This is the third survey by Dr Chris Preece of Leeds University's school of civil engineering. Preece says: "The picture is still poor compared with websites in other industries. The service sector is far more interactive with customers, and more sophisticated at gathering information on them. The top four contractors in the table compare fairly favourably, but could still do better on interactivity."
Preece isn't the only one who reckons the construction industry hasn't quite got the hang of websites. David Bentley, managing director of website developer NetConstruct, says: "Only a small number of contractors know what their websites are for, and their board and management have bought into it, and the firm has an e-business culture. A much larger number of contractors haven't realised the potential of what the internet can do for them. They all display their latest projects and news, but the net is all about two-way communication. Contractors can learn a lot from the websites of retailers and financial services firms."
Bentley believes that at many construction firms there is abundant enthusiasm for the internet at lower levels, but it hasn't reached the boardroom. The result is that "people are screaming for help to justify investment in websites to senior management".
Bentley claims a good website is particularly important if a firm is operating on a controversial site that could be vulnerable to a sudden bout of bad publicity. He says: "If something blows up at four o'clock on a Saturday afternoon, the media will go straight to the website – if you put your side of the story there, you can take a lot of heat out of the situation." Preece says websites are also a vital recruitment tool. He says: "At Leeds University, we know that 99% of students use websites to research companies."
So what's the secret of HBG's success? Preece highlights the fact that the look and content of the company's UK home page match up with the giant multinational's other websites. The firm researched competitors' websites and their own customers' needs, and trialled its own website extensively before it went online in autumn 2001. It also took advice from new media consultant Open, which told them to focus on simplicity and rapid response time.
People are screaming for help to justify investment in websites to senior management
David Bentley, NetConstruct
Give your company website a health check
Enter your company name in an internet search engine. Your company website should be the first address that comes up. If it’s not in the first 10, you’re in trouble.
When you click a link to a page on your website, how long does it take to open?Remember it only takes a few seconds for impatient internet surfers to start drumming their fingers and go to another site.
If a user emails an enquiry to your company website, how long do they wait for a response? The answer should be less than two working days.
Is the website attractive to look at? Does it give the impression of a leading company or a struggling business with no budget to spare?
The careers section of the site needs to sell the company to potential employees. The list of job openings must be comprehensive, bang up-to-date and searchable by salary, location and type of job.
How many of the following can users find on your site with two clicks of the mouse: head office phone number, annual results, company news for the last two weeks, an email address for submitting CVs, and an enquiry form for potential clients? The answer should be all of them.