This is article #45 out of 50 in The Startup Marketing Playbook.
If you are operating a B2B startup, your website still reigns supreme among the most important communication channels. It is the most visible public display of your messaging, story and products. The website is also the primary gateway to engaging with your inbound marketing content, typically through a linked blog. Not surprisingly, building a website is often at the top of the early stage marketing to-do list. It is also one of the more challenging, time-consuming and expensive endeavors.
There are many online resources outlining how to design and develop a website, from being mobile-first to creating content that is optimized for search engines. This post will instead focus on the general approach a marketer should take in launching a website, and some pitfalls to avoid:
1. Prepare the fundamentals
Prior to building a website, you need your messaging, positioning and story solidly outlined. The website will simply be repeating the same core story over and over again, in text and graphics. Once you have it defined, making the website is a lot easier.
It is also helpful, though not required, to have your marketing automation system and CRM selected so you can consider how they might integrate with the website. Hubspot has many components (e.g. landing pages, blog, call-to-action buttons) that tie closely to the website.
2. Select a domain and web hosting
If you are selling a SaaS product, you likely already have a web domain and server. The engineering team should be able to set up a directory on that server that will host the marketing website. If not, consider a service like HostGator for the ability to host the website online. You can purchase domain names through HostGator as well.
3. Focus on design, not functionality
In today’s market, you rely on your website to portray your business’ credibility. The design needs to be top-notch, easy to understand and visually appealing. If a designer is not already on the team, consider contracting one to spend time creating the look and feel, graphics and full page layouts. This is not an area to be frugal on… a quality looking website is critical to making the rest of your inbound strategy work well. I recommend budgeting $5-10K to contract an independent contractor designer/developer to help get it launched.
4. Research and find inspiration
The good news about making a website is that there are already thousands upon thousands of them, and many are very well designed. Spend time looking through other websites in the industry, both competitors and partners. Make a list of the best aspects of each one, and use that list to create a style unique to your business.
5. A/B test and re-test
Getting design and content right is tricky. Plan to make multiple versions of key pages (e.g. home page) and use an A/B testing tool to serve different pages randomly and test metrics. Look at click-throughs, time-spent, abandonment and the path the user takes from the home page to the rest of the site.
6. Save perfecting the content for last
If you try to write great content from the beginning, you’ll be stuck at the beginning forever. Instead, write a first draft and supplement it with placeholder text to help get the right look up as a draft. The design often serves as inspiration to help craft content, and then corresponding graphics to help tell that content’s story.
7. Avoid fancy content management systems
For the first marketing website, I recommend coding it in straight and simple HTML and CSS. No content management systems (CMS) or proprietary programming languages. As long as it is mobile responsive (i.e. resizes to fit on desktop and mobile screens), that’s all you need. Typically the Demand Generation or Product Marketing Manager (or in some cases team lead) is overseeing the website. All of those roles should have a basic understanding of HTML and CSS so they can modify the site. Initially, you’ll need to leverage either the company’s internal engineering team or a contract front-end developer to code the site. Note that the blog will be powered through a CMS, likely built into your marketing automation system.
8. Ensure it’s easy to modify
Expect that you’ll need to re-do the website several times, often even in the first few months. The more the site is built in a modular way (i.e. sections which are easy to swap in and out), the better you will be set up to scale as the business changes. Your messaging will evolve, you’ll want to highlight new products and retire ineffective ones, so the ability for the marketing team (not a contractor!) to edit the website is critical. While some might say this contradicts #7 above, the marketing team should have members that are HTML/CSS literate and not rely on a what-you-see-is-what-you-get (WYSIWYG) editor.
9. Don’t skip the details
Finally, pay close attention to the details. Check and re-check for typos. User-test the navigation. Check links and buttons to make sure everything leads to the right page. A startup can quickly lose credibility when a prospective customer clicks a link and ends up with a “Not Found” error on the site.
Ultimately, building a website is a great learning process for an early startup marketer. It needs to be treated as a constantly changing component of your online assets, just like your social media properties. With each update, it’ll be a bit easier for the marketing team to anticipate and execute on making the website match the brand’s growth.