By Princess Jones

One of the first things new website design clients often tell me is that they don’t want their website to look like anyone else’s. They tell me that they need originality and that is the most important thing to them on this project. Then they tend to list a lot of ideas that they thought of while in the shower, driving, or under the influence of alcohol.

And although I nod while the client is talking, I’m already thinking about about how to talk them out of it.

The truth is that websites often look similar because that’s what works for your industry. Giving your customers an unfamiliar environment to work with often affects your conversion rates — the rate at which customers buy, sign up, or complete whatever task you’re asking them to do. Any barrier to conversion is to avoided at all costs.

Websites Are for Users, Not Owners

If a customer logs onto your restaurant’s website, they probably want one of three things — your menu, your hours of operation, and perhaps your reservation process. If they can’t find these things, they are likely to navigate away and try something else.

You may think that a photo of the owner flying across the page while the theme to Top Chef autopays would be awesome. I guarantee you that 99.9 percent of your customers don’t care about stuff like that.

Being unusual or different is something you save for your products or your services. Your website needs to be designed so that everything they care about is easy to find and everything they really wouldn’t care about is either minimized or removed. Essentially, the idea is to figure out what your clients and customers want and need when they log onto your site. Then give it to them.

Borrow Your Competitors’ Success

Start the process by checking out what your competitors are doing. You know (or should know) who your direct competitors are. Also plug in the keywords you are pursuing with your website and find out what sites are ranking highly for them. Finally, if you’re a company that depends on local business, spend some time specifically checking out competitors in your service area.

Take careful notes. Look at the similarities between all of the websites. What exactly are the common threads between them all? How are their sales funnels set up? What types of landing pages are they using? Where do your eyes fall on each page? What are the color schemes like? What are the tones in the copy and the design?

Keep in mind that this is not about copying someone else’s copy or design. That’s not what you’re doing here The whole point of this is to notice what the overall industry trends are and what customers tend to expect. The next step is to talk directly to those customers.

Ask the Customers What They Want and Need

You can talk to them one-on-one but that gets tiresome if you’ve got any kind of significant customer base. Surveys are a great way to get information from a lot of different users in an efficient manner. You can set them up to trigger after certain events — purchases or customer service interactions. Or you could just send the survey out to your entire mailing list at once. Ask your customers about what they think is important, what they need, and how they use your site.

Another option is to do some A/B testing. That’s when you try out a few different layouts or combinations based on certain criteria–user location, time periods, etc. Pay attention to your conversion rates to see which one does best. Then make your decisions based on that.