What is a Minimum Viable Website and why you need it

When most people open (or build) a new website they tend to go high and wide. They want all the best from the start. And their reasoning is pretty sound too.

  • I don’t want my site to scare people off
  • I want my site to convert well
  • I want my site to rank well in search engines

These are all reasonable arguments.

Or, are they really?

In this article I will tell you why they are wrong and what is (i my opinion) a minimum viable website. It will help you save money, time and frustration.

What is wrong with launching a polished website

Without lengthy introduction, here are my points:

  • When you make a polished website you often spend too much time on things that have zero impact on your KPIs and even months after the launch
  • You waste time and money on these things
  • You end up paying double if it later turns out that the things you paid for need to be changed

So, what are those things I am talking about? Without further ado, here they are:

  1. Technical SEO
  2. Web analytics
  3. Custom design
  4. Logo
  5. Site speed optimisation
  6. Compliance with privacy regulations

And before you start laughing let me make one thing clear. 

The things on the list are not something to skip completely. They are all important and some job needs to be done on each of these elements. They are just not THAT important to go full-on with them.

And I believe that a lean approach like that makes a perfect minimum viable website.

If you disagree with me and think that there are more things that an MVW could do without / less-of write your thought in the comments.

And now, let me tell you how to do just the bare minimum with…

1. Technical SEO

Search Engine Optimisation is a good thing. After all, it lets you put your site “out there”. Have it discovered through Google, Bing, Yahoo, Altavist… well maybe not the last one. 

In short – SEO helps your site reach a broader audience through search engines.

But!

The thing is that way too many companies and individuals put too much hope and effort in what is called “technical SEO”.

What is it?

Simply put, technical SEO is a part of SEO that deals with how content of your site is discoverable by search engines.

It may seem silly that I put this on this list but please bear with me. I know it’s important but I also believe you shouldn’t spend too much time on it.

Making small tweaks can be a total waste of time. Especially when you have zero traffic, little to no quality content and zero authority in Google.

In other words – there is no point in having a content super-discoverable if you have no content that is worth it.

For a new site doing the bare minimum is enough. 

By that I mean:

  1. Make sure that all the pages that should be indexed are actually indexable
  2. Make sure that all these pages are reachable (via main navigation or in-content links)
  3. Make sure that Google and other search engines know about your site and have its sitemap
  4. Make sure that the titles and headlines are marked with proper HTML tags
  5. Make sure that meta and title descriptions make sense

And that is it.

When your site is not very well known, you really don’t need to put effort and money into other technical SEO activities, changes and tweaks.

Invest in the content of your site instead. Because this is what makes people come to your site. And this is what Google and other engines like.

2. Web analytics

Web analytics gives you the numbers that you like so much.

How many people visited my site? How long did they spend on it? How many pages did they visit?

These questions sound important, but they are not. And there are a few good reason to support that. But I will leave it for another post.

For now you just need to know that when you start a new website your traffic will be close to zero. So why bother with elaborate web analytics?

What key takeaways will you get from traffic so low that the result of its analysis will be statistically insignificant?

None.

So, what’s my recommendation?

  • Take it slow
  • Don’t install and try to use analytics tools you don’t understand (especially if the only reason for that is that you heard you should).
  • Try out as many analytics tools as you can and find the one that you understand and like. Our WordPress analytics plugin can help you with it. It lets you quickly install and try out 16 different tracking and marketing tools.
  • Take your time to learn how these tools work – experiment a bit to know what you can do with them and what their limits are
  • Configure them so that they actually track the things you need

Oh, and an important sidenote. The rule of a thumb is that your data will only become useful if you can see trends in the graphs. Everything before that is random noise.

3. Custom design

As you know you can either get someone to design the website for you or you can use a ready-made template.

And you should almost always go with the latter.

And I understand. You may be sceptical about it and say:

  • What about uniqueness? I want my site to look original!
  • I want to modify my site in the future. I heard that sites based on templates are more difficult to modify.
  • I don’t want my site to be sluggish. Custom templates are faster!

So here are my answers.

  1. Nobody (except you) will know that your site is based on a template. How many identical sites have you seen? Also, your site will never be identical to other sites built on the same template since every site has a different logo, colors, texts, images, (probably) homepage sections and subpages.
  2. There are many templates that are blazingly fast and offer you tons of flexibilty. If you use WordPress check out Generatepress or Astra.

Logo is the face of your business and your website.

A good logo can make a mediocre website design feel great. But… great logos cost a lot and take a lot of time to make. Most importantly however, they take your focus out of other important things.

That is why I believe a minimum viable website will do just great with a simple, black logo written in bold Helvetica or other sans-serif font.

Such logo will suit any design – it will not uplift it but it will also not break it. It will be very easy to make a site design that goes well with it (it’s just like black mini skirt – goes well with everything). And it will not break the bank.

And most importantly – if in the future you will see the need to replace it you can just add an icon to it and you are done.

5. Site speed optimization

It is pretty easy to make a heavy and slow website. 

And it is also easy to go overboard with speed optimization and make a fast site… that does not update and/or displays a ton of errors (I am talking about you combining JS!).

But the truth is that if your MVW is new and your traffic is minimal than even cheap hosting and minimal site speed optimization will let it run like Speedy Gonzales on steroids.

Here are a few of my recommendations.

  • Choose only 1 optimisation caching method – do not use multiple solutions like plugin + varnish + redis because they cause too much problems. Plus, you probably won’t see the difference with a small site.
  • Use a free caching plugin – you won’t need a premium one until you hit it big.
  • Do not use all the options available in the plugin – use only the basic ones. They cause least problems and give biggest gains. And do NOT combine JS into a single file. Never. Even if your site works well with this option turned on, it may not work so well after you add some new features to it.
  • Do not pay for CDNs – you don’t need them at the moment
  • Do not pay for CDN’s that compress your images – compress your images with this free plugin (it can change their format to webp which gives you much smaller file size).

6. Compliance with privacy laws (GDPR, CCPA, etc.)

Privacy regulations are long, complicated and – to make things worse – each country has different ones!

How to follow these rules?

It’s impossible unless you have a team that constantly monitors countries for the changes in their laws.

And if you don’t then my recommendation is to follow the strictest rules (I listed all of them in this article).

This way you will always be on the safe side no matter what will change in the regulations of any country. At least most of the time.

And you are done 🙂

What is not on the list and why

There are things that I believe shouldn’t be skipped or done-less-of when working on a minimum viable website.

The first one is the content. The content is the #1 most important thing on your site and it should never be treated like a 2nd category citizen.

Another thing is security. Even though you may not have any traffic your site may become a target, so – in my view – your site should be adequately secured. Here I recommend WordFence or Ninja Firewall.

And the third thing – spam protection – for the reasons similar to the above. I personally like the AntiSpam Bee plugin. It is easy to set up and works great.

What to do after the launch

When your minimum viable website is ready work on its content twice as hard as before the launch. Content will build your authority and reach. Good copy will also convert people into subscribers or customers.

Also, work on your marketing reach. Build a community around the site (if it makes sense in your case).

Work on improving the things that I listed above only if you really have to and there is little doubt that it will be worth it.

Am I wrong? Or maybe I forgot about some time-wasters in the list above? Comment and let me know what in your opinion makes a minimum viable website.

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Krzysztof Planeta

Krzysztof is a WordPress plugin developer, the author of Full Picture analytics plugin and a big web-analytics enthusiast. At the moment he lives with his wife and 2 cats in Spain where they enjoy the sun.

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