Content, content, content is the mantra that has been driving Web designers for quite some time. The importance of content hasn't waned - no, not in the slightest - but the results of a decade-long study released by the Web Marketing Association that the focus on content is a bit myopic. The more evolved Netizen is more difficult to impress.
Looking at trends across more than 80 industries and nearly 10,000 Websites, WMA's Internet Standards Assessment Report (ISAR) is the fruit of the WMA's WebAward competition. The report revealed that industries overall excelled in content creation, but the most successful sites received the highest marks in design, ease-of-use, and innovation.
William Rice, president of WMA, says that the lack of focus on design and ease-of-use across industries "may close the door to many users." This echoes Dr. Jakob Nielsen's assertion that Website usability will be the biggest driving factor for success.
"Innovation, while critical to a Web site's success, actually received the lowest average scores across all industries," said Rice. " 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 found that gaming, music, automobile, and sports sites excelled in the three areas most critical to online success. Over the last decade, consumer-focused sites featuring vibrant content and high interactivity have excelled because of their ability to meet the high expectations of the audience.
Gaming sites, like SOCOM II, came out as natural leaders. These sites are manned by experience designers who understand the intricacies of Flash animation and the benefits of online communities, including message boards and chat features. The younger audiences typically demand more of the sites they visit.
The younger demographics drive the success of music sites like Red Bull Music labs as well. Like gaming sites, the user experience makes the difference.
"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."
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. Toyota Scion was a big winner in this category.
Sports sites like Nike Basketball won out in the areas of design and content. Fanatics keep the bar high when seeking out perpetually updated content. A better design just seems to add to the content experience.
"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."