Currently corporates start preparing their upcoming annual reports. This seems a good chance to involve them into this vivid discussion on what is necessary to consider when presenting the information of your Annual Report online.
Changes in company law in big countries like USA, UK or Germany direct attention on how companies present their annual reports and proxy statements on their websites. Everybody agrees that the corporate site is a major communication channel for disclosure of corporation information. But what is a convenient and appropriate way to address users? For me there are some basic rules to obey in order to get a good result.
1. Don’t use JPG-Shows
Some vendors keep on telling image-galleries add value for the online media. Thats rubbish! There are no usability benefits compared to a PDF. Both mirror the portrait format of the printed version and are therefore not suitable to view on landscape screens. But the content of a picture is no machine-readable code and hardly legible for humans. Thus from a user perspective they are worse than PDFs as they are not further processable. No interactivity, poor search results display and loading times end up in a poor user experience falling short of the high expectation caused by promoting the “Interactive Annual Report”! http://twitpic.com/kt4l8
2. Don’t mix formats within your report
If you decide, as we would recommend, to convert your annual report into a fully-fledged HTML website you should not use any short cuts. Some companies integrate a big portion of the report notably the financial statements and notes just as PDF downloads. Such mixed reports are not usable if you are really interested in this information! A simple search query demonstrates that. Same applies for integration of tables as pictures. Refrain from those short cuts and your users will thank you!
3. Multimedia sometimes hinders information
Flash and video are the mainstream we see today on the web. Moving images attract more attention, thus you may think this is good for your online report. In principle thats true, as long as you not derail the user from what he is looking for. And despite of what lots of webagencies think, the main purpose of visiting your online report is not to visualize, see and feel your annual report image show, but simply to find information one is searching for! So make sure flash is used sparingly and not for text information to keep your data fully searchable and processable.
4. Care about the user
The main focus of the Internet is for (re)search! Search is the most important need, carried out at the internet with over 2 billion queries per day. Thus ensure a good link-up by search engines and offer a powerful search routine within your report. Your annual report search should at least rank the found hits by relevance and highlight the word looked for on the displayed pages.
Other tools worth considering to enhance usability and interactivity in your HTML report are:
- Layer glossary to explain terms
- Excel downloads of tables
- Crosslinking of related information
- Interactive ChartGenerator
Dominic Jones from IR Web Report describes these and other features in his blog post on our report for Merck KGaA last February.
5. Not too much, reduce to information!
This last step is as important as the others: Think about the user audience you want to reach and care about what they really would like to access at your online annual report. Bells and whistels tools, video and multimedia are selling high nowadays. Agencies like them to cash in on profit, reputation or the like. But are they really adding value for your specific user group? Thats up to your individual communication strategy and thats something you should start thinking about before you talk to an online annual report agency.