Top firms fail the Internet challenge

Many of Britain's largest companies are failing the online challenge, with Web sites that fail to meet the needs of investors, potential future employees or the media, according to new research

A third of Britain's top firms are failing to operate a satisfactory Web site, according to a study published this week.

This report, called The Third Annual Report on The Home Pages of the UK's Top 100 Companies' Corporate Web Sites, studied the Web sites of the members of the FTSE 100 -- the 100 biggest companies listed on the London stock market. It found that a large proportion of this group are failing to give online visitors an acceptable experience.

Interactive Bureau rated each Web site using a range of criteria. This included whether home pages included "must have" elements like news and contact sections, overall site design, navigation and technical performance including speed of loading and cross browser compatibility.

Nineteen of the 100 companies don't even give visitors a brief explanation of their mission or activities on their home page, said Web design company Interactive Bureau, which published the report. A fifth don't display their current share price -- an omission that Interactive Bureau describes as "astounding", while 21 firms don't link to a recruitment section.

Thirty-five of the Web sites assessed don't include a section which meets the basic requirements of the media, while six don't even have contact information available to the public.

This is the third year running that Interactive Bureau has scrutinised the Web sites of FTSE 100 firms, and it appears that some companies are serial offenders. Interactive Bureau warns that these companies appear "not to get it" when it comes to their corporate Web sites.

"Many of these sites have deliberately consumer-focused home pages, which neglect to accommodate their corporate audiences," said Adrian Porter, author of the report. "While we can understand this consumer-bias, when you see the home pages of companies like Shell, Aviva, J Sainsbury and Vodafone it is evident that it is possible to create a page which appeals to, and caters for, both corporate and consumer audiences."

The FTSE 100 firm with the best Web site, according to Interactive Bureau, is Shell. It was followed by National Grid, Pearson, Standard Chartered and Yell Group. The worst-performing firm in the survey was Foreign & Colonial, which propped up Carnival and Provident Financial. All three are new arrivals in the FTSE 100.

While some companies seem to have little interest in altering their Web site at all, others have implemented changes that actually make things worse. Forty-four of the Web sites examined have been redesigned in the last 12 months, but 13 -- in Interactive Bureau's opinion -- are now poorer than before. Nine of the worst-performing 25 firms have not touched their sites in three years.

The publication of this report comes just weeks after another investigation by Interactive Bureau into government Web sites. It found that many government sites are confusing and badly designed, with 60 percent of the most important sites in need of immediate attention.

Key problems include a failure to give citizens a way of getting in touch via the Internet, while some departments are refusing to answer online enquiries because they need personal details.

Both reports can be seen at Interactive Bureau's Web site.