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Distinguishing Web Award Programs
By Míc Miller -- October 22, 2003
Web award programs run the gamut . . . from worthless to world class.  Knowing how to distinguish Web award programs can help you select which ones will have the most meaning for you and save you time, energy, and, perhaps, some embarrassment (especially if you are nominating a client's Web site).

Fortunately, there are award-rating services available that can help you determine which award programs are good, great, and the best — if you understand the differences in rating criteria.  However, not all award programs are rated. Some of them choose not to be, particularly the ones that are not so good.

 

Mic Miller - The Colorado Kid

 
If you are looking for meaningful recognition for having created an excellent Web site, you might want to know what to look for in an award program. There are several factors you can use to distinguish an award program and help you decide whether you want to apply. They are:
 
  • Difficulty – How hard is it to satisfy the award program's requirements?
  • Rarity – How many awards have been issued during the last year?
  • Winners' List – How many and how good are the awarded Web sites?
  • Credibility – Does the award program's site meet its own requirements?
  • Evaluator(s) – How competent is the reviewer or judging staff?
  • Attitude – Why does this award program exist and who does it really serve?
  • Longevity – How old is the award program?
  • Peer Respect – What do other award givers think of the award program?
  • Awards – How do the award images look?
  • Level – Is it the highest award offered (gold) or a lesser one (silver)?
  • Type – Is the award open to everyone or only specific types of sites?

Difficulty

In the beginning, practically all Web sites were judged subjectively or by a popularity vote. Thankfully, those days are pretty much over. Oh sure, you'll still see "criteria" that simply says something to the effect of "I know what I like and if what I see pleases me, you win!" But today, most worthwhile award programs present a list of objective requirements your Web site will be graded by or scored against. The more requirements there are to satisfy, the greater the difficulty factor is.

Rarity

Maybe you've seen an award that is displayed on Web sites all over the Internet — or so it seems. Then there are awards you've only seen once or very rarely, depending on what sites you're visiting. The rarity factor depends on more than just the total number of awards issued. One also has to look at how often within a span of time these awards were given out.

A handy way to determine rarity is to find the number of awards issued during the last year if the program is that old. If not, find out how many were awarded on a monthly average. The easiest way to do this — unless you like surfing the entire Web — is to look at the award program's winners' list.

Unfortunately, that method only works if the award program lists its winners by dates. If this is not the case, try to determine how old the program is and count the number of winners. Then, with some arithmetic division, you can get a pretty good idea of rarity. If an award program doesn't have a winners' list, one would have to assume the program is either too new to have any or they give away so many that they don't bother to track all their winners.

Winners' List

Reviewing winning Web sites not only helps you determine rarity, but also see what Web sites are getting the award(s). The second award I received for The Beeline didn't look like much, but I was thrilled to be listed between Ferrari.it and ReadersDigest.com on their winners' list, as well as with the other outstanding sites.

This particular winners' list had a winner for each weekday and one for the weekend. So, while the rarity factor was weak at "312" (6 winners times 52 weeks), the winning sites were all stellar examples of "Web excellence" for one reason or another. This brings us to comparing your Web site to those on a winners' list. Visiting a sampling of their recent award-winning sites should tell you how close your site is to competing in their program.

Credibility

How seriously would you take someone's claim of having a "prestigious" Web award if their own site is nowhere close to being excellent? Some serious award seekers leave the virtual premises when they see this hypocrisy — then again, others simply care about how good-looking the awards are. Depending on your award-seeking goals, you may or may not care about the credibility factor.

You might want to, however, see if the program has a posted Code of Ethics, adequate contact information, and a privacy policy you can accept should you decide to apply. Many award givers are now joining the ethics-based organizations available to award program owners in order to establish or improve their credibility. So you might also look around for one of these organizations' membership plaques.

Evaluator(s)

Like the credibility factor, who exactly will be reviewing your Web site may or may not be important to you. And in the beginning, you probably won't know who's who in the Web Awards Community, not unless they tell you something about themselves and their review staff if they have one. So look around for information about the evaluator(s). If you're like some award seekers, you'll do this after you get their award so you can learn something about the person(s) who think so highly of you.

Attitude

Award givers have attitudes that can usually be discerned simply by reading through their award programs. This is called inference reading, and one doesn't have to be a licensed psychologist or CIA analyst to "psych out" where an award giver is "coming from" or why they have an award program.

There are many reasons why people operate award programs. Sometimes it's to give something back, especially after receiving Web awards from others. Sometimes it's to increase visitor totals for their Web sites. Others become award givers just for the fun of it! Then there's the type that does it to feed their egos. Two of the best attitudes belong to those who want to help improve the quality of the Internet and to recognize others who have found "Web excellence."

By the way, do not confuse abundant displays of credentials and memberships with an egotistical attitude. They are recognitions, ratings, and acceptances that were earned. Respect them and the award givers who have them just as you want to be respected for the Web awards you have worked hard to achieve.

Longevity

Knowing how old an award program is can be a good thing, especially if its just opened. Finding new award programs to apply to can be a good tactic because the evaluators are usually, but not always, inexperienced award givers who may want to establish their winners' list sooner than later.

Also, applying when a program first opens puts your submission at or near the top of the stack — assuming this program operates on a "first come, first served" basis — and ahead of all those that follow. This can be a really good tactic if your site qualifies and you are into instant gratification, relatively speaking.

Peer Respect

Before award programs were rated, the best one could do to determine the peer respect factor was to examine the Web awards presented to them. Now, there are award-rating services and, like award programs, they differ according to most of the factors we've been discussing. The higher a rating an award program holds equates to higher peer respect, theoretically, at least.

Sometimes it is difficult to get a feel for an award program's peer respect if they are not rated. I suggest you look around and learn as much as you can about the person(s) behind the site. If nothing else, you should get a feel for their own abilities and how much you respect them! After all, both of you are peers as Web authors and publishers. Right?

Awards

The awards factor pertains to the design, looks and size of the award image(s) offered by an awards program. This is the single most important fact to many award seekers. How the honorary "eye candy" looks has a direct bearing on an award program's popularity. That's fine. If an award image motivates you to find "Web excellence," I'm all for your making this factor a high priority. Just know that some of the most prestigious and most difficult Web awards to achieve look rather plain and simple.

This is why I didn't alphabetize this list of factors and ranked the awards factor near the bottom. When it comes to award images, go after whatever you would be happy to display on your site. As for the objective aspects to Web award imagery, they are only important to the award giver when it comes to getting or upgrading an award rating.

Level

Some award programs are multi-leveled in that they offer an award based on how well your Web site scores during the evaluation. The higher the site evaluation's final score, the higher the level of award is bestowed. In many cases these levels of awards are distinguished by a metallic color, such as platinum, gold, silver, and bronze. Other programs may choose to distinguish their awards' levels using precious and semi-precious gems, such as diamond, ruby, emerald, and sapphire.

However, the distinctions I've seen used on multi-level awards over the years seem to be endless in variety and style. Just know that earning a program's top-level award may be more important than receiving any level award, depending on what your award-seeking goals are.

Type

Not all awards are available to every type of Web site. Many award programs have specific purposes, such as awarding excellent Celtic sites or education-related sites. Then there are the cultural barriers that force most award programs to accept only nominated sites written in a specific language. This is not to be looked upon as prejudicial, just practical. If they can't read your site, how can they judge it on content, spelling, grammar, etc.?

Besides, if award givers want to volunteer their precious free time evaluating only certain types of sites, that's their right. The type factor is only important in that you know what types of sites are eligible and if your site is, it is competing against a reduced field of potential applicants.

Summary

Knowing how to distinguish Web award programs can heighten your emotional rewards when you know the presented award is, in fact, serious recognition for a job well done! There are few greater thrills in Web publishing than to receive an award from a demanding, well-respected, and conscientious award program. Knowing when this happens makes learning how to distinguish Web award programs worthwhile.

Copyright © 2003
All Rights Reserved
Mic Miller

This article is based on excerpts from Míc Miller's book, The Webmaster's Guide to Glory! - How to Win the Top Web Awards.

About the Author
Míc Miller, owner of Beeline Publications, has been a Netizen since 1987 and was diagnosed a Webhead in 1993. He is an honors graduate of the University of Colorado's design college where he studied problem-solving/design methodologies, architecture, urban design/regional planning, and language/media. Míc fell in love with computer graphics while animating 3D-vector elements on an IBM 360 (1977). He later became an award-winning computer graphics analyst. Míc was a leading authority on mega-scale, interactive graphic projects when he decided it was time to form Beeline Publications (1994) to create the Beeline-AIR System, inspired by Nicholas Negroponte's "Virtual Cities" lecture (1987).

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