10 Best Practices for Designing Your Startup Website

Startups—those entrepreneurial new businesses from tech to healthcare we’ve all come to know—have been the driving, innovative force behind the U.S. economy for two decades. Startups comprise half of all U.S. businesses, and the startup economy contributes over $3 trillion to the global GDP.

Designed around addressing consumer problems with innovative, usually tech-driven solutions, startups are almost always digitally native businesses, reliant on good web design and digital branding to launch their companies. How a startup chooses to launch its business—and how it designs its website—can therefore have a profound impact on its success and brand development, affecting its ability to continually seek investors, sell its product and establish a clear brand identity.

Beyond Silicon Valley and venture capital-fueled businesses, many smaller startups around the country pursuing innovative business models and creative tech solutions are equally in need of a startup website to launch their business.

So, what are the basic tenets of building a website for these types of companies? As we see it, a startup website should:

  • Feature the company’s product
  • Engender a clear visual and written style
  • Match and exceed the high digital literacy of its audience
  • Drive conversion and lead generation

If you’re a startup beginning web development for your business—or an existing venture curious if your site meets the expectations for your industry—here are the ten best practices for designing a startup website:

Tip#1: Use restraint. Pursue a clean-cut design and a minimal site structure.

Startups are known for their big ideas and well-conceived tech to solve complex problems.

It’d be easy for a startup’s website to run away with these ideas and congest its site with boundless pages and explosive design. But startups and their technology almost always prize ease for the consumer, too, and a startup’s website should reflect this.

When designing a startup website, keep it simple. Have restraint, and pare down your design.

The bigger your company’s idea, the more important clear, concise, and intelligent minimalism will be to showcasing your product and establishing an uncluttered identity for your brand.

Your website’s design should be clean and unburdened, and your site structure—the organization, number and type of your website’s pages—should be as navigable as possible.

In general, good web design should strive for a flat hierarchy, meaning that users can access all the information on your website in 2-3 clicks. Regardless of your website’s needs, content is always more discoverable when it’s not buried under multiple pages, and finding a balanced way to structure your site’s content without overwhelming your user is essential.

This is particularly true for startups, who may have to dedicate more space to describing their product and its uses than other companies. Just because your startup’s product is complex, however, doesn’t mean your website should be.

Take the website for Donut, a fintech startup using blockchain technology for passive investing.

Donut pursues a visually simple, stylish and impactful homepage design.

Fintech—as well as fixed investing in the digital currency space—is a crowded market, and it would probably be a waste of time for Donut to drone on about the merits of blockchain investing on their website. Instead, Donut’s website gets to the point, showcases their app, and shows clear results in a well-designed, cleancut and simple homepage.

Beyond the homepage, the site features just four more pages, achieving a flat hierarchy and uncluttered web structure. Overall, the result is a clean, stylish and easily understood picture of Donut’s business and technology.

That said, startups often want to use their website to showcase their capital and impressive fundraising, designing complicated animations and immersive websites that immediately strike their audience.

But doing so doesn’t have to be at odds with minimal web design.

If you want to pursue a more complicated design experience for your startup’s website, use the homepage to showcase your design capabilities, but keep the rest of your website relatively pared back.

Take, for example, Utrust’s website. An app allowing e-commerce companies to receive payment in digital currencies, Utrust uses complicated and striking animation on their homepage that guides their user through the design and effectiveness of their product. Multimedia, live graphics, scroll-activated animations and dynamic data visualizations are all used.

Utrust uses complex animations to showcase its product's capabilities.

Utrust’s striking homepage would be overwhelming if replicated across the site. But Utrust keeps the rest of their site structure fairly simple, putting the heavyweight design on the homepage and flattening the rest of their site navigation for ease of use.

Tip #2: Use colors that highlight your brand and are intuitive for your industry

Color is an essential element of web design—as we’ve written about on our blog—and a necessary component of establishing brand identity.

A lot can be achieved with color to immediately orient your audience and communicate your company—from choosing a color native to your industry to the more complicated psychology of communicating the nuances of your brand through the relationship between shades and tones on your site.

Color choice can account for up to 85% of a user’s decision to use your product and can establish 90% of a customer’s opinion of your brand. Certain colors are often associated with certain industries—like blue for healthcare and technology or green for science and finance—and some colors are better targeted toward certain demographics and consumer segments.

Your startup website should use color strategically to introduce your brand, your product, and your company’s positioning in your industry and marketplace.

Take, for example, the website for Betterment, another investing app.

Betterment chooses an energized blue for their branding.

Websites and products in the financial sector traditionally use shades of green and blue. But which green or blue to use—and whether a company should choose one over the other—can say a lot about a brand’s positioning in a marketplace like fintech.

Betterment chooses a bold, authoritative, and invigorating shade of blue. The color reads as innovative and energized, yet cool and grounded.

The website uses a pale green and mellow yellow tangentially, but the dominant blue suggests that Betterment is an energized brand and a change-making agent in its marketplace.

RO, a digital medical services platform, is another great example of intelligent color design.

RO chooses a minty green that evokes calm and intelligence.

Blues, whites and greens are often used in the medical field, invoking calm, safety, and cleanliness. RO chooses a minty green on a white background, paired with black accents.

RO’s use of green is soothing, palette-cleansing and safe—arguably needed for a company innovating access to pharmaceuticals. RO’s color choices put their customer at ease, while the incorporation of black evokes authority, security, and the visual aesthetics of a medical prescription.

Usually design-oriented, a startup website can also employ color in more dynamic ways, using custom illustrations and visual design to add striking features to its website and brand.

Illustrations incorporated into your startup website aren’t just visually appealing: They key into popular trends in graphic art and vibrant brand presentations.

Capacity, for example, is an AI-automated platform synthesizing a business’ tech stack for easy use and organization. Capacity’s platform organizes tons of complex information, and its website uses color in dynamic illustrations to reflect this characteristic in a trendy, modern visual language.

Capacity's use of illustration mimics the complexity of its software.

Tip #3: Write an authoritative, clear hero message

In web design, the hero message is the text, information and graphics you see when you first open a website’s homepage.

Hero messages need to be eye-catching, visually appealing, and laser-focused to deliver your company’s core messaging and branding. Usually, they feature a headline with subtext, a button that calls the visitor to action, and appealing photography or design that adds visual interest but doesn’t overwhelm.

It takes less than 50 milliseconds for a user to form an opinion about a site, and more than 75% of users admit to judging a company’s credibility solely on their site design. Hero messages are responsible for getting all of this done in a split second.

For startups, the hero message should simply, quickly and concisely differentiate your brand and easily describe your technology’s value.

Most startups are joining a crowded market. By now, users have a working ability to digest and understand how tech businesses enter and innovate in their industry. When communicating your business in the hero, it’s no use exposing all the ways your company will disrupt and innovate. Your user probably assumes you already do that. Use the space, instead, to differentiate your brand and showcase your product.

Capsule, a digital pharmacy and technology that helps users organize prescriptions, is a great example of an effective hero message for a startup website.

Capsule uses stylish copy that directly communicates their brand and service.

Capsule’s hero concisely describes what their company and technology does. “Meds made easy” and “Capsule is the pharmacy that hand-delivers your prescription, the same day, for free—all from your phone” entirely describes their company’s service, and paired with an appealing color design, lays out a firm foundation for their branding.

Truthfully, Capsule’s user doesn’t need to consume much more information than what’s offered in the hero to comprehend the company’s basic branding and services—and that’s the hallmark of an effective hero message.

Donut is also a great example of startup hero message design.

Donut's hero message efficiently communicates the value of the company's technology.

In two phrases, Donut’s hero message tells the user exactly what their fintech app promises: 4% fixed gains in blockchain investing.

Donut’s hero message includes information that their app is compatible with Apple technology, provides enticing information and offers a clear call to action. Alongside the text, Donut’s included graphic depicts a pleasing app interface and the basic suggestion of positive earnings.

Startup Website Tip #4: Showcase your product

Most startups are product-driven, whether they’re introducing a new application, technology, software or digitally-native service. As such, use your startup website to put your product front and center.

Across the board, site visitors want to find targeted information that solve their problems efficiently, and providing consumers with a means to learn about and discover your company’s product is an important convention of homepage design. Moreover, studies have shown that 86% of users want to learn about your company’s products and services after visiting your homepage.

For startups, leading your homepage with product-specific features is an integral factor in driving lead conversion and generation.

If your startup is introducing a new application, include a mockup, illustration or graphic of your product above the fold—or at the top of your page before a user scrolls.

Users want to know that your app is useful to them, that it’s well designed and easy to use. Presenting the visuals of your product immediately gives credence to your UX abilities and, most likely, helps to better communicate what your app does.

Limepay, for example, is a payment platform that allows companies to manage transactions without a third party.

Limepay's visuals help to communicate their app technology.

Including a mockup of their app in the hero message serves as an interesting visual feature for Limepay’s audience. But doing so also materializes and describes the app’s basic function, helping to better differentiate what Limepay’s technology does.

You can also use your homepage to go deeper into your product’s performance.

Because users will peruse your homepage most thoroughly—spending 10 to 20 seconds on your homepage, a significant statistic when most users spend an average of 15 seconds on any website—use the playing field of your homepage to dig a little deeper into your product’s design, performance and effectiveness. Doing so will also help to flatten your overall site structure.

Utrust, as described earlier, employs a complicated homepage design to detail their product and services.

Utrust uses its homepage to describe its technology in detail.

Their homepage features images and animations of their product’s dashboard on desktop and mobile, taking their user through the software’s application for personal and business use. Altogether, Utrust’s homepage gives an all-encompassing description of their product, showcasing statistics, use-cases and user testimonials.

If needed, use additional pages on your website—like a “Product” or “How it Works” page—to flesh out the complexities of your product or software.

While being careful to not overburden your user with too much information, it’s okay to use secondary or hierarchical pages to provide more information about your product.

Airtable, for example, is an expansive task management and team building tool used by large organizations to keep track of their staff and projects. Ordinarily, burdening a startup website with layers of pages would be unwise, but it makes sense for Airtable to go into detail about all of the capabilities and services their software offers.

Airtable features a comprehensive page structure for their product.

Their website features a comprehensive “Product” page, complete with “Overview,” “Marketplace,” “Integrations,” and “What’s New” subpages, as well as additional pages exploring “Views,” “Automations,” “Sync,” and “Reporting.” That’s a lot of information, but a ​​well-thought out site structure and navigation design aids in helping Airtable’s users find and understand a significant amount of content.

Startup Website Tip #5: Answer your customer’s questions before they ask them

There’s a good chance that your startup offers a new product or service in an established industry—or has created a product or technology that innovates a customer experience or company’s workflow.

If so, that means your customer is likely to have many questions about using and adopting your product. It’s integral, therefore, that your startup website provides enough exposition, content and information about your company to adequately address your customers' questions.

It’s not a bad idea to consider providing additional information about your company and product in the form of a frequently asked questions—FAQs—page on your startup website. In fact, 60% of consumers say that their go-to channel for simple inquiries is a digital self-service tool, like a FAQ page.

A FAQ page can take many forms, from a traditional questions page, to homepage features, support guides, how-to articles and chatbots. What’s important is that your FAQs page:

  • Provides helpful content for users and addresses their hesitations
  • Answers the right questions for your target audience and lead generation goals
  • Improves the user experience (UX) for your customer with appealing design and layout

Capsule, for example, includes an extensive FAQs feature on its website and builds an abbreviated FAQs feature into the bottom of its homepage.

Capsule includes an abbreviated FAQ feature on its homepage.

Doing so means that users can access answers to their common questions on several pages of Capsule’s website, a significant feature for a technology that’s innovating a service as sensitive as medical care. Capsule’s FAQs address important consumer questions—like cost, insurance, and accessibility to doctors—and features minimal design to provide a seamless user experience.

Startup Website Tip #6: Provide testimonials and social proof

Assuring your audience that your product, service and company is trusted and reliable is essential—particularly for new and trailblazing startups.

In web design, trust building content refers to a wide umbrella of social proof, like client testimonials, product reviews, partner logos, professional associations and awards. Including these features in your startup website should be a central consideration.

​​92% of consumers read online reviews and testimonials when considering a purchase. 88% trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations, and 72% say positive reviews and testimonials make them trust a business more.

Including social proof or trust building content on your startup’s website can make or break whether you’re able to convert site visitors into customers.

Testimonials and social proof can take many different forms.

Most new entrepreneurial ventures and innovative consumer technologies receive a lot of press attention. Including logos of the publications that have featured your company and, if effective, a pull quote from an article shows notoriety and relevance.

Capsule, the digital pharmaceutical technology, prominently features press coverage on their homepage, for example:

Capsule features positive press on their website, adding notoriety and relevance to its brand.

If your startup provides trailblazing technology for an established industry, it may also be pertinent to include the logos of clients and customers who’ve used your product, an essential technique to build trust.

Spacemaker is an AI software empowering architectural teams who design real estate sites. Their technology could entirely change the way some companies approach real estate design, so addressing the credibility and effectiveness of their product is key.

Spacemaker includes logos of leading architectural and real estate companies directly in their hero message, providing subtle, though authoritative validation for their product.

Spacemaker lends authority to its product by including important partner logos in the hero.

Further, if your startup website features a consumer product, use your customer’s testimonials to provide trust building content and social proof. When a consumer reads a review on your website, your company generates 62% more revenue from that user, a significant statistic for startups innovating consumer technologies and services.

Curology is a startup that provides custom formulas for acne and skin treatment. For many customers, skincare and medical treatment for acne is a sensitive, personal issue, often tied to trials and failures of different products. It’s essential, this way, that Curology’s product value is driven by results.

Curology highlights its community on the homepage.

Curology features a community section on their homepage—called “Real people, real stories”—which showcases photography and testimonials from the social media accounts of satisfied customers. The feature provides real and honest imagery of proven results, and the use of customers’ social media posts proves engagement and enthusiasm for Curology’s product.

Startup Website Tip #7: Engage your user with an attractive call to action

In web design, calls to action are often featured at the bottom of a page—compelling a user to perform a desired action—or in the hero message, usually in the form of a button that moves a user through a desired conversion pathway.

Most of your website visitors won’t take action unless you ask them to, and calls to action play an integral role in your sales pipeline, helping your visitors become leads, leads become customers, and customers become loyal patrons. When done right, calls to action on a landing page can increase conversion rates—or the percentage of users who perform a desired action, like filling out a form, buying a product, or contacting your company—by 80%.

Overall, calls to action should:

  • Be clear and relevant for your product and service
  • Capture a user’s attention through compelling design, and
  • Entice your user to perform a desired action

For a startup website, it’s essential that you engage your user quickly with an attractive CTA so you can swiftly move them through your buyer’s cycle.

At the bottom of the page, a call to action should be a simple rephrasing of the arguments laid out in the content that came before. Betterment, the investment app, nails an appealing call to action with a pop of color, contrasting button, and interesting visual.

Betterment's call to action summarizes its product highlights.

Accompanied by stylish copywriting, Betterment’s graphic communicates that the app is top-rated, with an expansive customer base and the responsibility of an enormous asset portfolio. The call to action is simple, effective, and engaging, imploring users to “Get Started”—a common, but effective phrase if paired with useful design.

In the header, what phrase you place inside your CTA button can also have an enormous impact, and startup websites should use this component of the hero message to begin user conversion immediately.

Roman, a subsidiary of RO focusing on men’s sexual health, uses the phrase “Start free online visit” in their CTA button, for example.

Roman's CTA button suggests value and ease.

Together with descriptions of varied products, ‘start you free online visit’ communicates that consultation for medical services is complementary—quickly and easily moving the user toward a solution for a likely sensitive medical issue.

Startup Website Tip #8: Use content marketing to grow your brand

Content marketing is now an essential part of most companies’ websites.

Including some variety of brand content on your startup website is a good idea to help grow your brand awareness, demonstrate your startup’s expertise in your field, highlight innovation, and talk more about how your product addresses your consumers’ needs.

Today, 70% of marketers actively invest in content marketing, and 40% of marketers say content is essential to their overall marketing strategy. 77% of companies say they employ content marketing, and 94% say they use social media for content distribution.

In the startup space—defined often by innovative design and transparent customer relationships—a company blog can take many forms.

Use your company blog, for example, to highlight the personas or expertise of your team: If your startup is guided by a founder or small leadership suite, using your company’s blog to highlight your staff’s expertise is a great way to engender a sense of trust and authority between your company and its community.

Blue Receipt, a text marketing startup, uses their blog in this way, publishing expertise and advice on marketing and design written by members of their team.

Blue Receipt features both relevant content and staff expertise on its blog.

Broadly, content on the internet—marketing, journalism, or multimedia branding—has blurred significantly in recent years, and the creative space inhabited by many startups can also allow a company to synthesize its marketing, creative direction, and branded content into a compelling feature of its website.

Take, for example, the content featured by Great Jones, a startup cookware company for engaged home cooks.

Great Jones' uses content marketing to build a stylish digital food magazine.

Rather than include a traditional blog with basic text and written-through articles, Great Jones publishes a “Digest” section of their website that reads, looks and feels like the digital platform of a high-quality food magazine. Operating like a full-service editorial branch of Great Jones, Digest includes well-curated creative direction, recipes, guest articles by celebrity chefs, and culture-driven features.

For a consumer, Great Jones’ content strategy blurs food journalism, magazine writing and content marketing, creating a compelling, impressive and chic picture of the company’s branding and expertise.

Startup Website Tip #9: Lead with an offer

Attributing value to your company’s website through an offer or discount is always a good idea.

While your startup’s website may be well-designed and optimized for conversion, ascribing value to your site through product deals is still the best way to generate new customers.

Particularly if your startup is offering an innovative new product or service—or a technology that an average user may be somewhat hesitant to immediately embrace—using this technique to draw users in and convert them to customers is a winning strategy.

Among the most effective places to lead with an offer is your homepage’s header, presenting your customers with an immediate deal if they follow your conversion funnel. For example, Curology, the startup offering custom skin treatments, uses the call to action in their header to tease a free product offer.

Curology uses its CTA button to tease a product offer.

Particularly when a user is being persuaded to try a new service that disrupts an existing customer experience—like a new technology to access therapeutic treatment—an immediate offer when accessing your website is an enticing benefit to try something new.

Many startups also present SaaS and subscription-oriented software to their customers. In this context, the easiest offer to bake into your startup website’s conversion strategy is a free trial offer.

Free trial offers are a great conversion tool for software and marketing companies, like Blue Receipt.

Blue Receipt, for example, includes an immediate offer of a 14-day free trial in their website’s header and CTA button.

Startup Website Tip #10: Design for conversion and capture marketing leads

Lastly, use the creative space of your startup’s website to stay laser-focused on user conversion and innovate new ways to draw users toward your product or service.

In web design, user conversion can take many forms—from buying a product to successfully contacting your company for a consultation. When building a website, web designers imbue tested methods and design elements into your site to encourage these goals.

Your startup may approach web design with a number of desired conversion outcomes, like app downloads or purchases. But if your startup is a new company, optimizing your website to capture marketing leads like email addresses can be particularly important.

There are tons of traditional and innovative lead generation methods your startup website can employ to achieve these goals, like a pop-up offer window. While pop-ups have garnered the reputation of being a dated and ineffective method for marketing, a well-designed and optimized pop-up window—made with UX in mind, not consumer trickery—can increase conversion rates by 10%.

After visiting the homepage for Great Jones, for example, users are offered the chance to access $80 off a set of products if they enter their email. The window, well-designed to match Great Jones’ branding, pops up after users scroll past the hero message.

Great Jones employs a pop-up window after users scroll on their homepage.

Collecting an email address in exchange for an offer allows Great Jones to further contact and communicate with that user and potential customer.

The creative space of a startup website can also allow you to break the mold for web design conventions, innovating how you bring customers through your buyers' cycle.

Noom uses its homepage to immediately bring users through their conversion funnel.

Noom, a startup focusing on nutrition and diet planning, meets their user on the homepage with a basic phrase and button. Featuring no additional information on the homepage, the user can toggle toward information about the company in the navigation bar but is compelled to “continue” on the homepage.

Pressing continue brings the user into a form to begin the adoption and information-gathering process for Noom’s service.

Clicking on "continue" brings the user to a demographic form.

Noom’s method—untraditional, for sure—is a compelling way to bring their user immediately into the company’s services and a stellar example of the kind of innovative web design that’s possible on startup websites.

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