Insights // Talking Shop

What goes into an award-winning website?

Last updated August 29, 2016

It’s a trick question.

What goes into an award-winning website is the same thing that goes into any website.

While other designers strive to win as many awards as possible, the only award we want to win our client’s satisfaction. If our clients want to enter the websites we’ve built for them into an award show, that’s great, but we don’t actively go out of our way to enter.

Do awards have value?

Awards are great. It’s always nice to be recognized amongst your “peers”.

But it’s also important to remember what that recognition actually means. And more importantly, who’s actually giving out the award.

Just pay to win

Oftentimes, depending on the company or organization “giving” the award, the categories are setup to be obscure enough or there’s little competition within your market. This means you’ll win by default.

In other words, there’s a good chance you’ll win just by paying the entrant fee. That’s not an award, it’s a rouse.

The best awards require no up-front payment to enter and are unbiased. Unfortunately, those awards are few and far between as many award websites are in it solely to make money—just like everyone else.

How do you judge a website?

A website isn’t a piece of artwork to be judged like a beauty pageant or the Westminster Dog Show.

From the hundreds, maybe even thousands of entries received, award shows rarely ask questions such as:

  • Did the website meet its design goals?
  • Did the design resonate with the target audience?
  • Can the website even be considered a success?
  • What criteria are they using? How can the judges even reliably rank a website?
  • If a flashy website gets zero visits but wins an award, is it really justified?
  • Or the contrary: if website got lots of press for how “forward-thinking” the design was, but it yet it didn’t sell a single product—which was the goal of the website—can you consider that website a success?

Awards are usually great for the agency who built the site and undoubtedly leads to more work. But what about the client left holding the bag of underperforming code and images?

Oftentimes, awards perpetuate the stereotype that a good website is aesthetics only. This is wrong on many different levels.

What about the back end?

When we build a website for our clients, we’re not just building them one website—we’re actually building them 2 websites.

That second website we’re referring to is setting up the software behind the scenes to help our clients manage their content: the CMS.

How your website is setup on back end (or back office) can make a huge difference in how you publish content. Ask 2 users who use the same content management system and their levels of experience will vary greatly.

What award did you win?

We’ve even seen some designers use the term “award-winning” as an adjective to describe their services but no award was actually “won”. In other words, it’s a cliché that doesn’t mean anything.

Speak softly & carry a big stick

We don’t create websites to win awards; we create websites to help bring our clients success. That can mean any number of approaches, both what the general public sees as well as how the client interacts with the software.

Oftentimes a great-looking website is just part of the recipe. Just like in cooking, a little bit of chili powder and some additional spices might give a dish just the little extra zip needed.

Yet, just by including those spices doesn’t mean the rest of the food is well prepared.

The same is true of a website… award-winning or not.


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