How to win your next web contest

Even Hooters of America, the restaurant chain, receives one percent of its [employment] applications via the Internet.
-- from a recent USA Today story on how businesses are using the net for recruiting.

I recently was a judge at the Business on the Internet Contest, sponsored by a bunch of CMP publications and Softbank. The awards will be given out at a dinner at the Interop show coming up in Atlanta on Tuesday September 17th.

I was a judge of one category of awards, and looked at about 35 or so entries. (No, I won't tell which one, nor who won. Come to the event if you are interested.) But what I learned was that most people haven't a clue how to enter contests.

Sure, the web makes it easy for folks to just click on a form, fill in a few blanks, and submit your entry. Almost too easy -- many of the entries were hastily prepared, making it hard for me to judge them. Here are the most memorable slip-ups. Now, most of this is common sense, but I thought I'd take the time to pass along some tidbits, in case any of you are planning on entering another contest.

-- What makes this web site compelling for the particular category that the author intended? People could select whatever category they desired, including categories for internal and external sites and best use of interactively or best site design. If you don't tell me, don't expect me to guess.

-- What page(s) on the site are you particularly proud of? A simple thing, but amazingly absent from many entries. And to make matters worse, there were quite a few entries that omitted any mention of their web address entirely -- were we supposed to use Lycos or Altavista to track them down?

-- Be proud and show your success measurements. One of the questions on the award submission asked specifically to quantify hits or other log information. Few people answered the question directly. One entry sent me details from WebTrends, a log analysis program. I wish more folks did that.

-- Don't spam the judges. Many people nominated their site for three, four, or even five different categories, using the same submission form. Not cool. I discounted many of these entries, figuring that either (1) some other judge would likely nominate them, so why should I look closely or (2) since the author didn't know what was the best match of category to their site, why should I try?

-- Don't lock the judges out. Some of the sites required registration, paid accounts, or passwords to navigate around them. Did anyone provide a complementary account so we could examine this material? Nope. Doesn't do much good if your best work remains out of sight on your site.

Award, self-promotion and sitekeeping dep't

Speaking of contests, this week's Big Duck award for best general all- around design goes to Impact Online. Their web site and company is a resource that provides information to individuals who want to volunteer their time to a worthy cause. It also provides "situation wanted" information to help make a difference and serves as a vehicle connect those individuals with the organizations that are looking for volunteers. A very simple, but laudable goal. The site is well-thought out, easy to navigate and search for these opportunities, and serves a worthwhile cause. You can't ask for more than that.

I've been busy this past week, and just want to recap some of the articles and things that have been published in case you missed them: First is a feature story that I wrote for Network World on server clustering. Clustering is grouping servers together, and it is an arcane subject the more I learned about it doing the research for this article.

Also, this week a review of WebTrends, that nifty web server log analysis program, ran in Infoworld. Finally, the efforts of my week in New Orleans covering the CA-World trade show for Computer Associates' web site are up for the next few days -- it was a real gas and I learned a great deal about digital photography and near-real- time reporting (we published a new page every day during the show). All of these are available from my published works archive page.

This essay is composed in HTML and can be read in your browser. This is not always a simple process, and I'll be happy to provide help if I can. If you are getting this directly from me, or if someone is forwarding it to you, and you want to change that situation, let me know. Subscriptions are always free of charge. Entire contents copyrighted 1996 by David Strom.

David Strom
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