Most global websites now use country codes

As part of the 2016 Web Globalization Report Card I note the use of country codes among the world’s leading brands.

It’s an imperfect process because different companies use country codes in different ways. For example, some websites use country codes as redirects back to the .com domain (not ideal, but better than nothing). Others use the country codes as standalone domains (ideal).

And a handful of others, suchas Amazon and Expedia, have made country codes an extension of their brand:

Expedia Japan Logo country code

Amazon Germany country code

 

More than 80% of the companies studied in Web Globalization Report Card use country codes for at least some of the markets they support. This is a significant increase from five years ago, when many companies were still relying on .com as the base domain for all local websites.

What’s changed since then? For starters, Google has done a good job of incentivizing websites to support country codes. But more important, users around the world actually prefer country codes. These domains function as shortcuts to the local websites, bypassing the global .com site altogether.

The following companies do a very good job of supporting country codes:

  • Adidas
  • Autodesk
  • Coca-Cola
  • Dell
  • DHL
  • Dyson
  • Google
  • Hilton
  • Honda
  • IKEA
  • Intel
  • John Deere
  • Mercedes
  • Merck
  • Nikon
  • NIVEA
  • Philips
  • Starbucks

Want to learn more about country codes? Check out this handy map.

Also, to better understand how country codes should fit into your overall global navigation strategy, check out Geolocation for Global Success.

Included as part of the 2016 Web Globalization Report Card

The top 25 global websites of 2016

Web Globalization Report Card 2016

 

I’m pleased to announce the publication of the 2016 Web Globalization Report Card and, with it, the top 25 websites:

  1. Google
  2. Facebook
  3. Wikipedia
  4. Hotels.com
  5. NIVEA
  6. Booking.com
  7. Nestlé
  8. Pampers
  9. Adobe
  10. Intel
  11. Twitter
  12. Microsoft
  13. American Express
  14. BMW
  15. 3M
  16. Hitachi
  17. Starbucks
  18. Nike
  19. Samsung
  20. Cisco Systems
  21. Nikon
  22. TNT
  23. Philips
  24. Autodesk
  25. ABB

It’s hard to believe that this is the twelfth edition of the Report Card. Over the past decade I’ve seen the average number of languages supported by global brands increase from just 10 languages to 30 languages today.

And, of course, the top 25 websites go well beyond 30 language. Google supports  90 languages via Google Translate and 75 languages on YouTube. And Facebook stands at 88 languages.

But it’s not just languages that make a website succeed globally. Companies need to support fast-loading mobile websites, locally relevant content, and user-friendly navigation.

Notable highlights among the top 25:

  • Wikipedia is far and away the language leader, with content in more than 270 languages. The company also now supports a mobile-friendly layout that is considerably lighter (in kilobytes) than most Fortune 100 mobile websites.
  • NIVEA provides an excellent example of a company that localizes its models for local websites — one of the few companies to do so.
  • Nike made this top 25 list for the first time, having added languages and improved global consistency and navigation.
  • As a group, the top 25 websites support an average of 52 languages.

For 2016, we studied 150 websites across 15 industry categories — and more than 80% of the Interbrand Best Global Brands. Websites were graded according to languages supported, global navigation, global and mobile website architecture, and localization.

Congratulations to the top 25 websites!

In search of a better translation icon

A few years ago I wrote about the translation icon and its many variations at that point in time.

I thought now would be a good time to revisit this icon.

Let’s start with the Google Translate. This icon has not changed in substance over the years but it has been streamlined a great deal.

Here is the icon used for its app:

google-translate-icon

Microsoft uses a similar icon across its website, apps, and APIs:

microsoft_translate

I’m not a fan of this icon, despite how prevalent it has become.

Before I go into why exactly, here is another app icon I came across:

another-translate-icon

These first three icons display specific language pairs, which could be interpreted as showing preference for a given language pair. This is the issue that I find problematic.

Why can’t a translate icon be language agnostic?

Here is how SDL approaches the translation icon:

sdl_translation

Although the icon is busy, I’m partial to what SDL is doing here — as this icon does not display a given script pair.

Here is another icon, from the iTranslate app:

iTranslate_app

The counter-argument to a globe icon is this: It is used EVERYWHERE. And this is true. Facebook, for example, uses the globe icon for notifications, which I’ve never understood. Nevertheless, the globe icon can successfully deliver different messages depending on context. In the context of a mobile app icon, I think a globe icon works perfectly well.

 

So the larger question here is whether or not a language pair is required to communicate “translation.” 

Google and Microsoft certainly believe that a language pair is required, which is where we stand right now. I’d love to see this change. I think we can do better.

When will more global websites support Arabic?

I read a brief report on digital Arabic content produced by the Wamda Research Lab, in partnership with Google and Taghreedat.

A few data points jumped out at me, such as:

By 2017 over half of the Arab world will have access to the Internet, an increase from the 32% that were online in 2012. Estimates suggest that the region has been home to the world’s largest increase in Internet usage since 2001, experiencing 600% growth in the number of users over this time period.

And then there’s this:

arabic_web_users

With roughly 300 million native speakers, Arabic is one of the world’s leading languages.

Yet too many global companies do a poor (to nonexistent) job of supporting this language.

According to the 2015 Web Globalization Report Card just 49% of the websites studied support Arabic. Compare this to 95% for Chinese (Simplified) and German,  92% for Brazilian Portuguese and 89% for Russian (a language with 155 million native speakers).

So what we have here is an acute deficit in Arabic content on the Internet and this has, for years, led to a negative cycle for consumers of this content.

Arabic speakers have been conditioned to assume that most global companies are not invested in their language.

Why, for instance, is the Apple Egypt home page still in English?

apple_egypt

The irony here is that Apple’s operating systems do support Arabic.

Arabic translation tends to be more expensive than many other languages. The bidirectional properties of the languages also presents a number of technical challenges (though very surmountable). These factors have led many executives to believe that the ROI of supporting Arabic just isn’t there.

Looking at the data I’d say the time is now to take a second look at supporting this language.

 

The humans behind machine translation

Google Translate is the world’s most popular machine translation tool.

And, despite predictions by many experts in the translation industry, the quality of Google Translate has improved nicely over the past decade. Not so good that professional translators are in any danger of losing work, but good enough that many of these translators will use Google Translate to do a first pass on their translation jobs.

But even the best machine translation software can only go so far on its own. Eventually humans need to assist.

Google has historically been averse to any solution that required lots and lots of in-person human input — unless these humans could interact virtually with the software.

Behind Google’s machine translation software are humans.

In the early days of Google Translate, there were very few humans involved. The feature that identified languages based on a small snippet of text was in fact developed by one employee as his 20% project.

Google Translate is a statistical machine translation engine, which means it relies on algorithms that digest millions of translated language pairs. These algorithms, over time, have greatly improved the quality of Google Translate.

But algorithms can only take machine translation so far.

Eventually humans must give these algorithms a little help.

Google Translate Community

So it’s worth mentioning that Google relies on “translate-a-thons”  to recruit people to help improve the quality.

According to Google, more than 100 of these events have been held resulting in addtion of more than 10 million words:

It’s made a huge difference. The quality of Bengali translations are now twice as good as they were before human review. While in Thailand, Google Translate learned more Thai in seven days with the help of volunteers than in all of 2014.

Of course, Google has long relied on a virtual community of users to help improve translation and search results. But actual in-person events is a relatively new level of outreach for the company — and I’m glad to see it.

This type of outreach will keep Google Translate on the forefront in the MT race.

If you want to get involved, join Google’s Translate Community.