eBay’s improved global gateway needs more improving

eBay has invested significantly in web localization over the years and it is a top-20 website in countries such as France, Italy, and the UK (Alexa).

But it could do more to help more people find these local sites.

Between January and March of this year, eBay updated its global gateway.

I’ve included screen grabs of the before and after gateways below. In both cases, eBay’s gateway is positioned at the bottom of the global (.com) home page. This new design has not been rolled out to all markets yet.

Before:

After:

The second version looks a good deal more elegant than the first, which is an improvement. But I doubt the new version is significantly more effective than the earlier version.

That’s partly because the country names remain in English, as opposed to being translated into the supported language of each market. And this is a shame because a casual observer might assume that these country sites are available only in English, which is not the case.

For example, if you speak only Chinese and you arrive at www.ebay.com, you have to recognize “China” to get to actual Chinese-language content.

Below is the gateway from eBay Germany. I include it here to illustrate how eBay has “over-localized” the gateway.

That is, the country names have been localized for German speakers. But the irony of this global gateway is that there is not much of a reason for a German speaker to navigate to, say, the Chinese site. Instead, each country site should be displayed in its respective language — or languages if more than one is supported. The upside to this approach is that this gateway doesn’t have to change from local site to local site.

Now, just to put eBay’s navigation in perspective, I assume that the majority of visitors to the local sites enter through the “front door” of ccTLDs, such as www.ebay.fr and www.ebay.de. So what I’m highlighting here is not a critical flaw in the greater scheme of things, but it’s a flaw nonetheless.

So what do I recommend?

For starters, eBay should use “Deutschland” instead of “Germany” and “Sverige” instead of “Sweden.”

You get the idea.

Next, I would promote this global gateway to the upper right corner of every eBay site. Not the entire panel as it exists now. Just a globe icon that links to a global gateway page. This way, users can easily find or change their current country setting.

And I’d begin testing geolocation as a way to direct people seamlessly to their local sites based on IP address. Geolocation has become much more popular over the past two years. In our 2010 Web Globalization Report Card, more than 25% of the sites studied use geolocation specifically to improve global navigation.

That said, geolocation should never be used before a company has its visual elements in place, which eBay does not (yet). Users hate nothing more than a web site that does things without the user having control over them. Google is famous for this.

In case you’re wondering, eBay was ranked 114th out of the 225 sites reviewed in our Report Card. The site actually scored quite highly in both global consistency and localization, but navigation remains a weak spot.

To learn more, check out my new book The Art of the Global Gateway.

The best global airline web site: American Airlines

As I prepare to hop on a plane to Europe, I’d like to focus briefly on the airline industry.

I should preface this post by saying that I find “meta” travel sites like Kayak and Sidestep much easier to use than any airline web site. A few years of recession coupled with the airlines’ collective descent into charge-for-everything madness appears to have stalled any major usability improvements. And yet improvements were made, at least in web globalization, a few of which I will highlight.

We included nine airline web sites in the 2010 Web Globalization Report Card.

The Web Globalization Report Card is an annual benchmark of how effectively companies internationalize and localize their web sites and applications for the world.

Of the nine web sites studied, American Airlines narrowly edged out Emirates Airlines for the top spot.

Since 2008, American has added four languages and has begun using geolocation to improve global navigation. The site also leverages a fairly consistent and locally adaptable design template. Shown below are the home pages for Japan and Russia:

The designs do exhibit one common localization problem — embedded text.

For example, you may have noticed on the Japanese site that the text string “always low fares” was not translated. This text string is embedded within a visual element — which is generally more difficult (and expensive) to localize. I’m assuming this text string wasn’t within the localization budget.

A more efficient alternative is to simply keep text out of the visual elements (relying on Javascript and CSS to create an embedded appearance). Doing so allows all text to be more easily extracted for localization.

In terms of global gateways, I give Emirates a slight edge:

Emirates uses this gateway as a landing page. Once a selection is made, the preference is captured as a cookie so the user doesn’t have to land on this page repeatedly. The languages supported by each localized site are evident and, more important, properly localized.

Organizing countries by region can be a complex and geopolitically sensitive issue — particularly with countries that may be viewed as straddling two regions. But I thought Emirates did a good job overall of managing this issue.

There are no airlines web sites in the top 25, so there is clearly room for improvement — but American and Emirates are out in front.

Here are the nine airline sites included in the 2010 Web Globalization Report Card:

  • Air France
  • American Airlines
  • British Airways
  • Continental
  • Emirates
  • KLM
  • Northwest Airlines
  • Ryanair
  • United Airlines

The best global hotel web site: InterContinental Hotels

We included nine hotel and resort brands in the 2010 Web Globalization Report Card.

The Web Globalization Report Card is an annual benchmark of how effectively companies internationalize and localize their web sites and applications for the world. It is now in its sixth edition.

Of the nine hotel/resort companies studied, the InterContinental Hotels Group emerged on top.

The corporate home page, www.ihg.com, is included below:

InterContinental is a conglomerate of seven hotel brands, including Holiday Inn and Crowne Plaza.

The company does a nice job of positioning its global gateway in the upper right corner of not only its corporate home page, but also the home pages of its many brands.

Here is Crowne Plaza:

crowne plaza global gateway

InterContinental:

And Holiday Inn:

There is still plenty of room for improvement. Notice the reference to “Queen’s English” in the Holiday Inn gateway. I’ve rarely seen this description used in a global gateway and I’d recommend against it. “British English” or “English UK” is more common.

Even though InterContinental emerged on top, it did not lead by much. Accor, Radisson, and Starwood all finished within a few points of it.

The hotel industry as a whole is not one I would call a leader in web globalization. Not yet.

Nearly all of the companies could improve on global consistency as well as depth of localization. I also found it odd that a few of the most global hotel chains supported so few languages. Hotel web sites support an average of just 10 languages — less than half the average of all 225 web sites studied.

Best Western stood apart, however, with support for more than 20 languages.

We did notice a number of incremental improvements since the last Report Card. For instance, two of the hotel web sites have since added support for geolocation. And I’m optimistic that we’ll see language growth accelerate this year as hotels step up their efforts to attract tourists from around the world.

There is reason for optimism — the World Tourism Organization forecasts growth in 2010, with more than one billion international arrivals.

Here is the full list of hotel/resorts included in the 2010 Web Globalization Report Card:

  • Accor Hotels
  • Best Western
  • Four Seasons
  • Hilton
  • Hyatt
  • InterContinental Hotels
  • Marriott
  • Radisson
  • Starwood Hotels

The best global automotive web site: Volkswagen

We included 12 automotive brands in the 2010 Web Globalization Report Card.

And of the 12, Volkswagen emerged on top.

Volkswagen is one of the more globally consistent automotive web sites. In general, automotive sites are behind the curve in global consistency, so it was nice to see so many country sites leveraging the same global design template. Shown below are VW’s Italian and Finnish web sites:

VW Finland

Volkswagen also leads the category in global navigation, with a global gateway that is visually engaging, albeit a bit over-engineered, shown below.

Volkswagen Global Gateway

Volkswagen also began supporting geolocation within the past 18 months, which is great to see, as it helps most users bypass the global gateway altogether.

While Volkswagen is ahead of its peers, you may have noticed that there were no automotive companies in the top 25 list.

The automotive industry is generally behind the curve in web globalization. And I should note that automotive web sites generally are ahead of the curve in language support; Toyota, for example, supports 41 languages.

But languages alone do not make a great global web site. Volkswagen did not lead in languages, but it did lead in a number of other categories, making it the best automotive web site of 2010.

Here is a full list of automotive brands included in the 2010 Web Globalization Report Card:

  • Audi
  • BMW
  • Honda
  • Hyundai
  • Lexus
  • Mercedes
  • Mini
  • Nissan
  • Porsche
  • Smart
  • Toyota
  • Volkswagen

Web Globalization 2010: How Many Languages is Enough?

Languages are a means to an end, and in web globalization, languages help you expand your global reach.

And global reach doesn’t always mean expanding beyond borders, it could also mean expanding within borders — consider Spanish for the US (a trend that continues to tick upward).

That said, any executive with global aspirations is sure to wonder at one point or another: How many languages is  enough?

It must seem that every year, the definition of “enough” inches upward.

The Web Globalization Report Card proves this to be true.

In 2003, when we began the Report Card, 10 languages was widely considered  enough for a global web site.

Today, that baseline is 20+ languages.

As you can see below, the number of languages that companies support has steadily grown over the years. In the 2010 Web Globalization Report Card — in which we tabulated the languages of 225 global web sites across 21 industries — the average was 22 languages.

I’m not suggesting that companies add languages for the sake of adding languages.

But I do suggest that companies conduct regular “audits” of their own language mix, the languages supported by the competition, and the languages supported by the ecosystem as a whole.

I’d prefer to be the first company within a given industry to support a new language than the last. Only by keeping a close eye on languages and the competition can you achieve this goal.

Consider Russian. Five years ago, fewer than 40% of the major global web sites supported this language. At that point in time, a company might not have felt any pressure to localize for Russia simply because few other companies did so. Today, seven out of 10 companies now support Russian, which means that companies that hope to do business in Russia and do not support Russian are now in the minority.

Now let’s look at three companies in more detail: NIVEA, Starbucks, and Genzyme.

Each of these companies occupies a different industry sector and yet all three continue to add languages, each at its own pace.

For more information on language trends and much more, check out the 2010 Web Globalization Report Card.