10 lessons from the 2011 Webby winners


With nearly 70 categories, attracting close to 10,000 entries from 60 countries, the Webby Awards don’t exactly provide a bite-sized snapshot of what defines the world’s top websites.


Nevertheless, the awards consistently assemble the best online practitioners on the planet. The awards are also a rarity in the online world due to their relative longevity – the first Webbys were held in 1997 when then-unknown sites such as Salon and IMDB were honoured.


This week, Freelancer.com scooped the employment category prize for 2011, the only Australian website to feature.


So what do online start-ups need to do to follow in Freelancer’s footsteps? We’ve sifted through the category winners and spoken to the experts to uncover the 10 key lessons you should be taking from Webby’s class of 2011.



1. No business should ignore the web


If you expect the Webbys to be stuffed full of Silicon Valley tech start-ups that weren’t around in the days when hash tags were just obscure keys on a keyboard, you’d be wrong.


Lego, American Institute of Architects and The New Yorker all feature among winners. Even if you are in a ‘traditional’ business, you need an online presence.


“The blurred lines between digital and non-digital is over – we’re all in the digital space,” says Craig Hodges, founder of online marketing firm King Content.


“If you are a start-up today you must embrace the fact that your website is front and centre from not only a marketing perspective but also a business perspective.”


“It’s taken these ‘old-world’ brands a long time to understand this. Today’s start-up just has to do it.”



2. Think about different platforms


Modern-day start-ups need to consider doing more than just build a website and hope that customers flock to it. Increasingly, mobile and apps are part of the mix.


David-Michel Davies, the executive director of the Webby Awards, told StartupSmart: “The biggest trend this year is in mobile and apps.”


“With the proliferation of the iPad and other tablet devices, we’ve seen a huge influx of really great apps, such as Angry Birds, this year’s breakout success in games, Flipboard, a news app for tablet devices that builds a custom magazine based on your interests and social networking profiles, and Evernote, a productivity tool to organise ideas, reminders, and random thoughts.”



3. Brands can be built quickly online


Expecting overnight success from your web start-up is, of course, wilfully misplaced, as this video succinctly points out, but it’s true that online brands can be built quicker than they ever have before.


“There are some great success stories on the list that look like they have come from nowhere, but have obviously required bucket loads of blood sweat and tears,” says Hodges.


“Freelancer.com, Groupon and Gone Google have come from almost nowhere to be great brands quickly.”


“Old world marketing and business timelines are out the window. Start-ups are much more agile and the upside greater in shorter periods of time.”



4. Content is king


The Webby winners show that high-quality content is imperative, even if it’s low-volume.


Using social media channels to attract visitors and keep them with useful and interesting content is becoming more important than merely throwing as much as possible at the net and hoping that something will stick. Sites as diverse as the New Yorker and Onion prove this.


“All of these winners have great content,” says Hodges. “It goes without saying that all of these sites have developed great content strategies and value the power of content and that ultimately has paid dividends.”



5. Simple B2B tools are a winner


Improving the working life or online experience of others is as profitable, if not more so, than building a cutting edge, flashy site for your own business.


Tools such as Skype or Dropbox, which topped the ‘best practices’ category, Freelancer and TED all offer something of tangible use to start-ups. Is your site merely an online billboard for your business, or does it add actual value to the user?