(Editor’s Note: The Start-up Chronicles is a semi-monthly feature giving an inside view of the trials of a bootstrapped start-up – The Cost Savings Guy. CEO and founder Bruce Judson is also the author of “Go It Alone!: The Secret to Building A Successful Business on Your Own” and a senior faculty fellow at the Yale School of Management.)

As we’ve struggled with low conversion numbers at The Cost Savings Guy (CSG), it has become increasingly clear that our biggest problem is site design.change

We purposely created CSG with multiple ways to enter potential areas of interest and just as many to demonstrate the site’s value. While this made sense to us as designers, it doesn’t seem to have had the same effect on site visitors – and I’ve concluded that it’s not the way to build sales.

Even though users engage with the service, this design flaw seemingly prevents them from moving through the complete process – to the point where a sale occurs. We lose numerous prospects every day.

To address the issue, I’ve adopted a two-pronged approach:

First, I have consciously worked on my inner attitude.  Our design reflected the advice of lots of talented people. At the same time, it violated some of my personal “rules” from high-converting earlier ventures about simplicity and moving visitors to clear next steps.

It would be easy for me to play a “blame game” around our current issues. However, this approach would be unproductive and would violate what is, for me, a central rule of entrepreneurship (and life in general):  You must believe you are responsible for everything that happens to you. If not, it’s too easy to fail.

Second, I looked for sites that effectively take a potentially complex product or service and make it simple. Examining and studying how other sites work is perhaps the most cost-effective means of understanding your own errors. It’s one thing to say your site is too complex. It’s another to contrast it with sites that have overcome the limitations you face.

Of course, one of the dangers in this I-like-it-so-let’s-do-it approach is you never know whether what appears effective on the surface actually works. Nonetheless, an in-depth study of sites that have similar issues or problems as yours inevitably gives you valuable insights and ideas for experimental changes.

In undertaking this effort, I made the decision to look hard at two different types of sites: BillShrink.com (which, from a broad perspective, offers a service similar to ours) and SlideRocket.com (which is in an unrelated industry).

Here’s what I learned from them:

1.     At both sites, visitors know exactly what each service does and how it works within the first 10 seconds of landing.  While these sites may offer complex services under the hood, they hide that. The user experience is straightforward.

2.     Both sites move the user forward with a growing sense of anticipation. Prospects grow curious about “what happens next”. This is unquestionably difficult, but it may be the key to success. Creating curiosity among today’s jaded consumers is a monumental feat.

3.     My best guess is that these sites were built using what I have started to call the 80/50 rule. Design your site and content – and then cut 80 percent of it. Now, take the remaining site content and cut another 50 percent. With short consumer attention spans, each page needs to provide relevant details or functionality – and nothing more. The natural inclination of almost every site designer and service creator is to provide too much information.

So, the challenge we now face is implementing these principles as they apply to our service. I’m curious: When you look at your own site, how do you score on these three principles and do you think they matter?

Image by tantek via Flickr

VentureBeat's mission is to be a digital town square for technical decision-makers to gain knowledge about transformative enterprise technology and transact. Discover our Briefings.