Alex Minchin, founder of Zest Digital, talks about our Awards, the judging and what makes a winning website.

In 2015, I was invited to judge the Good Web Guide Awards for the first time for my expertise in digital.

Since that first event, I have been privileged to have judged three more award ceremonies and have critiqued over 100 websites with my team.

Whilst I’m the name on the judges list, it’s very much a team effort when it comes to judging. Our whole team gathers around a projector and we score individually across the criteria provided. In a knock-out style judging process, we filter down to the category winner and runner-up websites.

As we approach the judging for the ultimate winner of ‘Website of the Year’, we repeat the process. Within an hour or so, we decide upon our overall pick for the prestigious award that has seen some notable winners such as Nutmeg and Great British Chefs take the honours.

So what makes for a winning website? Why do we choose one website over another?

Well, I’m about to share those secrets with you in advance of this years nominations. If you’re lucky, you might just tick the boxes that could land you an award and the recognition that comes with it.

1. Creative impact

First impressions count and, like that awkward first date reveal, we make a decision on the spot as to whether we take a liking to your website or not. Depending on the statistics you believe, a first impression can be formed within 17 milliseconds from first sight.

Brands who have invested in their own creative capture our attention almost immediately when compared to the use of stock images. As a digital marketing agency, we have seen it all when it comes to the overuse of stock.

In a crowded space, it’s worth spending the extra to be you. Stock imagery masks the story, culture, team, and quirks, that make your brand unique. And that causes trust issues. People buy into people they know, like, and trust.

Last year’s winners, Great British Chefs, showed such incredible attention to detail that they stood out immediately. From beautiful photography to small but significant touches such as modifying a burger-style menu to three knives to tie things up with their brand.

2. Cross-device design

After we’ve judged on creative impact, we’re looking for how the brand has considered their users across any device.

It’s 2019, and not having a mobile optimised (not responsive) website is a cardinal sin against UX (user experience). The difference between being optimised and responsive is this:

? A mobile optimised website adapts its design to accommodate the smaller screen space. It will remove unnecessary elements, it will enlarge call to actions or padding to accommodate finger touches, and will adjust text size to be more legible.

? A mobile responsive website will simply scale down what’s there already and often ends up as a squashed, super clunky experience.

Some advice. Design for mobile and tablets first. Limit the information to key details and hide the unnecessary using CSS. Then designing for desktop becomes much easier, since you have more space to work with.

To raise the bar even further, you must know thy user. If your user often looks for key information such as opening times, map directions, or wants to book quickly, make these things instantly accessible from mobile devices.

3. Sign-posting

Sound architecture is what sets good websites from great. We’re looking for crystal clear navigation that works two-way. A user should be sign-posted to wherever it is they want to go.

We need to be able to navigate to any product or page in as few clicks as possible, and we need to be able to get from that page to any other page with the same ease.

Keep things simple. We’ve seen menus where a single page will be listed twice within the navigation options.

If your website is large, say 1000+ pages, then offer a search bar and make sure that it works. There is very little more frustrating to a user than searching for content and being shown totally irrelevant results.

4. Intuitive design

Alongside a great design and architecture across any device, we’re looking for effortless ease of use. This is one of the judging categories and is validated quite easily.

As a group, we pick a random instruction and get someone in the team to complete it having never seen or used the website. (Where the website is familiar to someone, we’ll ensure it’s someone who has none.)

We look for the points of hesitation or, in some cases, complete confusion, and will mark up or down accordingly.

You can often be too close to your own work and, of course, it’s easy to find things when you’ve navigated it a hundred times.

Give your website to someone with no experience and ask them to carry out your most common call to actions. Learn from them.

5. Speed

Lastly, and you’ve heard it before, speed is key. Slow websites kill conversions and yours is no different.

It’s good practice to keep loading times within 3 seconds. This sometimes this isn’t entirely achievable if you have an image-heavy design or run various tools in the background necessary for website management.

You can check your page speed through GT Metrix, which we believe gives a fairer analysis of true speed by combining Google’s PageSpeed Insights with Y-Slow (another speed test).

Aim to be as optimised as you can possibly be. You can achieve this by crunching your image file sizes, minifying code, and using caching services as a starting point. Ask your developer to do this for you as standard.

Failing any of the ‘techie’ stuff, make sure you invest in good hosting. If your user is in the UK, don’t send them via Texas to reach your website on some $2 host. Invest in a reputable UK hosting partner and get yourself on a dedicated box. Shared servers are cheaper, yes, but you share risk and resources with every other website on the same server as yours.

If you’re serious about delivering an award-winning website experience, make the investment in the speed of your website.


So there we have it, five insights into how we judge an award-winning website here at Zest Digital. To summarise, it’s the structural and technological side that we absolutely expect without fail, but it’s the attention to detail that sets the winners from the rest.

In advance of this year’s Good Web Guide Awards, I hope you can take value from this and put the changes in place to give your entry the best possible chance of walking away with a prize.

Good luck!

Alex Minchin is the founder and managing director of Zest Digital, an award-winning digital marketing agency, focused on driving revenue growth for its ambitious clients. Zest specialise in positively influencing the two most important metrics that challenge businesses marketing online today; increasing the volume and quality of traffic and conversions from digital channels.

May 2019