As a web designer, one of the most important portfolio pieces you can have is your own website. Think about it for a minute. Someone is looking for a web designer and they stumble upon your website. They see the most hideous website that is super hard to navigate. What do they do? Think “hm, this is the best website experience I’ve had, I’m going to continue onto their portfolio page”? No way. Sign on for your services? Nope.
Why It’s So Hard to Finish Your Own Website as a Web Designer
This is why you and so many other web designers are so hard on yourselves when it comes to your own website. You (understandably so) want it to be perfect so you work on it for months, make millions of edits, post comments in Facebook groups like “why is it SO hard to finish my own website when I’m a freaking WEB DESIGNER?!?!?!?” and then proceed to make more changes and more edits for days, weeks, and maybe even months to come.
Side Note: At some point you just need to bite the bullet and launch the damn thing. Your website isn’t going anywhere. You have the rest of your life to change it so don’t strive for 100% perfect. Strive for 90% perfect and then be OK with making changes in the future. Not to mention, as your business grows you’ll most likely want to rebrand or change your website content here or there anyway which means it will NEVER be 100% perfect. So… if this is the sign you were looking for, telling you to launch your website, GO LAUNCH THE DAMN THING!
Back to the main purpose of this post. You work so hard on your website, launch it, and then at some point you realize that someone has literally copied your website… your brand colors, your logo style, your copy… all of it.
What do you do?
What To Do When Someone Steals Your Shit (AKA Copies Your Website)
First off, I’m lucky enough to say that this didn’t happen to me personally. A web designer I’ve known for a few years now reached out to me last year because someone in my Facebook group (of all the places) copied her website almost exactly. She wanted to know what to do. The way she handled it was perfect so I’m going to share that below. But I also did some research to see what can be done when someone copies your website you’ve worked so hard on.
Step 1: Get Proof
The first thing you need to do when you find out someone has copied your website is get proof. Take screenshots of your own website and of the website copy. Make sure that you can see the URL in all the screenshots so you can tell which is yours and which is the copycats.
There’s this cool tool called The Way Back Machine that allows you to pick a date in the past and see what a website looked like on that date. Enter your copycats website URL and select a date in the past that proves their website design was different before. Then enter your website URL and select the same date or one close to it to show that your website was in fact designed before theirs.
2. Reach Out to the Copycat that Stole Your Shit
Finding their contact information should be pretty easy. The best route to go is sending a direct email to them (try to avoid going through the contact form or sending a message on social media).
Lay out all the facts and attach the screenshots as proof but don’t do it in an attacking way. Instead of getting all fired up and saying something like, “I worked so hard on this website and you’ve literally copied it word for word. If you don’t take it down or change it right away I’m going to take legal action,” use kind words instead to show you’re not immediately jumping into legal action.
“Hey Suzie. I noticed that your website design, branding, and logo are all very similar to mine. It looks like it was redesigned sometime around January 2, 2020 and before that date looked like this (insert screenshot). I’m flattered that you loved my branding and design so much to use it as inspiration for your own business but was hoping you could make some adjustments to make sure it’s easy for potential clients to differentiate between our two businesses. If this was an accident, I totally understand! Looking forward to hearing back from you. -Kristen”
Use something polite but to the point like the above text to get your message and concern across. Most likely, they’ll be embarrassed that they copied your website to begin with or that they got caught. If that’s the case, they may never reply to your message but odds are they’ll revert their website back to the original or make changes so it’s easier to differentiate between your two businesses.
If they ignore you completely and don’t reply, send a follow up message to make sure they didn’t miss it. If they STILL don’t reply then the next step is legal action.
3. Take Legal Action
When you take legal action, the first thing to do is send a Cease and Desist Letter. You can learn what to include in a Cease and Desist Letter here and even learn more about enforcing it. Most small businesses, including yours, probably don’t have the funds you would need to get a lawyer and fight this in court. That means the copycat will most likely revert their website or make the necessary changes.
You can also report their website to Google here under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Google will determine whether or not the website has broken any laws and if they have, they’ll take the website down. If they don’t and the business owner still hasn’t made any changes to their website, it’s time to decide if it’s worth taking further legal action, changing your website, or leaving it alone.
See Copycats as a Form of Flattery
While having your website copied is a huge nuisance and nothing you want to experience after having worked on it for so long, remember that copying is a sign of appreciation. If someone goes to the lengths to copy your website then they really like your website! They could have easily copied anyone else’s but they chose yours. That’s one huge compliment!
Unfortunately, copycats are everywhere and it’s something you can’t really avoid. So if you happen to have your website or branding stolen, make sure you follow these three steps:
- Get Proof
- Reach Out to the Copycat that Stole Your Shit
- Take Legal Action
And during this annoying time in your business, be flattered because it’s a huge compliment (you have GREAT taste and design skills)!
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