Seven uncomfortable truths about online reporting
1. The number of annual report microsites has dropped over the last few years.
This trend is an uncomfortable truth for suppliers of online annual reports. Our research in the last few years on the number of annual report microsites in multiple regions shows a downward trend or steady line at best.
The most common reason for stopping is a disappointing number of visitors. Investors and analysts probably download the PDF of the annual report or the numbers in Excel format, use these once, and may keep a copy for offline use—not collecting any statistics. But it's not a good reason, nor are there any other excuses for not having a microsite—read to the end to find out why.
The number of sustainability report microsites is going up—rapidly
For sustainability reports, the trend is very different. The audience for a company's strategy and performance on ESG topics is a multi-stakeholder audience of investors and analysts, but also employees, customers, civil societies, and the general public. These new—and typically more modern—stakeholders expect information to be available and easily accessible online—as a website, not as a download.
With the number of annual report microsites dropping—or stagnant at best—and only a select group of front runners publishing a sustainability report microsite, what alternatives are most companies using to put their reports online?
No, a landscape PDF is not a good alternative.
The most widely used way to make a report available online is using a PDF in landscape format for optimizing on-screen reading. In most cases, even a "super landscape" format, wider than a landscape-oriented A4, resembling a 16:9 screen aspect ratio.
And yes, this format is easier to read on a screen—a portrait-oriented report is terrible for on-screen reading. But no, a landscape PDF is not a good alternative.
Read on to learn more about the uncomfortable truths of why.
The discomforting truths evolve mostly around poor accessibility and low engagement.
2. Information in a downloadable PDF is difficult to find online.
Google and other search engines index the PDF download but always only show a search result linking to the PDF as a whole. You will have to download the PDF, open it, and search again within the PDF to find the information you are looking for.
In contrast, on a microsite, every page is indexed individually, resulting in search results that take you straight to the information you are after.
A simple experiment can easily illustrate the differences in accessibility.
You are looking for water withdrawal metrics of two specific energy companies: Vattenfall in Sweden and AGL Energy in Australia.
Search on 'Vattenfall water withdrawal'. The first search result (on Google) takes you to a page on their corporate website about their environmental responsibility with a section on their water management but no metrics or link to more detailed information. Now change your search query to 'Vattenfall water withdrawal sustainability'. This search will find the PDF of the Annual and Sustainability Report 2022. You need to download the PDF, open it, search on 'water withdrawal' in your PDF reader, click through the search hits, not find the information, realize the search in the PDF reader is an exact match search, adjust your search to 'withdrawal' only, click through the search hits again, and finally find the information on page 63.
Quite uncomfortable, right?
Vattenfall's Annual and Sustainability Report 2022 design is beautiful, and the content is excellent. However, the information in the downloadable PDF is not easily accessible online, missing out on reaching the target audience.
Now search on 'AGL Energy water withdrawal'. The first search result directly links to the right page on the ESG data center microsite showing an interactive chart with the metrics you were looking for.
3. With a downloadable PDF, you are left clueless.
When your audience uses the downloaded PDF, no statistics are gathered—unlike with a microsite—and you are not getting any insights into what sections your stakeholders are reading and what information they are searching for, leaving you with an uncomfortable feeling of missing out on vital input to improve stakeholder engagement.
4. A clickable page header does not make the report interactive.
Very often, the issuing company advertises the PDF of the annual or sustainability report as an 'interactive' PDF. Almost always, the interactivity comes down to a clickable page header that acts as a "menu" to "navigate" to sections of the report and a back to table of contents "button." These website analogies are a clear sign—an uncomfortable truth—that the corporate communications and investor relations teams know a microsite provides for better online engagement.
5. Flipbooks are as ridiculous as [think of something useless].
Yes, they are still around, the dreaded flipbooks. Some people still think they engage visitors, not annoy them. (Some readers will now feel uncomfortable comprehending that everyone else knows this.)
6. A summary microsite doesn't cut it (either).
Next to resorting to a landscape PDF, some companies create a microsite with a summary of the annual or sustainability report. Usually, these are very engaging, with many dynamic and interactive elements, including sliders and video.
But a visitor will be disappointed—get uncomfortable—finding out that clicking on an interesting element/link is not taking them to another webpage but is triggering a download instead. The engagement ends there.
(And you still have uncomfortable online search/accessibility issues with these PDF downloads of report sections.)
The summary microsite (content) should be part of the microsite, highlighting and introducing the complete and detailed content of the annual or sustainability report.
7. Nobody is comfortable reading printed reports in "super landscape" format—certainly not in an economy class seat.
It may look nice on a coffee table, and designers can craft beautiful pages in this format. But this on-screen reading-optimized format is not handy for reading or using the printed version. It is simply too wide. Too wide to fold it out without feeling uncomfortable or making others next to you comfortable—in an economy class seat or at the AGM.
At Tangelo, we firmly believe a microsite version of the annual or sustainability report provides the best online accessibility and engagement. And should be made available in combination with a PDF, in portrait orientation if the primary goal of the PDF is reading and using the printed version—and for best engagement with the people sitting next to you in economy class or at the AGM—and in landscape orientation if offline on-screen use is deemed more important.
Regarding the number of visitors on the microsite:
- Manage expectations: the numbers will not go through the roof but know that your stakeholders will appreciate the accessibility and engagement—giving you a comfortable, warm feeling—and expect more visitors on the sustainability report microsite.
- Ensure visitors find the microsite before they find the PDF.
- Promote the microsite on social media.
Tangelo is a corporate reporting platform that allows you to build designed reports, collaborate securely online with everyone involved in the report production process, connect to data sources, generate (any paper size, orientation, print, interactive, and download) PDF formats, electronic formats (ESEF/UKSEF), and publish reports as a microsite—all from a single source.
You choose the channels per type of report in your corporate reporting mix/suite, e.g., PDF only for the notice of the AGM, analyst presentation, and property portfolio, microsite only for the ESG/sustainability data center, PDF plus microsite for the sustainability report, and PDF plus microsite plus —for EU/UK listed companies—the ESEF/UKSEF version for the annual report.
The smarter way of creating corporate reports with Tangelo means no Desktop Publishing (DTP) bottleneck to producing the PDF and no dual system for creating the microsite.
Do you want to shake off that uncomfortable feeling and get comfortable with how you make the report content easily accessible online and really engage with your stakeholders?