Creating a website for your saas [and getting the messaging right]

Your website is going to serve as the base of your marketing efforts.

It’s where people will either find your product or get information about it.

It will either persuade them to sign up or bounce.

Just to be clear, the actual Propfire application is custom built, primarily in PHP and lives at the subdomain app.propfire.com. Propfire.com is my marketing website.

Anatomy of a Website

There are really 3 parts to a marketing website:

  1. Content
  2. Messaging
  3. Design

All three of these elements are important for the success of a website, but some are much more difficult to get right than others.

The first thing to do is look at other, similar, saas websites for inspiration.

There’s absolutely no reason to reinvent the wheel, when hundreds of companies have already done the A/B testing for you. Yes, it’s ok to copy design, structure and even messaging — unless you’ve got the same exact product and are copying word for word (that’s not cool).

Your goal is not to win awards for the most innovative, cutting edge design.

Your goal is to explain your product and persuade potential users to try it.

Design and Messaging

The design of your homepage and the messaging you convey, particularly above the fold, is clearly the most important factor in grabbing the attention of potential users.

Here’s a rundown of my process:

 

After recording the video you might have just watched (above), I got inspired and decided to record a quick start video. I switched the “Learn More” button to “Watch Video” and made it trigger on hover over.

The reason I did hover instead of click thru was purely technical. The WordPress theme I’m using did not have the built in capability to launch a popup with the video when clicking on the button. So I used a tool called tooltip.io, which lets you add different kinds of popups and slide-ins on top of any website elements. The problem with this is that the button has 2 elements, the actual button and the button label (watch video), and the tool only lets you choose one element as a trigger, which means that you would have to click on either the label or the area surrounding it — and that would cause confusion if you didn’t click on the right one. So I chose hover, even though it might be annoying if you unintentionally happen to hover over the button.

I used Loom to create, host and track the screencast (video). It’s a free tool that launches right from a chrome extension and makes screencasts super easy to record.

Content

Content includes … well, all the content on the site and how it is organized.

What are the links on the main nav? These will be your guide to structuring the content on your website.

In my opinion the less nav items the better.

You don’t want to overwhelm or distract users. You do want them to quickly and easily find the exact info they’re looking for.

Depending on the complexity of your product, you might need more or less information. If your product has a lot of technical specs and integrations, then you might want to add a nav item for developers.

For Propfire, I decided to start with as few nav items as possible, and then add more in the future, if necessary.

 

saas website nav bar

 

The “Features” tab takes you a bit further down the home page, where I list the apps features. You’d assume the user would make it down that far on their own when viewing the homepage … but “assuming” doesn’t always work out so well, especially with the super short attention spans most of us have.

A direct link to “features” also catches the user’s eye, especially if that’s exactly what they’re looking for.

The next link is “Demo”, which contains a couple of short demo videos of how to use the product. I initially had a 25 minute video taking the user from registration through proposal completion — something comparable to a recorded webinar. But when I began making some major updates to the product, the video became obsolete and I haven’t yet decided whether to record a new video, for 2 reasons:

  1. People don’t usually like viewing looong videos.
  2. I don’t know if new users need to watch every step of the process of using the product. The highlights are good enough to get them started.

While I’m not going to post a full length, start to finish, video, I am planning to post more demos of specific features. (I literally just decided to do that as I was writing this — which proves to me that writing these posts is a really helpful exercise!)

The rest of my nav items are pretty standard — and I made sure to highlight the “try it free” free trial signup link. BTW, I chose “Try it Free” over Free Trial based on how Pipedrive does it on their site.

Highlighting Features

You don’t want to list every single feature of your product on your homepage (I’d least I don’t), so you need to choose the top ones that you feel will make a difference in persuading users to try it.

Some, or even most, of your features will be ones that your competitors also have. In fact, you probably need those features in order to compete with them.

I chose 6 features (to keep the design uniform, 3×3) of which 5 are industry standard. The main feature that stand out are the ability to embed your proposal into your own website, and I put that feature first. In general, Propfire is just easier and quicker to use — but that’s not a feature.

 

saas features

 

Social Proof

The next section we chose to put on our site, right after features, is a testimonial from one of our early adopters.

 

 

I don’t have to reiterate the importance of social proof. A testimonial gives you some automatic credibility and it gives your (potential) user some comfort to know that someone else like himself is using your product.

Qualify Users

It’s a great feeling when you get that notification when a new user has signed up for your product. But if it’s someone who isn’t your target user and isn’t going to end up using the product, it’s just false hope and a waste of time and resources.

With Propfire we have a no credit card required free trial, so there isn’t any barrier stopping those irrelevant tire kickers.

So what I decided to do is at least try to qualify prospects by telling them whether Propfire is right for them or not.

 

is propfire right for you

 

I’ve tried to make is as clear as simple to read as possible — why you should or should not try Propfire.

I hope this helps potential users decide whether to try Propfire or whether it really isn’t what they are looking for.

[ Help your users make their decision ]

Lead Magnet

I wouldn’t be much of a content marketer if I didn’t have a lead magnet on my site. It just requires a first name and email address, and then an email with the download link is sent via Mailchimp. The CTA is towards the bottom of the page as well as in a modal (on scroll down) and exit popup.

lead magnet proposals

Conclusion

I tried to lay out the process I went through to build the Propfire marketing site — but I think the most important think to take away from this is that it’s all a work in process. I’m still going to make changes to the website as a I come up with new ideas and get feedback from users.

That’s the beauty of digital – you can constantly update and modify.

 

new saas product

In the Beginning [why I’m writing this]

Before I get started documenting my marketing journey for Propfire, I think it makes sense for me to explain why I’ve decided to do this and why should care about reading what I’ve got to say.

First a little background about my SaaS product – Propfire.

Propfire is a software tool to help freelancers and consultants create proposals that faster and easier to use than Google Docs or the other proposal creation tools currently on the market.

Speed and flexibility were my main reasons for creating another proposal tool in an already crowded market. I wanted a tool that would enable me (and my target market) to create custom proposals on the fly, without having to work with the kind of frustrating design editors that the existing tools have.

I wanted users to be able to focus all of their energy on creating the best content possible without having to worry about designing. Because, at the end of the day, proposals are won based on content (like deliverables, price, timing) and relationships, not on design.

Having worked as a digital consultant for many years, I personally felt the pain of creating proposals, so at the very least, I knew that I would create a tool that I could use myself to alleviate my own pain point. And of course, there were already a lot of proposal creation tools out there, so I knew that there was an existing market to tap into to and that I wasn’t the only one facing this particular pain point.

One incident really pushed me towards developing Propfire.

A friend of mine who has been doing web design and digital marketing freelance work for nearly a decade asked me to review a proposal she was going to send to a client. This was the first time I’d be seeing a proposal of hers (we just recently had met) and I assumed that it would be super polished and on target.

I was wrong.

Everything needed to be modified, from the format to the content to the actual pricing. It was bad.

What really surprised me was that my friend had been getting work for many years (which proves that relationships are much more important than proposals for getting work) without having a clue of how to write an effective, professional proposal. (Yes, I helped rewrite her entire proposal.)

 Minimum Viable Product (MVP)

The fist step to creating any product is to identify a problem that needs solving and the potential demand for your solution. Ideally, you’d want to generate a simple landing page and build a list of potential users before doing any development. The last thing you want to do is to invest a lot of money into a product that no one really wants to use.

In my case, I new that I could create a pretty good MVP by myself (you can read more about that here). Since I didn’t need to invest money in development I decided to just build the tool and then market it.

Was that a mistake?

I’m really not sure. But in my case, I think it’s what I had to do to get the project off the ground. First off, I don’t think I could have properly explained the product without actually building it. Secondly, since I’m not a professional developer, I wanted a real life project to learn how to code an app — and this one was perfect.

So I got to go through the process of building a complete, data driven, web application (html, css, javascript, php, mysql) and come out with a completed saas project to boot.

Full disclosure: I did end up spending a few hundred dollars on a freelance developer to help me set up my registration and subscription process — but hey, nothing in life is for free (right?).

Just to be clear, my development work did not end when I created my initial MVP.

Since then, about 3 months already, I’ve made some additions and changes to Propfire based on some user feedback and updated thinking, which I think greatly enhance the product and add tremendous value to it.

The development process never really ends…

Getting users

Now that I had my product, it was time to get some users.

My first step was to create a marketing website, which I did on WordPress. Since that’s part of my expertise, building the site wasn’t difficult. Choosing the right design was.

I did what every good web designer would do — I looked for other websites with designs that I liked, and copied the best parts of them.

At this time I’ve redesigned the site twice and reworked the marketing copy around a dozen times. And the process continues. Does it ever really end?

Ok, so I had a product and a marketing website — great news, but not so great if no ones using the product.

How would I get users for Propfire?

The initial Plan

Many saas founders rely on their existing network to generate their initial users. Considering that most of the people in my network are not potential customers, relying on my network for users was not an option.

That doesn’t mean that my network was totally useless. It just wasn’t right for getting Propfire users.

So I decided that I’d get my followers using these tactics:

  1. Cold email outreach
  2. Content distribution or guest posting
  3. Social Media
  4. SEO

Paid advertising was not in my initial plan for 2 reasons:

  1. I didn’t have enough of a budget
  2. I didn’t want to waste money on ads before finding some degree of product market fit. In other words, I wanted users to help me flesh out and improve the product — and most importantly, I wanted to make sure that people actually wanted to use my product.

Since I mentioned product marketing fit, it’s worth digging in to it a bit more since it’s vital to the success of any saas product.

Marc Andreessen defined the term as follows: “Product/market fit means being in a good market with a product that can satisfy that market.”

Basically, product market fit means that there is demand for your particular product and that people actually find it valuable and worth using (and paying for). It’s a fancy term to describe the obvious: you need to create a product that people want to use.

Even though I knew that I had a created a good product, I needed to find out if people actually would pay to use it.

I felt that I could get enough users to get me past the initial validation stage organically.

In the next few blog posts I’ll go through each of the tactics I used (and continue to use) and tell you the pros and cons of each.