Scroll through the websites of pest control companies in your market and what do you find? A lot of the same.

Reliance on design templates, stock photography and trying to be too much to too many has left countless firms with a generic, uninspired digital presence that looks and feels just like their competitors.

To create impact with consumers, companies must design websites that reflect their brand personalities, said Eric Boulden, president of Jump Branding & Design in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. That requires staying true to who you are as a company and making your brand “as defensible as possible,” he explained.

Be true to yourself. Consider the new website for City and Country Pest Control in Brampton, Ontario, Canada. It’s got attitude, it’s playful, irreverent, a bit hipster and definitely says “these guys are going to get s**t done,” said Boulden.

It also embodies the kind of experience that clients can expect. “I’m not a politically correct guy; I’m a straight talker and I’m very personable as well” and while of course it’s important to be professional, there’s no reason to be somebody that you’re not, said Horacio Parreira, owner of the pest management company.

Doing so will only come back to bite you. Say after visiting the website you hire City and Country Pest Control; if the technician arrives in a suit or is too prim and proper, the company’s credibility goes out the window. “I’m going to expect that the people who show up are living that same message,” explained Boulden. (Visit www.cityandcountrypestcontrol.com for a sense of how the company’s website reflects its unique corporate culture.)

“Authenticity is very, very important,” agreed Parreira. This may be easier to depict at a smaller company where the brand’s personality aligns closely with the owner’s. But larger companies also have a specific voice, attitude and messaging when speaking with customers, whether written or verbal, reminded Boulden.

CHANGE YOUR FOCUS, SLIGHTLY. Instead of pushing what you can do for customers, share what it’s like from the customer’s perspective.

When Jump Design & Branding flipped its own website a year ago, the goal was to “bring the experience of what it’s like to work with our people forward as best as we can without going too far,” said Boulden. Pages have headlines like “Jump is dead serious about your brand... and not much else” and “An agency is only as good as its people, and our people make us pretty damn good.” Mouse over employees’ photos and you get fun insights to their personalities along with professional credentials.

The agency took a similar approach, but featured employees’ words to live by, when creating a new website for Construction Group, a project management and general contracting company.

EMBRACE THE VISUAL. Some of the more interesting websites today, across industries, use imagery to tell the brand’s story: photography, video, custom illustrations, cinemagraphs, animations. Even new template programs make it easy to incorporate these elements.

But photography, perhaps the most accessible, has been elevated in recent years. “Everybody carries a camera in their pocket now” and with easy filtering and editing options, a “socialization of photography” has developed and is now ingrained into our everyday life, said Boulden. In other words, people expect more from photography these days.

That’s where hiring a professional photographer can really pay off; he or she usually can capture the essence of your brand personality, said Boulden. Parreira used a professional photographer to convey his company’s edgy yet fun attitude. The photos also feature his own employees (not models), adding yet another layer of authenticity.

But for companies that find professional photography financially out of reach, the camera in your pocket may be good enough. “There’s a way to use a socialized type of photography into a brand if that’s part of the (company’s) DNA and it really makes sense to who you’re trying to speak to as a core demographic,” said Boulden.

If you choose to use stock photography, be sure to manipulate it with some photo retouching that ties it to the brand, whether that’s using a filter or color overlay or cropping so it doesn’t look like stock photography, he said.

Photo editing can help draw the eye to emphasize key messages, Boulden said. In a City and Country photo on the company’s website, a small rodent portrayed in full color stands out in a less-color-saturated photo of a woman jumping off the ground, at first maybe for joy until you see the critter (see page 126). In another photo set in a hip restaurant, the color saturation level has been lowered except for a little bit of color around the central figures in it. The photo is “definitely projecting an attitude and an image” that is proprietary to the brand, not only because City and Country employees are the subjects but the style is own-able in the pest control category, Boulden explained.

Just make sure you’re adding visual elements to make your message clear, cautioned Boulden.

City and Country Pest Control has created a playful, irreverent website that captures the unique culture of the Brampton, Ontario-based firm. “Authenticity is very, very important,” observes owner Horacio Parreira.

HIT REFRESH. How often should you update your website? That depends on the amount of traffic and repeat visitors it receives, which you can track through Google Analytics, said Boulden. “If your website is getting a lot of traffic, then you definitely want to keep it a little bit fresher and you want to get some of your critical messages forward,” he said.

The same is true if you’re trying to engage people as a knowledge resource. This is where an embedded, easy-to-update blog is helpful as you can regularly post pest prevention tips, news releases and educational programs that your company is hosting or participating in, as well as other activities that establish your expertise.

UPDATE YOUR ARCHITECTURE. Design aside, make sure your website is built with the proper architecture; this will make Google happy and increase your visibility in organic (non-paid) search engine results.

The most critical is being “mobile first” in terms of execution, said Boulden. Make sure your design is responsive in that it scales to smartphones, tablets and desktops and that three critical pieces of information are readily and succinctly available to mobile users: How to contact you; who you are/what you do; and where you’re located.

And eliminate barriers to engagement. Websites are “a way to connect with you immediately and (consumers) control how that conversation goes and how long they want to stay on your website,” reminded Boulden. If you put up barriers — like landing pages, too much text, photos that aren’t optimized so pages load slowly — people will get turned off and move on to another site, he said. “You need to make that conversation happen as easily as possible,” he said.