HyperText Markup Language is what the Internet is built on. Read on for why there is no shortcut to full HTML disclosure and why hybrid HTML reports with PDF financials simply don’t cut it for a web environment—not for SEO, not for mobile, and certainly not for real stakeholder engagement.
Looking at the current online reporting trends from our yearly benchmark analysis, we see the ongoing transition to HTML reporting, which now accounts for more than half of all 567 analysed annual report offerings in 2012.
Hybrid or full HTML reporting – whats the difference?
What is HTML reporting?
HTML reporting is the conversion of annual report content into Hyper-text Markup Language (HTML), the language for building websites. These fully fledged reporting websites are linked from the corporate homepage and offer web-specific tools, navigation and design, making them accessible from a web perspective. They are different from PDF and image-based offerings, which do not involve HTML conversion and simply re-package the printed annual report.
HTML annual reports continue to increase in number, proving that companies increasingly understand the importance of using HTML in a more web-driven world to best present their most important yearly publication to a broader audience. But the promotion of hybrid HTML reports mainly by UK design agencies is creating confusion about the best practice for online annual reports.
Hybrid HTML reporting in the UK (FTSE-100) vs. Germany (DAX-80)
Percentage of hybrid HTML reports in the HTML reporting segment
What is hybrid HTML reporting?
A hybrid HTML report converts just the narrative section of an annual report to HTML and provides the financial statements and notes only as PDF documents for download. Essentially this approach is saying let’s use multimedia and other web features to tell the corporate message and ignore the financials when it comes to capitalizing on the benefits of the online medium.
Where do hybrid HTML reports fall short in best practice?
They disenfranchise users by not offering a choice
Of the 30 HTML annual reports we produce every year, 27.2% of all user clicks, on average, are for the financial statements section. The notes alone account for 12.6%, on average.Where do users click? Access statistics from 30 client’s annual report
More than half of all clicks go to Financial statements and MD&A sections.
This clearly shows online report users don’t just want to get nice multimedia entertainment, they are also looking for comprehensive information, i.e. full disclosure of all annual report content in the HTML version. Users of an online report are of course diverse. There are swimmers, surfers and divers of data. Some like an interesting presentation of data, while others want to really dig into the details. A good online annual report provides a solution that best fits the needs of all stakeholders.
Search engine optimisation (SEO)
The Internet has blossomed with the benefit of search and compare. SEO has made possible booking and buying just about anything. But in a world of growing information overload, everybody is fighting for user attention, especially on search platforms. Having your company information appear first on a search query is important to proactively drive your message. As the language of the Internet is HTML it is systematically better rated on search queries than any PDF-based publication.Google “BASF cash flow” and compare the results with “McDonald’s cash flow”
In BASF‘s case, you are taken straight to the HTML annual report, answering your question instantly as well as in detail. McDonalds offers its annual report just as a PDF download, so you end up on secondary news portals, which are taking the conversation and McDonalds’ credibility away.
PDF are not equally accessible like HTML
Apart from the benefits an accessible website provides in technical and usability respects, it is a moral obligation to support equal access to information for all users. Disabled users might only represent a small portion of society, but they are even more reliant on the Internet and other media because of their special needs. Full HTML websites are vital for accessibility. Making a PDF report accessible like HTML pages is possible in theory, but it would be prohibitively expensive to do the necessary tagging; converting to HTML is cheaper in this respect.
Mobile reporting: a future case for HTML reports
Currently, the single most important trend on the web is the increasing use of smartphones. Imagine you are in a meeting when an idea or question comes up. You know or suggest that there is an answer in the annual report. You take out your smartphone, Google your question, and hey presto! But you only get a good experience with HTML and responsive design. When entering your online annual report through a smartphone, the report will automatically adjust to fit the width of your smartphone. So with only a little extra effort, you can produce a mobile-optimised website that contains the full content of your HTML annual report. The more of your report that is converted into HTML, the more you’ll get out of responsive design!
Full HTML is the future
I hope you can see that a full HTML annual report is the only way forward. Most importantly, user stats suggest a full HTML annual report is definitely in the interest of web users. Second, HTML is superior in terms of allowing companies to provide quicker access to information via mobile devices. On the technological side, only full HTML annual reports comply with web principles like accessibility and SEO.
If you are interested to know more about HTML reporting get in touch with me at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a reply below!
I am looking forward to your thoughts.