Marketing June 14, 2016 Last updated September 18th, 2018 1,431 Reads share

Using Competitors As Inspiration For Your Site: The Right and Wrong Ways

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As we are often told, there are only so many ideas in the world. So, why go around reinventing the wheel when it comes to your website? There are already hundreds of perfectly good designs, templates, visual cues and broadly similar descriptions to match what your site needs.

All you have to do is take that existing inspiration and add your own spin, your businesses’ own USPs or products, and a dash of style to create your own version that will do the job. You can also save some effort when it comes to other sites’ attempts at social media or even their business models.

However, there is a fine line between inspiration and plagiarism, so ensure you put in the required work to make your site as unique as it can be. Here are some examples of where people get it right, and incredibly wrong, somehow in the belief that no one would notice.

The Big Picture

Many sites are ditching text as their main source of information and going for large background lifestyle images and huge product shots up front. Anyone can copy this style, and many do, with the leading mobile device companies at the forefront, rapidly imitated by almost all smart phone and gadget makers, and now just about any business.

When it comes to using graphical elements, make sure you use your own or pay to have some custom art designed or photographs taken. Here are plenty of examples where people have gone too far and ripped off an image for their own ends.

Followers of Font Fashion

After images, the major area of focus on a website is typographical design. As with imagery, there are trends and styles, with typeface fashion evolving over time. Many fonts must be licensed for use on websites, so ensure you’re paying the right people. Fonts can also be easily copied and reproduced, so check you’re buying an original and not some knock off.

The use of a stylish and clear font throughout a site can make it stand out, improve readability and add gravitas. Avoid overused fonts that appear on practically every site you see and anything that looks cheap, as these will detract from your pages. Take some time to learn about typefaces and discover the up and coming fonts that can help sites look stylish and different enough to be noticed.

Avoid Ripping off the Big Ideas

The biggest temptation online is to see a successful site or online product and think you can imitate it lock, stock and barrel. Thanks to the ease in copying some code, it can be done in hours, saving months of work, but is more than likely to backfire.

Several years ago in 2012, the web marketer Neil Patel addressed how a competitor to his company CrazyEgg had made an almost exact copy of his heatmap tracking website layout and design. The pressure on the cloner soon forced them to change their site, proving that blantant copying just doesn’t work in the online age.

These days, Patel is more angry about sites that copy without understanding why they are doing so. His examples include talking to the wrong audience, not putting in any effort with their own imagery, videos and so on. This proves that while an idea can be borrowed, there still needs to be inspiration and craftwork behind your own efforts needs to make them stand out as something worthwhile.

Unfortunately, there are many more examples, showing some people just don’t learn. Recently the online billing company Hiveage called out a competitor in a Medium post for making an exact copy of their web-app including their own bugs.

Of course, in the bot age, it is unfortunately very easy to automatically clone a site, stealing not just property but also a business’s Google search ranking. This can affect online sellers and service providers badly. There are many site cloning tools available, or online job posts on freelance forums asking developers to clone other’s sites. All of which proves there’s still a thriving market for ripping off good ideas. However, engaging in this practice is likely to rapidly bring copyright claims and take down notices as soon as the owner becomes aware, which will be almost immediately as sales and revenue can fall overnight.

Even if you think the web is a big enough space to hide a spot of copying, the bad news is that any community or market is small enough for someone to notice. And, unless you are hiding in some remote foreign backwater, copyright laws still apply and can be enforced in most countries.

A Spot of Drafting?

Once your site is up and running, you may wonder how to promote it. Again, see what your competitors are doing online. With only so many major publications, outlets and social media venues in any one market, you would be doing this already, if you knew about it.

If a competitor gets an article featured on a major site, try and get one of your pieces promoted next time around. If they are following the big fish in your market on social media, ensure you are doing the same and are engaging on their level. This skill is known as drafting and there’s no law against copying an action taken by a rival.

As long as you add your own slant to your social media outreach and efforts, there is nothing to stop you from taking their ideas and running with them for your own benefit. Of course, copying the tweets or posts of others is just dumb.

Final Flourishes

Most businesses have enough unique features, products, skills and voices among its workforce to help produce a unique web presence. But don’t go ripping up the rulebook when there’s no need to, being inspired by what’s out there is perfectly acceptable when it comes to creating the concept for a site, just stick to the rules, use your own imagination and you could still create a great product.

Images: ” King of Chess  /


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Christopher Jan Benitez

Christopher Jan Benitez

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