Key lessons – and mistakes – from the Web Awards

I always look forward to the SmartCompany Web Awards. They’re a great way to see how SMEs are actually faring when it comes to creating a decent web strategy, and it gets better every year.

This year was by far the most difficult to pick winners – even narrowing the entries down to a shortlist took hours. But that’s encouraging. It means Australian SMEs are understanding how to use the web, and use it well. The eCommerce entries in particular show Australians know how to sell goods online.

But I don’t want to talk about the winners – you can read our feature for that. Let’s talk about the companies that didn’t get an award.

Now, there were plenty of very good entries that didn’t win, and that’s purely because there were so many. It came down to splitting hairs, so just because you didn’t get a mention doesn’t mean you don’t have a great site.

But there are plenty of sites that didn’t get a mention for a reason. Even flicking through the entries for the design category, for instance, it was obvious which sites wouldn’t make it through. But it wasn’t just one or two entries that blundered – several made the same mistakes over and over again.

Good websites follow a few basic rules. Let’s take a look at some of the winners and find out what savvy businesses need to do in order to stand out:

Too much clutter – simplicity is the key

As I sat on a Sunday afternoon flicking through more than 150 entries for the “best design” category, one thing became very clear: badly-designed sites have too much clutter.

The ethos of web design in the past few years has very much shifted towards “less is more”. But several websites just threw a bunch of clutter on their web pages and called it a day: weird graphics, fonts that didn’t gel, and websites in which every inch of space was covered with information.

Some of them looked like they came straight out of 1999.

Good websites do more with less. Italian restaurant Sapore won the design category because it offers all the information you need to know in a great-looking package. If you look at the site, it’s remarkable how spare it is.

Cut the clutter and trust the visitor to make a couple of clicks.

Update often with great content

A lot of the blogs that were entered did a good job in writing relevant material, but they weren’t updated often enough. The winner, King Content, not only created fresh and useful posts, but gave them out regularly. It’s a hard effort, but your customers – and Google – will reward you.

Mobile sites (or lack thereof)

Although the winners of the mobile site category did extremely well, there were fewer entries than in the other categories. It’s a testament to just how few Australian businesses actually understand the power of mobile.

Australia is a smartphone-saturated country. If you don’t have a mobile site, then you’re missing out on a huge amount of traffic that could come your way when people are out and about. The winners of the category understood this and created easy-to-use sites with plenty of information.

Just make a mobile site. It doesn’t need to be complicated – just get one up and running. Chances are you don’t know what you’re missing out on.

You can follow Patrick Stafford on Twitter @pdstafford.

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