Does 'what you do' drive your visitors to Wikipedia?

Here is a challenge: read the following description of a mystery company (identified below), which is taken from the About Us section of its corporate website, and then try to guess any facts about it - name, industry or what it does to make money:

‘Information revolution – happiness for everyone. Becoming the corporate group needed by most people around the world.’

Does that clear it up? The section continues:

‘We're looking to the next thirty years and beyond with a vision for innovation and growth. Since its establishment, (company x) has consistently operated under the vision of becoming a company contributing to people's happiness and joy, and to the future of the world, not only pursuing the profit of the company. This vision is a driving force for (company x) as we continue to pursue growth.

Still stumped?

It’s SoftBank, a company that may indeed provide happiness and joy, but the main thing it does is run mobile and broadband networks. I learned this not from their website but from Wikipedia: ‘SoftBank Group Corp. is a Japanese multinational telecommunications and Internet corporation… It has operations in broadband, fixed-line telecommunications, e-ecommerce, internet, technology services, finance, media and marketing, semiconductor design, and other businesses.’

I often find myself on Wikipedia, frustrated at how bad some corporate websites are at answering the simple question, ‘Who are you and what do you do?’ The case of SoftBank is doubly awful because the clearer Wikipedia description actually cites the SoftBank website as one of its sources. Wikipedia manages to cobble together a useful description from facts scattered around the site, something the company was unable to do for itself.

If I’m frustrated, how many more audiences – actually important ones such as journalists, jobseekers, investors – are getting a bad first impression and grumbling as they leave the site to get a meaningful overview elsewhere?

Few company descriptions match SoftBank for sheer impenetrability. Most bad ones fail less spectacularly – being merely vague or using too much marketing speak.

For example, AbbVie: ‘At AbbVie, we have the expertise of a proven pharmaceutical leader and the focus and passion of an entrepreneur and innovator. The result is something rare in health care today – a global biopharmaceutical company that has the ability to discover and advance innovative therapies and meet the health needs of people and societies around the globe.’

OK, but if I were a journalist I would probably head to Wikipedia to fill in a few details.

The word ‘leading’ crops up a lot. Meaningless without context, it almost always begs the question, leading what? And according to what criteria? For example, on Schlumberger’s site, ‘leading’ mars an otherwise clear description – ‘Schlumberger is the world's leading provider of technology for reservoir characterization, drilling, production, and processing to the oil and gas industry.’

Or AB InBev, ‘We are the leading global brewer and one of the world's top 5 consumer product companies.’

Better to just state exactly what the company is ‘leading’ (if it actually is leading anything) – biggest market share, highest market cap, most revenues, etc. Such as ExxonMobil: ‘ExxonMobil, the largest publicly traded international oil and gas company, uses technology and innovation to help meet the world’s growing energy needs.’ Specific and clear.

Some companies make the mistake of letting an internal change - a reorganization, strategy reset or the dreaded brand refresh – dictate how the company describes itself to the outside world. These can result in descriptions steeped in mystery, and not in a good way.

The GE corporate website, for example, on its home page, says it is ‘The world’s premier digital industrial company: Transforming industry by connecting the physical and digital.

Sensing, predicting, and responding to make the world work better.’

Clicking around, I could not find a simple overview of the business – sector, lines of business, revenues, market position, number of employees, number of countries of operation, a sense of the competitive landscape, etc.

Meanwhile, on Wikipedia: ‘General Electric (GE) is an American multinational conglomerate corporation incorporated in New York, and headquartered in Boston, Massachusetts. As of 2016, the company operates through the following segments: Power & Water, Oil and Gas, Aviation, Healthcare, Transportation and Capital which cater to the needs of Financial services, Medical devices, Life Sciences, Pharmaceutical, Automotive, Software Development and Engineering industries.’

There is a ‘Who we are’ section hidden away under the ‘Digital’ section of the GE website, but this turns out to be a description of GE Digital, which is a parody of corporate waffle, starting with a quote from the CEO: ‘If you went to bed last night as an industrial company, you’re going to wake up this morning as a software and analytics company’ and gets worse as you scroll down the page.

Maybe GE thought it was too complex to describe succinctly and factually?

Except that Siemens and BASF, two companies of similar complexity, manage it.

Here is Siemens: ‘Siemens is a global powerhouse focusing on the areas of electrification, automation and digitalization. One of the world’s largest producers of energy-efficient, resource-saving technologies, Siemens is a leading supplier of systems for power generation and transmission as well as medical diagnosis. In infrastructure and industry solutions the company plays a pioneering role. As of September 30, 2015, we had around 348,000 employees in more than 200 countries. In fiscal 2015, they generated revenues of €75.6 billion.

No need to elsewhere after that.

BASF starts unpromisingly with a slogan but then moves quickly into useful facts and detail, and succeeds in staying on the right side of the line between useful facts and sloganeering.

‘We create chemistry for a sustainable future: In line with our corporate purpose, around 112,000 employees contribute to the success of our customers in nearly all sectors and almost every country in the world. Our broad portfolio ranges from chemicals, plastics, performance products and crop protection products to oil and gas. In 2015, BASF posted sales of €70 billion and income from operations before special items of approximately €6.7 billion…’

One of the rules of political campaigning is ‘don’t let your opponent define you’. A similar principle applies to corporate online messaging – describing who you are and what you do should be a fundamental task. The most effective descriptions will be immediately clear to someone who does not work at the company and may have only just heard of it. Forcing visitors to go elsewhere needlessly surrenders control of the message and diminishes a company’s credibility.

Jason Sumner

Found: search tools that really work

Corporate websites with huge search boxes are trendy.

US conglomerate General Electric's new home page has one. So does the new global site from Italian energy group Eni. Web teams at numerous other companies have told us that they’re thinking of following suit.

Such moves are brave, because corporate websites’ internal search engines are, traditionally, rubbish.

Indeed, for many companies' sites, visitors are better off using Google to find material than the internal search engine. Ironically, this also applies to Google’s own corporate web presence.

But there are some noble exceptions to the substandard-search rule. Here are some:

KPMG

Given the bountiful material available on this Big Four auditor's web estate, users need a powerful search tool – and that is exactly what the firm has delivered on its new global corporate website.

Predictive search terms appear intuitively in an overlay panel for many searches. And the tool remembers the last three searches carried out - these too are presented in the overlay panel, for ease of reference.

Search results are clear and meaningful. Dates are included on timely content, such as reports and corporate announcements, which helps users to quickly gauge relevance.

An excellent array of filtering options is provided to help users home in on relevant results, including tabs for selecting the type of content (Insights, Events, People), sorting options (by date, relevance or popularity) and an extensive set of left-hand topic filters designed to allow people to reach deep into the company's troves of articles and reports to find items that are specifically useful.

The 'People' filter is a good innovation. Search for 'Advisory' and 406 people are found. It appears that KPMG has essentially opened up its internal employee directory - at least where its public-facing employees are concerned - adding a valuable new dimension to the search function and making it easier for customers, journalists and industry professionals to find and contact relevant people inside the company.

Most importantly, the search function appears to have good accuracy: it returned good or excellent results in almost all of our latest tests.

Microsoft

This technology giant continues to have a spectacularly fragmented web estate. But its powerful, cleanly presented search engine helps users to find material scattered across the firm's crazy patchwork of microsites.

Results pages are logically laid out. Anchor links in the left column allow visitors to jump quickly to specific types of results, which are neatly grouped under clear headings.

What's more, corporate material search is seamlessly integrated into Microsoft’s consumer search: the main search engine is as comfortable finding careers and media information as it is music, apps and games (elegant, though I'm not sure how useful a combined search for music tracks and corporate content really is in practice).

Inspiration elsewhere

Other companies’ search tools shine in some areas.

Danish shipping group Maersk's internal search function is well designed and potentially very powerful - a good source of inspiration for any web manager researching ideas for improving their own search tool (look, for example, at the filter panel presentation and the tags to the right of search results in the the screenshot below).

 

The search results pages on both Eni.com and GE.com also provide web managers with plenty of new ideas for designing filters and grouping results in visually clear and elegant ways (see the screenshots below).

US media conglomerate Comcast’s search filters, and its tabbed separation of ‘web’ and ‘image’ search results, are neat.

 

Semiconductor maker Texas Instruments’ product, technical documents and support search and filter tools are very useful - though visitors searching for corporate materials will find no filters catering for them.

Perhaps this is because Texas Instruments puts all its time and money into getting its product-related search tools right, as that's where they think the money is. And perhaps that line of thinking is partly why so many purely corporate website search tools are so poor compared to their e-commerce counterparts. 

- Scott Payton


 

Don’t mention the brand?

It is brave to do ‘content marketing’ without ever mentioning the brand. Brave, because ‘content’ without any ‘marketing’ is usually for the chop when budgets are decided. GE appears to have pulled it off with its popular sponsored serial podcasts –fictional stories no less – and it is worth asking whether corporate digital comms could learn anything from the GE’s success. Could they (or should they) try to do something similar?

GE’s special circumstances are probably not widely shared – namely, an obviously big budget and senior managers with open minds. Still, corporate websites should be an ideal platform for compelling, brand-free stories. The context around the story is everything – if there are cues, links and contact details to satisfy the marketing folk, the story itself can stay pure. 

Maybe fiction is taking it too far, but if the content is interesting, and reasonably on topic (eg, a fictional story about battling cancer on a pharmaceutical website), and it attracts eyeballs (or ears in the case of podcasts), why not? 

Some might view this kind of corporate sponsorship of creative works as vaguely sinister – I view it a little like medieval patronage, the prince might be evil but the sculpture (can be) beautiful…

- Jason Sumner