An efficient, well-run web site speaks volumes about any organisation. But more and more, it seems that a well-governed website can be the barometer of corporate health.
Most senior managers these days realise that a website is not just a shop window for any organisation, it's an essential carrier of a brand's reputation as well. But how many of them actually realise that their organisation's website mirrors their success in the marketplace?
The term 'web governance' seems to have caught on, and now lots of people are talking about it. But rather like the early days of social media, it's seen as still very much the province of the people at the sharp end - in this case, the organisation's web teams.
Governance 'guru' Shane Diffily puts it well in his recent online piece about the analytics of web governance. "No-one who does not work on a Web Team generally cares much about the basics of high-quality governance. In fact, most do not even notice the effort that goes into supervising a website until something goes wrong, e.g. a poorly resourced Web Team seizes up due to overwork."
Sitemorse has been benchmarking the websites of organisations in the public and private sector for more than a decade, and our quarterly Index reports make for interesting reading in all categories. We think many organisations can't see the wood for the trees when it comes to their websites, and are all too often hampered by poor-performing suppliers, non-compliant legacy content or content management systems that often fail to spot errors affecting user experience.
Our results show how effectively and efficiently a website runs, and give an accurate verdict of how a user will find a site. The Index reports covering the retail sector have been particularly interesting.
Our tests have pointed to companies such as DFS, Aldi and Spar having particularly successful sites, returning scores of around 9 out of 10 on customer experience.
In 2009, for example, HMV's site was rated 25th in our UK Retail Index with a score of just under 6 out of ten. Argos was in 18th place (6.1/10), Jessops 13th (6.5/10). Electrical retailer Comet was in 40th place with a score of 5.3.Waterstones, in 46th place, scored 5/10.
By the first quarter of this year the HMV site was scored at 1.5 out of 10 and the company had slumped to near the bottom of our table. Argos was 331st, scoring 2.6. Comet had already disappeared (but the previous Index in the last quarter of 2012 rated them 283rd with a score of 3.1). Waterstones had dropped to the very bottom of the table, with a score of just 1.1.
All of these companies have reportedly struggled in the marketplace. Could their online malaise have something to do with their real-world woes? Could their management teams have taken their eyes off the web ball amid the distractions of trading difficulties?
It's interesting that media coverage of the Comet failure pointed at a lack of understanding of the online world as one of the reasons for the company's decline.
Turning to the companies who do well in our Index surveys, it's interesting to see that the ones making the business pages for the wrong reasons tend to gravitate towards the middle or bottom of the table.
Those at the top are often being praised or shown to be particularly successful in other areas of business.
• Supermarket Aldi, for example : a survey of 1,200 shoppers for The Grocer found that Aldi scored highest for supplying good quality products at good prices - the key driver of customer loyalty. According to the magazine, Aldi customers are now the most loyal in the UK, overtaking Waitrose.
• Furniture maker DFS have opened four new stores so far this year and announced sales up more than 7 per cent in March. CEO Ian Filby, announcing the results, said the company had also "further enhanced our successful and growing online business".
• Convenience store chain Spar , who have performed particularly well in our quarterly Index of the top 250 International retailers as well as our UK surveys, currently operate 2,600 stores and boast more than £2.6 billion retail sales a year. Spar has one of the highest spontaneous consumer brand-awareness scores in the retail industry, a position no doubt helped by having one of the highest-rated websites.
Interestingly, some managers at senior level are indicating that a successful online strategy is critical to their success. John Lewis MD Andy Street spoke earlier this year about their "bricks and clicks" strategy. The company's websites are steadily improving in both our UK and international retail Index reports.
Tiling and flooring retailer Topps Tiles reported revenues grew by 1.2% to £177.7 million in the year to 29 September 2012.Head of Marketing Beth Boulton told us her aim was "to develop an inspirational website and an online presence which reflects our market leading position. The focus on the website has widened in the last twelve months as we recognise the customer journey often starts with visiting the website first. "she added. The company's marketing team have made a number of improvements to the website over the past three months which has led to the big improvement in their rating by Sitemorse.
Dr. Jeremy Howard, CEO of drinks company Slurp Group, went further and was quoted in a news item to say the company's main objective is to join the Wine Society and Oddbins in the top 50 of the Sitemorse top 500 best performing retail websites. The company's website, he said had been redesigned and reconstructed from the bottom up - a "stupendous effort" for the web team, and a milestone towards the company's aim of being the clear market leader in online drinks sales in the UK.