We often see examples of businesses whose websites have stagnated after their initial build and within a couple of years are in desperate needs of a redesign. Similarly, just as many businesses neglect to consider any form of online marketing to promote the sites they’ve built, or even the possibility that tweaks and changes based on business development or user data could further the potential of their existing site.
The problem is that, for most smaller businesses, building a substantial and sustained high quality online presence is a large investment and it is not clear what kind of return on investment they might receive. In our experience, it tends to be a very positive one. For eCommerce stores, this can often easily be seen in the instant rise in conversion rates and the steady increase in overall revenue and returning customers. For industries where no direct online sales take place however it can be far more difficult track. Often it is this, more elusive benefit that is in fact the most valuable.
“A modern and well designed website can instantly convey, not only the quality of the company, but also deliver the brand identity and ethos in a single viewing. Even if that user does not instantly convert into a lead or sale, or even never does, that individual still becomes a potential ambassador for your company.”
If ever a friend or colleague is asking for a recommendation, perhaps the quality of a website alone can suffice to put a company top of the list. Online marketing campaigns can also work in a similar fashion. A user may click on ad and directly make a purchase, but similarly simply viewing that ad may eventually lead to an in-person sale.
A poster on the tube, a flash mob, or a TV commercial may be a massive investment for a company, yet generally people don’t expect the same kind of directly traceable ROI as they would for similar investments online. Perhaps the benefit of online promotions often being very easily traced and analysed make people reluctant to undertake anything digital that is not. Big companies however realise this and still invest heavily in web development and brand exposure.
Well… most big companies….
As you can see, the Berkshire Hathaway site is not necessarily the most instantly appealing. Well, that might be a bit of understatement. It is the kind of thing that makes designers skin crawl and digital marketers fall off their chair.
But how bad really is it? Surely one of the biggest, most successful companies in the world must know what they’re doing… right? Maybe we should find out…
Owner: Warren Buffett
Revenue: $182.150 billion
Equity: $224.485 billion
Home Page Size: 3.4kb
Load Time: 100-400ms
Browser Caching: No
With years of Flash behind us and parallax still on the rise, we often choose to sacrifice performance for superfluous design. Berkshire Hathaway could never be accused of this. With some of the best performance you’ll ever see, their website loads in a blink of an eye. Sure… they haven’t got any kind of browser caching set up, but when your main resource to be loaded is a 1.4kb Geico logo gif, does it even matter?
Alexa Rank: 82,388
Unfortunately we don’t have access to the company’s Google Analytics account to poke through their data… but neither does anyone. No Google Analytics tracking code is installed on the site. Perfect for ensuring a cookieless domain and avoiding any hassle of complex privacy policies or cookie laws to adhere to. Alexa estimates the site as 82,388 in the US, so we can assume it is fairly popular.
Thin Content: Yes
Regular News: Yes
There are a few minor touches here that make the website slightly Panda friendly. Well, there is at least some easy to find reputable contact details and the copyright information is up to date. Overall though the website screams ‘thin content’, although at least what content there doesn’t take second place to heavily templated content or advertisements. The site is fairly regularly updated, sending freshness signals. It’s main detriment however is that the majority of the site’s main benefit, it’s quality, unique content, is uploaded into PDF format, making it inaccessible as an actual webpage and much more difficult to crawl and index.
Linking Domains: 9,000+
Linking IPs: 7,000+
Page Rank: 6
The website’s backlink profile is probably it’s single strongest asset. With hundreds of thousands of links from a variety of domains, hosted on a range of unique IPs, it is most definitely giving Google a lot of positive ranking signals. With a variety of branded mentions, domain based links and some more keyword orientated anchor text, coming from a range of governmental, educational and corporate sites, they have a pretty natural looking link profile. The main cause for concern however is not with their inbound links, but their outbound links. From the Geico logo on their homepage (the site’s only image) to an index of subsidiaries and even a homepage link to the Warren Buffett clothing line, the site primarily acts, on a technical level, as a main hub for affiliate linking… perhaps a bit too spammy to be in Google’s good books?
Titles: Unique & Fairly Informative, Often Using All Capitals
Meta Descriptions: Non-Existent
Social Meta: No
Structured Data: You’ve Got To Be Kidding Me
Although the website titles tend to be unique and relevant to the pages, all positives tend to stop there. They are often far shorter and less informative than they could be, not even appending the company name, and occasionally opt for using all capital letters. Meta descriptions, open graph or any other social tags and structured data are all completely non-existent. Definitely scope for improvement.
Viewport: Not Set
Text: Too Small
Links: Too Close Together
Media Queries: None
Responsive: Actually… kind of.
Okay, although the performance of this site may be up to scratch, no effort has been made for this website to actually work well on mobile devices… Yet it still kind of does. It’s simplistic design and tabled structure doesn’t work too bad on mobile devices, and compatibility is never an issue. Although it’s never going to win awards for mobile design, there are definitely a lot worse websites out there.
Twitter Followers: 900,000+
Okay, so Berkshire Hathaway doesn’t have any social media channels per se… but head honcho Warren Buffett is on Twitter and as a man that is almost synonymous with the company it would be an oversight to not include his account. And the numbers are pretty interesting. With nearly a million followers and not having followed a single person, you definitely can’t accuse him of undertaking spammy following techniques to accrue an audience. His average engagement on tweets is massive, although you have to think that the channel isn’t used to it’s fullest potential.
Calls To Action: None
Tailored Branding: None
There is very little to say about the design efforts put into the site, because there aren’t really any. That said, navigation is simple and content is easy to find and read.
As a web design company, we have met potential clients with some truly bad websites. However, Berkshire Hathaway’s has got to trump them all.
But… there’s something about it that just works.
If there’s ever proof that your company itself matters far more than your online presence, then this is it. Don’t get me wrong, getting your website and digital marketing up to scratch can propel you to success. But equally, sometimes the blame you attribute to online failings is in fact merely due to fundamental flaws in your business.
Put simply, Berkshire Hathaway is successful enough and garners enough investment that it simply doesn’t need a good website. Perhaps it is even a tactic to ensure those coming to the site are only going to be people that appreciate the true value of the company. Perhaps its a statement on company’s reliance on the web rather than their own business practices. Either way, Berkshire Hathaway’s website is surprisingly… okay.