No matter what line of business you’re in, you can often get inspiration and ideas by checking out your competition. You can see what kind of stuff they’re putting on their website, how they’re using social media, what new products they’re stocking, etc. However, you ultimately need to trust yourself. Here are a few examples.
Using music to set the tone
I was recently talking to a client about her site, and suggested we take the background music off. After a brief discussion, she agreed. When I asked why she put it up there in the first place, she said that a lot of her competition did that and she was trying to match them. Being a brand-new business, emulating some of the established sites is certainly a great idea. Now that she’s removed the music and they haven’t, she’s a step ahead!
Facebook “welcome tabs”
I have a lot of clients asking for “welcome tabs” on their Facebook Page. While it’s certainly appropriate in a few situations, it seems that most people are doing it simply because everyone else is doing it, and no one is really thinking it through. Most users come to your Facebook page for the content — information, specials, etc. Why put an extra page in their way?
It feels a lot to me like the “splash pages” everyone had in the late 90′s — simply an unnecessary step between your user and the content they want. We all eventually realized how stupid those were, so how are Facebook welcome tabs any different? (Honestly — leave a comment and convince me how they’re a good thing for everyone. I’m certainly open to changing my mind if someone can supply a solid argument.)
Copying the church down the road
One church I worked at was obsessed with the other big church just down the road. We’d often spend thousands of dollars copying activities that they did, even if we didn’t need them. It was quite sad. There were essentially two ways that our leadership viewed things:
- If they’re doing x, and we’re not, we need to start.
- If we’re doing x, and they’re not, we need to stop wasting time on it.
This was especially problematic during the rise of social media, because the “other church” was slow to adopt it. Therefore, it was tough for us to convince our church leadership that it was worthwhile. The “other church” is a wonderful place, but they have made some very poor technological choices over the past few years; very dumb things with their website, very little social media, etc. Copying them in those areas would have been a foolish mistake.
Stylish restaurant websites
Have you ever tried to pull up a restaurant website on your phone? It’s almost always brutal. Slate recently had an article about this, and I agree completely. Not only are they often unusable on a phone (especially an Apple device, with no hope of loading their cute Flash menus), but they’re equally frustrating from a normal browser.
My thought is that it’s the restaurant owners and their desire for a particular ambience that cause most of the issues. While you certainly want the actual restaurant to have that feel, putting cheesy background music being a painfully “creative” navigation bar isn’t the way to do it on the website.
The University website
(via xkcd. awesome site)
Part of this comes back to the problem of the University website. Universities think that we want to read about the school’s philosophy and press releases, and that idea is validated by other universities posting the same junk on their home page. This is very similar to churches that post a big link to their denomination’s website, rather than providing decent driving directions.
Check them out, but be smart
I’m certainly not saying you shouldn’t see what your competition is doing. As I said at the beginning, you can often get some good ideas from them. Just be smart, and always view things through the eyes of your customers. Ask yourself, “if I was a customer, why would I visit the site and what would I be looking for?” If the answer is “cheesy music and a mission statement”, find someone to help you think through it a bit further.