the best team to take on the problem you are addressing. In other words, why are we doing this and why should a prospect be on the site and potentially take a meeting with you.

So that’s that’s the messaging and product positioning on the website.

The other important aspect is to engage with prospects enough so that they move through your sales funnel. There will be various touchpoints in the funnel that will help you push them deeper in the funnel. I’m going to address two specific things on the website:

  • Forms help you learn about the prospects visiting the site and give you the information needed to reach back out to them. Users can be persuaded to give their contact info in exchange for something they consider valuable. May be a Whitepaper giving your POV on the problem you are tackling. Or a free trial etc. Hook the forms to an automated calendaring app such as chili piper. Will eliminate the cycles needed to find time on the prospect’s calendar.
  • Have chatbot functionality that will allow the users to directly chat with a sales rep. At early stage start-ups, that sales rep might be you – the founder! Build the chatbot playbooks such that folks who are in chat but are not necessarily interested in talking live to a rep are routed to content that is relevant and interesting (i.e. you are taking them down an education track). Chatbot tools are super easy to deploy and you could be up and running with only a couple of lines of Javascript code on the website.

To engage users, you got to have engaging content, both gated and un-gated which act as hooks for prospects. Blogging is a necessary staple for ungated content and you should have an editorial calendar for publishing at least 4 times a month. This shouldn’t be very difficult once you come up with a calendar and decide on the broad themes for each post.

Content can be used on the education tracks in the chatbot playbooks. Ideally, you want fairly sophisticated pieces of content that can draw prospects. But you do the best with what you have. Most likely your content quality will improve as you move to the next stage in your startup journey and can invest more in content.

That’s what I’m able to cover for now. Again, this is not comprehensive by any means and am aware that it has plenty of holes. But at least should provide a good starting point for founders in early stages of their start-up journey.