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Please, please DON’T ask me to do this before I write your website content

Almost every week, a new client will ask me to look at Competitor A or Competitor B before I start writing their content and to just ‘do it the same’.

Thanks for the suggestion,’ I say politely. ‘But I’m not going to do that.

Last month, one client went as far as asking me to change specific words so that his site would more closely match his competitor’s. (I got the feeling this particular client lacked the confidence to be different on any level, which is dangerous territory.) But as I pointed out, why pay a professional copywriter good money to create unoriginal content?

Admittedly, I do occasionally scan competitor websites before I begin writing – but that’s only if I need to better understand an unfamiliar or particularly complex industry.

Most of the time, however, I blissfully ignore competitor websites before planning and writing begins. Here’s why.

1. Your competitors’ websites (probably) SUCK!

NEWSFLASH:

Most small businesses — and many larger organisations for that matter — have god-awful websites. Their website copy is generic, repetitive, jargon-heavy, self-indulgent and irrelevant. (I have many more adjectives I could throw in, trust me!) And many websites are also poorly structured and disorganised.

So the last thing I’ll be tempted to do before writing copy for your website is to look to your competitors for… inspiration.

Some of your competitors may be bigger or more successful than you. But that doesn’t mean you should strive to emulate their website. Critique their site if you must – but it may be more appropriate to use as a reference for what NOT to do.

Certainly don’t praise it without good reason.

Consider this fact: many businesses are successful in spite of their (pathetic) web presence. Not because of it.

2. No one is impressed with a ‘me too’ brand

Whenever I start working with a new client, my priority is always the same: I focus obsessively on uncovering their point of difference.

In other words, what is the one thing about this dentist, recruiter, university, law firm or real estate agency that makes it compelling, different or special?

Without a clear point of difference, websites are ineffective and easily forgotten.

And that’s why simply deferring to your competitors and saying whatever they’re saying is a stupid – and potentially fatal – approach. Copying is not a content strategy.

If you want to check out your competitors’ websites, I suggest you do it AFTER you’ve put in the hard yards and uncovered your point of difference. At that stage, it becomes an exercise in validation. That is, confirming that your marketing message is unique.

As the great Oscar Wilde once perfectly articulated: ‘Be yourself. Everyone else is taken.’

3. I want to write freely… and without prejudice

Earlier in my career, I did spend time researching competitor websites before I began writing. And even though I never directly copied or intended to copy, my mind was no longer fresh and unencumbered.

Once we see something, there’s no way to ‘unsee’ it. Our conscious and subconscious minds are tainted – whether we like or not. It then becomes impossible to create fresh ideas, to challenge conventions and to push boundaries like we otherwise might.

By ignoring competitor websites, I can create sitemaps and write content without preconceptions. I’m forced to really think for myself. And maybe, just maybe I’ll come up with a better way of doing something that no one – not even your most impressive or successful competitor – has thought of before.