Google Analytics Benchmark 2017 – Trends and highlights, Part 2

We presented the Bowen Craggs Google Analytics Benchmark 2017 in a web meeting earlier this month. Here, in the second of two posts, Andrew Rigby looks at how to examine web analytics in context, and the value of different data sources.
 

In the first part of our summary of the Bowen Craggs Google Analytics Benchmark 2017, which we presented via a web meeting recently, we highlighted some of the trends in user behaviour we are seeing develop across corporate websites.

But we also noted that meaningful comparison of a single site’s data against trends needs context, largely because of the variation we see in analytics between sites.

During the web meeting several examples of this were highlighted:

  • The ways that users reach corporate websites can vary widely. For example, organic acquisition varied from 16% to 71%, but there could well be a valid reason for sitting at the lower end of the range – such as a high level of referrals from a parent site or direct traffic because the company is well-known. Or of course the site may be performing poorly in search engines, which would be a cause for concern
Screen Shot 2017-11-22 at 12.13.37.png

 

  • The amount of traffic referred to corporate sites from social media also shows a lot of variation. Only two companies in the benchmark received over 5% of their traffic from social networks, but one participant in the webinar reported social referrals of over 13%, an unusually high figure due to a very active – and successful – strategy to use social media to direct traffic back to the website. Those at the lower end of the scale may have taken a conscious decision not to pursue such a strategy. Or if they have not, they might use this comparison to show what is possible and adjust their strategy and resources accordingly
  • The site with the shortest average visit lasted 1 minute and the longest was 3 minutes
  • Mobile visits to corporate sites are much more likely to bounce than those made on desktop.  Visits from organic acquisition are most likely to be deep and long, while direct visits (where the site has been bookmarked or the URL typed) are the shortest, view the fewest pages and are most likely to bounce. But a high bounce rate might indicate that users are simply coming to a site for one thing, finding it, and immediately leaving, having had a successful visit. And a long, deep visit is not necessarily a productive one. Closer analysis is vital, and knowing where your visitors exited to can be very useful, so tagging exit links is a good idea – and often overlooked.

Insight through combined measurement data

As well as looking more deeply at the specific analytics of the site in question, it can also be very helpful to add context through other measurement, and in particular visitor surveys and user testing. By piecing together qualitative and quantitative data, you should be able to tell if that long, deep visit was in fact indicative of an engaged user, or in fact someone becoming frustrated at failing to find what they wanted.

We looked at one example where we had connected data from Google Analytics with survey data to gain some real insight into user behaviour.

On this particular site, looking at the survey data and cross-referencing it with the analytics, we noticed that referred users were less likely to achieve their goal. Further investigation revealed that a page in the careers section was the top landing page for those visitors who had answered the survey question about goal achievement. Delving deeper still, we could see that those referred from Facebook to this page were the least successful in achieving their goal, and especially those coming from Facebook on desktop machines.

While this has prompted the company in question to concentrate on its Facebook referrals, adding Google Campaign tags to Facebook links would help to identify which posts referred successful visits; in measurement, the deeper you dive, the more insight you can find.

– Andrew Rigby

You can be part of the analytics benchmark, and enjoy a host of other benefits, by joining The Bowen Craggs Club, an exclusive network for the most engaged online corporate communications professionals. It is aimed at individuals and companies who believe in the need for world-leading corporate web estates. Although most group members work in Fortune 500 corporations, we welcome senior managers from public sector and non-governmental organizations with responsibility for large web presences.

For more information on the Club, visit our website, or contact Lisa Hayward, lhayward@bowencraggs.com.

To discuss our measurement services, including how we can help with analytics and visitor surveys, please contact Dan Drury ddrury@bowencraggs.com or see our website.

BC tip: Boeing – Bringing products to life

Bold presentation helps sell the benefits of the company’s planes to key audiences.  

BC tip - Boeing.png

The Feature

The Boeing website contains dedicated pages for the various aircraft models the company produces, under the heading ‘Commercial’ in the main menu.

Each of these pages contains a lot of information, attractively presented using different formats, which communicates the various features and benefits of the aircraft.

The page for the 787 Dreamliner is one example. A large image of the plane in flight fills most screens on initial view. A series of anchor links at the bottom of the image takes users to the various sections of the page, including ‘Technical Specs’, ‘New Routes’, ‘Feature Stories’, ‘Videos’, ‘Customers’ and ‘Dreamliner effect’.

Some of these in-page sections contain further interactive panels which are used to provide more detailed information.

Other sections lead to deeper sub-pages, such as the ‘787 Dreamliner by design’ section where the ‘Learn more’ link takes users to a page where they can view the aircraft’s features by relevance to audience groups (such as pilots or airline executives), or by topic (such as ‘passenger experience’ or ‘noise’).

The Takeaway

The bold presentation, use of interactivity and different formats makes the most of the online medium to present a lot of information in an engaging way that works well on screen, without resorting to long, text-based product descriptions.

The mix of videos, highly polished photography, interactive images and 360-degree tours creates a dramatic visual effect, which draws users in and encourages them to explore in greater detail.

Boeing has clearly considered its key audiences, and serves them with snippets of clearly-labelled information which are designed to appeal to them, rather than trying to create a single product description to satisfy everyone.

It is clear that airline executives – the people who would actually buy the planes - are the priority. For example, video testimonials on the Dreamliner’s benefits, from previous airline customers, directly appeal to the target market.

Boeing even incorporates user-generated content, using the hashtag  #Dreamliner Stories to obtain social media stories from passengers. It then displays them on an interactive map which can be filtered according to airline or location.

http://www.boeing.com/commercial/787/

Explaining 'Explain yourself'

Our newly published 'Explain yourself' Index is designed to highlight the companies that are best at telling their stories online. David Bowen answers some questions on it.

What is the 'Explain yourself' Index?

It's a ranking of the 15 large companies that most successfully use their corporate websites and social media channels as their 'voice'. Every company puts huge effort into selling its products and services, but few put much into 'selling' the company itself. By that we mean explaining what it does, how it is is run, who runs it, its values, its history, and so on. And - for companies that run into trouble (as most do at some point) - how well they use the internet to manage their reputations. 

You already produce the Bowen Craggs Index - how is this different?

This is a both a prologue and a development of the Bowen Craggs Index of Online Excellence. The next full Index will be published in the New Year, and will cover online communications from many different angles - from usability to job application mechanisms. The 'Explain yourself' Index takes two of the 27 sub-metrics we use - on company information and 'building a reputation for responsibility', and rescores them in a more granular fashion. The methodology is fully explained in the document you can download below.

Why is the internet so important for explaining yourself?

Because it has become the default destination for people wanting to find out ... pretty much anything. If they are wondering about working for a company, or they hear something negative and want to check it out, or they are looking for a good stock to buy, they will go to Google. If the company has done its SEO properly, they should then find their way to a corporate site (which may be central or country-specific). That is why some corporate sites have tens of millions of visits a year. Yet few of the people charged with 'selling' their company - for example in press, IR, HR and CSR teams, and most importantly their bosses - have realized just how important the web is for them. The exceptions, obviously, work in the companies that make up our Index.

Why is Nestlé at the top?

Mainly for its reputation management effort. The 'Ask Nestlé' section is unique, because it combines high-profile 'get in touch' devices with FAQs on topics that range from one-off crises to the decades-old baby milk controversy. Swiss companies are often thought of as secretive - Nestlé is fighting the image, and its main tool is the internet. 

What about the other top scorers?

They vary greatly. Several are strong on reputation management (look at all those oil, pharma and tobacco companies), but Axa gets in by being brilliant visually and telling stories well; Unilever infuses its sites with great 'responsibility' detail; and Luxottica is very good at explaining what it does. 

Why has Bowen Craggs produced this Index?

Partly as a teaser for the full Index, but also because we wanted to produce something that would convince the most senior people in large companies that online corporate comms should be taken as seriously as it deserves. So please download our document and pass it on - and up.

Download the 'Explain yourself' Index

 

 

 

BC tip: Netflix – Two too many views of the leadership

Different sets of leadership biographies for investors and journalists are a waste of resources and give a poor first impression of how well the company is run.

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The Feature

Netflix has a microsite for investors and a microsite for media, both of which are signposted from the footer of the US-based streaming service’s website. Each of these sites has a set of leadership biographies, which differ from each other editorially and visually.

The investor biographies sit on an older template; the biography page for media is newer and more accessible. In terms of the words, some biographies are exactly the same, the CEO for example. Other differences are subtle – the chief content officer biography is longer on the investor site. Another difference – directors are listed for investors, but not for media.

The Takeaway

Netflix’s fragmented web presence is typical of US companies’ approach to online communications, but most manage to present one view of the leadership even across multiple microsites. The Netflix example is an extreme case of where a lack of online governance can lead.

Our research into behaviour on corporate sites shows that audiences rarely stay in their silos. Journalists will almost certainly be visiting the Netflix investor site – it is signposted prominently from the media site. Some investor audiences, especially those new to the company will visit the media site.

Leadership biographies should be part of the unified ‘voice’ companies use to communicate to the outside world, as we note in our ‘Explain yourself’ Index, published this week.

At Netflix, neglecting the ‘About’ pages is unlikely to stop the company expanding its streaming service across the world, but why give such a poor first impression of the company governance to journalists and investors?

https://ir.netflix.com/management.cfm

https://media.netflix.com/en/management-team

Google Analytics Benchmark 2017 – Trends and highlights, Part 1

We presented the Bowen Craggs Google Analytics Benchmark 2017 in a web meeting this week. Here, in the first of two posts (second to follow next week), Andrew Rigby gives the headline findings, including data for referral traffic, device usage and landing pages.
 

The Bowen Craggs Google Analytics Benchmark has been running since 2014, collating and comparing data from a range of corporate websites across a variety of sectors, and representing a range of activity.

Although the constituent websites may have changed, what we have measured has not, so the data is comparable and shows trends over time.

The 2017 benchmark covers the period between May 2016 and April 2017, collecting Google Analytics data from 24 corporate websites.

The growth of mobile, organic and social traffic
 

We noted some clear trends:

  • The growth of organic traffic to corporate sites – with half of the visits to the sites in the benchmark coming via unpaid search – means search engine performance is increasingly important. Visits by users referred to corporate sites from other sites are dropping
  • Users referred to corporate sites from social networks still represent a small proportion of overall traffic at 2.5 per cent, but some companies are starting to see significant social traffic. Facebook is the largest single social source, but those users are the most likely of social referrals to bounce and have the shortest, shallowest visits
  • Mobile traffic to corporate sites is generally increasing and now accounts for an average of one in four visits, but so is the variation across sites in the benchmark: for some sites it is one in three visits
  • The length and depth of the average site visit has dropped slightly. The average visit included 2.42 pages and lasted 2m 1 second, compared to 2.6 pages per session and 2 minutes 12 seconds in 2016
  • The home page is still very important on corporate sites and the most common entry point with 27 per cent of traffic, but over the years the benchmark has been running there is a clear increase in the number of pages on which users enter sites. Understanding the variety of entry points, and where users then go on a particular site, can be very helpful to web managers in ensuring smooth user journeys.

Top landing pages by section, 2014-2017 (click to enlarge)

Nobody is average, so context is key
 

The busiest site had 37 million visits per year; the quietest 530,000, and an average of 7 million.

Yet these headline figures highlight perhaps the single biggest takeaway from the benchmark: the variation in user behaviour between sites. The companies at the extreme ends of the visits range obviously affect the average; many sites in the benchmark attract in the region of 3 million visits per year.

It is important, then, to not just compare the traffic on your site against an average – although that may be useful – but to also drill down into the detail of the comparison. A site with 4 million visits may be below the average, but in fact sits above the median as it has attracted more visits than many of the companies in the benchmark.

Number of visits across the companies in the Benchmark (click to enlarge)

But even then – as many of you will be thinking as you read this – simply comparing figures is often meaningless without the context to understand them.

In next week’s commentary we’ll look at the importance of putting web analytics data in context, and how you can draw company-specific insight from it.

– Andrew Rigby

You can be part of the analytics benchmark, and enjoy a host of other benefits, by joining The Bowen Craggs Club, an exclusive network for the most engaged online corporate communications professionals. It is aimed at individuals and companies who believe in the need for world-leading corporate web estates. Although most group members work in Fortune 500 corporations, we welcome senior managers from public sector and non-governmental organizations with responsibility for large web presences.

For more information on the Club, visit our website, or contact Lisa Hayward, lhayward@bowencraggs.com.

To discuss our measurement services, including how we can help with analytics and visitor surveys, please contact Dan Drury ddrury@bowencraggs.com or see our website.

 

BC Tip: TJX and the joys of simple navigation

TJX, owner of the TJ Maxx retail chain, uses a neat navigation system on a cost-effective site

 

Screen Shot 2017-11-01 at 08.55.11.png

The Feature

TJX.com is a notably simple corporate site, with striking blocks of colour making it stand out from current fashions.

It does not have a left menu for internal navigation, but instead uses multiple horizontal menus at the the top. Passing the cursor over a main link (eg Investors), a row of secondary links appears below. Holding the cursor over one of these (eg Filing and presentations), a third row appears. Click on one of these (eg SEC Filings), and a page appears. At this point the second row menu stays in place, but the third one disappears – it comes back only if the secondary link is moused over again. 

In some case, the third  level menu also contains fourth level pages – for example the menu under Responsibility > Responsible business includes Governance and its sub-pages, such as Board of Directors.

The Takeaway

We are always on the lookout for sites that manage to combine usability with a modern look. If they do not cost a fortune, so much the better. While we have yet to see anything as usable as an 'old-fashioned' left menu, TJX's approach shows a plausible way forward – though implementation is flawed.

The advantage is that, like a left menu but unlike a dropdown panel, the menus stay in view. This makes it easy to see what other pages and sections are in view, and also means they can be highlighted for good orientation. The problem is that TJX keeps only the first two menus in view. When at the third level, its menu disappears – which means it is not particularly easy to move around within these sections.

Were it to keep the third level menu in view, and also introduce to a fourth level where necessary (rather than jamming the third and fourth level links into one bar), it would be exceptionally usable. Make it 'sticky', so it is always at the top of the screen when you scroll, and you would have something rather splendid.

We can hear the minimal navigation folk shouting that it will take up too much 'real estate' (or some such). It doesn't: each menu is shallow, and even if there were four menus in view, it would hardly impinge on the visual impact.

If you are struggling to make a 'no left menu' structure work, it's worth considering this approach – it should be possible to introduce it without a major rebuild.

www.tjx.com

 

 

 

The Walt Disney Company: Google Earth brings grass-roots projects to life

The US entertainment giant uses a customised interactive Google Earth map to present information about projects supported by its global conservation fund.

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The Feature

A panel on the Environment landing page of The Walt Disney Company’s corporate website houses a link titled ‘View the DCF Google Earth Map’.

On click the link leads to a Google Earth map of the world, covered with flag icons – each indicating a project supported by the Disney Conservation Fund. A left column contains a search box and extensive set of filters under five headings: ‘Animals’, ‘Species’, ‘Organization’, ‘Years Funded’ and ‘Project Type’.

Selecting one or more filters changes the number and position of icons on the map. Projects related to a specific animal or species are indicated by illustrative animal icons on the map.

On click of an icon, a large panel expands into view in the left column, containing images and text illustrating and explaining the project in questions – as well as related links to websites and social media feeds/pages containing more details. Each panel also contains an email address for users who want to contact Disney’s conservation funding department.

Users can switch between the default ‘map’ view and ‘satellite’ view the world, as well as zoom in and out using Google Earth’s standard navigation tools. 

The Takeaway

Disney’s use of Google Earth effectively conveys the global breadth and depth of its conservation funding. It also provides visitors – from consumers, via jobseekers, to CSR professionals and conservationists - with an informative and engaging research tool.

But there are two weaknesses. First, the link to the Google Earth tool from Disney’s corporate website opens on click in the same browser window, which is disorientating. Second, the tool lacks introductory information about what it is and how to use it, which means that some first-time visitors may not stay on it long enough to discover the rich information within it. 

https://myatlascms.com/map/?id=967

 

 

 

 

The five biggest performance gaps in corporate digital communications

Corporate digital managers at 25 of the world’s largest companies have told us their teams’ top priorities for the next 12 months and where they think they are falling short. Jason Sumner and Lisa Hayward share the five biggest performance gaps across the group.
 

The Bowen Craggs Club, a new networking and research community for corporate digital managers, launched over the summer. As a first step in joining, we asked club members to sit down with us for in-depth conversations about their teams’ priorities, strengths and weaknesses in a number of core performance areas such as content strategy, measurement, relationships with internal stakeholders and managing high-performing digital teams.

We’ve had 25 conversations so far, and it seemed like a good time to share a little of what we have learned (on an anonymous basis of course). We asked members to score their teams on a scale of 1 to 5 across a number of skills and competencies, and then identify which of these skills and competencies they most want to improve on.

As a result, we were able to identify the areas where there were the biggest gaps between desired performance and self-reported outcomes. Here are the top five:

1. Failure to set or consistently use key performance indicators (KPIs)

‘Measurement’ is regularly near the top of digital manager challenges whenever we’ve run short surveys in the past. This time the long-form interviews allowed people to expand on the reasons good intentions so often lead to frustration when it comes to KPIs. Even in otherwise top-performing organizations, we found that the barriers are deep-seated, company-specific, political and even psychological. Three of the most interesting were:

  • In one organization, KPIs are applied in an ad hoc way because, ‘Stakeholders don’t understand how to translate business goals into KPIs and the digital team isn’t pushing them.’
  • Another organization said their ‘standard’ KPIs are not good enough. ‘They need to be more channel specific.’
  • Fear of linking metrics to goals is a factor for one organization, despite the fact that communications leadership is already convinced of the value of measurement. ‘They are scared of setting KPIs and failing. Failure needs to be seen as an opportunity to learn.’

2. Lack of a content strategy for different channels and screen sizes

The proliferation of digital channels and devices over the last few years has also kept ‘content strategy’ (which we define as having a defined process to produce and publish content across differing channels, devices and geographies) at the top of the priority list. Our interviews found digital managers planning to do a lot of work on the device and channel side over the next 12 months – particularly in developing multi-purpose content. Said one, ‘The leading channel is the website. Content published there is repurposed for social media use, and some content is created first for social media. We don’t plan ahead.’ Said another, ‘We have an editorial group managing content across platforms, but can sometimes think offline first. There is room for improvement to help educate employees and agencies to change this mindset.’

Rounding out the top five: Roles and responsibilities, agency relationships and usability testing

There was a three-way tie rounding out the top five performance gaps:

  • Who owns the channel? Given the above work on content strategy, it is not surprising that digital teams are still working out the right relationship with internal stakeholders and local teams over who publishes what, and when. ‘A grey area exists in the mind of the content owner about who owns the page. Internal stakeholders think the digital team. A roadshow is planned to educate and keep reinforcing.’ Another interviewee said, ‘We are trying to create combined and shared content plans rather than work in silos.’
  • Getting the most out of agencies: The difficulties mentioned included a lack of corporate and industry expertise, and an assumption that corporates don’t want to be seen as creative. Another organization does not use agencies currently but wants to bring in fresh thinking from outside.
  • Finally, usability testing was seen as a priority by many of our interviewees, but it is not widely used at the moment. Several companies are taking first steps and sounding out experts. ‘We are testing new designs, a team member is doing a master’s degree in user experience and we plan to focus on it in the next 12 months.’

- Jason Sumner and Lisa Hayward

The Bowen Craggs Club is an exclusive network for the most engaged online corporate communications professionals, aimed at individuals and companies who believe in the need for world-leading corporate web estates. Although most group members work in Fortune 500 corporations, we welcome senior managers from public sector and non-governmental organizations with responsibility for large web presences.

For more information, visit our website or contact Lisa Hayward, lhayward@bowencraggs.com

BC tip: BBC News – A very usable filtering system

Elegant handling of complex filters draws readers in to a collection of articles on British jihadists.

BC tip - jihadis.png

The Feature

The BBC news website has a database of over 250 British jihadists, which it claims is ‘the most comprehensive public record of its kind’.

It presents this information on a standard page using a series of filters which control the profiles of jihadists in real time further down the page.

There are two levels of buttons: the first, colour coded, allows users to filter by the current status of the individuals. The next level can be used to narrow down by category, such as ‘Attack planners’ or ‘Converts’.

Below this three drop-down lists allow further refinement by age, gender and hometown. Finally there is a free text name search, a results counter, and the option to view the profiles in grid or list format.

The profiles themselves display head shots where available, and on click, display summary details of the individuals with links to further articles featuring them on the BBC web estate.

The Takeaway

A jihadist database may not have obvious parallels with online corporate communications, but the filtering system is notable for the way it elegantly allows users to drill down into information, and then discover related pages.

Knowing what we do of the BBC’s approach to website usability, we expect this will have been rigorously tested.

It packs a lot of functionality into a compact area. The filters are complex and multi-layered, yet the layout is easy to understand and use. The combination of colour coding, real-time results, buttons used with drop-downs, and the results counter means that the effect of the user’s filtering choices is immediately obvious, and can be quickly undone or amended. It also enables browsing or targeted searching.

The BBC’s filtering system could be applied to any area of a corporate digital site that needs to present a lot of information, and onward links, in a usable way. News and feature repositories, product selectors and even board and committee pages could benefit.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-32026985

Chart of the week

Facebook outpaces LinkedIn as the biggest source of social media traffic to corporate websites, Twitter referrals stall by comparison
 

Occasional feature highlighting useful data for corporate digital communication.

(Click to enlarge)
Source: Bowen Craggs Google Analytics Benchmark 2017*

By 2016 Facebook had overtaken LinkedIn as the most significant source of social media referrals to corporate websites, and both channels have grown to account for more than 1 per cent of all visits; while Twitter growth has stalled. Referrals from YouTube have declined to nearly zero, which is why the channel is not shown on the chart.

  • Looking at the wider picture, in 2014, fewer than one in 100 corporate website visits were referred from social media. That was compared with one in five visits referred from all other recognised sources.
     
  • By 2017, one in 40 visits came from social media (2.5 per cent of all traffic). This is still a very small proportion of overall traffic, but an increase from 1.5 per cent recorded in 2016.
     
  • In 2012, mobile traffic to corporate websites was also low but grew to become a major source of visitors. We think it is unlikely that social referrals will see the same level of growth.
     
  • However, it is useful to think in terms of absolute numbers of visits, which can be more significant than the percentages imply. For example, while the percentages may be low, for one company in our benchmark group, out of a total of 36 million visits, there were 783,000 visits referred from LinkedIn and 236,000 from Facebook.
     
  • The usefulness of different channels depends on the company and there are wide differences between individual companies in the benchmark. We have found, for example, that Facebook is less useful for B2B companies, except in some regions, such as South America, where it can be an important customer channel.

*The 2017 benchmark covers the period between May 2016 and April 2017, collecting Google Analytics data from 24 corporate websites from a variety of sectors, and representing a range of activity. The busiest site had 37 million visits per year; the quietist 530,000, and an average of 7 million.

BC tip: Washington Post – Memorable design features

Design elements from an online special feature could be adapted for corporate stories.

BC tip - WaPo.png

The Feature

‘Tampa Bay’s coming storm’ is a special feature on the Washington Post’s website, published in July, about the disaster that could unfold if a strong hurricane hit the Florida city.

It is full of creative animations, illustrations, embedded videos and professional photography; with interesting arrangements of the elements to increase impact – for example, as readers scroll down the page, a pull quote from a government official appears alone against the backdrop of an animation of a hurricane.

The Takeaway

The Washington Post feature represents the best of online journalism at the moment – great writing combined with unique and eye-catching visuals, all of which make the most of the web as a medium. You continue to scroll because the writing is compelling and the design elements keep surprising.

Companies with the appropriate budgets should consider adapting the ideas in the ‘coming storm’ feature to engage with readers and make their own online stories more memorable.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2017/health/environment/tampa-bay-climate-change/

Should sustainability be a bigger part of your company's online investment case?

There are signs that investors are taking corporate social responsibility reporting more seriously. If this is true, corporate digital teams should consider adding relevant and targeted sustainability material to their investor sections, Jason Sumner says.
 

In the 15 years I’ve been analysing corporate CSR communications – sometimes as a core part of my job and at other times just dipping in and out – the honest answer to the question ‘do investors care about CSR?’ has generally been, ‘not really’.

There were always exceptions, such as in high-impact sectors, but there is evidence that the interest in CSR is widening into the mainstream. It is not that all investors have suddenly joined Greenpeace, but that they are increasingly seeing links between CSR and their traditional concerns about risk, cash flow and hedging; as well as their desire to back innovative new industries and companies:

  • BlackRock, which manages $5.7 trillion in assets, directs all of its analyst teams to take environmental, social and governance (ESG) factors into account when doing research, according to its global macro investment strategist.
  • Tim Koller, a McKinsey partner, says that sustainability concerns are increasingly important to ‘long-term’ investors. ‘When executives sit down with what we call intrinsic investors, the conversation is much deeper and it does focus on what’s material, whether it’s sustainability or other things that are affecting the industry,’ he said in a March 2017 interview.
  • Elisse Walter, the former chair of the US Securities and Exchange Commission, says more mainstream investors are incorporating sustainability factors into their investment decisions. ‘This is no longer a niche activity,’ she writes, and points to a number of statistics to back up her argument, which are here (September issue) if you are interested. 
  • Finally, in our own experience, some US companies who want to attract European investment funds are finding that it is necessary to at least pay lip-service to green issues.

If interest in CSR really is growing among mainstream investors, what does this mean for corporate digital teams and the online channels they manage?

Both Mr Koller and Ms Walter talk about the importance of the ‘story’, moving beyond boilerplate language about sustainability and relating it to investor concerns.

This is the job of IR teams, but it should also be the job of the corporate website, which is, as we often say, the best tool in the world for companies to talk to the outside world. And if your investors really are interested in sustainability, what could corporate websites be doing differently?

Add sustainability to a new or existing ‘investment case’

We advocate creating a section within Investors for the ‘investment case’, on strategy, markets and performance, risk, etc. If you already have one of these, it is a natural fit for CSR factors that might make people more likely to invest. Air Liquide has one of the best of these types of sections.

Apart from being an example of a good website investment case in general, Air Liquide also happens to include sustainability in its pitch to investors. For example, the ‘Key figures’ on the ‘Air Liquide at a glance’ page within Investors include – amongst financial figures – topline data for accident frequency, ‘% of Group sales related to protecting life and preserving the environment’, carbon dioxide emissions, and others.

Air Liquide's online pitch to investors

Air Liquide's online pitch to investors

BASF, another chemical company, has a ‘Sustainable Investments’ sub-section in Investor Relations, where it links sustainability to long-term performance and provides a wealth of evidence backing its claims to be sustainable and why it matters.

The BASF 'Sustainable Investments' sub-section

The BASF 'Sustainable Investments' sub-section

Shell and BP have CSR-focused sub-sections within Investors. Shell’s ‘Environmental, social and governance’ section addresses socially responsible investors (SRI) specifically, and is the only place to read about controversial issues such as its operations in Nigeria.

Shell's ESG sub-section

Shell's ESG sub-section

BP’s SRI sub-section in investors is a rich resource, with presentations, speeches, links to reports.

BP's SRI section

BP's SRI section

Make existing and buried material more prominent

The above companies are in high-impact industries, chemicals and oil, and have a clear and longstanding reasons why they need their websites to prominently tell investors they are also sustainable.

Other companies may be in lower impact industries but still be doing things that investors might care about – supply chain compliance for example. These companies may already be making a link between the investment case and CSR, but in a less overt way than Shell or BP do, perhaps in the CSR report. Consider bringing relevant information currently buried in PDF reports onto the investor section of the website. 

Quick win – put links to the CSR section in the Investor section

Companies often put corporate social responsibility data and stories in silos on their websites – in dedicated sustainability sections that few people visit, or in CSR report PDFs, which probably have even fewer readers.

The conventional wisdom has been that investors and analysts are even less likely to visit these walled gardens than other audience groups because the data tends to be less standardised or relevant to them, and the community stories too fluffy to be of interest.

However, it may not be accurate anymore to assume investors have no interest at all, as separate sections seem to imply. At the very least, consider putting more links to CSR resources investors might find useful – the CSR report, performance data, CSR governance information, etc.

Making the sustainability case for investors opens up a whole new dimension of ‘storytelling’, but one that if targeted and relevant, might just pay for itself many times over the next time BlackRock is looking at your website.

– Jason Sumner

BC tip: Procter & Gamble – Proxy fight microsite

The US consumer goods giant goes online to make its case against an activist investor.

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The Feature

Procter & Gamble (P&G) and activist investor Nelson Peltz have spent, according to the New York Times, at least $60 million in a proxy battle over whether Mr Peltz was to get a seat on the P&G board. (Yesterday the vote went management’s way, but the conflict over P&G’s strategy is expected to continue.)

Part of the company’s war chest went towards a microsite – voteblue.pg.com – which forcefully made the case for management and against Mr Peltz. Leading with the banner ‘A Profoundly Different P&G’, the microsite had facts and figures backing the company’s strategy; supporting quotes from well-known analysts and business professors; and attacks on Mr Peltz’s record. The microsite also had prominent ‘How to vote’ links for shareholders.

Before the vote, the microsite was well signposted from P&G’s main corporate site. After the vote, the microsite was promoting the results.

The Takeaway

It is unusual for a company to set up a microsite to fend off an activist investor, and voteblue.pg.com is possibly unique in using the tactics of a political website – unapologetically taking management’s side; attacking its opponent; and frequent calls to action – ‘how to vote’.

The political nature, and plain language, of the microsite may reflect the fact that P&G had to persuade individual shareholders, who own 40% of the company’s shares. It is an approach that appears to have paid off, at least in the short term.

The lessons for other digital managers may be niche – what to do when your company is in a public tussle with an activist investor; but as activists pursue more and larger corporate targets, it is a situation that could become increasingly common.

https://voteblue.pg.com/

Chart of the week

Accessing corporate websites – the convergence of desktop and mobile

Occasional feature highlighting useful data for corporate digital communication

(Click to Enlarge)
Changes in device usage 2013-2017
Source: Device by year, Bowen Craggs Google Analytics Benchark 2017*

Bowen Craggs has tracked device usage on corporate websites since 2013, through its Google Analytics Benchmark. Desktop access has fallen steadily through that five-year period, from 93 per cent to 71 per cent; while mobile access has grown, from 4 per cent to 25 per cent. During the same period, tablet access has stalled at under 5 per cent.

It will be interesting to see if the convergence of desktop and mobile continues. Corporate sites are easier to use on a big screen, so we think it is unlikely to converge completely. However, if mobile navigation continues to improve, and desktop navigation fails to, all bets could off. The screen size of smartphones is a factor too. Some are as big as a small tablet, and even a standard iPhone screen is so big it is fairly easy to read a non-responsive site on it.

*The 2017 benchmark covers the period between May 2016 and April 2017, collecting Google Analytics data from 24 corporate websites from a variety of sectors, and representing a range of activity. The busiest site had 37 million visits per year; the quietist 530,000, and an average of 7 million.

 

BC tip: BT Group – Summaries in the results archive

Visitors to the telecom giant’s financial archive can easily see summaries of historical financial material for any quarter without leaving the page.

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The Feature

The financial results archive page in BT Group’s corporate website investor section has a series of clickable boxes listed horizontally according to financial year – from 2017/2018 back to 2004/2005.

When clicked, the box is highlighted in purple and a series of click-to-expand menus appears for each of the four quarters and any supplemental reporting or updates.

For example, the menu under 2016/17, ‘Fourth quarter and year to 31 March 2017’, expands to include key developments for the year, a statement from the CEO and links to the press release, webcasts, slides, etc.

Unusually, the ‘Key developments’ and CEO statement text are not links, but provided within the menu.

The Takeaway

Including summary performance information in HTML directly in the click-to-expand menus – rather than providing these as separate linked pages – makes it easier for analysts to do research across years and reporting periods.

It also helps that the set for each quarter is comprehensive and that file formats are clearly signposted with icons.

One drawback is that PDFs open in the same window, forcing visitors to use the back button on their browsers if they want to return to the archive, but this is a weakness across the whole site, not just the investors section. Another weakness is that press releases jump into the media section, which is on an older template, without any obvious way back.

Despite these drawbacks, the summaries on the archive page itself are an efficient and usable resource for investors.

http://www.btplc.com/Sharesandperformance/Quarterlyresults/index.htm

BC tip: Suncor Energy – Social media pop-ups

Social media icons with pop-up menus can help integrate digital channels and send visitors to the right place.

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The Feature

The social media icons in the footer of Suncor Energy’s corporate website have pop-up menus with links to different pages on Facebook, Twitter, etc.

For example, on clicking the Facebook icon, links to five of the Canadian oil company’s Facebook pages appear – the main corporate page; careers page; and consumer and campaign sites.

For icons with one channel, such as Flickr, there is an introduction ‘Check out our Flickr photostreams’. YouTube has a longer introduction to its two channels: ‘We maintain several official YouTube channels to share official Suncor videos as well as relevant videos and playlists from our stakeholders.’

The pop-ups also work in smartphone view of the responsive site. Unusually, the set of icons has one for Suncor’s blogs, with a pop-up menu describing three that the company maintains.

The Takeaway

The pop-up menus are a quick way of promoting multiple social media pages from one set of icons, and help visitors find the right channel.

Many companies have a main Facebook page and a Careers page, for example, and these can be brought together without worrying which one is being promoted in the footer at any given time.

There are weaknesses in the way Suncor uses the icons – some of the Facebook channel headings are unclear, for example. The blog menu is promoting two blogs that are no longer maintained.

One company we know used pop-ups, then dropped them.

Used in the right way though, they could be a neat hub for a company’s social media pages, and a good way to integrate the company’s online presence.

www.suncor.com

The tribulations of worldwide websites

Most large organizations need to serve local audiences online – but they also need to save money, says David Bowen. How can the two be reconciled?
 

I have been reading a PhD proposal headed The Phenomenology of Subjection. I don’t understand many of the words, let alone the sentences. But at least the headline warned me that my brain was about to be stretched. Less dangerous perhaps than something that sounds simple, but is far from it. This, for example: ‘What should large organizations do about country websites?’

It is a question bosses find easy to ask, perhaps followed by ‘Do we really need them?’ Corporate websites are bad enough on their own – they do not generate money, and it’s hard to measure what benefits there are. Country websites have the same problem, multiplied many times. Unless of course they are mainly there to serve customers, in which case there is a different question: Why bother putting anything corporate on them – it just gets in the way? There, an extra complication before I have even started.

But the boss is asking a good question – a useful starting point for almost anything is ‘Do we really need it?’, because it forces us to think hard. And there will be some who, having considered all the options, will be able to say, ‘No, we don’t need any country websites. Let’s go to the pub.’ But they will be a minority. For most the options are far more nuanced.

The ‘no needers’ are those that do not operate internationally – most US retailers, for example, as well as many Chinese groups. They may well need to talk to investors around the world, but they can do that in English on their corporate site.

At the other extreme are companies that sell to consumers around the world, so it is not a question of 'if' but 'how'. IBM has sites for Aruba and Burkina Faso; but they are selling sites, so they pay for themselves.

Most are somewhere in between. One group that might be thought likely to go the pub: business-to-business operations dealing with customers happy to work in English. But looking at examples, you will find they have all decided to offer localised material. Rio Tinto offers Japanese and Chinese sites, because English is not widely spoken there; Goldman Sachs used to do that but now even covers countries where English should not be a problem, like Germany; BAE Systems has an Arabic site to serve its biggest customer, Saudi Arabia.

It’s interesting that Goldman has moved from translating only where it is strictly needed to a broader approach. But even a German fund manager who works mostly in English will be a little more comfortable, and so receptive, if a bank does him the favour of speaking to him in his own language.

The pressure against this is of course resources. One multinational declared several years ago that it was going to cut its languages back to six. It still has many more than that, simply because it realized it would have risked losing business and goodwill by cutting out the ‘small’ languages. If you add the Hungarians, Czechs, Poles etc together, you will get a lot of people.

And of course it’s not just about language. To revive a cliché from the past – think global, act local – you are doing yourself no favours by coming across as an arrogant multinational.

Which is why most of the clever thinking now is about how to provide a local feel all round your markets at the lowest possible cost. Here are some of the options:

  • Country sites that share as much as possible. Look at Unilever.com. Now look at Unilever Argentina and Unilever Pakistan. They are all built on the same platform, and share words (translated where necessary) and pictures where they can. Unilever serves some smaller countries with a single site (such as central America and the Middle East), but there are still more than 60 different sites. This requires very strong governance, and relentless training, but it works well. It can be tricky to get the balance between localisation and efficiency right. For example Shell's otherwise impressive estate has a China careers page without a single Asian face on it, while Nigeria, where it is a big employer, has only one African on the same page.
  • Building country pages into the main site. Philip Morris International covers many countries in their own languages, using short web pages and downloadable documents (including a universal one on the dangers of smoking). Other languages are often available by clicking the selector at the top of the page: see Slovakia and Senegal for examples. Statoil also has extensive country information, though the great majority is in English only, which seems unwise.
  • Tailoring the approach to the country. Companies with country sites can group them into bands, and expect and support different levels of cover depending on how important they are. This may mean providing only contact details for some countries. BP is subtler, with an interesting hybrid approach. Its global page lists a large number of countries. Some, such as the UK and Trinidad and Tobago, lead to full sites. India looks like a full site, but has relatively few pages of its own. Other country links lead to a summary page with links to local websites, which might well belong to the subsidiary Castrol, to relevant career pages, or even – for Vietnam – to a local Facebook page. These are mostly in English but some, such as the Czech Republic, are bilingual. 

Which way works best for your organization will depend on many things – but these points strike me:

  • For Unilever, the key to success appears to be training. If you have people on the ground you can trust, and who understand your CMS, it all becomes so much easier.
  • BP's pragmatic approach will work best where you trust people to say what they cannot as well as what they can do. Why can Trinidad and Tobago run a full site when India cannot? I'd guess it's to do with the commitment of local senior management. So we can add 'education' (of bosses) to 'training' (of the people who will do the work).
  • You will also have to rely on local managers to work out what does and does not need to be translated – though your own budget may have the last word. In general, assume it will be difficult to cut languages; and it may well be a false economy anyway.
  • It's really all about governance. As ever.

- David Bowen

 

BC tip: Total – Corporate history wiki

A French energy company uses a wiki to personalise its corporate history.

BC tip - Total.png

The Feature

‘WikiTotal: Your Stories, Our History’ is a wiki page for employees, former employees and anyone who has had dealings with the company in its nine-decade history to share memories.

Promoted on the corporate site’s home page and within the history section, the wiki already has several contributions, called ‘testimonials’, including images and short narratives in English and French. There are six categories – Countries, Activities, Brands, People, Products and Periods.

The wiki is billed as part of the company’s ‘One Total’ initiative (‘expanding to include our history’).

The Takeaway

History is always more accessible when it focuses on people, and the Total history wiki is an interesting attempt to inject personality in an area of the website that can end up as a dry recitation of mergers and acquisitions.

With the focus on employees, the wiki combines internal and external communications – employees and jobseekers are likely to find it interesting. It is also a chance for the company to reinforce its values through personal stories.

It will be interesting to see how Total develops the idea and integrates it into the main corporate site. The strength of a wiki is the expansive and spontaneous feel, but content can quickly become unwieldy and vary in quality. If the digital team manages to incorporate the most interesting contributions into the website’s history section, perhaps leaving the wiki as a feature for browsing, it could be a useful example to follow.

http://wiki.total/en/home

BC tip: The Draft House – Retweeting from across the group

A UK-based pubs company’s approach to local Twitter feeds could be adapted by corporates.

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The Feature

The Draft House has a group Twitter feed – @DraftHouseUK. Each of the pubs in the group has its own Twitter handle, based on its location eg, DH Tower Bridge, DraftHouse WB, DraftHouse MK, etc.

All of the group's Twitter accounts bear the group logo as an identifier but in a different colour to help to easily differentiate at a glance.

The group account regularly retweets each pub’s tweets on the group-level account.

The Takeaway

The Draft House approach is a simple way to ensure that a group-level Twitter account is always busy, interesting and reflective of the whole group.

In a corporate context, this approach could be applied to country, regional, division or individual Twitter accounts.

https://twitter.com/DraftHouseUK

Sites that turn heads

Too many corporate websites look eerily similar, says Scott Payton. But there are notable exceptions. 

I spotted a teenager in London on Saturday with this slogan on their T-shirt: ‘The Same is Lame’.

This got me thinking, mildly tragic though it may sound, about corporate websites.

I’m talking about how many of the latest sites look here, rather than things like menu structures. As we’ve often said, when it comes to site navigation, ‘the same’ is not at all ‘lame’: a conventional set of primary and in-section menus is a huge asset in helping visitors to quickly find things without getting lost.

But the opposite is true for visual design. Having a corporate site that looks much like many others undermines attempts to convey a distinctive impression of a business and entice visitors in.

Yet so many major corporates sites launched in the last few years look spookily similar.

Why? A few likely factors:

First, the grid-like structure of sites that employ responsive design – especially the earlier ones – has encouraged a visual sameyness between them.  

Second, it’s probably cheaper and easier for web design agencies to build sites that look homogenous – drawing on their existing repositories of templates and other design elements – than to ensure that each client’s website is visually unique.

Third, it’s perhaps easier for corporate web teams to win bosses’ and other department heads’ sign-off for a site that looks modern, but in a rather ‘vanilla’ way, than for something more aesthetically radical.

Whatever the reasons, there are exceptions that highlight the benefits of a visually distinctive corporate site. Here are five:

Maersk – unfussy fonts and useful graphics

Clean, eye-catching diagrams, an appropriately no-nonsense font (Zetta) and a maritime colour scheme combine to give this Danish transport group’s site a fresh look that effectively conveys an impression of a modern and unique global business.

The diagrams are not just window-dressing; they do an important jobs of explaining the various things that Maersk does. See this Company Structure page for an example.

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AXA – reportage-style photography

Finding interesting imagery to illustrate corporate governance may sound difficult – perhaps impossible. Yet this French insurance group has done it.

On the Stakeholder Advisory Panel page, the company not only talks about the panel – including minutes from its first meeting and a rundown of its members – but also shows the panel in action, through high quality, journalistic photography. This humanises the topic in a way that no amount of description could do.

Meanwhile, the corporate ‘stories’ on AXA's website have the feel of a contemporary online cultural journal, thanks in no small part to the use of photography. There are enough high-quality pictures on most AXA stories to count as a pictorial diary – but they are spread out throughout the piece instead of bunched together in a single carousel. This not only adds visual interest, it also gives visitors an incentive to scroll all the way down the page.

Even visitors who scan the page without really reading it may take away a strong impression of the company (as an employer, especially); concise and intriguing captions help to ensure this.

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Disney – ensuring that absolutely everything is visually ‘on-brand’

This US entertainment giant is renowned for its attention to visual detail. On its corporate site, this includes the look of its share price chart – which employs fonts and colours that are distinctly Disney. The rest of the site is similarly soaked in the company’s iconic imagery – though, as David Bowen explains here, the slick visuals are not matched by slick usability.

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Facebook – making its corporate site look like its core service

While Disney festoons its site with its brand colours and characters, Facebook has ensured that key parts of its corporate web presence – such as its Careers pages and news archive – echo the appearance of its millions of customers’ Facebook pages. The result is a site that looks unique, in a way that powerfully reinforces the company's brand. 

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AstraZeneca – abstract imagery that makes a tangible impression

The Anglo-Swedish pharmaceuticals group makes assured use of original illustrations and semi-abstract photography to make its corporate site stand out while also communicating something very on-message about the highly-specialized nature of the company's work. The artwork references the strange beauty of things the company might see under the microscope in its labs – complemented by bright, distinctive photography.

It's another useful reminder that when it comes to design and visual impact, looking just to the side of conventions and norms can yield memorable – and certainly not lame – results.

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- Scott Payton