PEOPLE often ask us what features or content they should add to make their investor relations websites better. Sometimes it’s the first question they ask.
Now I wish we had a quick answer for them, but we don’t. Effective websites for investors really don’t start with features and content. They start with understanding investors’ needs and then determining not only what functionality and content to provide but also how best to provide them.
Generally, IR departments and big IR site hosts (which I recently said you should dump) put too much emphasis on what rather than on how and why. When you start to ask why and how, you start to get into the proper mindset to build effective online communications and tools. You begin to get into the heads of the people who use your sites.
Many web developers have difficulty thinking this way because their focus when delivering websites is on you, the client. They’re thinking about what they can do to sell you on their services, rather than what investors need to be sold on your company. Shareholder.com’s user tracking technology is a case in point — great for the IRO, but no benefit to investors.
Of course, vendors’ services are also limited by what they are capable of providing on a large scale. They’ll naturally do what’s easiest and most profitable for them. The real customer, the investor or analyst, comes last, if they’re even factored into the equation at all.
Failing to take into account user needs is most often why we fail investor relations sites in our evaluations. When we start probing, it soon becomes obvious that no one thought about investors when they put the site together.
It’s all about the user, really it is
This idea of thinking like a user/investor is not new, but it can never be repeated too often. So it was with special interest that I listened to an interview with Jeff Veen, one of the best minds in Web design.
Veen, who founded the web consulting and development firm Adaptive Path before moving to Google, talks about how he approaches designing web applications and reiterates the importance of knowing your user.
He says he spends much more of his time trying to build a “level of empathy for what people are trying to do” before sitting down to design a Web page or application.
In the past, he says a “book was a book, and you knew what the constraint was and you designed to it. That’s so different now, so I spend far more of my time now understanding technology, doing user research, doing basic ethnography, anthropology, stuff like that which I never considered was going to be part of my career.”
Later in the interview he expands on this saying that effective web design is figuring out what people are trying to get done, how you can help them do it, and understanding their expectations and the prevailing conventions.
“We try to go out and talk to people all the time, I do telephone interviews with potential users, I demo the thing that I’m working on to anybody who’ll take a look at it. I just want to make sure that I understand the kinds of things they’re trying to do, and that I can help them do that,” he says.
This is good advice for anyone involved in web development, but especially investor relations website managers. Too often, sites are designed solely around the needs of the IR department or the vendor providing the “solution.”
As we’ve said on our About Us page since the day we were founded, IR websites must work for their end-users or they will fail to be effective — for investors and the company.