THIS morning we published our rankings for the best investor relations websites in the telecommunications sector 2006. It was an interesting survey, not so much for who was included in the best sites group, but for who was not.
Only six out of the 33 large-cap telco companies met a satisfactory standard to be recognized. Telekom Austria ranked highest with a comprehensive, well-designed site. It was followed by Deutsche Telekom of Germany, BCE Inc. of Canada, Portugal Telecom (a new entrant), Verizon Communications of the U.S. and TELUS Corp. of Canada.
All of the top group have solid websites that cater to a variety of audiences. These companies also demonstrate strong site management and a firm understanding of investors’ usability requirements. There is nothing overly flashy or leading edge about any of these companies’ sites, which is not a bad thing at all.
Overzealous designers strut their stuff
Several of the companies we reviewed had some fancy stuff going on, but often this was more gratuitous than functional. These companies have fallen prey to overzealous web designers and developers who have no idea who the audience is and don’t much care so long as they get to demonstrate their talents.
One such example is Telecom Italia S.p.A. , which has a horrible website once you start trying to use it. Oh, it looks nice and seems impressive at first glance, but try to actually find information on the site (like what investor presentations are coming up in the next three months), and you’ll soon be pulling your hair out.
What’s worse is trying to read any of the stuff the company puts out. It’s dense, hard-slog translated legalese. Horrendous. Usability is nonexistent. The latest annual report, for example, is 459-pages and available only in one large PDF file. And that’s not the worst of it. But let’s move on.
Telecom Italia dumps 459 pages in a PDF blob on unsuspecting investors. There should be a law against this sort of thing.
Mourning the loss of the old AT&T
Another big story was the big tumble out of the top ranks by AT&T Inc. Consistently one of the best in the sector, AT&T was gobbled up by SBC in one of those mega mergers. The old AT&T folks, who knew a thing or two about investor relations on the Web, were sent packing.
Today, what we have is the old SBC site under the AT&T banner. Consequently, AT&T has dropped from being one of the best to being one of the worst.
The site is now a mess. There is no navigation scheme to speak of. If you want something in two or more parts of the site, you have to return to the IR homepage to find a link.
This problem is nothing new to the SBC crew. A while back the company hired its existing supplier — Fleishman Hillard — to do a usability test on the site. They came back saying there was nothing wrong. Well, what do you expect? You can’t have the people who built the site also test it. They cannot possibly be impartial. And, no, we’re not interested.
I get a little peeved when something good is screwed up. AT&T had a good IR website — and now it’s been replaced by the acquirer’s rubbish website. That’s a step backwards for shareholders in my book.
Anyway, enough ranting about that.
IR sites are for investors, no one else
One last thing I want to touch on is the problem of overbearing information architecture designers. These are the people who decide how a site should be structured and how it should work. They are extremely important to the success of an investor relations website.
But often I see sites that are designed for the designer or for the company website manager’s enjoyment rather than for investors’ use. This affects a number of companies that missed being included in the top sites list.
I don’t have room to go into the details, but the basic rule of thumb to remember is that if you are going to offer a section on your site called Investor Relations or Investors, then it had better provide everything investors need. They shouldn’t have to go looking for stuff in other areas.
As long as the site makes sense to investors, it really doesn’t matter how difficult the site is for the website manager to manage, or how inefficient the architecture designer thinks it is. The site’s not for them. It’s for investors. Period.
Okay, so that’s the scoop behind the scenes.