Emirates: Best global airline web site of 2011

Sometimes a web redesign is a big step forward; sometimes it is a step in reverse.

In the case of American Airlines (when viewed from a web globalization perspective) a recent web redesign resulted in a significant step backwards.

American Airlines came out on top in last year’s Web Globalization Report Card.

But in this year’s Report Card the company slipped several places. Emirates took over the top spot.

Here is the 2011 American Airlines home page:

The new design does feel more user friendly to me. But when you evaluate the web site from a global perspective, there are flaws, such as with global navigation. American Airlines uses a new global gateway that is more cumbersome to use than the previous gateway. It is a two-step menu, shown in detail below.

Imagine you don’t speak English and you were trying to get to the German web site. Would the warning text highlighted in yellow concern or confuse you? It certainly appears ominous to me.

American Airlines also gave up using language negotiation, which is more important than ever before.

To its credit, the new American Airlines web design uses considerably fewer images with embedded text. And though the localized sites still largely support the legacy design, I’m optimistic that by this time next year, global consistency and localizability will have improved.

Now let’s look at Emirates.

Emirates employs one of the best global gateways around. It is easy to use and, by grouping countries by region, presents more manageable lists.

Emirates also supports excellent global consistency across all of its localized sites. And Emirates does not even lead this category in languages. KLM leads with support for 26 languages, followed by Air France at 19.

Airlines in general have much work left to do in expanding breadth of languages. But should Emirates invest in additional languages, it is well positioned to lead this category in the years ahead.

Here are the nine airline sites included in the 2011 Web Globalization Report Card:

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

Learning from the not-so-global web sites

I’ve highlighted the top 25 global web sites in the 2011 Web Globalization Report Card.

Now it’s time to focus on the other end of the spectrum — the 25 web sites that scored most poorly overall. Just as you can learn from the best global web sites, you can also learn what NOT to do by studying various aspects of these 25 sites.

I want to emphasize that the scores these web sites received reflect a unique methodology. Use a different methodology and these 25 sites could very well have been ranked much differently. My methodology evaluates how effectively these web sites have been taken global. Specifically, I look at languages, global consistency, depth and breadth of localization, support for local-language social networking platforms, and user-friendly global navigation.

Here are the 25 lowest-scoring web sites in the 2011 Web Globalization Report Card:

  • Archer Daniels Midland
  • Armani
  • Barclays
  • Budweiser
  • Campbell’s
  • Danone
  • evian
  • Four Seasons
  • Godiva
  • Goldman Sachs
  • Heineken
  • Holland America
  • Home Depot
  • ING
  • J.P. Morgan
  • Johnson & Johnson
  • KitchenAid
  • Kleenex
  • Levi’s
  • Louis Vuitton
  • Maytag
  • McKinsey & Co
  • Santander
  • Thrifty
  • Wal-Mart

From Wal-Mart to Barclays to Louis Vuitton, there are quite a few globally successful companies in this list. What I’m trying to illustrate with this post is that a company can be financially successful, even on a global scale, and still support a web site strategy that is not as efficient nor as user-friendly as it should be.

Here are two brief examples:

McKinsey & Co
There are few consulting firms with a global reputation like McKinsey and yet its global web site leaves much to be desired. For a company that serves clients in so many countries, its site supports just 10 languages (English excluded). One may argue that the company’s reputation speaks for itself, but I’m not sure I buy that argument, particularly when consulting-based organizations such as Deloitte and KPMG support more than 30 languages.

But the greater problem is the lack of localized content. Here is McKinsey’s China page:

Most of the links on this page take users back to English content, without warning. I refer to a site like this as a “local façade” because it does a poor job of managing user expectations. McKinsey recently added a Facebook link — and it links to a Chinese-specific Facebook page. And normally this would be a great feature to include, except that Facebook is largely blocked in China.

Budweiser
Now owned by a InBev, Budweiser is, next to Heineken, one of the most globally successful beers. So why is the web site not so successful?

For starters, there is absolutely no global consistency in web site design or architecture across the country sites. What’s worse, the “age gateway” which is popular among alcohol producers is inconsistent as well. Here’s the .com age gateway:

Let’s assume someone from Mexico visits Budweiser.com and then plods through the age gateway and then somehow finds the link to the Mexico web site (it’s not easy to find). This person is taking to a Mexican age gateway, shown here:

And, for good measure, here is the age gateway for the UK:

I am fully aware that the drinking age varies by country, but does the age gateway need to vary so dramatically as well? And if someone enters an age into the .com site, can’t that age setting be saved should that person migrate to a different country site, thereby bypassing the age gateway? Right now, all I see is a lot of reinventing of the wheel, on a global scale. A lot of resources are simply being wasted, and users are not benefitting.

I want to be clear that I’m not just calling out Budweiser for these flaws. Nearly every global alcoholic beverage, including Heineken, suffers from similar issues. But I call out this issue because it’s such a resource drain on companies and web teams. To effectively take a web site or application global, you need a consistent platform. If it worked for Facebook, there’s no reason it can’t work for most web sites.

Finally, it’s always important to keep in mind that translation alone does not make a web site global. The 25 sites here averaged support for 10 languages, which is is well below the average of 23. But language accounts for just 25% of a site’s score. There were a number of sites with fewer than 10 languages that scored in the top 100 overall — such as Dow Corning and Renesas. And there were a number of sites in this group of 25 that support more than 10 languages, like ING, with support for 24 languages.

Link: Web Globalization Report Card

Best global hotel web site of 2011: Accor Hotels

We included nine hotel and resort web sites in the 2011 Web Globalization Report Card.

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

Out of those nine companies, Accor Hotels emerged on top, unseating InterContinental Hotels (which won last year).

Even though Accor won the category, it still ranks #80 out of 250 web sites, which means the hospitality industry still has a ways to go in terms of improving their global web sites.

Accor emerged on top this year in part because it improved its global gateway — such as adding support for language negotiation. Language negotiation is the process of identifying the language setting of the user’s web browser and then responding with content in that language, if available. If you use language negotiation — and many companies should be using it — you must first have a visual global gateway in place so users can change the language setting if needed. Accor’s visual gateway is well positioned in the header. If you look at the example above you’ll see the Russian flag — as this is the Russian home page. I don’t recommend using flags, preferring instead to see a globe icon positioned next to the pull-down menu and text-only links for each local web sites. For more on this, check out my book on global gateways.

Accor also added Russian and Polish support over the past year. Regarding languages, Best Western leads the hotel category with support for 19 languages (excluding English), followed by Accor and InterContinental. While 19 languages may seem like a lot, this number is actually below the average of 23 languages for all 250 web sites. I expect many hotel web sites to continue to adding languages at a good pace over the next few years.

Finally, though Hyatt did not emerge on top, its global gateway deserves mention (shown below):

This is a new gateway for the Hyatt web site. Note the map icon at the top — a  very nice touch!

Also note how the gateway offers two “abridged” web sites (at the bottom of the menu). I know it’s never easy for a company to admit that a local site is not fully localized, but it makes good sense to do so. After all, users aren’t stupid. They’re going to find out anyway. By being upfront with them, you build credibility over the long run. I wish more companies were so transparent about their local web sites — a subject for a future blog post.

Here are the nine professional services web sites included in the 2011 Web Globalization Report Card:

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

Best professional services web site of 2011: Deloitte.com

We included nine professional services websites in the 2011 Web Globalization Report Card.

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

Out of those nine companies, Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu emerged on top. Deloitte was the best professional services firm last year as well and, though its lead has narrowed over the past year, it still emerged on top.

Deloitte’s support for 34 languages is impressive — equaled only by KPMG and PricewaterhouseCoopers.

Deloitte is a decentralized company, which benefits local content creation. The days of exclusively creating content centrally and then localizing it for the world are coming to an end; Deloitte is already well positioned in this regard.

I also want to highlight KPMG, which was the big gainer in this category overall. It has done an above-average job of supporting local-market Twitter feeds, such as @KPMG_DE and @KPMG_Talento, In 2010, KPMG ranked 111th overall; this year, it ranks 45th. Deloitte comes in at 20th overall (out of 250 sites). Perhaps next year we’ll see a closer race between these two web sites.

Here are the nine professional services web sites included in the 2011 Web Globalization Report Card:

  • Bearing Point
  • Capgemini
  • Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu
  • Ernst & Young
  • Jones Day
  • KPMG
  • Manpower
  • McKinsey & Co
  • PricewaterhouseCoopers

How did the law firms do overall? Not well, I’m afraid. Law firms may be increasingly global, but their web sites have a long ways to go yet.

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!