The annual report is frequently read in a digital format, rather than as a printed document. When the Capital Market were asked how they digest annual reports, 80% of respondents said they either read it as a PDF on a screen or as an online report. So, what is the best way to format the reports for screen displays?
When ranking more than 900 companies in Webranking by Comprend, our annual research on corporate websites, one of the things we look at is how companies present their annual report online. Essentially, there are three ways of doing it:
Full online annual report
Before going into these formats, we’d like to touch upon the browsable version that far too many companies provide. These browsable versions look like a magazine on screen and might have sound effects when you turn the page. They are often called interactive online annual reports. The magazines are often difficult to read, as you need to zoom in to see the text, and you cannot copy text or tables, which you might want to do when creating your own material.
These types of browsable annual reports, that are little more than images of the pages and have terrible user experience, don’t help with accessibility or improve what the user can do with the content. They are even less usable than a PDF and thus they hurt more than they help. Our advice would be to not use them at all.
Online annual report
By online annual report we mean those which are provided as a microsite, with content navigation and presentation that is adapted and optimised to the online format. They are therefore more user friendly and easier to read on a screen. This type can also be present as a section on the corporate website, clearly marked as the annual report.
The advantages with this format is that it can reach a larger target audience just by being available in an online format. It is easy to share specific articles, as well as the full annual report. This way, they get a longer life, and the content that companies spend so much time and effort on can reach more people. The online format is also accessible on mobile phones, especially when compared to PDF’s. Another advantage is the option to use more formats for content, such as video and interactive tables and charts. The use of video is increasing in general, and many companies are taking the opportunity to create videos for the annual report. Support for video, where key employees can provide their view on what the company have achieved and are focusing on in the future, is on the rise.
Regardless of whether you have a microsite or if the annual report is integrated in the corporate website, it is easy to identify how the content is being consumed by looking at user analytics.
When assessing the Webranking scores for the 2017 annual reports, we have seen many online summaries. This is where companies provide one or more pages with content from the annual report that links to the PDF.
This is quite a good way of selecting highlights to show, as well as motivating readers to further engage with different parts of the annual report. As with the full online reports, the summary can appeal to and reach a larger target audience than the PDF. The summary also allows companies to highlight the most important parts of the annual report and to be more creative with the presentation and storytelling. The best summaries do not only link to the PDF, but also to the corporate website where the latest information can be found.
Producing the online summary does not require a huge effort and it offers an opportunity to make more of the content in the annual report as opposed to just providing the PDF. The online summary should link to further information in the annual report, for those that want to read more about the past year, as well as to the corporate website, where more, and possibly also more recent, information can be found. An online summary is also easier to share on other digital channels instead of linking directly to the PDF.
Example of an online summary
Facility management company Coor provides an online summary of their annual report. Most of the content is available directly on the home page of the report, linking to further information.
In our surveys, 80% of the respondents said they prefer to read the annual report online. That means that only a fifth prefer the printed version or printing their own copy from the PDF. The classic portrait format that most PDFs use is only adapted for a few of its readers.
A good way to cater for these users, assuming you can’t provide the full online experience, is to provide a PDF that is adapted for the screen, rather than for print. This can be done by having links to the different sections of the annual report on each page, a link to the table of contents, and to provide both cross links within the report and links to the corporate website.
We have seen an increased use of this from companies in Webranking by Comprend. In 2017-2018, 15% of the ranked companies provided an interactive or adapted PDF, and this year, although the ranking isn’t complete, we are looking at numbers above 20%.
The method you choose should depend on who your target group is. If you’re a tech company or a company on the frontline of digital transformation, it makes a lot of sense to do a full online annual report showing that you truly are digital.
The online format also gives you an opportunity to work more actively with the distribution part of your annual corporate communication. Reaching your audience includes sharing the content or advertising the content on social media, in search-engines and across your digital touchpoints, where you interact with your stakeholders.
To reach a larger target group, and to make the most of your annual report, an online version or, at the very least, an online summary, is highly recommended.