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What makes a corporate website effective?

The 2012 Financial Times Bowen Craggs Index of corporate web effectiveness ranked leading business from all sectors

A company's corporate website should be the core of its online presence and is, in many ways, the most important communication channel a company owns, according to Bowen Craggs & Co.

In April, 2012, the web effectiveness firm's sixth annual website benchmarking study saw two pharma companies, Roche and Novartis, beat many major consumer brands to reach the top ten of the study's effectiveness index.

What did they do to get there and where were others, both inside and outside the pharma sector, found to be placed?

Of the 81 company websites included on the list, Roche came in 5th, while Novartis followed closely in 8th place. The top ten from the Financial Times Bowen Craggs Web Effectiveness Index looked like this.

2012 Web Effectiveness Index
1 Royal Dutch Shell (UK-Netherlands)
2 BP (UK)
Eni (Italy)
Siemens (Germany)
Roche (Switzerland) 
Unilever (UK-Netherlands) 
British American Tobacco (UK) 
Novartis (Switzerland) 
BASF (Germany) 
10  IBM (USA) 

The Index uses a combination of specific and overall metrics, with the former concentrated on how well a site serves different groups and overall metrics covering navigation, coherence, visual and content messages, and the ease of making contact and use of FAQs.

Questions asked in the study ranged from broad-based (Is the look and feel appropriate? Does the site tackle relevant controversial issues?) to more specific (How well are CSR management and measuring systems explained? What format are provided for quarterly results?).

The Index is made up purely from companies within the FT Global 500 and there's more on its methodology here.

Pharma companies in the Index


Roche (Switzerland)


Novartis (Switzerland) 

13  AstraZeneca (UK-Sweden)
17  Sanofi (France)
25  GSK (UK) 
36  Johnson & Johnson (USA) 
38  Pfizer (USA) 
44  Merck & Co (USA) 

From pharma, Bowen Craggs & Co singled out Pfizer as a company that could do better, noting several references to 2005 on its website as though they were current. The web effectiveness company also criticised Pfizer for having a new careers section that is separate from its main site.

When it came to other underperforming websites he didn't mince his words.

“Last year we said that Hewlett Packard's site was a mess – there were for example two separate newsrooms with the same information. There still are, and the mess has got worse.

“A number of US companies have forgotten that their dot com site is also their global site: ExxonMobil's offers 15 cents off fuel; General Electric's is all about America. Chinese sites remain stuck in a rut. There has been almost no improvement in the last six years. Intel and Barclays have decided to reinvent the way people get around their sites; and have botched it.

“A number of companies, including Goldman Sachs, have jumped on the iPad bandwagon by making their sites look like apps. But not behave like them. It doesn't work,” he wrote.

The study found few companies had mobile sites (just 25 out of 81 companies), and noted the trend for social networking channels to be used as “alternative delivery mechanisms”, with video sharing site YouTube in particular becoming “almost a standard”.

Bowen noted a “surge in interest” in corporate websites but said “resources are being spread too thin, tactics are winning out over strategy”.

“The companies at the top of the Index are those where the bosses understand how important online communication is, and have diverted (relatively trivial) resources towards them coherently.

“Too many of the others have jumped on the latest bandwagons, but failed to manage them strategically. That should be a real concern not just for the comms team, but for the Board.”

There's more detail on the report here, where a breakdown of the Index shows Novartis and Roche were first placed when it comes to website construction and message respectively, and AstraZeneca came third for serving jobseekers.

24th August 2012



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