Pros and Cons of Cloning vs Building a Website From Scratch

August 23, 2023
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When looking to launch a new website, you’ve got two main options on the table – cloning an existing popular site in your space or building something completely from scratch.

Website cloning has gotten big because it provides a shortcut for copying the core functionality and looks and feels of established platforms that have already gained traction. It allows you to essentially piggyback on their success. But cloning also comes with downsides like legal risks and just being seen as an unoriginal knockoff. When researching templates to clone, this list of the top websites worth cloning highlights leading options across categories.

Building from scratch gives you total creative control and room for real innovation. But you also have to invest more upfront in planning, design, and custom development without any guarantees it’ll resonate. You’re starting from zero without an existing audience.

So which approach is right for your next web project – meticulously recreating something proven using cloning or risking it all on a new creation? In this comprehensive guide, we’ll dig into the pros, cons, costs, and key considerations of each option. We’ll look at when cloning makes sense versus when you may be better off building from the ground up. Let’s hash it out!

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What is Website Cloning?

Website cloning refers to creating an exact copy of an existing website and launching it as your own site. Instead of building a website from scratch, developers use clone scripts to replicate both the frontend UI and backend functionality of the original site.

Clones aim to emulate established websites in a particular niche or industry vertical. Examples include cloning:

  • Popular ecommerce stores like Amazon or Etsy
  • Review sites such as TripAdvisor or Yelp
  • Marketplaces like Craigslist or eBay
  • Social media networks like Facebook or Reddit
  • SaaS apps like Slack or Trello

The clone contains the same core features, design, content structure, and user experience. The goal is to compete directly against the industry leader.

Cloning has become popular because it allows web entrepreneurs to shortcut the development process. Instead of investing months or years into building an audience and fine-tuning a business model, clones leverage proven platforms to hit the ground running.

Next, let’s look at some of the notable advantages cloning offers compared to launching a new website from scratch.

Pros of Cloning a Website vs Building from Scratch

Here are some of the main benefits website cloning provides over developing a custom site from the ground up:

Significantly Lower Costs and Faster Launch

The biggest appeal of cloning is it’s far more affordable and faster than building a site from zero. High quality clone scripts are available for most popular site types, including:

  • Ecommerce platforms like Magento or WooCommerce
  • Forum software like phpBB or vBulletin
  • Social networks like Dolphin or Social Engine
  • Directory scripts like Business Directory Plugin for WordPress

These clone scripts can be licensed and customized for a fraction of the cost of having developers build something custom. Not only do they provide all the crucial site functionality, but cloning also avoids lengthy phases like planning requirements, UX design, prototyping, and testing.

Cloning allows web entrepreneurs to get an MVP version of the site live quickly. After launch, additional features can be added over time as warranted.

Follows a Proven Business Model

When cloning an established site in your niche, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel when it comes to the business model. Successfully clones adopt what already works.

For example, if cloning Airbnb, you gain a readymade blueprint for implementing tried-and-true features like:

  • User profiles/listings
  • Search/filters
  • Booking system
  • Payments
  • Review system

Plus proven revenue streams via:

  • Listing fees
  • Booking/service fees
  • Premium subscriptions

The platform, infrastructure, and monetization models are pre-validated. Clones simply aim to compete using the same model through better execution and localization.

Copies a Popular, Proven Design

Along with functionality, clones also replicate the design, look-and-feel, and UX of the original site. This provides familiarity to users versus having to design something completely new.

Visually, clones are almost indistinguishable from their inspirations at first glance. For example, Pinterest clones adopt the same infinite scrolling grid of images. Facebook clones recreate the same sidebar, newsfeed, and profile layouts.

Leveraging popular design layouts and components avoids having to spend time on UX research, mockups, usability testing, and visual design.

Jumpstarts With an Established Audience

When cloning a leading website in your space, you can ride the coattails of their existing brand awareness and audience. Avid users are already familiar with the core product and value proposition.

For instance, cloning YouTube taps into the millions of people actively using and engaging with video platforms. Or cloning Goodreads starts with an audience obsessed with reading and reviewing books.

This allows clones to hit the ground running vs having to start from zero users and slowly build critical mass. The market is already validated.

Saves Time Building Domain Authority

Similarly, cloning benefits from the original site’s existing domain authority and trust signals. Established sites have significant metrics like:

  • High domain/page authority
  • Hundreds or thousands of quality backlinks
  • Strong branding and awareness

For example, cloning Stack Overflow lets you inherit the platform’s immense authority for being the #1 programming Q&A site online.

This gives clones a huge advantage in search engine results and avoids having to spend months or even years building domain authority through content creation and link building.

Cons of Cloning a Website vs Launching a New Custom Site

While cloning offers some attractive benefits, it also comes with a unique set of disadvantages and challenges:

Seen as Unoriginal and Lacking Innovation

The biggest downside is clones cast themselves as copycats of existing brands. They may be viewed as riding coattails rather than innovating.

This can limit growth potential if users perceive the clone as an inferior knock-off of the “real thing”. Users may remain loyal to recognized brands they trust.

Creative marketing and added unique features are required to overcome the copycat stigma. But some verticals like social networks tend to consolidate around a single dominant player.

Legal and Copyright Issues Can Arise

Clones that too closely replicate elements like branding, copy, images, and site design may run into legal problems. While core functionality generally can’t be protected, visual copyrights and trademarks still apply.

For example, Anthropic recently had to remove its DALL-E clone StarryAI from the AppStore for infringing on OpenAI’s trademark. Similarly, Facebook sued Power Ventures for making a virtual clone in 2008.

Clones must take care to sufficiently differentiate the branding, copywriting, and visual elements from the original IP. Significant customization of the template and design is required.

Harder to Differentiate vs Launching New Idea

Since the model and features already exist, clones by definition lack core differentiation from what’s come before. Users may default back to the original site they’re accustomed to using.

It’s challenging for clones to provide entirely new value beyond better marketing and localization. Clones must get creative with extensions, integrations, and partnerships.

Risks Duplicate Content and Search Penalties

Cloning an existing site inevitably leads to publishing very similar content. Wholesale copying will trigger duplicate content penalties from Google.

Clones should take care to customize templates, rewrite content in their own voice, and target different keywords. They should differentiate by expanding into new topics and offerings.

When dealing with cloned websites, it’s important to note that there might be a possibility of encountering bugs and issues.

While some duplication is hard to avoid entirely, clones must prioritize creating wholly unique assets.

How to Choose a Good Clone Script or Solution

The clone script forms the foundation of the entire project. As such, it’s crucial to select a robust, customizable script that supports long-term growth. Here are key factors to evaluate:

Assess Complexity of Site Being Cloned

  • Not all clone scripts are created equal. Assess how complex the features and functionality of the site you want to replicate are. More complex clones like multi-user social networks require more advanced scripts.
  • For simpler informational sites or directories, you may be able to use more basic open source templates. But if cloning intricate SaaS apps or ecommerce stores, opt for more powerful paid scripts.

Ensure Fully Responsive Design

  • Any clone script you select must be fully responsive out of the box to accommodate mobile usage, which accounts for more than half of all web traffic today.
  • Scripts that are only optimized for desktop will severely limit your audience. Responsiveness should be table stakes.

Review Documentation and Customization Options

Look for clone scripts with extensive documentation and tutorials around implementation, configuration, customization, and integration.

Robust customization options are essential so you’re not boxed into someone else’s design and features. Assess available ways to tailor the script to your branding and requirements.

Select a Mature Script with Ongoing Support

Review the clone script’s development history. Favor established scripts that are actively maintained, updated, and supported long-term.

Abandoned projects or outdated legacy scripts will cause issues down the road. There should be a clear roadmap for continued improvement.

Understand Licensing Terms

  • Review the fine print around licensing, attribution, branding removal, payment systems, etc. Many scripts mandate removal of their branding and links.
  • Watch for shady clone scripts that don’t fully disclose licensing terms or who falsely market themselves as “freemium” options. There is usually a catch.
  • Following these criteria will help you select a flexible, future-proof clone script. Now let’s go over ways to reduce costs for your project.

How to Reduce Costs When Cloning a Website

While cloning is generally cheaper than custom development, here are some tips to further reduce costs:

Leverage Ready Clone Scripts Over Custom Development

The biggest cost saver is licensing an off-the-shelf clone script vs hiring a dev agency to build something fully custom. Configuring an existing script requires less specialized tech skills.

For example, SocialEngine’s social network clone script starts at around $500. But building a custom social platform would easily cost $200k+. The savings are enormous.

Use Freelancers or DIY Implementation Over Agencies

You’ll pay a premium to have a web dev agency configure, customize, and launch your clone site. Consider doing it yourself or hiring affordable freelancers instead.

Many clone scripts don’t require advanced coding. The creators provide documentation for getting it running yourself. Lean on their support as needed.

Start With a Basic V1 and Core Feature Set

Keep your initial scope and requirements minimal to launch a functional but barebones V1 quickly and cost effectively. There’s no need to clone every single feature of the original right away.

Add additional functionality over time post-launch once you have traction and funding. Prioritize must-have features for a workable MVP.

Scale Up Infrastructure Costs As You Grow

A common mistake is overbuilding infrastructure from day one before even validating the concept. Start with low-cost shared hosting and upgrade to dedicated servers as traffic warrants.

Too often, ambition leads to inflated costs for unused capacity. Scale your hosting plans and CDNs incrementally.

Following these cost optimization tips will help limit your clone’s initial investment. Next we’ll look at best practices for making your cloned website successful long-term.

Tips for Making a Cloned Website Successful

While cloning can get your site up and running quickly, ongoing work is required to ensure your clone stands out and succeeds. Here are proven tips:

Add At Least One Unique Value Proposition

Strive to introduce something new that differentiates you and provides unique user value beyond just executing better.

Maybe you localize for a distinct geography. Or integrate with complementary services. Or target an underserved customer segment. Find an angle.

Create 100% Original Content

Wholly unique content is vital to avoiding duplicate content penalties and establishing domain authority.

Don’t just swipe the original site’s blogs and articles. Produce original assets around your localized users’ needs and interests. Expand the content scope.

Heavily Optimize for Search Rankings

Aggressively optimize pages for keywords where you can outrank the original site. Monitor rankings closely and adapt efforts.

Prioritize long-tail, geo-targeted keyword variations the incumbent may not focus on. With better localization and UX, clones can win specific searches.

Invest Heavily in Marketing From the Start

Success ultimately comes down to out-executing the original through better marketing. Be relentless in getting the word out through SEO, social, email marketing, partnerships, ads, and other channels.

Marketing is the main way clones can differentiate and direct attention to their version. Compete aggressively for search and social visibility.

Executing well across these areas will give any cloned site a fighting chance at overtaking incumbents and emerging as the preferred alternative.

Wrap Up

Website cloning can provide a faster, lower-cost shortcut to launching a site by replicating an existing successful platform. While cloning expedites getting to market and leverages proven business models, adequate customization and marketing differentiation is required for the clone to stand out in the niche.

Ultimately, the decision between cloning or building from scratch comes down to analyzing the specific opportunity. For markets with dominant established players, cloning may be a viable foothold. But with sufficient branding changes and unique integrations, cloned sites can thrive long-term through strong execution on growth strategies.

For other scenarios, a 100% custom-built website allows full creative freedom. By focusing on solving user needs better than competitors, both cloned and new sites can win loyal audiences. Platforms like Zipprr offer turnkey ecommerce, social network, and other website and app clones as well as domains to launch your online business faster.

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    Aditi Krishnan

    Aditi Krishnan is a custom software development expert with over 5 years of experience in designing and building applications. She is currently a Lead Developer at Zipprr, a fast-growing software development company based in Cleveland, USA. Aditi specializes in Java, Python, and web technologies like ReactJS. Some of her past projects include developing internal tools for a logistics unicorn and building custom CRMs for Austrian SMEs. Outside of work, she enjoys traveling, cooking experimental dishes and is currently learning coding in Rust.