Booking.com: The best global travel website of 2017

For the 2017 Web Globalization Report Card, we studied the following 24 travel websites:

  • Air France
  • Airbnb
  • American Airlines
  • Avis
  • Booking.com
  • British Airways
  • Delta
  • Emirates
  • Enterprise
  • Expedia
  • Four Seasons
  • Hertz
  • Hilton
  • Hotels.com
  • Hyatt
  • InterContinental Hotels
  • Kayak
  • KLM
  • Marriott
  • Royal Caribbean
  • Sixt
  • TripAdvisor
  • Uber
  • United Airlines

This is the third year that we’ve combined web-based travel services companies with the travel companies they represent. And while OTAs (online travel agencies) have long dominated this category, we’re seeing airlines and hotels become much more competitive in the fight for customer relationships, and not just in developed markets.

Booking.com emerging number one overall. It leads all other websites with support for 41 languages and  leverages global templates across all local websites. The mobile website is also lighter (in kilobytes) than most competitive websites giving Booking.com a potential performance advantage. Following close behind in score is Hotels.com.

The travel industry is by definition a global industry. When your customer may be located anywhere in the world and traveling to any other place in the world, you need to support not only a significant number of languages but also currencies, time zones, and mobile devices. A number of the companies in this sector have been aggressive in using geolocation and content negotiation to greet visitors with the right language, region and currency. But they also provide a great deal of flexibility. For instance, Booking.com and Hotels.com allow you to change your currency using what I call the currency gateway:

But Booking.com is far from perfect. It buries its global gateway on its mobile website, which is not ideal for visitors who need to quickly change settings. Instead, I recommend including the global gateway link in the header, as shown here with Emirates:

I recommend a more generic globe icon than the one used by Emirates, but this is far better than most other mobile travel websites.

American Airlines does not use a globe icon, but does at least make its global gateway available in the header, as shown here:

I do not recommend using flags for navigational purposes and many travel websites continue to use them today. Flags do not scale well and flags convey meaning that often goes far beyond mere navigation — a reason why a number of websites intentionally leave the Taiwan flag off of the global gateway, even though it includes all others.

A number of companies have been quite busy expanding their linguistic reach; websites that added languages over the past year include:

  • Emirates
  • Hertz
  • Hilton
  • Kayak
  • KLM
  • Uber

KLM, by the way, leads all airlines with support for 28 languages. And Hilton leads all hotels with support for 23 languages (though if you include Airbnb as a hotel brand, it emerges on top).

Websites that scored on the negative end of this list include Four Seasons, Enterprise and Avis.

To learn more, check out the Web Globalization Report CardTravel and travel services is the largest sector covered by the Report Card, a section more than 50 pages long.

The top 25 global websites from the 2017 Web Globalization Report Card

I’m excited to announce the publication of The 2017 Web Globalization Report Card. This is the most ambitious report I’ve written so far and it sheds light on a number of new and established best practices in website globalization.

Here are the top-scoring websites from the report:

For regular readers of this blog, you’ll notice that Google is yet again ranked number one. But Google isn’t resting on its laurels. While many software companies are happy to support 20 or 30 languages on their websites, Google continues to add languages across its many products. Consider Gmail, with support for 72 languages and YouTube, with 75 languages. And let’s not overlook Google Translate, now at 100+ languages.

Google could still stand to improve in global navigation, though I am seeing positive signs of harmonization across its many product silos. But I do maintain the recommendation that Google present a more traditional global gateway to visitors across its sites and apps.

Other highlights from the top 25 list include:

  • Consumer goods companies such as Pampers and Nestlé are a positive sign that non-tech companies are making positive strides in improving their website globalization skills.
  • IKEA returned to the list this year after making a welcome change to its global gateway strategy.
  • Nissan made the top 25 list for the first time. BMW slipped off the list.
  • As a group, the top 25 websites support an average of 54 languages (up from 52 last year); if we removed Wikipedia from the language counts the average would still be an impressive 44 languages.
  • GoDaddy, a new addition to the Report Card, wasted little time in making this list. Its global gateway is worth studying.
  • Luxury brands such as Gucci and Ralph Lauren continue to lag in web globalization — from poor support for languages to inadequate localization.
  • The average number of languages supported by all 150 global brands is now 31.

But as you can see here, the rate of language growth, on average, is slowing. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Companies are telling me that they are investing more on depth and quality of localization — which is of huge importance.

The data underlying the Report Card is based on studying the leading global brands and world’s largest companies — 150 companies across more than 20 industry sectors. I began tracking many of the companies included in this report more than a decade ago and am happy to share insights into what works and what doesn’t. Time is often the greatest indicator of best practices.

I’ll have much more to share in the weeks and months ahead. If you have any questions about the report, please let me know.

Congratulations to the top 25 companies and the people within these companies that have long championed web globalization.

The 2017 Web Globalization Report Card

Click here to download a PDF brochure for the report.

The Top 25 Global Web Sites of 2011

I’m pleased to announce the publication of the 2011 Web Globalization Report Card. This year, we reviewed 250 web sites across 25 industries. The web sites represent nearly half of the Fortune 100 and nearly all of the Interbrand Global 100.

Out of these 250 sites, here are the top 25 overall:

Google, which has held the number one spot for years, was unseated by Facebook this year. Facebook’s recent innovations (multilingual social plugins, improved global gateway, multilingual user profiles) gave it the edge. (I’ve devoted a separate report to Facebook’s innovations.)

Companies like 3MCiscoPhilips, and NIVEA have become regular faces in the top 25. But there are some new faces as well. There are five companies new this year to the top 25: Volkswagen, Adobe, Shell, Skype, and DHL.

Although these 25 web sites represent a wide range of industries, they all share a high degree of global consistency and impressive support for languages. They average 58 languages — which is more than twice the average for all 250 sites reviewed.

The average number of languages supported by  all 250 web sites is 23, up from 22 last year. As the visual below illustrates, language growth over the years has been amazing. Seven years ago, I was thrilled to find a web site with more than 20 languages. Today, 20 languages is below average.

Language is just one element of web globalization, but it is the most visible element. When a company adds a language, it is making its global expansion plans known. If you want to know where your competitors are betting on growth, spend some time looking at their local web sites. More than twenty companies added four or more languages over the past 12 months.

Fast-growing languages on the Internet include Hungarian, Turkish, Indonesian, and Russian. Here is where Russian stands today — now found on nearly 8 of 10 web sites:

In the Report Card, languages account for 25% of a web site’s score. We also evaluate a web site’s depth and breadth of local content, the effectiveness of the global gateway, and overall global consistency. Beginning in 2010, we have also begun tracking how companies promote local social platforms such as Facebook and Twitter around the world. Our goal was not only to highlight the leaders in language but to identify those web sites and services that were globally “well rounded” as well as innovative.

The top 25 web sites are not perfect. The Report Card details many ways these sites could be improved (including Facebook and Google). That said, the executives who manage these web sites and services deserve a great deal of credit. As someone who has worked as both a consultant and an employee at companies such as these, I know how challenging it can be to get the funding to add languages and staff and to educate various teams on the many complexities of web globalization. While it may be the company names that appear on the top 25 list, it is the hundreds of passionate and bright people who got them there.

Congratulations!

Is Apple giving up on flags?

Apple has been using flags as part of its global gateway for many years.

In 2006, Apple’s global gateway was positioned in the footer and featured a different flag for each country web site:

Today, Apple has done away with the pull-down menu, but not the globe. Look to the right of the footer of Apple.com and you’ll see this:

But Apple recently moved away from using flags on its online store, perhaps a sign of things to come, shown below:

The flags have been replaced with plain text links.

I’m not saying that Apple is wrong for using flags. Apple does not make the mistake of using flags to indicate language. Flags are only used to indicate countries and regions.

But flags do not scale well.

Flags worked better when Apple supported fewer than 20 localized site. But Apple is clearly in scale mode, adding stores in countries around the world. Plain text links add less overhead (in bytes) than images and, more important, are easier for people to scan than a blur of flags that mostly share the same basic colors.

Consider the page below, also from Apple. I don’t believe this sea of colors amounts to any sort of usability gain. In fact, if you look closely you’ll see some faux flags created for “Other Asia” and “Latin America.”

I don’t hate flags. Really, I don’t.

But as I write in The Art of the Global Gateway, flags have many inherent limitations — from geopolitical to practical. And because flags do not scale well I think that Apple will eventually (largely) give them up.