There are more than 650 million websites on the Internet today. Talk about competition! Each of them are trying to attract customers’ attention and many of them are trying to attract the same customers that you are.

Gone are the days of “if you build it, they will come” websites. In order to attract and retain customers, your website needs to stand out from the crowd.  In addition to optimizing your website for search engines, you need to have a design that will make customers want to stay once they have found your website.  At first glance, your website needs to show customers who you are and that you are different (better) than the other websites they’ve seen.

But while standing out, you need to also fit in. Your website should fit in to what your visitor is expecting and make it easy for them to find what they’re looking for and accomplish their goal (buy a product, learn something, connect with friends, etc.).  You should follow the standards and conventions that visitors are used to. The logo should be at the top of the page, navigation should be at the top or left, links should be underlined, etc.

There are some websites that look “really cool” but are impossible to navigate because the “coolness” of the website completely obscures the functionality. So, although the website definitely stands out, it doesn’t do them any good because visitors are just going to get confused and leave. If your website requires visitors to learn new habits just to find what they’re looking for, they will likely just leave instead of going to the trouble of figuring out your new system, however cool they may be.

But just because you need to have certain functions doesn’t mean that your website needs to be boring. In fact, as I was looking for examples of unique website designs, I realized that many of the eye-catching designs actually use a basic grid structure and all of the standard conventions that other websites use. What makes them unique is eye-catching imagery and adherence to a distinctive and appropriate theme.

Your website should also fit in to your company’s industry. When a visitor comes to your site, they should be able to have an idea of what kind of products or services you offer just by the look of your website.  Each industry has a specific look. Banks use sharp lines, traditional fonts, and blues and blacks to suggest an image of respectability and security. Toy stores use bright colors, rounded corners, and cartoon characters to show that they are all about fun and play. Whatever your industry, the colors, fonts, and images on your website should make it obvious to the customer that you belong in that industry.

Within each industry, there are also companies that offer similar products or services but that target different types of customers. This is one way that you can stand out. If you are a bank that serves the hippie demographic, for example, you can get away with a non-traditional look. But if your bank’s customers are mostly middle aged, traditional CEOs, you should probably stick to a conservative tone. You have to know your customers and know what they are expecting. Then give them a website that meets their needs and expectations better than your competitors.

Below are a few examples of websites that have fun, appropriate, unique designs. They all rely heavily on imagery to set a distinct tone, but use standard navigation and organization to make it easy for visitors to find what they are looking for. What websites have you found that do a good job of fitting in and standing out? Leave us a comment and let us know!

Just looking at this site is giving me a sugar rush!

The large images, wording, and color scheme leave no doubt that this site is about not just coffee, but the whole coffee experience.

The images on this site do a good job of setting the tone.

This software development company uses unique navigation and a sparse home page.