Compared to a printed report the online version provides permanent data on its use. The results of our study now provide initial insight into reach and reception.
How are sustainability reports used? Which chapters are actually read? How many stakeholders do they reach? When it comes to questions like these, companies are hardly ever able to deliver accurate answers. If, for example, 3,000 copies are printed, nobody knows how or if they were actually read. The number of copies distributed is quite simply not a reliable indicator of the reports’ range and use.
On the other hand online sustainability reports can actually be picked up using web analytics tools. Every click, every search input and every download is taken into account. In addition to the reach of the data, insight into the actual usage can also be used for further conceptual development of the publication.
Online report statistics
As part of a study carried out by the reporting agency nexxar, the statistics of ten digital reports were analysed in summer 2017. Five of the companies surveyed are part of the FT Global 500 and are, as far as market capitalisation is concerned, among the 500 largest companies in the world. All data was collected using the web analytics tool Piwik.
Reach: 15,000 visits in 12 months
According to the results, an average online sustainability report reached a total of 16,200 visits and 55,517 page views within 365 days of publication. On average, each user visited 3.4 pages of the report. The most widely used report reached just below 54,000 whereas the least used just over 4,000 visits. The sustainability reports of the FT Global 500 companies were hardly surprising in the interest of the stakeholders. On average, they achieved nearly 25,000 visits and around 85,000 page views during the year.
Sustainability reports as reference documents
In addition to the high usage during the first days after publication, the collected data also shows a relatively continuous use during the year. On average, each report had 44 visits per day. Only on weekends did the use drop regularly.
In this regard, sustainability reports differ quite a bit from many other company publications (e.g., press releases). They are of interest to stakeholders not only shortly after publication, but also have a “latent relevance”: even long after publication, they are often used by stakeholders as a reference document.
What really interests stakeholders?
The study also provides insight into which parts of a report are used. According to the results, an average of about one-third of all page views were on company information, the CR strategy and compliance. This overriding information, which includes, for example, the materiality analysis, the sustainability approach and the CEO foreword is obviously of particular interest for stakeholders. These sections were followed by an image or magazine section (14.1%), as well as classic report chapters on products, production and suppliers (13.5%).
Compared to the PDF, the advantages of an online sustainability report are in particular the possibilities of the media-specific representation, the linking of contents, a high findability through search engines as well as multimedia and interactive functions. In contrast to PDFs, HTML reports can also be optimised for the increasingly important use on mobile devices (responsive design). Quite a few companies are now giving up a full print version of their report.
Statistics provide answers to questions on usage
- How many users does a report reach?
- How are reports used during the year?
- What are the differences compared to the previous year?
- Which chapters are used?
- Which pages are most popular?
- How do users find the report (e.g., search engines)?
- How do stakeholders use and navigate the report (User Journey)?
- What are users looking for in the report?
- How are features (for example, interactive key figure comparison) used?
- How many tables (XLS) and PDFs are downloaded?
- On which devices is the report used (e.g., smartphone)?
Statistics from online reports also offer a lot of potential beyond pure reach. The analysis of the User Journey can be used to evaluate how user-specific information is found in the report. Statistics also provide concrete impetus for the further development of the report. For example, the analysis of the search queries within the online report allows for conclusions on the user’s interests. The structure of a report can also be adapted on the basis of the usage data: Important topics should be accessible via the menu by as few clicks as possible and intuitively.
In practice, all this potential is still seldom exploited. Statistics can contribute not only to the further development of the report, but also to internal communication control and a better understanding of their own stakeholders.