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Award Program Setup and Award Ratings
By Luuk Francken -- December 12, 2001
How is it possible to have a fine award program and yet the rating request you place with institutions like Award Sites! or Webs Awards does not answer to your expectations?  You worked days, weeks even, on that program, put your heart and soul into it, it looks better than anything you ever saw on the web and yet those people that have to give you a rating just don’t seem to be able to appreciate and value quality when it is thrown into their lap!  Other programs that are rated very high, are worse than yours.

Luuk Francken

Their criteria don’t even get close to your masterpiece and the graphics of their awards are really pitiable.  You should see those layouts!  What you would like to do, when you receive the rating you requested, is get into a car or plane and go tell these evaluators (at least, that’s what they call themselves!) how to do their job.  Obviously they have no idea what a really great quality award program is . . . like yours!

Ah, now there’s a well known problem and recognizesable, isn’t it?  Many potential award givers make an award program, try for a rating and are so disappointed with the result that they don’t even bother to ask for another rating.  They award sites that apply for their award in the best way they can. Some even don’t bother to have a look at the site submitted.  The main idea behind that award you made is to get hits.


And when someone applies you have reached your goal: someone visited your site.   So why bother having a look at that site? Maybe out of curiosity, for a few minutes. But that’s all.  Just give the award that was requested. Make sure it is linked back to your site of course, because that way you start the snowball rolling and your hits will grow and grow.


There are all too many of these awards.  Because they look reasonable, the rating associations might give them a rating, even if it is low, and that helps the hits you receive.  You should be happy.


But you will find that your award is only requested by award collectors.  People that do not care what the award stands for.  They just want to gather as many as possible and are proud to tell their audiences that their site is a multiple award-winning site.  Did you know, that there are award programs galore, that do not even require an application?  You simply copy the award you want on those sites and paste it on your pages.  Quite legally so.  They tell you that you must rate your own site, and if it qualifies in your eyes, you get the award and even a laudation, which you can copy from that site!  These awards are called “Fake Awards”.


No wonder awards like that are worthless!  They have no meaning at all. Make your award program with the intention of doing the awarding seriously and conscientiously.  Don’t get a rating and then make the award you give a “fake award”.  Either improve and evaluate sites fairly but strictly. If you can’t, tell the rating institution and hand in your rating, or, if you don’t have the time to do the award giving properly, let your visitor know on your site, that the program is temporarily suspended and also let the award rating institution know you are suspending the program for a certain time. 


When we make an award program, which we want to have rated well, we must realize it is going to take a lot of work, creativity and especially perseverance. 

Start with composing a purpose for your award.  Why do you want to start an award?  Is it simply because you like the feeling that your award can be seen all over the world in the future, thus giving you and your site a certain recognition?  Or is it, because you want to contribute your little part in making the internet a nicer and better place to surf?  There are many reasons, but it must be yours.  Don’t ever “copy / paste” items from others. It may get you into serious problems.  But feel free to get inspiration by looking critically at other award programs.  In fact, I believe this is a must before you go ahead with your program.


The purpose, I think, should be the very first page someone arrives at when entering your award program.  The award seeker is then confronted with your ideas and why you give out the award.  Which is important as it will give your award that little extra weight!


The other thing you must do of course, is to design a unique award.  And that should be an award that people like to have.  Make sure it doesn’t get any bigger than about 180 pixels wide or tall. and try to keep the byte size below 10 kb.  You will need a drawing program, not only to make the award, but also to maintain your site, later on.  And you will find that that is an ongoing process!  There are quite a few on the market.   I use PaintShop Pro and I am very satisfied with it.  But it’s up to you what program you want to use.


Design a nice award, if possible a metallic one.  That seems to be the favourite at the moment!  It’s up to you to make the award a graded one, like Bronze, Silver and Gold. Or maybe you want to give out an award for a special kind of site.  But whatever you do, do it seriously.  There are award giving programs that offer sometimes dozens of different awards.  Please don’t.  Stick to one design with different grades or otherwise about three for different purposes.  Make double sets, one set as you will give them out (with or without an inscription) but also a set with the word “sample” on them.  Those are the ones that will be shown on your site.  That way they cannot be stolen.  At least, you make it more difficult!  Do not make a provision to stop the right hand button click on your site to prevent copying without permission.  It does not really prevent copying, but does interfere with the evaluation if ever you yourself apply for some award, if someone wants to have a look at your coding (often also part of criteria!).


The applicant should never have to choose the award he wants.  He is given one by you. That way you can write the criteria around the award.  Criteria, that YOU think are important.


And now that I am on the subject, read as many criteria you can from other highly rated award givers.  Take notes and then write down what you want included.  Think hard and then start writing your own criteria.  Beware, do not copy them from someone else.  Graphics are usually copyrighted, but so is text written by others.


You will be found out in the end.  And especially when you try for a rating from an award recognising association, like Award Sites! or Web Awards, it might cost you your rating or membership.  So don’t . . .  Write your own.  They will be revised again and again in the future.  That’s normal!  Your award program, if you let it, will become the most time consuming part of your site.  Some well known and popular awards have thrown their normal sites completely overboard or have split their homepages completely from their award programs, making them two different sites all together.   It’s a thought you must ponder about before you begin.  Do you make a homepage with an award program, or do you make an award program on it’s own?


It’s important, if you want to get a high rating in the future!  If you have a combined site, you must not only have a perfect award program, but you own site must be able to win the highest graded award of your own!  So, if your criteria says that design is the most important, your site must be perfectly designed.  If content is what you look for, your content must be really interesting and well worked out.


And don’t ever think that giving out an award is simple.  It helps when you design your site in such a way, that you can win the best award you yourself offer!  And I hope it will be difficult to win.  Not impossible!  But don’t give out your award, just to be lenient towards a friend, or because you like the person you are awarding.  Give out the award ONLY when the applying site earns it, using your criteria (and ethics statement) as a basis for the evaluation.


Don’t forget to include a privacy statement.  You will be collecting private information from your applicants and they must be sure that you will not sell the email addresses or url’s to third parties or such.  You must tell them that somewhere on your site.  And if possible, make a copyright statement as well, so that outsiders know that all graphics and text are your own and are copyrighted! If they aren’t, get written permission for the use on your site and mention that permission on the page in question! Yes, it has everything to do with your award program!


Right . . . Let’s get stuck in a little deeper into those criteria.  They are the most important part of your award program and they must be well written and thought through.  Don’t ever think lightly about them.  In the future you may have to use them to defend a decision you made about awarding a site or not.


I believe it’s best to start your criteria with the “disqualifiers” as I call them.  They are the rules that will disqualify a site outright.  Some people think it’s too negative to start with these  items.  I don’t.  The reason is that I believe that an applicant should not have to find out in the end of spending a lot of time reading your criteria (presuming he actually reads them all), that he will be disqualified after all, because one of your disqualifiers is valid for his site.  It’s not fair to him.  So, even if it’s a negative start of your criteria, put them up front!


Think about the criteria.  Each line and even each word must be weighed and valued before finalizing it.  Some examples.  If you are against nudity completely, say so and use it as a disqualifier.  If however, you can appreciate nudity in art, whether in photography or paintings, sculpture, etc., don’t make it a disqualifier, but mention this in your other criteria or differentiate in your disqualifier what will be accepted and what not.  Another one: if you hate cursor following trailers, make them a disqualifier.  If you are only irritated by them, but can appreciate a good site that uses them, don’t make it a disqualifier, but mention it in your other criteria and tell how many points will be deducted for them.  Or accept them completely if you like them and don’t make a mention in your criteria at all about them!


Again, think well before writing each line of your criteria . . .


You can make them very lengthy, or short, to the point.  As long as they are clear and easy to understand.  In the future, you will revise them constantly.  But make sure, that an applicant will be judged using the criteria that were valid at the moment he or she applied.  If you do change the criteria after the application, the rules must be used from the time before the changes were made.  And never change the criteria to fit the evaluation you are doing at that moment!  That is totally unethical.


Okay, you have written your criteria, either all in one long page, or divided into several pages, short or lengthy.  All up to you.


There’s more however to an award program.  You should also have an ethics statement.  This is in fact also part of the way you will evaluate sites.  Also, I believe, important to a good program.  You can write your own of course.  That’s quite a job.


Again, it needs a lot of careful thought.  But in this case, other people have done the job for you and have made their effort public domain, meaning you may use it, adapted for your own site of course.  This institution is called CEM/CEMA.  It is worth considering applying for their membership when your award program is completely done.  It gives value to your program as it assures applicants that you will treat their applications in an ethical way.


At CEM/CEMA you will find a sample of a "public domain" ethics statement that you may freely use.  You will have to adapt parts of it to your own needs, like changing the red lettered parts to fit your own situation.  I recommend using that statement, as it has all items that are important included.


And while I am on the subject of  ethics, never evaluate a site of a dear friend or relative.  It is better to have someone else judge the site, using your criteria, of course.  That way it will be done without prejudice.  How can you find someone willing to do that, if you have no-one you can approach?  You could ask me . . . I’m perfectly willing to help out.  But consider also to become a member of APEX, another institution related to ethics (associated with CEM/CEMA).  APEX will provide someone to evaluate the site for you in such cases.


Back to the ratings that you can apply for.  There are several . . . Award Sites!, Webs Awards and GTI, a German rating program, are the most important at the moment.  They are open to all nationalities.  There are more, but I think the above are the most valuable ones on internet nowadays.


It is a good idea to have a rating from these rating institutions.  It gives added value to your award and assures the applicant your award is not a “fake award”.  It shows, that your award program was not designed only to get people to visit your site, but also because you want to offer something of value to try to better the web as a whole, in whatever small way that is possible by your program.


You will find, that, as time goes by, you become more critical in evaluating sites.  With that development your criteria will change also and it will become harder to win your award.  Funny enough, that increases the applicants will to win it.  And if you are lucky enough to get ratings from the people mentioned above, you must try to have an upgrade as soon as you think you have improved your program to such an extend that an upgrade is warranted, taking the waiting time set by the institution between applications into account.  The higher your rating becomes, you will find, the harder it becomes to win your award.  The highest rated awards are very hard to win. You must be nearly perfect to win it.  And winning it then becomes something to brag about.  And that’s your goal.  To have a program that has to highest rating and your awards will be really valued by the winners.


For the time being, try to make a good program and get it rated. It’s the best start.

I wish you success with your endeavours!

Copyright © 2001
All Rights Reserved
Luuk Francken

About the Author
Luuk Francken is a retired chemical engineer, who is the owner of Luuk's Travel Site and has been evaluating websites for over four years.  Being fluent in his native Dutch and in English gives Luuk a decided advantage which comes in useful for website evaluation.  Moreover, he's worked in the Middle East, Far East, Africa, and other European countries . . . which give Luuk first hand experience as it relates to the content at his website.

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