I have spent the last few weeks reviewing a number of startup websites and I can’t help but notice the same design flaws in most of the sites. Young companies, often started by technologists, are sure that their technology or product is absolutely unique. When they open their doors, they fear that competitors are combing their site to steal their secrets, so they post a generic "in stealth mode" home page while the product is in development. I have written about this before – I believe this is a big mistake. It is so hard to get people’s attention – don’t waste an opportunity to position yourselves as an interesting company to watch, early on. Put up a white paper describing the challenges of what you are trying to do. Leave your specific solution for later, but begin to position the company as an important player in the allotted space.
Next, as the company prepares for launch, they hire a web design firm to generate a slick-looking website (with the annoying Flash home page). Often, the design firm doesn’t really understand the business, so they come up with an amalgam of what they understood from the founders, and what they were able to cobble together from some competitor sites. What comes out is usually a website that does not do the company justice. Rather than highlight the company’s unique offering, the site typically ends up being completely generic.
The young managers are wary of underselling their value, so they often try to edit the site and end up overselling their proposition, with taglines like the following "XXX revolutionizes the way people do business." The result – most people’s reaction is, "what exactly do you do?"
Early on, it is not easy to boil down a company’s value to a simple tag line. Particularly, with innovative products and services, it is really hard to encapsulate the company’s unique offering, because the vocabulary for the new market often does not exist.
My advice is to try and describe your business as simply as possible. Rather than using the standard elevator pitch, which is way too long for a home page, try and highlight the greatest value of the product/service so people will know right away whether this site is for them. Over time, the message will likely change as you understand the value your customers see in your product/service. Wouldn’t it be refreshing to see something like the following?
"With XXX, business cell phone users securely purchase products and services, directly from their handset."
Leave the explanation about why this is difficult to do and why the approach is different from competitors. Add this in a paragraph below the highlighted text, filling in the missing details.
In the crowded market place full of ADD consumers, clarity is king.