When I visit the websites of firms in my industry, I continue to be struck by the commodity quality we all seem to have in common. This is NOT good.

This similarity could be exaggerated in my eyes because I’ve been looking so long at these sites that my brain is beginning to fuzz over, but I think you’ll agree we’re pretty much all using the same words, making the same claims, giving the same promises over and over.

I’m afraid that my prospective clients are all likely performing the same exercise and seeing what I saw: site after site saying the same thing, all becoming extensions of the other, all blurring together with no single firm or message sticking out or distinctly resonating above the others.

I could have written this. In fact, I’ve written posts with similar ideas in the past — such as this one from 2010: Make Your B2B Website Stand Out with a Compelling Message.

These words, however, came from a prospective client who is considering a complete rebrand / Web Overhaul.

When I work with clients on Website Overhauls, I perform this very same exercise as part of my prep work (that is, looking at competitor / industry sites).

For years now, I’ve been struck dumb by how boring, how bland and how blah corporate sites look today.

As my prospective client points out, when you look at site after site after site, your brain fuzzes over. Nothing stands out. Everything sounds the same. If you feel that way, imagine what your prospects must go through.

I predicted, when Larry Page took over the CEO spot at Google, that the search engine would completely revamp its core product. This is exactly what has happened, and now Websites that present helpful, well-written, unique content geared toward users are being rewarded.

In fact, last week the FeedtheBot blog posted that Google had updated its Webmaster Guidelines. One sentence stood out for me:

“Think about what makes your website unique, valuable, or engaging. Make your website stand out from others in your field.”

This is my goal for every site I work on. I wooted with joy. Woot woot!

How to make your site stand apart from the crowd

Currently, I’m working with Simone Joyaux, ACFRE. Simone is someone I’ve respected from afar for years. She’s the life partner of my good friend Tom Ahern. Both Simone and Tom are big wheels in the non-profit industry. Simone, in fact, is one of the top consultants in the field and is known the world over.

When she asked me to help her update her site, I jumped at the chance. Showcasing Simone and her talents would be — and is — an absolute joy.

Joyaux Associates - Present Home Page

As with many industries, the non-profit sector is filled with “site after site saying the same thing.” In fact, I was rather appalled at just how bad some of these sites were. Zowie!

To set her apart, I began the engagement the way I do all of my Web Overhaul projects — I went for a tour. In this case, I visited Simone and Tom in their home and spent a wonderful two hours eating blueberry pie, drinking lemonade, and getting to know Simone, her work and her objectives for the new site.

Based on her feedback, I then worked with Rachel Cunliffe of Cre8d Design to develop a creative brief, which serves as our foundation for the project. We then collaborated on the home page and interior page mockups in order to address these and other issues:

  • What message were we communicating?
  • Which images would best communicate that message?
  • How best to present Simone’s penchant for asking “cage rattling” questions?
  • How to communicate Simone’s passion for helping non-profits and the people who work in them or serve on their boards?

And, most pressing for me, how to keep her unique voice even while seriously pruning content?

Communicating authentically is about sharing your vision

In the last year, I’ve done a lot of soul searching about what I offer to clients and how best to communicate it. People often ask me, “What’s a Website Overhaul?” Other people say, “So you just write content, right?”

Sure, I write content.

But what I also do is combine a number of things: My own passion, a sincere interest in what small business owners do and communicating it well, and the desire to create something exceptional for an exceptional company or individual.

And what I do really well is powerfully visualize. I help bring to life people’s ideas in the form of Websites.

When I met Simone and got to know her, I knew instantly the kind of site she needed — and was able to communicate that to Rachel.

Screams. Of. Joy.

When Rachel presented the first mockups to Simone, I was a little nervous. The new concept was very different. Would she like it? When I heard my phone ring and saw her name, I didn’t pick up. I was too afraid to.

Joyaux Associates - Home Page Mock Up

I listened to the message and then read her email. She was ecstatic. In fact, she and Tom were screaming with joy. She even called Rachel in New Zealand to tell her how happy she was. Wow. (I’m still letting all that in!)

In his upcoming book, Risky is the New Safe, Randy Gage talks a great deal about how old ways of doing things are no longer “safe.”

I really believe that the current method of developing Websites — buying a low-cost theme, adding some “custom” elements to it, and then writing warmed over copy that says nothing — is now the new “risky.”

Sites like Simone’s — and the other client sites I currently have in progress — will be the new Safe.

Safe because they’ll pass through Google’s Panda / Penguin updates unscathed.

Safe because they’ll stand apart from the crowd.

Safe because people like Simone will show their authentic selves and expertise — which in turn will draw clients to them, effortlessly.

Simone, thank you. Thank you for trusting me with your brand and your site. Thank you for your vision and your constant questions as we move through this process. You have been a real inspiration to me. I’m honored to be working with you.

What do you think? Add your .02 cents.

Dianna Huff is the founder and president of Huff Industrial Marketing, a full service agency that tackles a host of marketing and communications challenges for manufacturing companies.

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