To be successful, a web application must be fast, instantly useful, playful and search-engine friendly with a clean user interface, according to venture capitalist Fred Wilson from Union Square Ventures.
Wilson, speaking at the Future of Web Apps conference in Miami Beach, also told the developers and entrepreneurs who filled the Colony Theater that applications should also have their own "voice", or a personality that distinguishes them, and focus on doing a few things really well.
Wilson knows a thing or two about what makes a successful web application: Union Square Ventures' early-stage investments have included Twitter, Foursquare, Boxee, Delicious and Feedburner.
If an application is slow, the average end user will give up on it and move on, so applications must be designed from the ground up with speed in mind, Wilson said. Then its usefulness must be immediately apparent and clear.
The layout should also be "clean" with abundant empty space and large fonts, for example, so that the application "isn't busy on the page", he said.
Instead of hiring a marketing professional, startups should instead make sure that their web application is optimised for search engines so that Google and the other major search engines can index it and its content, Wilson said. "A new web app is a needle in a haystack," he said.
In addition to being easily "discoverable" by search engines, web applications must be friendly to social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. "These days, social media is as important as search" in matters of visibility, he said.
Engaging in unconventional "guerrilla" marketing is also recommended for startups because it's inexpensive, powerful and authentic, Wilson said.
To hold on to end users and entice them to engage in the desired behaviour, applications must also have a "game dynamic" that makes them fun to use, he said. "The ability to play in an application is really important," Wilson said.