Monday, May 11, 2015

Boeing: “About Us” Evaluation by Corporate

In the era when airplanes were still built of wood, William Boeing's work in the timber industry near Seattle gave him the experience to break into aviation. In 1916 he incorporated "Pacific Aero Products Co.," which later became Boeing. The company has a century-long string of firsts and mosts in aviation. Today Boeing is one of the world's largest airplane manufacturers, the second-largest defense contractor in the world, and the largest exporter in the United States (by dollar value). Its stock is a component of the Dow Jones Industrial Average. The main About Us page might be either History or Our Company: see next section.

The top navigation menu on Boeing’s home page offers History, with tabs for Overview, Products, Strategic Airpower, Pioneers, and Founders Video. Several slots to the right on the Home page navigation menu is Our Company. On the History page, there’s no reference to the company’s current size and preeminent status in the aerospace industry. On Our Company, there’s no reference to Boeing’s distinguished, near-100-year history. At the very least, there should be multiple links between these sets of pages. As they stand, they suggest that the company’s history has little to do with its current state.

Products/Services: C
Our Commandment 7 of About Us pages is, “Remember to keep the navigation easy.” We’re not sure who designed the navigation on this site: we hope they don’t do maps for pilots.

The General Information tab is called “Boeing in Brief” on the page and “Overview” on one of the nav menus. It offers a solid summary of the company’s size and worldwide reach, as well as the company’s divisions: commercial airplanes, defense, engineering / operations / technology, etc. But it needs links to pages dealing with those sections (e.g., the list of Products for the commercial airplanes heading), so the visitor doesn’t have to stumble around the site if he’s interested in a particular topic. The Boeing site has great information, but it’s not easy to access.

There’s also an uneasy balance (which we are seeing more and more often) between web design for desktops and for smartphones. The History page, for example, opens with a huge photo that occupies most of the screen on a desktop. (On a smartphone held portrait-wise, it takes up barely a quarter of the screen.) Clicking on a submenu such as Products takes you further down the same page. To get to the actual list of products, you have to click another link, to a page with yet another huge above-the-fold photo, and then scroll through a two-column list of airplanes, with, alas, no images to help you along. But once you get to the page for the DC-9 (for example), there’s an interesting, informative write-up, including the airplane’s specs and the history of its manufacture and use. On this page, which concerns one particular airplane, the huge photo at the top of the page makes sense.

The timeline that appears under History / Strategic Airpower offers great images and intriguing facts. But its navigation is bafflingly complex. One arrow directs us to scroll down. At the left is a timeline with clickable years. At the upper right is an arrow that brings up informative text and photos, with a row of clickable airplane silhouettes. At the lower left is an arrow that makes headlines pop up. Clicking on this and that and the other graphic made my head spin like a propeller. I moved on without knowing how much of it I’d actually seen.

Personality: C
Kudos to Boeing for including a long list of Pioneers, not only for Boeing for but for McDonnell Douglas and other companies that have become part of Boeing. Too often, the history of a company that was taken over fades into oblivion.

But here, too, there are navigation problems. On the Pioneers subpage of the Our Company menu is a good short bio of William E. Boeing, with a link to a longer version in PDF. But why, oh why, is there no link to the excellent video of him that’s available under History? Business anniversary tip: That video is a terrific example of how to use archival footage to make your corporate history come alive. Assuming Boeing celebrates its centennial next year, the video deserves a place of honor.

The pages on Boeing’s current leaders are, unfortunately, not so impressive. The page for the CEO, W. James McNerney, Jr., gives scads of details about his experience at other companies, but says absolutely nothing about his vision for Boeing. A bio on the Boeing page needs Boeing-oriented information.

Accessibility: E
The Contact Us page (buried in the footer under Popular Links) seems to be aimed only at people who might want to make suggestions for the web page, rather than contact the company for business purposes. “We do welcome your comments about our site, as they help us in identifying new areas of interest for future content. ... If you still need help, contact the Boeing Webmaster using the below form.” The Media are given a link to a separate page.

This is a major lapse. Clients and investors should at least be given a link to a page with contact information for them.

Use your company history, but also tell people about the company’s current goals. And always be sure potential clients can reach you.

Does your Web site’s “About Us” section accurately convey your organization’s history and capabilities? Every two weeks we evaluate one example, grading it in three areas that are key to potential customers: Personality (Who are you?), Products/Services (What can you do for us?), and Accessibility (How can we reach you?). To talk about your About Us page, contact us!
Today’s example was chosen at random; has no ties to this company.