Last week I did something stupid. I went on IndieHackers and offered to create free first impressions videos.

And boy did people want that…

1021 post views, 285 comments, and close to 100 requests.

What was I gonna do? Say no?

I sat down and started recording Loom videos while narrating my thoughts.

It’s all raw, live (at the time), unedited footage. I spent every spare moment recording.

3 days later I was looking at 70 website reviews.

I didn’t have time to upload them all to Growth Insider, but you can view the raw videos in this shared Loom folder.

Here are the biggest problem areas I saw in many of these projects (that you can avoid):

Problem #1: No social proof (testimonials, ratings, seen in, # of users etc…)

Unsurprisingly, lack of social proof was the biggest issue. It makes sense. Most new projects on IndieHackers would not have any testimonials, reviews, maybe even that many customers yet.

Social proof is remarkably effective, even if we feel we are immune to it.

Imagine Klein Burrows and I tweet the same thing, at the same time. Klein has 1.1 million followers and I have a measly 391. You follow both of us. Who would you see as more trustworthy?

Of course, you answered Klein.

Nevermind that Klein is fictitious, you’d still see his tweet as more profound than mine. This is social proof at work.

The big question is how do you get some social proof when customers are scarce?

8 Ways to get social proof when it’s hard to come by:

  1. Offer your service at a reduced cost or for free (some people will hate this idea) and ask for honest feedback. If feedback is positive, ask if you can use it as a testimonial. Use negative feedback to improve your product.
  2. Check to see if anyone has tweeted anything great about your product. Screenshot or embed the tweets.
  3. Launch on Product Hunt and use the PH counter on your website.
  4. Screenshot positive comments on Product Hunt and include on your site.
  5. Check to see if anyone has said anything great about your product anywhere.
  6. Talk about large companies in the same space who are solving similar problems (use their logos) or name drop in the copy.
  7. Show your real number of customers or newsletter readers. Obviously best if the number is not small.
  8. Create some case studies featuring one of your customers.
Tip from Gene: Move your social proof to the top. Most sites feature testimonials at the bottom. Why? Maybe because a template had it that way? I don’t know… Move them up! I bet if you look at your heatmaps right now, half the people don’t even scroll down to where your testimoinals are on the page.

Problem #2: Not clear what the product actually is or who it’s for.

This is not a startup problem only. Throughout my career, I have seen countless websites that make it impossible to tell what they do, what they offer, and why I should care.

Corporate websites love doing this. They’ll come up with some creative way to sell a vision, but unless you read into the fine print, it’s next to impossible to tell what they do.

If a visitor does not understand what you do, then how will they know what’s in it for them?

Don’t get me wrong, I think great copywriting can outperform boring headlines. That said, it’s more risky and hard to get right without professional help.

Here are the 3 basic questions to ask yourself when writing your headlines and subheadings:

  1. What is it?
  2. Who is it for?
  3. What’s in it for them? / Why should they care to read beyond the headline?

You don’t need all 3 in your main heading, but your subheading needs to deliver if the heading is catchy enough.

If you can answer all 3 questions in your heading and subheading, you’re off to a good start!

Here is an example of this in action from Digital Ocean:If your product applies to the general public, you can skip the “Who is it for?” step and double down on the benefits. Here is an example from Honey:

If your product applies to the general public, you can skip the “Who is it for?” step and double down on the benefits. Here is an example from Honey:

Problem #3: Unclear product benefits

Similar to lack of clarity, many of the 70 websites I looked at did not clearly define the benefits of their products.

Typical tweets I see once in a while:

  • A: “Benefits over features!”
    B: “But don’t be all benefits! I need to know what your product actually does!”
  • Marketers: “Benefits, benefits!!”
  • Developers: “Features!”

Truth is you need BOTH. Your landing page or product home page should cover these for me:

  1. What is it?
  2. Is it for me?
  3. How does it work?
  4. What do I get out of it?

Explain what’s in it for me, and show me how your features accomplish this.

Besides those 3, here are the other common issues I noticed in the first impression videos:

  • Design lacks credibility
  • Missed call to action opportunity (after visitor is engaged)
  • Website images not helpful
  • Too wordy
  • Too difficult to scan
  • Asking for too much information (forms)
  • Unclear headline
  • Subheading better than headline
  • Unclear call to action (what is the next step?)
  • Talks down on me
  • Not sure how it works
  • Video too long (over 2 mins)
  • No company name / logo
  • We/me/us-focused
  • Text too small / hard to read (contrast)
  • Could benefit from a reversed signup flow
  • Hides important information in a video
  • Lacks preview of the type of information to expect after signing up
  • Clever but confusing copy
  • Offers annual option but does not allow to pay annually
  • Video preview too fast
  • No examples to preview offer

The website that made me angry

I won’t name it, but one website made me visibly upset (in the video). Maybe you’ll find it in the folder ;)

Why did I get upset? Well here’s where it went wrong:

  1. It treated me like an idiot. Every other sentence explained why I need X. And this was a product for marketers if I’m not mistaken (who would already know why they are looking for that tool).
  2. I had no idea what it was even after reading through the whole thing. My best guess - a marketing tool of some sort.

Don’t be this website ;)

It’s not all bad news though.

Many sites did a lot of great things, and I pointed them out.

I also provided some tips on how they can possibly increase their conversions.

I won’t list specifics here, but if you have time, check out the shared Loom folder.

Thanks to everyone who participated!

If you are one of the people reading this who participated, thank you for opening yourself up to constructive criticism! It takes courage to do this sort of thing.