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Should You Look at Competitor Websites for Inspiration?

avatar Kaitie Yague-Spaude | Copywriter & Project Support Specialist

If you’re like many marketing agencies, your client base can be quite diverse. So, when you’ve taken on a new client that is completely unique from your past experience, where do you turn for website design or copy inspiration?

For many, the first stop is the websites of similar local competitors. After all, if you need to out-do the competition, first you need to be familiar with what you’re up against! But is this really the best place to start your design journey?

On the one hand, this is a perfectly logical place to start. Since they’re in your industry and vying for the same audience’s attention, their positioning could potentially work for you as well. What’s more, looking at a competitor can actually help you realize (and correct) any faulty logic or fill in gaps where you see an explanation or sell is lacking.

However, basing too much of your strategy on a competitor can actually be really limiting. Before you looked at a competitor, the possibilities were endless. As soon as you see what other folks are doing, you’re naturally inclined to follow that same pattern and have severely limited your “options” thanks to trying to keep in line with the status quo. 

So, while it’s a great idea to check out competitor sites for things like social proof metrics, unique selling propositions, or overall breadth of offerings, we like to take it all with a grain of salt and remember these few things:

  1. The best examples may not come from your market or industry

If you focus solely on competitor sites, you see only what HAS been done, not what COULD be done. Try looking at inspiration that is completely unrelated to your business. After all, you’re not looking to directly copy anyone’s website in its entirety – rather you’re looking for different elements that make you go “wow.”

  1. Your site may not function the same as theirs

It doesn’t matter how good it looks if it doesn’t work for your audience. Don’t use dropdown menus if your audience is accessing your site from mobile. Don’t push for a broken grid layout if you’re targeting a corporate audience. There are lots of style elements that, while they may be cool, just won’t work for your particular application.

  1. You don’t know how well they’re ACTUALLY doing

You may see a really awesome looking home page full of videos or expanding content and think that you should do the same. But, what you don’t know is if these tactics are actually working for your competitor. Sure, YOU may go through and click everything, but you’re actively invested in this research. Is your target audience? It’s easy to think that “well clearly this is working for them” when, in reality, it may not be and they’re left scratching their heads as to why they’re not seeing the conversions. Don’t make their mistakes – make your own mistakes instead!

  1. It’s okay to take risks

In today’s digital world, CRO testing can tell us tons about what’s working (and what isn’t) when it comes to website design, CTAs, or copy in general. Because it’s relatively easy to spice up your design or change around site elements,  you may as well take a few bold leaps into the unknown and try something new. Sometimes it can be even more telling as to what doesn’t work than to just play it safe and go with the same general feel all your competitors have.

At the end of the day, there is always a balance to be struck when looking at competitors’ sites. If you get too focused, you may end up following a path that isn’t right for you. If you ignore it entirely, you may miss some nuggets that end up sparking inspiration in you.

Find the middle ground and then grow from there.