Why Europeans produce the most effective corporate websites
The corporate website is a crucial communication tool for IR professionals. Analysts and fund managers rely on them for data, viewpoints and background information, while private shareholders increasingly turn to them to check on their own companies or research new ones. The IR section is, of course, the main focus for this but there is plenty of evidence that these users will look around the whole site, and perhaps even the enterprise’s social media channels.
What IROs may not realize is that they are likely providing a different level of service depending on which side of the Atlantic they sit. The Bowen Craggs & Co Index of Online Excellence highlights just how clear this transatlantic gap is: of the 30 most effective corporate web estates (websites plus social media channels), just six are US; the other 24 are European.
What do we mean by ‘effective’? Doing all the jobs they can be doing, as well as they can be doing them. That means serving different target groups – investors, customers, jobseekers, media – with equal skill, getting across the firm’s messages and values as well as they can, and doing so in a way that people find easy to use.
Why is this, and does it matter? When corporate web estates were born in the 1990s they were allowed to grow without any significant control, and became increasingly unco-ordinated. Around the turn of the millennium some big companies in Europe decided this made little sense – they could save money by bringing these channels together to share costs, while also improving the co-ordination of messages and allowing people to move around the estates more easily.
That trend spread and is now close to universal – in Europe. But it didn’t happen in the US, and if you look around US corporate estates now, you will find huge variation, even within the ‘corporate’ bits. Look at Apple.com, Microsoft.com, GE.com – they are made up of many different bits, and co-ordination ranges from limited to non-existent.
Within particular areas, though, they may well be really good. In our ‘serving customers’ metrics, five of the top 10 companies are US; in ‘jobseekers’, four out of 10. But in ‘construction’ (that is, usability) and ‘message’, they do not feature near the top of the lists. The reason is obvious when we look for people to talk to at the companies: in Europe we can always find a small team at the center; in the US we often cannot find anyone. Co-ordination is minimal and if there is someone at the center, he or she has no power to influence what individual businesses or departments are doing.
We call this a lack of ‘governance’ – having the people and processes in place to make the web estate work together. And the reason behind it is apparently historical: 15 years ago Europeans started to go one way, and Americans did not.
Why does it matter? Well, at enterprise level it means the company is wasting resources through lack of standardization and duplication of effort. It also means the corporation’s messages are not controlled, while the poor usability and mix of looks makes it feel at best unprofessional.
And for IROs? If the only destination you care about is the investor section, it does not make much difference; your targets will find their way there via Google. But if you believe investors want to find out as much as they can about you – your products and services, your environmental credentials, your history, your leadership – it is vital they can find their way easily around the different parts of the corporate site.
That can only happen if the web estate is properly managed, and for that you need a strong team at the center. In Europe, you have one; in the US, you may well not.
David Bowen is senior consultant at research and consultancy group Bowen Craggs & Co