And the Webby Goes to…

Film studios often put their best work forward around the holidays, not only to score big at the box office but to prime their movies for Oscar-season buzz. Online and multichannel retailers do the same—strong sites can rake in big sales over the ever-critical shopping season while some gear up to vie for the online industry’s most coveted award, the Webby. The call for entries ends in mid-December.

The awards culminate with a red-carpeted awards gala held each June. For the past 12 years, The International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences annually honors the best in Web sites, interactive advertising, online film and video, and mobile Web sites.

This year’s event, hosted by Seth Meyers of “Saturday Night Live,” attracted attendees from Stephen Colbert to Web celeb “Obama Girl,” as well as those representing sites such as The Huffington Post and Facebook. Retailers were also in attendance, competing for the Webby in the Best in Retail category.

The one retail site that stood out in this year’s crowd and took home not only a Webby but also a People’s Voice award was IKEA Mattress’ “Sleeping Better and You” site. Retailers can learn a lot from looking at how IKEA, a recurring Webby-award winner, approaches its online initiatives.

Launched in October 2007, the “Sleeping Better and You” concept offers testing guides and tips for better sleeping, while showcasing IKEA products. The interactive site features a Swedish man, dressed in signature blue and yellow IKEA colors, who encourages consumers to click around to find, search and learn more about mattresses.

Other nominees in the category were Nike Golf, Apparel, Samsonite Black Label, Moo.com and Around the World in 5 Kitchens.

“IKEA excels online with what they do really well in the store,” The Webby Awards’ executive director David-Michael Davies said. “Just as it sets up kitchens and bedrooms in its stores to make it easy for visualization, IKEA does the same online.”

Webby judges evaluate six main criteria: content, structure and navigation, visual design, functionality, interactivity and overall experience. Each category contains five nominees, one Webby winner and one People’s Voice winner, which allows Web users to vote for their favorite nominee.

In 2006, IKEA took home a Webby and a People’s Voice award in the “Best Navigation/Structure” category for its Dream Kitchen site. It also won a People’s Voice award in the “Best Visual Design—Aesthetic” category that year.

“Judges narrow in on how well the retailer communicates the brand online,” Davies said. “Site interaction is also a critical selling point in deciding a winner.”

“It’s one thing to provide great information about products, but it’s another to take it to the next level and give consumers, for example, a platform to chat about them.”

The bottom line is that retailers can make a good site into an award-winning site by providing useful information in creative, engaging and interactive ways.

With many categories to cover, The Academy keeps the night moving by limiting recipients to five-word acceptance speeches. For example, former VP Al Gore used his five words in 2005 to say, “Please don’t recount this vote.” In 2008, Stephen Colbert, who won the Person of the Year award, thanked himself: “Me, me, me, me, me!”

So how did IKEA thank The Academy? “We Enjoy Sleeping With You.” It’s cheeky, but seemingly accurate: IKEA goes out of its way to make customers feel at home.

There’s still a month and a half left to submit entries for 2008. Go ahead and take a chance. It’s good exposure for your Web site and your brand.