The top 25 global websites from the 2014 Web Globalization Report Card

More than ten years ago I set out to create a report that benchmarked global websites.

I looked at languages supported. I studied the localized websites. I interviewed the executives who managed these sites and learned what was working and what wasn’t working.

And the end result of that work become The Web Globalization Report Card.

There was nothing else around like it. Most companies at the time supported fewer than 5 languages so many executives didn’t even see the need for such a report.

But times have changed. And here I am announcing the leading websites from the 10th edition of the Report Card:

web globalization top 25 websites

Google is no stranger to the top spot. Given the company’s focus on supporting so many languages across so many products, the company didn’t really face much competition this year.

Granted, I still think Google needs to improve its global navigation. I know the company has been working on “harmonizing” its navigation across products, but the “global gateway” remains elusive. And that’s still a work in progress.

But even with this downside, Google remains the leader.

Hotels.com and Facebook more or less held their own over the past year. But there were more interesting developments further down the list.

For example, Starbucks continues to improve its global website, adding languages and modifying its global template. And it remains a leader in local-language social engagement. Its global gateway still needs work though.

NIVEA did much better this year due in large part to its investment in image localization. Check out NIVEA’s many local websites and you’ll see what I mean.

It’s very interesting to see four travel services companies in this list: Hotels.com, Booking.com, TripAdvisor, and Kayak. These companies continue to prove that the travel services sector is among the most competitive when it comes to web and mobile globalization.

It’s also worth highlighting companies like Cisco, Philips, IKEA, and Microsoft — all of which have become regulars in the top 25 list, and for good reason.

Did you know the average number of languages supported by these 25 websites is 50? Even if we were to remove Wikipedia, which is a true language outlier (in a good way), the average would still be above 45 languages.

These companies also generally do a very good job with global gateways, support for country codes — as well as backend technologies like geolocation and language negotiation. In other words, they invest in making local content easy to find for users around the world.

They all do an excellent job of supporting consistent global design templates. This is one of the most important web globalization best practices — one that has clearly stood the test of time.

These companies invest more heavily than most companies in localization — which isn’t just about translation. There is support for local-language social platforms, localized ecommerce, customer support, and culture-specific content and promotions.

Congrats to the top 25 companies and the people within them that have long championed web and mobile globalization!

Learn more about the Report Card.

Starbucks in Asia: From serving expats to serving locals

Starbucks in China

Starbucks currently has 19,000 locations of which 11,000 are in the US.

According to this Wall Street Journal Q&A (reg. required), Howard Schultz remains optimistic about Asia:

Outside the U.S., Starbucks is now in 62 countries. “The biggest opportunity we have is clearly in Asia,” he says. So far, there are 1,000 stores in both China and Japan, 16 in India and one in Vietnam. Mr. Schultz hopes to open thousands more in China.

“We’ve been in China now for over a decade,” he says. “The most gratifying thing is, when we first got there, most of our customers were tourists and expats, and now they’re Chinese nationals.”

The Starbucks website finished #14 in our 2013 Web Globalization Report Card — a big improvement over the year before.

 

When does localization become capitulation?

I begin this post with a question because I don’t have an answer.

A book making news these days is The Collaboration: Hollywood’s Pact with Hitler. It’s about Hollywood’s active self-censorship to appease German censors during Hitler’s reign.

According to the book, movies critical of the Nazi regime were killed because they would have threatened all Hollywood exports into Germany at the time.

According to this NY Post piece, Hollywood is making the same sort of deal with the devil with China.

Changing plot lines, adding characters and scenes, changing the “bad guys” from  Chinese to Russian — all to appease Chinese censors.

China is very careful about what movies it allows in its large and lucrative  market. And this gatekeeper role gives it enormous power over Hollywood.

Which leads me to the question at hand: At what point does localization become capitulation?

This is question every company must ask itself when trying to expand into new markets and cultures.

A Hollywood studio would no doubt argue that it is simply localizing its product to comply with local laws and to succeed with customers.

Which means that Hollywood may end up one day localizing the “bad guys” for each market it enters.

Is this a bad thing? Or is this just good business?

Localization is, after all, about adapting to the market.

I do believe there is a line there, somewhere, that you shouldn’t cross.

When you find that you’re changing who you are to adapt to a market, you should pause to understand exactly what you are changing, exactly what you are sacrificing.

As for Hollywood “selling its soul” to succeed in China I would ask: What soul was there to sell? 

But in all seriousness, this is a big issue and it’s not going away. Companies are  desperate to succeed in markets around the world — markets where they may indeed be asked or required to do things they don’t want to do.

I think of Mean Girls and the lengths that Lindsay Lohan’s character went in order to fit in. (Yes, all the great business issues of the world have been addressed by high school movies.)

And then I think of a quote I from the former CEO of Starbucks:

On a country-by-country basis, the largest hurdle we had to overcome was thinking we had to be different.

 

 

 

Starbucks CEO on Globalization: Don’t Go Changing

Chief Executive Magazine recently featured a brief Q&A with Jim Donald, CEO of Starbucks. He shed some light on the company’s global strategy. in short, Starbucks is trying to change as little as possible in each new market they enter.

He says:

On a country-by-country basis, the largest hurdle we had to overcome was thinking we had to be different. There are regional differences in every market, but the main reason we are successful in the US is the same as why we are successful internationally.”

“I was in a Starbucks in Kuwait a year ago and other than the language spoken, I could have been in Tacoma.”

But Starbucks does indeed localize when it has to. For example, he says:

“The peak time in China is not 7 to 10 in the morning, it is 4 to 6 in the afternoon. And there are also food preferences we had to adapt to. There is the holiday Yorkshire pudding that is big in the UK but does not work in New York. Breakfast sandwiches in Germany, for example, are made up with a hard roll with sausage and tomato and served cold. So we listen hard to what our partners in a region say.”

Starbucks does what most companies do when they go global — which is as little as they have to. Localization isn’t easy and less is usually more. Of course, the magic comes from deciding what needs to be localized — and how best to do it.