Should you create a starter website for your business?
It’s no secret that people spend HOURS online everyday, browsing the internet on their phones and computers. In fact, a recent study estimate that the average American adult spends over 12 hours a day (!!!) consuming media in some form or another. That stat is absolutely bonkers, but the craziness doesn’t end there. Because we are spending so much time online, we are also doing more shopping online and online sales are estimated to reach $39 billion in Canada alone by 2019.
Businesses of all types are realizing that they NEED to get online if they want to profit from all this traffic because if they don’t, they risk being left behind and missing out on untold amounts of money.
Most businesses know that they need some sort of online presence and more often than not, that comes in the form of a website. Some of them (mistakenly) think that all they need to do is throw something together and that they will get around to fixing it later. But will they actually?
As a web designer/developer, I see people and businesses make this mistake all the time and it truly breaks my heart! Because here’s the thing: “later” doesn’t always happen. The updates to the starter website keep getting pushed further and further back and before you know it, it becomes a major undertaking that no one wants to do. While a business might have created a starter website with good intentions, the truth is that it can actually do more harm than good in the long run.
In this post, I’m going to give you my professional opinion on starter websites, go over the pros and cons, and let you in on everything you need to know before you get one up and running. You might not share my opinion but I hope that you see my perspective and that it gives you something to think about if you’re considering a starter website of your own!
Let’s take a look.
What is a starter website?
Basically, a starter website is a placeholder website. It’s content connected to a domain that is published on the internet, with the understanding that it will be updated, added to, and built up further in the future.
I came up with this quick pros & cons list on starter websites to give you a better idea of what to consider before you go ahead with one:
Pros of a starter website
- Claim a place online
- Secure domain & social media handles for when you’re ready to use them
- Make business somewhat legit because you now have some sort of website
- Share basic information
- Place for potential clients to find out about you online
- “Done is better than perfect” argument
Cons of a starter website
- Not professional
- Looks rushed & like it was thrown together in a hurry
- Missing information could mean more emails or phone calls
- Could turn people off or away from your business
- Paying for something but not getting ROI from it
- Infrequently updated (if updated at all)
Here's what I think about starter websites
I am NOT a fan of starter websites at all and I strongly encourage people and businesses not to take that route! I obviously have bias here because I am a web designer/developer but I’m hoping that by sharing my point of view that I can convince to get on my side.
For one thing, I’m a firm believer that a website shouldn’t be rushed. It’s always worth it to spend your time, money and effort on a good website that puts your best foot forward and creates a strong and professional online presence. If you want to grow your business (no matter what industry you are in), a good website will help you get there faster.
Starter websites cut lots of corners and I hate seeing how businesses forget about or don’t consider what actually matters to a business’s audience, clients and/or customers.
Also, if you are thinking of creating a starter website with the intention of improving it “sometime in the future”, hold up! I’ve seen this happen so many times and the sad fact is that despite our best intentions, it doesn’t always happen. The starter website update project gets pushed back indefinitely and before you know it, months (or even years!) have passed and the same crappy old starter website is still the only website the business has ever had. Not a good look, my friend.
I can’t stress enough that it pays off to spend just a little bit more time and money to get it done right and build a REAL website the first time around. Save yourself the headache of doing it twice and knowing that the project is lingering on your "to do" list.
Things to consider if you’re going ahead with a starter website
Even though I’ve shared why I don’t like starter websites and think they should be avoided, I know that there are plenty of people and businesses who will ignore my advice and go ahead with them anyways! With that in mind, here are some things to consider that will point you in the right direction with that starter website you insist on having :)
To begin, decide WHY you need a starter website and what you’re hoping to get out of it.
- Why are you in such a hurry to get a starter website online that you are willing to forgo best practices?
- Are you using it as a place to share basic business information?
- Are you going to sell products through commerce or an online store?
- Is blogging your goal? Is it because you want to grow your brand and increase visibility?
Think critically here, I know these are not the most fun questions to answer but they will guide you in the right direction.
Building a starter website
If you decide to go ahead with a starter website, you’ll have to choose which platform to build it on. The most popular choices are Squarespace and Wordpress, and it should come as no surprise that I strongly encourage you to go with Squarespace (here’s why). Squarespace is easy to set up, you can begin with a simple “coming soon” placeholder cover page while you build up the rest of the website, and you have the option to customize one of their pre-designed templates as much or as little as you’d like.
Shameless plug: I’ve got a free 7 day email course called Launch Your Best Site that will walk you through the entire process of setting up a Squarespace website. Sign up for it at the bottom of this post or click here to learn more about what you’ll learn and the results you’ll get from this free course.
Word of the wise about choosing which platform to build your starter website on : don’t simply pick the cheapest platform or option. Start out on the same platform you plan to use for your “real” website and save yourself the headache of having to do the build twice. When you’re finally ready to update your starter website, I can guarantee that you’ll be kicking yourself if you’re stuck exporting content to a different platform, redirecting domains, and redoing other technical integrations. Think of the time and money you’ll save in the long run and go with the right platform from the start!
What to include in a starter website
When it comes to building a starter website, there are 3 routes that most people and businesses go with:
- Barebones “coming soon” cover page
- Basic one-page website or landing page with minimal content
- Simplified version of the site you’re planning to build up in the future.
A “coming soon” cover page is by far the quickest and easiest option, but it’s also the type of starter website that provides the least amount of information and value.
Next up is the basic one-page website or landing page. It’s up to you to decide what and how much information you’re going to include here, whether you’re going to include any images/videos, how much description of your products or services you’ll present, etc.
Finally, you might go with a simplified version of the website you’re planning for the future. These starter websites usually have a few pages (e.g., Home, About, Contact, etc.) but the content and design is minimal.
Each option has it’s pros & cons but usually it comes down to how quickly you want to get the starter website up and running and how much information you have ready to go. Pick the option that works best for your situation and let that guide how you build your starter website.
Update your starter website ASAP
It can be tempting to leave your starter website online for weeks (months? years?!) on end but this is a very bad move and should be avoided at all costs!
For one thing, it’s extremely off-putting when visitors arrive on your “website” only to see that there’s basically nothing there and what little content is online is out of date. People interpret this as the business not caring or that they can’t be bothered enough to update their website. "If this is how they treat their website, image how they do business?!" <--- them, probably
Even if you went with a starter website that is a simplified version of the website you plan(ned) to build or add to in the future (option 3 as outlined above), it won’t do much good if you never get around to making those changes. I don’t think I need to remind you that’s it not a good look to when your blog has been abandoned for months, you’re still referencing or promoting events that have already happened, or you’re showcasing products or services that are sold out/discontinued. Doesn’t exactly encourage your audience to come back and do business with you, does it?
How to update or build up a starter website
A starter website isn’t forever and the day will come when you’re finally ready to get the REAL website up and running! Depending on the type of starter website you’ve got, this could be a pretty large project but trust me, the payoff is worth it.
First off, decide what pages you’re going to include on your website and how you’re going to lay them out. You’re basically creating a sitemap here and planning out the menus, navigation, and how visitors move around your website.
If you haven’t already, now is the perfect time to personalize your website’s branding. This is where you’ll customize the colour palette and typography, upload original or stock photography and videos, add your logo, etc.
Many businesses report that the hardest part of building up their website developing content. I hear you, it’s no easy task! If this is something that you’re struggling with, I recommend focusing on copy that speaks directly to your ideal audience/client so that from the moment they land on your website, they know that they are in the right place. Think about what information they need to know and what will make it easier for them to decide to do business with you, and build up the site’s content from there. Obviously you’ll want to address the basics about your business on your website, but consider FAQs that you receive on the regular and be sure to incorporate those answers into your website content.
Integrating social media is another thing you’ll want to do because it’s always a good idea to connect with your audience on multiple platforms.
Starting a blog is another great way to build up a starter website, here’s why. It’s a way to share relevant content, establish your expertise, soft or hard sell your products or services, etc. Not to mention all the SEO benefits that come with blogging!
Setting up a newsletter so that you can start building an email list is another way you can move from starter website to real website!
Note: Another shameless plug for my free 7 day email course, Launch Your Best Site. It’ll give you the exact steps to build and launch a new Squarespace website and teach you everything you need to know about getting it up and running the right way. Click here to learn more or sign up below to get started now!
I know how tempting it is to think that a starter website is better than nothing at all but the truth is that it can actually do more harm than good. I strongly believe that it’s better to spend a little more time, effort and money to do it right and build a website that you can be proud of the first time around. I always encourage people to skip the starter website and go straight to the real thing!
But I know that many people are going to ignore my advice so if you DO decide to have a starter website, can you at least promise me that it won’t be there forever? Come up with a plan and timeline to improve your website and build it up into something that serves your business. No matter what industry you’re in, a good website will help you to grow your business so a starter website so never be part of your long-term plan. Use one if you must but take action and get your real website up and running as quickly as you can. Then celebrate when it goes live and send me the link so that I can check it out!
Now it’s your turn to tell me, have you ever heard of a starter website? Is it something you’ve used in the past or are you considering one now? What was your experience with it? Did it take you a long time to transition to your real website? I’d love to know so leave me a note in the comments below!
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