Start Small, Think Big
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Others Do the Work, You Save Money

In the Think Big, Start Small post I suggested the idea of an online field trip to find web site concepts that might be applicable to your own web site. Some of the most successful web sites borrowed their ideas from some other site. For whatever reason, people have a pressing need to reinvent the wheel on the Internet.  It costs money to reinvent the wheel.  In many cases you can find a web site that is doing reasonably well, borrow some of their ideas and do even better.  The process allows almost anyone to save time and money on their web project. 

Looking At The Competition
A few years ago I headed up a usability study for a local private school that services the deaf and hard of hearing.  Part of the usability study focused on looking at the client’s competition and similar topical web sites.  The information derived from analyzing other web sites was tremendously helpful.  It allowed the client and the developer to integrate user approved concepts thereby reducing project time and cost.

Direct Marketing Methodology
The same methodology is used in the direct marketing field on a regular basis.  Most of the great copywriters encourage their students to collect junk mail.  Companies pay top dollar to create advertising campaigns that most people classify as junk mail.  If you can clue into the successful campaigns (those that run often) you might be able to integrate some of the ideas.  It takes time but is well worth the effort.   

Where to Start
The process is very straightforward. Find web sites that offer a similar product or service to your own.  Those will be the sites that you’ll look to gather information from. Take into consideration the factors such as user demographics and the size of a site as it relates to your site. 

You can conduct the testing on your own or make use of family or friends.  Consider looking to users outside your organization to conduct testing. People outside the organization traditionally have less bias as it related to your company or product.

Likes and Dislikes
Ask people to identify their likes and dislikes on the competing or similar web sites.  Make a list of your findings. Are there any ideas or concepts that you might be able to improve upon?

It is important to emulate as opposed to creating an exact copy. There are still copyright laws that need to be observed.

You can save a significant amount of money and time on development costs by emulating others.  There is nothing wrong with taking someone's idea and expanding it or modifying it.  It is the essence of the Internet.  Almost everyone is a copy cat.

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