There are very few truly original business ideas. Most successful “novel” businesses are a simple reimagining of an old formula, or an old concept with a new skin. A cynic might illustrate this as a stunning lack of imagination, or as the result of greedy, unoriginal people simply trying to make money off of old ideas. But it’s also a byproduct of the longstanding philosophy: “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” In other words, if a specific model or structure worked for a similar business in the past, why not repurpose it for a new application?
This is the guiding principle behind “cloned” websites, which seek to preserve all the best elements of successful websites for a new purpose. But is creating a cloned website the best approach? Or are there weaknesses that could interfere with your success.
What Is a Cloned Website?
Building a clone website is essentially copying the layout or structure of an existing website, like Facebook or Reddit, and redesigning it or tweaking it to serve a new purpose. For example, you might clone Reddit’s approach to managing sub forums and comments and repurpose it for a very specific niche or for a new target audience.
Generally, people attempt to make significant changes to the original website when they make the new designs, partially to avoid potential legal disputes and partially for competitive differentiation. Still, it’s typically much easier to clone a website than to come up with a brand new concept by yourself.
The Benefits of Cloning a Website
There are several benefits to cloning an already successful website, such as:
- Less brainstorming/design/development work. You won’t have to spend as much time, money, or energy in your initial brainstorming. Companies that come up with innovative ideas typically spend a lot of money and countless me and hours trying to perfect that design. But you can skip this phase of the process entirely if you clone the website; instead, you can merely study what makes an existing website effective and then use those elements in your own design.
- A proven successful model. You also benefit from the fact that this website design has already proven to be successful. You know that people learn to use the platform very easily. You know that the web design is responsible for millions of dollars of revenue generation. You also know that it’s reasonably easy to create and maintain. Knowing that, you can enter the business with less risk and with greater confidence that you have the potential to succeed.
- User familiarity. Along similar lines, you’ll benefit from the fact that users are already familiar with this website, especially if you choose something that millions of people already use. Apps like Facebook condition their users to certain features, such as infinite scrolling content; when you copy this design and layout, nobody should be surprised when they visit your site. You won’t have any user attrition because nobody understands what you’re going for or how to use your site.
The Downsides of Cloning a Website
Of course, there are some weaknesses with this approach.
- Perceived lack of originality. If you copy another website to directly, you’re going to be perceived as unoriginal. It’s not a good look for a brand to simply mimic something a competitor has already done. If you don’t offer something unique in terms of content or user experience, you’re not going to get many benefits out of simply cloning a website.
- Lack of support. The web design can’t stand by itself. Without ample support from marketing, advertising, and PR campaigns, even the best business idea with the best design isn’t going to be able to succeed. Note that this isn’t an inherent downside of cloned websites; you can adequately support a cloned website with your own combination of strategies. The problem is, too many entrepreneurs expect the cloned website to do all the work for them, and they end up failing because of it.
- Legal issues (potentially). You have to be careful when lifting ideas from other people and organizations. The world of intellectual property rights and copyrights as they relate to web design it is fraught with complexities and subtle nuances. You may be able to copy some things directly with no worry of legal action coming against you, but some things, even if transformed, could land you in a tough legal battle. Even if the ruling goes in your favor, the time and money it takes to fight the legal battle could be prohibitive.
Making a Cloned Website Successful
So what does it take to make a cloned website successful?
- Create an excellent business plan. Before you even start thinking about which website you want to clone, work on creating an excellent business plan. If your business is solid enough, it could hypothetically be supported even if your web design is lacking. By contrast, even the best web design isn’t going to be enough to redeem a terrible business model. Make sure you spend adequate time crafting your business plan and addressing the strengths and weaknesses of your business before you make any big decisions about your web design.
- Provide something truly unique. You should make an effort to make the cloned version of your website unique in at least some ways. Beyond that, you should offer users innovative and original content. If all you’re doing is rehashing someone else’s business from the ground up, you’re not going to be successful. Find a way to differentiate yourself.
- Prioritize differentiating improvements. Perhaps the best way to wield a cloned website is to identify the major weaknesses, flaws, or missing components of a successful website and find a way to improve upon them in a new design. In this way, you can create an even better website than the one you’re cloning – all while differentiating yourself. If you go this route, make sure you highlight these differences and make it clear to your users that you offer something unique.
- Hire a professional developer. You might be able to clone a website by yourself if you have a lot of experience in the area of web development, but you’re usually better off hiring a professional. Web development agencies will be capable of cloning the best parts of a successful website while adding splashes of originality and improvements – all for a reasonable cost. Pro developers are also skilled at improving the cybersecurity of your website, reducing your susceptibility to many kinds of threats.
- Hire a lawyer. As long as you’re not directly copying someone else’s brand or trademarked material, you should be in the clear in terms of legal issues. But legal problems can be so expensive and time consuming that it’s not worth taking a risk. Hire a lawyer to make sure your cloned website isn’t infringing on any existing trademarks or copyrights.
- Target a highly specific niche. The more specific your target audience is, the better. Appealing to a general audience means you’re going to sacrifice relevance for that audience – and ultimately, you’re going to lose them. To build momentum early, it’s important to appeal to a well-defined segment that you understand inside and out.
- Create excellent content. As with all websites, it’s important to create excellent content if you want it to succeed. That means investing time and/or money and potentially inviting user-submitted content to fill in some of the gaps.
Even if you have an excellent idea and a well-researched plan for success, cloned website business models still require significant investments of time and resources – just like any other business. You can’t think of a cloned website as being a shortcut to success. That said, if you have a solid business idea and you’re able to transform a cloned website into something that’s truly unique and valuable, you can make this approach work.