Out of the hundreds of millions of websites available online, only an incredibly small fraction are noticed by the public at large. And what’s worse, this small fraction is inherently niche specific, so it becomes even less likely that a website will ever be found. This is obviously why search engine optimization plays such a vital role in website design, and it’s also why a smart site designer will model his or her site after a working, successful website.

Researching the web to find different successful websites can be a lot trickier than it sounds, however. Just because a website receives traffic and is popular, that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s anything you can—or would want to—duplicate. So, what exactly are you looking for when researching a website to serve as a model for your own template? That’s a relative question that’s awfully tough to answer.

Everyone’s needs are obviously different, but you could break down into a few solid categories. Here are a few different things you should be paying attention to when researching working, successful websites.

1. Niche catering

Search within the particular niche you will be marketing in. Find a site that is successful within that niche and find out exactly what it is they’re doing to stay successful within that particular framework. You can search instances of the site’s name (not the complete domain) to find different locations where the site is marketed. You will find where the site promotes itself and how it is reaching its chosen market. Figuring out how to cater to your specific niche is important.

2. Keyword use and density

Which keywords and phrases does a successful site in your niche use to promote itself? What is the keyword density being used of a top-ranked site on Google or Bing? Keyword research is incredibly important, but you need to research your competition’s keywords directly. You won’t copy their keywords; you’ll just see how they manage them and link them via their content.

3. Design layout

A “working” site means functionality as much as it means high visitation. You want to look at the layout of these successful websites to find out how many pages they’re using, if they have “about us” and “contact” pages, and also what types of images and styles they’re using to construct their pages and content.

4. Ad placement

Even if you’re not very worried about a lot of ad revenue, any website worth its weight in salt is going to place ads somewhere on the site. For affiliate purposes and a commission, for link-sharing purposes, or for some PPC revenue, you will have some type of advertisements on your site. See how the successful websites out there place their ads.

5. Owner involvement

Lastly, see how involved the site owners/webmasters are on these successful sites. You will undoubtedly find a high level of involvement, from speaking to and catering to customers directly, to constantly updating material to stay fresh and relevant. Working websites are constantly evolving, hands-on websites.

Your site is not going to be a clone. It will fall behind the original competition if you construct it just like a competitor’s site. However, you can learn a lot by searching a successful website within your own niche. Never neglect this step when building your site.