New quality mark to certify websites for ease of use

1 Jul 2004

Ireland is to be the global headquarters for a new website quality certification process aimed at auditing sites according to several criteria around best practice and usability.

The W-Mark symbol that will be awarded to participating sites will be a worldwide brand, given to organisations whose online presence will have been audited under five main categories: consistency and appearance; accessibility; privacy; navigation and service commitment. Sites that meet these requirements will be safe to use and easy for visitors to navigate. They will also meet accessibility guidelines for disabled users. In addition, consumers will be made aware of how their data is used by a particular site.

Excellence Ireland Quality Association (EIQA) will manage the Irish arm of the programme as well as running the operations centre for the global scheme. The W-Mark is being launched initially in Ireland, the US and the UK.

A non-profit group, EIQA is also the national organisation that awards the Q-Mark, Hygiene Mark, Corporate Wellness and customised programmes. The group conducts more than 3,000 audits through its programmes every year. Similar organisations with experience in auditing companies for other standards, will operate the process in other countries. “We decided to go for partners that already had experience in certification throughout the world,” explained Paul O’Grady, managing director of EIQA.

The E-Commerce Standards Board worked with EIQA to develop the certification process. As part of a pilot process under way until 30 September, Hewlett-Packard Galway, Friends First and Rehab will be the first three organisations to be audited for the W-Mark.

According to O’Grady, other Irish organisations have already looked at the process, which will initially be aimed at large corporates. “We need very visible brands doing this so that it does become a global mark,” he said. EIQA hopes to have 500 firms signed worldwide by the end of this year, with as many as 100 coming from Ireland. The W-Mark will also be targeted at large public sector sites that offer online services to citizens, O’Grady confirmed.

The W-Mark symbol will be issued to compliant websites as a digital certificate that will expire if an organisation does not continue to be certified on an ongoing basis. “You’re getting involved in a continuous improvement process for your website,” O’Grady said.

Certification costs €5,000 and this covers two audits per year as well as a detailed confidential report that outlines where a company scores well or badly with its site, including recommendations as to how the site can be improved in line with worldwide best practice. “It can be a differentiator to say that your site has been independently certified and approved,” Claimed O’Grady. “From a corporate governance point of view, that is an asset in itself.” Sites that gather data on their customers could also benefit from being independently recognised as trustworthy, he added.

By Gordon Smith