Most common (startup) mistakes you can easily avoid when building a new website

Most common (startup) mistakes you can easily avoid when building a new website

While looking for my next big career challenge, I have been recenlty asked to review some “beta” websites, on their way to the official launch. It seems the Italian Online-sphere is picking up!

With a few years of experience in start-ups, and more in particular about the online world- with my very first experience being from 1998- and with a solid marketing background of more than 10 years, it often happens to have calls from friends and familiars asking me to “have a sight at their forthcoming online venture”.

So, it seems I am kind of getting specialized in start-ups within the online space.

Since I found there are common “mistakes” in all these beta-version websites, I thought it was good to share how to overcome initial common mistakes and stay focused on the actual business.

Choose the right name and secure your domain

In an era where fruit seems dominating the tech market (i.e. apple, blackberry), and where search engines names seem typos, choosing the right name for your business is still a big deal. If your new venture is similar to something already existing, the only thing you have to care about, is to avoid calling it in a way it may be confused with your competitor. Make sure your business name does not sound like a bad word in another language. A tip: have a kid saying your name. Think about yahoo and google.. that simple.

Once you have chosen the right name, make sure to secure the related web address and all its country-specific extensions. Calling your business Blue and having a domain called Purple, does not help.

Secure your twitter handle and if your business is a B2C, get 25 of your friends to like your page and secure your Facebook link too.

Avoid adding unnecessary complexity

I am sure you spent a few months shaping your idea in your mind, then putting it on paper and finally explaining it to your business partners with a metaphor. You get to the design of your website with all these months of experience and path in your head, and you struggle to reduce your copy for your company description. So you pick icons instead and add many functionalities to your original idea, which has become much more complex – and much more clever, you think- since that idea originated in your mind.

I remember when I was helping a friend of mine building a dating community, which had very complex algorithms and evaluations and with scores to be assigned to the best answer to a question, in addition to affinity and location, and any possible thing that can help people match. Results were actually pretty accurate, but you needed to spend about 40 minutes to complete your profile and about 1 hour a day to make sure you posted enough content to be ranked well among your competitors in this dating thing. No need to tell I predicted it was not going to work – too complex for the average user and the average free time, starting from the – sad yet true point- people mostly surf websites like this one while at work, and they don’t want to (risk being seen) spend too much time doing these things.

This is by far the most common mistake I see with start-ups: adding useless complexity to their original idea. Think about the two most used websites: Google (a blank page with a logo and a search box) and Facebook (share photos, videos, links and thoughts with people). Now think about Google+ and how many complex things you can do (hangouts, sparks, circles, etc).

You know what it is about, others don’t

Another common mistake is when a website does not have a page saying what it is about or who you are. You may think this is quite a basic concept, but out of all start-ups I have seen, with so many “experts” around, the most simple things were missing.

I recently “had a sight” at a friend’s beta version of a forthcoming website. They had a “how it works” page, but not a “what it is”. Also, in the “how it works” page, they mentioned (and bolded in the text) some key words, without explaining what they meant. So you knew these tools were important, but there was no explanation of why they were important and how you could actualy use them.

It’s been like watching the last Harry Potter movie without knowing anything about it.

But the reason is, after you spend 6 or more months telling every of your stakeholder what it is and how it works, you think it’s enough. Wrong. Didn’t you get one of those early emails about jokes on early computer usage? Like it or not, that’s the audience you have to think about when building a website, unless you want to miss a large portion of potential cllients. I’ve seen people using a calculator to sum numbers from an excel file. I could re-write the Blade Runner monologue with such examples.

I usually suggest picking random people (in your company, in your family) who don’t know about the project and ask them to tell you what is it about. If they don’t get it, your communication is not communicating what you do.

Check every single click and always provide a sitemap

If a hyperlink tells you’ll go to “page A” when clicking on it, you should never ever happen to be on “page B”. Make sure you click on every link and check it actually does what it says it would do.

And, also, you should have a chance to move to virtually every page from virtually every other page. Subject index, industry index, content index, etc, they should all be on every page. Think about the biggest newspapers sites.

Check every word on every page- read it loud

This is something I have learned at school, nothing new to social media and websites: when you write a text, read it loud, twice. Piece by piece first, and then all together. This will help you find inconsistencies and mistakes. Having another person doing the same it’s also warmly suggested.That person might get what your eyes don’t spot.

An example? When testing a beta version of a soon to be launched portal, I registered, and go to a welcome page. It said “welcome Cinzia” (title) and then second line “welcome to..”. Out of the first 3 words, 2 were the same. I am sure nobody read that page before pushing it live.

Avoid asking more information than that required to fill in your tax return

Not sure about you, but I really can’t stand those websites whose “complete your profile” section takes ages. Before asking me all that information – which is clearly a way to sell me something or flood me with emails and text messages- tell me something that I want to hear. And tell me why you need that information from me and how I can benefit from it.

If you cannot give something in return, don’t ask. Users get online to find something, to earn something or to get something. They don’t get online to help you meet your budget target.

I recently got an email after registering to a portal whose beta version has just been pushed live. It stated “we just got a new profiling form, come add information to your profile”. Yeah right. You haven’t started yet, you haven’t sent me any welcome email yet, and you are already asking for more? Unsubscribe. How many emails do you get everyday? Aren’t them enough?

There are a million small details that may slow down your journey to go live. Avoiding being superficial and getting things done right – as much as you can- the first time, will help you save time, and money.

For all those who are embracing such new venture or for all those who happen to be in a fast growing company (which faces the same issue as a start-up, I would suggest reading this blog about how to handle conflicts)


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