Even startups with the most revolutionary products and services will fail unless they work as businesses. If customers are unwilling to pay for your product, your business will fail, so it’s essential that you validate your concept by testing customer interest very early on. One way to do this is to put your idea online.

Every high-growth startup needs at least one website. It’s a non-negotiable fact of doing business today. Prospects, customers, investors, and any other audience with a relationship to your business will expect you to have a website. However, if you’ve never made a website before, it can be daunting to design and launch one. It’s not quite as simple as just putting up your logo and a product description and waiting for the money to roll in.

Identify objectives

Before you make a website, it’s important to determine exactly what you’re trying to accomplish. There’s no one-size-fits-all template that works for every business. By setting clear objectives for your site, you can focus messaging and track key performance indicators (KPIs) as your business develops.

Increase awareness of your brand and product

Almost every website’s most basic function is to be seen by those most likely to buy the product. If your site is not being seen, there’s likely a problem with the product, the methods used to attract people to it, or both. Your landing page should clearly communicate how you can solve your audience’s problem and provide some sort of call to action (CTA).

Blogging is a low-cost way to develop brand awareness and authority. Blog content can increase your website’s visibility by driving traffic from the networks in which you share that content, and offers a convenient tool for enhancing your site’s search engine optimization (SEO). If your blog contains keywords and phrases that search engines can relate to your audience’s topic of interest, it will likely perform better in search results. This is especially true if the content provides real value to readers,  which also creates potential for other sources to reference your blog with inbound links. Individuals that find your website through a blog post can then be driven by CTAs to provide more information about themselves (i.e. email address) or to learn more about the product or service you’re offering.

Generate more qualified leads

Another important objective of a website is to engage with its audience and learn more about them. You’ll want to structure their engagement around moving them down the marketing funnel from signaling that they are a potential customer to actually having a sales conversation or purchasing.

A key performance indicator, or KPI, is the metric that evaluates the performance of a tactic in terms of whether or not it advances your business’s goals. For a landing page, we’ll focus on “interest signaled” as the website’s KPI, and use the rate at which visitors follow the call to action as the indicator. A call to action usually invites an individual to signal their interest in the product in some way, and every landing page needs one. For a fully-functioning business with a developed product, a CTA could be as direct as a request to purchase. For an early-stage venture still developing its product, the call to action is a chance to learn more about its potential market, build a mailing list, or gather feedback on product concepts. In any case, the CTA’s clickrate is the primary data source for the consumer interest KPI.

The CTA’s opt-in nature separates the wheat from the chaff of a website’s traffic by measuring the share of an audience that’s closer to purchasing. It shows, in aggregate,  that out of X number of people on the page, Y number are requesting some further action. Additionally, the CTA collects specific information about the individuals who engage with it. Typically, a landing page CTA will ask for an email address, require a third-party identification, or request a sign-up, and feed that data into a marketing platform (even if it’s as lightweight as a Google Sheet). Customer relationship management (CRM) tools and email marketing tools allow you to then organize these leads and manage your interactions with them.

At Gust Launch, we understand the importance of CRM platforms to early-stage startups, but realize that bootstrapped budgets can make robust SaaS software a hard sell. That’s why we’re teaming up with HubSpot to provide our customers with affordable access to marketing and sales software. With a subscription to Gust Launch, startups can qualify for HubSpot’s seed-stage startup package. This includes 90% off several HubSpot products for a year and 50% off the following year (an estimated $17,000 in savings).

Build your landing page and measure success

Activation and acquisition data are the best indicators of your venture’s potential, and now that you’ve established clear objectives, you’re ready to build a website and collect this data. There are many, many tools you can use to keep track of who’s visiting your site and compare them to your target audience. For example, Google Analytics is a free tool which can provide basic but useful information, like which countries your visitors come from and where on the internet they found your site. These kinds of insights are key to evaluating your site’s effectiveness at communicating its message or creating engagement with your target customer.

It’s important that your website’s messaging fits the consumer narratives of your target audience. Put simply, if you speak the customer’s language, they’re more likely to respond positively. Every market is a complex ecosystem of individuals with different demographic, geographic, and psychographic profiles. It’s your job to connect with them and sell your product. The best way to do this? Market segmentation.

Large companies invest vast sums of money in marketing segmentation experiments, but early-stage startups generally do not have this luxury. You’ll need to be resourceful. Consumer profiling can be done relatively cheaply. You’ll learn a lot by getting on the phone with prospective customers and gaining their insight into a problem. Secondary sources such as academic studies, trade journals, and other research publications are also good resources. These profiles can then be aggregated, organized, and used to drive your messaging strategy.

Activation data

A website should never be static. Once online, it’s a living organism that adapts to meet consumer demand. Conversion rate optimization (CRO) is the process of testing messaging or design and tweaking them for better performance. Through A/B testing, you can measure two variants that might positively affect your KPIs and implement the version that is most successful.

Take, for example, your CTA. Let’s assume you’ve built a basic landing page with a CTA that asks for an email address. Since you’ve identified the CTA as the tool measuring your most important KPI at this stage, it makes sense to use A/B testing to optimize its performance. These changes can be simple (variations in color, verbiage, or size can all influence performance) or complex (focusing on a totally different value proposition). Once you’ve collected a large enough sample to determine the best option, you can run a new A/B test on a different variable.

Acquisition data

You’ll need to work actively to get people to your site. Online communities for startups and specific industry niches provide gateways to targeted audiences. Forums like Hacker News, Reddit, and Product Hunt are good places to connect with founders and consumers likely to be interested in your work. For example, Hacker News—created by Y Combinator—is a news aggregator similar to Reddit with a focus on computer science and entrepreneurship. Thousands visit every day, so landing at the top of its front page could drive a lot of traffic to your site in a very short amount of time. Narrow in scope and typically free of charge, these relevant online communities offer a cheap and potentially very effective way to put your product or idea in front of large audiences.

Paid placement is also an effective tool for generating traffic. Through competitive bidding systems, usually priced as pay-per-click (PPC) or cost-per-click (CPC), you can pay for keywords or phrases for guaranteed visibility in searches or on social platforms. Your ad content will then be listed as “sponsored” in the results or feed. Paid placement can be expensive, which presents a challenge to many early-stage startups, but it guarantees new clicks to your site (although the quality of those clicks can vary widely between platforms, audiences, keywords, and content). If you invest a little time and money into PPC ads, they can be an effective way to test messaging strategies to a wider audience and engage consumers who otherwise may not have seen your website.

Once you know how many people visit your landing page and—from there—how many go on to take some further step, you can determine how many of your leads you’ll have to convert into sales to make the idea a viable business. To learn more about the relationship between the cost to turn a lead into a customer and what it means for your business model’s future, you might want to read up on unit economics.

Putting a business idea online is an exciting step for any early-stage startup, but it’s important to proceed with caution. If you’re using a business name and discussing your product, your ideas and personal assets should be legally protected. Otherwise, your hard work is at serious risk from competitors. If you haven’t already, we advise you consult a startup lawyer to discuss your options.

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This article is intended for informational purposes only, and doesn't constitute tax, accounting, or legal advice. Everyone's situation is different! For advice in light of your unique circumstances, consult a tax advisor, accountant, or lawyer.