When it comes to business web design, is imitation really flattery… or the first step in a lawsuit?
A lot depends on what you’re borrowing, and where it’s coming from. Artists and marketers have been taking inspiration – and sometimes a lot more than inspiration – from each other for centuries. In this digital age, however, business owners, web designers, and everyone else have to be a lot more careful about what they take from a competitor.
Here are a couple of guidelines to help you stay out of trouble:
Never take text, images, or HTML code from someone else’s website. There are a few good reasons for this. First, there is the very obvious matter of theft; copying something from someone’s website without permission could open you up to all sorts of legal liabilities.
Even if that weren’t the case, or if you weren’t likely to be caught by the owner of the material, there’s still the fact that copying no longer works. One of the major features of the latest updates by Google and other major search engines has been severe penalties for “scraping,” which basically amounts to taking content from other people’s sites. Given that the practice could get your business site blacklisted forever, and cost you a lot in legal penalties, there are a lot of obvious reasons not to do it.
You can take inspiration from someone else’s color scheme, navigation structure, or marketing ideas. In other words, while you can’t ever “borrow” things like copywriting or design, you are free to notice what another company has been successful with and follow their example. For instance, if they have used an e-mail newsletter or downloadable report to gain new business, there’s nothing stopping you from offering your own. In fact, if you can come up with something that’s better, you might see a lot stronger results than your competitor has.
Better yet, try to think about why customers like something another business has done, and then think of ways that you can improve upon the concept. For instance, most buyers don’t care about newsletters as much as they just like helpful information; is there a way that you could deliver it to them that’s more helpful or efficient? Do you have an idea for a marketing strategy that you haven’t seen one of your competitors trying yet?
When in doubt, avoid copying something from another company, whether they’re in the same industry as you or not. Your goal should be to find what works and make it better, not to put your website and company at risk over something silly.