When we start working with a new client on a website design, we often ask questions about other websites they like or styles they are thinking about for their website. The most frequent response we get is a list of their competitors, either direct or aspirational, and that they want something similar. While it is good to be aware of what your competitors do, you shouldn’t focus too closely on them. Here are three reasons why.
You need to stand out
Many users will just pick the first result they see on Google that looks relevant. So thinking about SEO and what your user is looking for, rather than how your competitor is positioning themselves, is your first chance at success.
However, you will get users who shop around, whether it is for a product or a service. So once they do click through to your site, you need to think about how you can get their attention.
Should you try to emulate a competitor’s website too closely, then it will make it hard for a user to figure out why they should choose you. Otherwise, the user may simply think well you both look alike so it doesn’t matter what they decide and they may pick either of you without much more thought. That gives you a 50:50 chance of being picked.
If you focus on creating a website that is well designed, has a high level of performance and the content is targeted then you could increase your chances of being chosen over a competitor during a direct comparison.
Think more broadly
When trying to come up with ideas for your website, it is natural to think about close competitors as it can be difficult trying to come up with something new. But you may actually find more inspiration by thinking beyond your local competitors.
Looking at larger corporations can be incredibly helpful as they are more likely to have up to date websites that take into consideration things like performance (which is often ignored by smaller businesses). You do have to be realistic and think about what you should take as inspiration rather than copying. Large businesses will have spent thousands of pounds on their website, going through rigorous design, UX and testing processes. You could look at aspects like the colours of their contact forms, call to action buttons or how they lay out a product page.
There are also often crossovers between industries, whether it is how you market a product, who your audience is or how your clients will access your services. So looking beyond your sector or industry could help you to again find new ideas or help you to think more creatively about your own site.
We find this to be particularly the case when it comes to SMEs. They often know their competitors, either because they find themselves pitching for the same business, trying to attract the same clients or maybe even because they have worked together in the past. As a result, they focus closely on them and can find it difficult trying to separate themselves from that website by looking at a totally different area.
Yet this is often where the best ideas may come from. And those ideas could be big or small – whether it is features such as how images are displayed, or how particular functionality works on mobile. This then makes them realise the value of thinking more broadly.
Why copy something that is not great?
We understand that sometimes clients see a website of a competitor and think they should copy it because the competitor appears to be doing well. But if their website is not as good as it could be, then why copy it?
One of our clients had an example of a website they liked from one of their direct competitors. Our client wanted to essentially recreate that website even though we pointed out that it wasn’t responsive, had a very low loading speed and would not meet the requirements of the changes expected in Google’s Web Vitals initiative. Furthermore, from a UX perspective, it was clunky to use, the checkout process was a bit of a faff and there were other design elements that we just didn’t think made sense.
Just because a website does things in a certain way doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do.
We pointed out that this company may be doing fairly well because the level of competition had a pretty low bar. If our client aspired to do much better then they could get further ahead and it may be their competitors deciding to copy them in the future.
Don’t restrict yourself
When we ask the question to clients about what websites they like, it is clear that this isn’t something they have necessarily thought much about. That is fine – that is where we come in. However, it is important not to get too specific or hung up on what someone else is doing. The more the website is restricted in its brief, the harder it will be to come up with a result that is creative, innovative and high-performing.
We get that sometimes people see something and want to recreate it, but ideas don’t always translate well or we can see that they are going to date quickly.
In order to produce a website that meets your business objectives, it is better to try to be as open as possible. Many of our clients also don’t realise that websites have a carbon load and that there are ways to reduce this. If you have an idea that you want to recreate is going to affect your performance and at the same time is potentially increasing your carbon load, then you need to think about the choices you are making.
So if you are considering changes to your website or you need a brand new website for your business, hopefully the above helps you to think about the direction it could take. Ultimately, we always come back to what we think is the most important point – it has to meet your business needs and support your business. Otherwise, no matter how good you think it looks, it won’t help you to succeed.