Secrets Your Website Reveals About Your Company Culture

If you want to know the corporate culture of a company or business, simply take a look at their website (… even if a copywriter has written the words for it). Websites contain clues about what is valued and what is on the outer. Find out what to look for in the website copy & website design.

If you want to know the corporate culture of a company or business, simply take a look at their website (… even if a fabulous copywriter has written it and the web designer was told to “just do what you want”).

Corporate Culture is basically how we do things around here (which is totally separate to what services we provide).

If a company’s culture is one of a ruthless robber baron, you can pretty much guarantee you will find clues in their website. If a company’s culture is warm, fuzzy and as disorganised as the second drawer in your kitchen – their website will scream it from the roof-tops.

How? Take my hand while we go on quick romp through the hidden world of psychology and human resources – to discover the clues organisations are leaving behind and discover what your website says about your company. (This is different to how you improve the trustworthiness of your website, which is more about technical and social trust, rather than the corporate culture of the organisation.)

Understanding Company Culture

One of the most influential writers about organisational culture is an academic by the name of Edgar Schein. Back in the 1980’s he created his model for making sense of organisational culture. His model is still considered one of the best out there – both from its simplicity but also its clarity.

Schein suggested that you can understand corporate culture by looking at three levels:

  • Artefacts – These are the visible bits of a business and include everything from design, decoration, how people are dressed, corporate trophies, “in-language”, technology used. Outsiders can easily spot the artefacts, but may not understand why a work unit has an old army boot on display.
  • Espoused Values & Beliefs – What a company says they value or believe in.
  • Underlying assumptions – These are rarely articulated but are considered to be “unshakeable truths” by an organisation. These are the bits relating to what is assumed to be the right way for people to relate to others, appropriate leadership styles, how decisions are made, how power and resources are distributed … amongst other things. They may or may not match the espoused values and beliefs.
Icon of a vase in a museum

Look Ma … I Just Found An Artefact!

A corporate website is an artefact in the same way that bits of pottery left from a long-lost civilisation are artefacts. What your website says about your company are hidden in the artefacts.

A website tells the outsider if the business values staying up to date with change or struggles with the whole technology thing. This is vital if your clients value a business that has current skills and knowledge.

The colours and design chosen tell outsiders if the business has carefully considered, and is proud of its brand or if they are a “it will do” type of business. If you want your clients to feel that you will carefully consider their projects with you, and make sure every i is dotted and t crossed, you may want to reconsider a “it will do” type of website.

The photos used on a website are not just window dressing. If a site is full of photos only of beautiful, white, young people, then people who don’t match that demographic will silently feel they are excluded from your services.

It doesn’t matter how many words you use saying your business is inclusive, unless you reflect that inclusivity in your images, then you are showing your unconscious bias.

The website words a business uses tell outsiders if the business is so trendy that they wouldn’t possibly understand, if it is so stuffy and corporate that they should wear a pinstriped suit and stand to attention when the business talks with them, or if they genuinely care and are easy to communicate with.

The choice of words and style of language on your website sets the tone of what it will be like dealing with you. Do you make the effort to communicate or do you look down on your clients and put in barriers to communication?

The content on your site tells clients if you regularly go back and review and enhance projects in your business, or if you are a once and you are done kind of business. We have all seen websites where services are no longer offered but are still listed on the website, price lists are way out of date and the photos are filled with people who no longer work at a business.

Espoused Values

Espoused values of a business used to be common on a website. In most cases they are a total waste of 3 minutes of people’s lives in reading them.

Values are often written in a way that is inward facing for a business, and are designed to help employees know what is stated to be important.

Unless the values are outward-facing (that is directed towards clients), and more importantly the business talk is very obviously matched by the business walk, then putting values on a website often generates more cynicism than sales.

Decoding What Your Website REALLY Says About Your Company: The Juicy Underlying Assumptions

The most interesting parts of looking at a website, are how a website can focus a spotlight on the underlying cultural assumptions of an organisation and leadership team.

A website shows everyone how a specific business “really” believes things should be done, who holds the power and who gets the rewards. It reflects the confidence and world view of the leadership team, and often reflects where they are at in terms of the maturity of their business.

Icon of a young man and a woman gossiping

Here’s a few ways that the dirty secrets can be hung out on display on a website.

What is Valued & Rewarded

The stories chosen to highlight successes or turned into case studies, show what is valued and rewarded in an organisation.

Businesses have successes every day – but only a few stories get chosen as “good enough” for a website. Why were those ones chosen and not others? These stories show what is given status and rewarded.

They show what is considered a “good client and a good project” – and woe betide you as a client if you don’t measure up.

What Services Are Considered Important

The products and services displayed on a website often has more to do with what the leader of an organisation pays attention to, values and measures, than what a client actually wants to know.

I have seen sites where entire programs, products or services are not mentioned – simply because the CEO doesn’t personally value them.

Who Really Holds The Power

Who holds the reins of power in an organisation can often be seen on the About Us pages. Is the CEO worshipped as the “Big Man” in cargo cult like adoration? What order are the executives presented? How is their history told? What is the quality like for each of their profile photos? How many words does each executive get?

If the office admin is the real power-holder in the business, usually the website includes every single employee in the organisation (complete with photos and bios).

Leadership Style

You can get clues on the leadership style from a website. Things to look for – is the website style and content traditional or charismatic? Is it reserved or engaging? Is the leadership chaotic and messy (the site content and structure will reflect this), or is it tightly controlled and everything linked back to a measurable outcome?

Is the leadership team confident in their track record, or are they just starting out and are still to get runs on the board?

The design of website is just as important as the words – does it look like it was built in the 90’s or is it sleek and modern? Can you view it on a mobile device or do you need a magnifying glass to read it? An outdated website can give you an idea about the style of leadership a business uses.

Appropriate Ways To Relate

What an organisation believes is an appropriate way to relate is easily seen in a website and on social media for the business.

Does the company believe in “just the facts – name, rank and serial number” only? Is interaction welcomed or blocked? Is information one way only? How open in terms of sharing information is the website? Is everything guarded so that competitors can’t steal the great ideas, or is there a generous sharing of information? How is social media managed or responded to (if at all)?

Conflict & Crisis Management

How an organisation deals with conflict and crisis can be seen through your website and online presence.

How are public negative reviews dealt with? Are they ignored and swept under the carpet; flamed down; are threats of internal witch hunts made (we will find and punish the employee who did this)? Is there visible support from the executive for their staff; or are issues calmly and thoroughly responded to without blame and judgement?


These are just tiny glimpses of what you can see from a website as to how a business really does things.

So, take a look at the websites around you with fresh eyes. Have us take a look at your website for you to make sure that the messages you are putting out to the world, are the ones you really want shared.

About the Author

Ingrid Moyle

Ingrid Moyle is a small business web designer and copywriter. When not hardwired to her computer, she quests for the perfect decaf coffee while chasing virtual reality creatures across the backstreets of Brisbane.
Bowler hat with lightbulb.

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