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Corporate website index: How well do websites serve their various audiences?

By David Bowen
Published: April 2 2008 02:23 | Last updated: April 2 2008 02:23

How well do corporate websites serve the various interest groups that use them?

The FT Bowen Craggs index examines this question in detail and reports on the findings in the main table, and in further tables on the Bowen Craggs website which anyone can recalibrate.

Here, we look at each user community and how it is served:

Serving society

Reputation management is a big issue for many companies and several have realised their website is a good place to address it.

Companies have two main audiences: the general public and the growing social responsibility profession, which measures performance against set standards.

Some companies have specific issues – one-off or rumbling – and use the web to tackle them. In the past year, BP has built up a detailed dossier about the Texas City explosion – it does not exactly flag it, but does not hide it either.

Coca-Cola gives a higher profile to its Coke Facts site, addressing issues such as water management at its Indian plants. Meanwhile, GSK made an interesting one-off move last year, when it used its home page to communicate rapidly with shareholders who had received hostile letters from an animal rights group.

It will be interesting to see if more companies make use of this obvious, but somewhat neglected, noticeboard.

On the more positive side, HSBC is busy building its “sustainable” image on one mini-site that is packed with engaging case studies, and another that hosts a lively forum. Hewlett-Packard takes a different tack – it has a site helping customers save energy; the implication is that it must therefore be on the side of the good green guys.

Two developments at the less glamorous corporate social responsibility end. First, more companies are showing how they measure up against benchmarks such as the Global Responsibility Index. BHP Billiton’s online sustainability report can be gauged, using colour-coding, for compliance with the GRI and other indices.

Second, corporate governance material is being made more accessible by intelligent use of the web’s functionality. Look, for example, at Petrobras’s interactive diagram on the governance page – click to find out more.

And if you work for Arcelor Mittal and want to spill some beans, go to the online whistleblower’s form – a sign of openness, whether or not it is used.

Serving investors

Investor relations teams are surrounded by an industry that wants to sell them all the bells and whistles it can. But these are not necessarily what the “end customers” need. The trick is to know what is really useful, and to provide it professionally.

Our study segments investor relations customers into three: analysts/investors who follow the company; analysts/ investors wanting to research it; and private shareholders.

Sites that do well serve all three categories, but in a thoughtful rather than “chuck it all in” way. UBS provides analysts with a “create your own report” feature, but does not give individuals a share price look-up, as many companies do. It probably has good reasons.

Individual shareholders should not be ignored, though many companies do and very few take real care of them. BP is an exception, with its targeted help for holders of ordinary shares and American depositary shares, and the “Learn about investing” section for the newcomer.

Among those who are helping the researcher, Cisco stands out with its Analyst Resources section, which includes specially created videos and podcasts.

At the other end of the list are companies where the IR team takes little notice of the web.

Some of these are surprising. Wal-Mart clearly does not think of its shareholders as another set of customers. Instead, it gives them a mix between a labyrinth and an old-fashioned library to negotiate. There is information here, but it is hard to find and the service for private shareholders has managed to get worse, with the disappearance of an introductory page for them.

Serving the media

This metric scores an average of 16.2, against 19.8 for investors and 19 for customers. That is not surprising: many press offices simply do not see the web as an important part of their service.

The more switched-on do though, offering a simple but effective service based on journalists’ need to get good information fast.

Verizon, Unicredito and IBM score well by excellent provision of the basics. Press releases that are easy to browse and search, comprehensive press contacts, useful press kits and excellent image libraries.

Providing good downloadable pictures should be a killer application for these sites – picture desks hunting for photos late at night find them a godsend.

Some companies go much further, using their sites to build and sustain a close relationship with the specialist press. IT companies are best placed to do this, because of the natural wiredness of their community.

Cisco and Hewlett-Packard fill their media areas with online tools for journalists: blogs, videos, podcasts, SMS and RSS feeds. They are buzzing advertisements for what the web can do.

A sad example at the other end of the scale is PepsiCo – its approach is tokenist, with nothing but press releases, not particularly well organised. There is a case for saying that, if the rest of the site has enough information, journalists will find what they need. That is not true here, and the absence of a contact number for journalists is a sign that the press office has yet to get its head around the medium.

Serving jobseekers

The website is often the first calling point for most people looking for jobs. A few of the companies in the Index do not use their sites for recruitment – and some do but badly – but the great majority try quite hard.

The first category of site is in essence a labour exchange: look at our vacancies and apply online. Sophisticated search tools, CV filing and online applications processes are becoming standard, though a company such as Roche has an exceptionally refined system, including a sliding bar allowing jobseekers to move from a broad search to an exact match.

Roche does not attempt to enter the second category, however: companies that are using their sites to court candidates. Here, the most interesting developments are found, with web technology and high quality content stretched to appeal to a demanding, often young, audience. Microsoft gets it right with many upbeat videos showing what life is like in the company, as well as a mass of blogs.

UBS has videos too, as well as “Assess Yourself”, a self-profiling device to help candidates understand where they would best fit in. Sumitomo Mitsui has a pseudo virtual world in its Japanese language careers site, while IBM has the real (or rather virtual) thing. Its student portal links to a series of “challenges” in Second Life – this may (or may not) be a glimpse of the careers site of the future.

Serving customers

Some companies are not trying to use their corporate site to help customers.

The Russian sites come into this category, so – more surprisingly – do PepsiCo and Unicredito, the Italian bank. If this is a strategic decision, that is up to them, though the evidence from other companies is that a surprising number of consumers look at corporate sites, even when little information is provided for them.

It was this discovery that persuaded Unilever to switch from an investor to a consumer focus. Its large multinational web presence offers consistent “journeys” to general brand information and country-specific sites.

Feature material is mixed in on the way to make the site as attractive as possible, but not in a way that slows journeys to decision or buying points.

Cisco provides routes to specific or general information, depending on whether customers know exactly what they want. Routes are also given by product name or sector, for the same reason. And there is plenty of help: comparison tools, videos, FAQs, product demonstrations, even online training seminars.

Royal Bank of Canada and Wells Fargo provide a similar combination of clear journeys and plenty of help, and also let customers buy, apply or make contact from the site. These and several other financial services companies – especially in North America – have sites ruthlessly driven by the customer marketing imperative.

Which is fine, were they not missing out unnecessarily on marketing to other groups, such as potential employees and investors.

Methodology: how the Index was created

Bowen Craggs has developed a methodology to benchmark corporate sites in great detail. The FT Bowen Craggs Index uses the same methodology, but in less depth.

The metrics are divided into two groups: overall and specific. Specific metrics concentrate on how well the site serves different groups (see “Interest Groups” feature, above). Within the overall metrics, “construction” covers navigation and coherence; “message” looks at the visual and content messages the site transmits; while “contact” covers both ease of making contact and appropriate use of FAQs.

Each metric is sub-divided and the same questions asked of each site. We do not, however, use a checklist approach: our analysts are all experts on the corporate web, and are trained to ask first what should be provided, and only then to judge how well it is provided. “Appropriate” is the key word. A new review takes 10 hours on average and is carefully documented.

Companies included in the Index are taken from the FT Global 500 2007, ranked by market capitalisation. We have indexed the top 25 from each of the US, Europe, and the rest of the world. The only company excluded is Berkshire Hathaway, which chooses not to use the web in a conventional way. We look at the entire presence, covering non-English content where it is important to do so. Japanese, Chinese and Russian speaking associates are used to check relevant areas.

Companies featured last year that no longer fit the criteria are: Al-Rahji Banking and Investments, AstraZeneca, Saudi Telecom, and Surgutneftegas.http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/09ab6e94-ff06-11dc-b556-000077b07658.html

About Bowen Craggs

Bowen Craggs advises companies and other organisations on their web presence. It does not build sites, but helps improve effectiveness with strategy, measurement and continuous improvement techniques.

Recent and current consulting clients include Shell, BP, Unilever, Coca-Cola, Nestlé, HSBC, Novartis and Roche. Our association with some companies in the Index has not affected the scoring: we have no interest in marking them up or down.

For more detail, including rankings by different metrics and downloadable Excel files, please visit www.bowencraggs.com/ftindex.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2008

http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/09ab6e94-ff06-11dc-b556-000077b07658.html

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1 Comment on “Corporate website index: How well do websites serve their various audiences?”

  1. #1 Deborah
    on Apr 14th, 2008 at 02:40

    Fantastic article David. Loved it.
    Difficult to read in a block of text though. You need to make use of underlining and bold text and images.

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