Unless you just delivered a cure for cancer, your business is probably not unique. Special? Ok, sure. Fabulous? To your Mom, perhaps. Uniqueness, however, is an attribute that very few businesses possess (gosh, that’s a lot of s’s). “Our site has to be unique,” you say. “We don’t want to look like anyone else.” Nonsense. Uniqueness is simply oversold in marketing. Make sure you don’t look like you copied your competition’s website. That will take you twenty minutes to figure out and it’s good enough.
Companies are sold a bill of goods when they are convinced that their website must be unique in the known universe. This concept is reinforced by surfing the web and visiting lots of cool, whiz-bang sites. What they don’t realize is that those über-cool sites often represent many months of effort and tens of thousands of dollars of refinement. That kind of expense is simply not justified for a young company trying to get established on the web.
My friend Joe likes to challenge me about my USP – my Unique Selling Proposition. I just laugh and say, “Joe, I don’t have to be unique. I just have to be the best person you know in my category.” I have to have a good reputation (capable) and be known for something (visible). This is especially true in the professional services sector, where most of our business comes by referral.
Companies assume that their website must be completely different from all others. They say it has to be unique, cool, sexy, or whatever. Aren’t we forgetting the basics of marketing when we talk like this? Define your target market and speak to that market in a way that makes sense to them. A website is a communication vehicle. Websites about service companies, for example, need to establish credibility, inform, and initiate contact. That’s it. People don’t buy services from a website — they research them. Your goal is to make them pick the phone or send you an email. That’s it. It’s not to make them go, “Ooh, these guys have the best Flash banner ever!” A professional look, great content and easy navigation achieves the objective.
“We have to have Flash,” you say. Why? Do your visitors expect flash? Do they want to watch shiny widgets spin across the screen (after waiting for them to load)? Ok, maybe in the entertainment and games sectors, but not in business. If you are spending money on search engine optimization, do you understand that Flash content doesn’t index well for search? Flash for the sake of having flash can be just as annoying as having a sound loop on your site that auto-starts or that the user cannot turn off.
“But we are artists!” To be sure, those of you in the visual arts like graphic design and photography must make sure that your body of work shows well. Make sure your web images are good quality and that the user can navigate the site with ease. That has nothing to do with being unique, however. In fact, simple navigation and a decent slideshow are about all you need to get the idea across. Inventing a totally new way of navigating your website works against you if visitors get confused. Stick with a logical layout and let users navigate your site in ways they expect. In short, keep the website out of your visitors’ way so that they can focus on your product or service.
Fear of duplication is irrational. Who is actually comparing your website to another besides you? Your competition, maybe, but not your customers — and they’re the people that matter. If you find a website template that you like, you might fear that others have used it and that will make you look like a copycat. Easily solved: Change the banner picture at the top and voila — you have a different website. Even better, use a picture that you took. Now you probably have a unique website. Besides, no one believes that those stock photography twenty-somethings actually work for your company.
Don’t buy the unique-or-bust hype. Find a nice template for $50 and skip the expensive design project. Chances are good you’ll change it next year anyway. When you make your first million, you can pay the big bucks to have 17 shades of green on your website so all your friends can ooh and ahh over it.