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Internet Study Sets Industry Benchmarks for 10 Years of Web Site Development

The Web Marketing Association, sponsor of the annual international WebAward
competition (,
today announced the findings of a decade-long study of Web development trends
across more than 80 industries. The
resulting Internet Standards Assessment Report (ISAR) provides industry
benchmarks for Web site development and is based on data collected from nearly
10,000 Web site evaluations. A copy of the full report can be downloaded at

The WebAward competition is the
only major award program to provide an in-depth, quantitative analysis of
results to develop standards of excellence for future development. 
The results evaluate average scores in each
industry against defined benchmarks in seven categories, including design, innovation,
content, technology, interactivity, copywriting and ease of use.

“According to our professional
judges, design, ease-of-use and innovation are the most important contributors
to a Web site’s success or failure,” said William Rice, president of the Web
Marketing Association. “However, our
results found that industries overall excelled in content and copywriting over
design and ease-of-use, which may close the door to many users. Innovation, while critical to a Web site’s
success, actually received the lowest average scores across all industries. We believe this is due to the fact that
innovation is so elusive and difficult to maintain – what is groundbreaking in
one industry may be commonplace in another.”

The report reveals that gaming Web
sites dominate the top scores in every category, followed by music, which
placed second overall, and automobile and sports Web sites, which tied for
third place. The industries with the
lowest average Web site scores included radio, public relations and search

Top Industries

The consumer-focused sites which
led the industry rankings over the last decade feature vibrant content aimed at
migrating the brand experience online and building online communities. In addition, these industries excel because
of the need to meet high audience expectations that almost demand that sites be
on the cutting edge of Web development. For example:

· Gaming Sites: These
sites feature experienced designers who understand the intricacies of Flash
animation and the benefits of online communities, including message boards and
chat features. Targeted to a younger
audience, these sites focus on providing a user experience that is on par with
the actual gaming experience. Recent best of industry winners include:
Star Wars Mercenaries Game Site, SOCOM II: U.S. Navy SEALs
and Disney’s Hot Shot Business.

· Music Sites: Users come to music sites for the content,
but they stay for the experience. According
to Rice, “Music sites have conquered the age-old dilemma regarding the use of
technology, where too little equals boring and too much means the site can be
overwhelming. The music sites we’ve
evaluated over the years have demonstrated the ability to build a loyal
following by effective uses of technology to stream rich media content without
sacrificing usability.” Recent best of
industry winners include:
Red Bull Music Labs,
Sting: Public & Pay Member Site and Live365.

· Automobile Sites: One of the most hotly contested industries,
automobile sites realized early that customers were most likely to engage an
auto brand in the privacy of their home or office, rather than in a showroom
with a commission-driven sales person.  As a result, this is one of the few industries
that has beaten the average scores for the WebAwards every year since the
competition’s inception. Recent best of industry winners include:
Volkswagen 2005, Toyota Scion and The all-new XJ online

· Sports Sites. These sites benefit from a fanatical fan base
who count on their favorite Web sites to stay in-the-know about sporting news
and events. Therefore, it’s no surprise
that this industry ranked highest in the areas of design and content. Recent
best of industry winners include: Nike
Basketball, RBK Sound and Rhythm and Prince Tennis Website.

“As Internet bandwidth developed,
so did the ability for Web sites to deliver a dynamic rich media experience
that merges online entertainment with e-commerce to create a compelling
interaction for users,” added Rice. “While content is still king, it’s a Web site’s ability to interact with
users in interesting ways that keeps an audience coming back.”

Other noteworthy industries
include retail, healthcare and travel. Retail-oriented sites, including shopping, auctions and catalogs, ranked
highest for interactivity. These sites
allow for personalized cross-selling and detailed product information which are
not always available in print catalogs or off-line stores. Similar to the automobile industry, the
retail industry has succeeded by maintaining its off-line brand presence

In the healthcare and travel
industries, content, copywriting and ease-of-use dominated the scores due to
recent changes in industry dynamics. “An
important trend we’re seeing in healthcare and travel is disintermediation,”
said Rice. “For example, the healthcare
industry previously relied completely on service providers for patient
interaction, but new legislation has opened the door for direct-to-consumer
initiatives. As a result, the healthcare
industry has become very competitive in the areas of content and copywriting as
consumers are turning to these sites to become better informed before deciding
on a course of action with their doctors.”

“A similar scenario exists in the
travel and leisure industry, with the practical elimination of travel agents,”
continued Rice. “These Web sites have
demonstrated a strong showing in both copywriting and ease-of-use as Web sites
integrate effective copy with strong images to create a lifestyle experience
for the user, allowing them to make better choices for themselves.”

Bottom Industries

The industries with the lowest
average Web site scores included radio, public relations and search engines. These sites tend to concentrate more on
content than delivery platform, often forcing too much information into too
little space, which hinders design and ease-of-use. For example:

· Radio Sites. These sites rank particularly low in the
areas of innovation and use of technology. This is surprising given the industry’s ability to harness rich media
similar to music sites. While radio station sites can draw upon music for
content, they often try to cram their homepages with so many options that users
can feel lost and overwhelmed.

· Public Relations
Sites. While advertising sites excelled
in design and innovation, public relations sites ranked low across all
categories. Notably, public relations
scored lowest for copywriting, even though it is an industry known for
effective communication. According to
Rice, “It’s likely that PR practitioners focus more on developing their
clients’ sites, while their own sites suffer from typical ‘brochure-ware.’ Another possibility is that the low scores
reflect the informal nature of the Internet and the backlash over over-edited,
corporate speak.”

· Search Engine Sites. While search engines are dominating the buzz
around the Internet industry as a whole, these sites rank lower than average in
every category, except ease-of-use. In
fact, search engines received the lowest scores for use of technology even
though the behind-the-scenes technology driving search engines is so
sophisticated. These low scores can be
attributed to the spartan nature of most search engines which allow the results
to speak for themselves.

“Of course, in every industry, there are Web sites that
stand out and others that don’t make the grade,” concluded Rice. “Our goal has always been to be more than
just a popularity or beauty contest that rewards brand names and good
design. Instead, this report is designed
to take a decade’s worth of judging scores to define what Internet marketing
professionals should strive for in their Web site development efforts.”

About the WebAwards

The 10th annual international WebAwards
competition sets the standard of excellence in 95 industry categories by
evaluating Web sites and defining benchmarks based on the seven essential
criteria of successful Web site development. The goal of the Web Marketing Association, sponsor of the WebAwards, is
to provide a forum to recognize the people and organizations responsible for
developing some of the most effective Web sites on the Internet today. Entrants benefit from a Web site assessment
by a professional judging panel and the marketing opportunities presented to an
award-winning Web site. For more information,