March 28, 2007 10:14 am

Corporate websites: How well are we being served?

Acorporate website has to serve several interested groups – jobseekers, investors, the media, customers and society. The FT Bowen Craggs Index examines this in detail, with the table, right, giving scores for how well each group is served. This article identifies the three companies who best serve each group. Scores are out of 32.

Download a PDF of the table here.

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To recalibrate the tables, visit www.bowencraggs.com/ftindex.

Serving jobseekers

1= UBS 26
1= Microsoft 26
3= Siemens 24
3= Shell 24

Jobseekers often make up the biggest group of visitors to a corporate site – sometimes a third of the total – so it is not surprising that many human resources teams pour resources into it.

Careers sections typically have two roles: attracting graduates and listing specific vacancies. The best graduate areas exploit the technology that will appeal to young people, and may also tap into community features. UBS has a terrific graduate recruitment area with a raft of videos featuring young staff talking about why they joined UBS and what they do, and an interactive self-assessment tool. Microsoft links to Jobs Blog, about technical careers at the group, while Shell has a tool that matches degrees with job areas.

In-career jobseekers need powerful tools that match them with jobs, and let them apply online. Siemens lets them search for jobs or get an e-mail if a vacancy arises – far from unique, but rigorously implemented.

Serving society

1 Petrobras 30
2= BHP Billiton 28
2= BP 28

With its tolerance of words and complexity, the web is the only medium that gives the subtleties of corporate social responsibility a chance.

It is interesting that two “rest of the world” companies lead in this new area. Petrobras scores for the high profile it gives CSR material – not least by aiming it explicitly at financial analysts – and for its innovative presentation. A tool showing environmental impact is unusual, doubly so in the investor section.

BHP Billiton uses its site to map its reporting against the guidelines of the Global Reporting Initiative, with a traffic light system showing whether it is meeting its targets or not. BP is arguably torn by the contrast between the “greener than thou” image its site portrays and the stories emerging in the offline world. But it does have an outstanding set of tools, including the carbon footprint calculator, health, safety and environment charting tools, and an environmental mapping device that shows plant-by-plant impact. BP has also used the web effectively for local crisis management – not least after the Texas City refinery explosion.

Serving investors

1= Vodafone 28
1= ENI 28
3= BP 27
3= Total 27
3= UBS 27

Companies that do well here must serve three groups: analysts who cover the company, those who do not but want to research it, and individual investors. Surprisingly few companies bother with all three, with the small shareholder missing out most often.

Vodafone’s investor section is simple but comprehensive – it clearly lays out the information analysts need in many formats, and also talks to its individual investors as though it cares about them. One of ENI’s many strengths is “ENI at a glance”, which pulls together facts and figures a new analyst would want.

BP’s Interactive Analyst is a sophisticated charting tool that could be used by all three groups – it lets them analyse historical figures and presents them in illuminating form. Total’s Fact Book, covering seven years, is a strong resource for analysts, while individual shareholders are taken very seriously indeed. For sheer sophistication, UBS is hard to beat, even letting users build their own quarterly report.

Serving the media

1= Siemens 28
1= Cisco Systems 28
3= AstraZeneca 27
3= Roche 27

Many of the biggest companies do not use their websites seriously to serve journalists – perhaps a function of the traditional press officer mentality. The few that do show how sites can be used to help the media and the press team.

Siemens scores highly by simply giving journalists the information they need, as rapidly as possible. Press releases are filtered in multiple ways, while the single most useful set of information – media contacts – is given great attention. Roche also has well-ordered press releases and an invaluable collection of background material – videos as well as documents.

AstraZeneca has several press areas. The one for specialist journalists is most impressive: check news by date, product or disease area, or get photos from the huge classified image library (picture provision is an area where the web is unbeatable). The Cisco Newsroom goes well beyond information provision: podcasts, videos and blogs are used to engage the company’s media audience. It would not be right for all companies, but if your audience is high-tech, serve it in a high-tech way.

Serving customers

1= Cisco Systems 28
1= Royal Bank of Canada 28
3 AstraZeneca 27

For some companies this is the most important metric; for others it is barely relevant. It is also the most difficult to measure because every sector is trying to do a different thing. This is illustrated by the wildly different jobs the three leader sites are attempting.

Both Cisco and RBC sites provide excellent “journeys” for customers, while being relatively chaotic in their general construction. This is a sign of sales-led companies – issues of brand and overall usability come second to leading potential customers to where they buy or make contact, providing them with excellent information on the way. As a pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca has limited opportunities to market directly, but it uses its site to educate – and therefore build its brand subtly.

All three exploit the web’s technological skills with verve, though in very different ways. Cisco’s product demonstrations, discussion areas and videos are impressive, as are AZ’s slightly scary interactive tutorials. But in its way, RBC’s relatively simple but effective product selection and comparison devices are as notable – because they do the job, and they do it well.

How the methodology was created

Bowen Craggs, a corporate website advisory firm, has developed a methodology that benchmarks company websites in great detail. The FT Bowen Craggs Index uses the same methodology, but at a lighter level.

Companies included in the Index are taken from the 2006 FT Global 500, ranked by market capitalisation. The Index assessed the biggest 20 companies from each of the US, Europe, and the rest of the world. One company was excluded: Berkshire Hathaway qualifies by size and its website (www.berkshirehathaway.com) is indeed fit for purpose. But with a single page leading to various downloadable documents, that purpose is relevant only to a limited number of companies.

The metrics used to compile the Index are divided into two groups: specific and overall. Specific metrics concentrate on how well the site serves different groups (see “serving” categories in the table, right).

Within the overall metrics, “construction” looks at navigation and coherence; “message” looks at the visual and content messages the site transmits; while “contact” covers the efficiency of the points of contact, and also the effective diversion of contacts through FAQs.

The same questions were asked of each site but not using a checklist approach: the analysts used are experts on corporate websites and are trained to ask first what should be provided, and then to judge how well it is provided.

Each review takes 10 hours on average, including rigorous checking, and is carefully documented. The Index looks at the entire presence, covering non-English content where it is important to do so.

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