If you are flying the Taiwan flag on your website, consider yourself warned.
As I’ve written many times over the past year, China is paying close attention to how multinationals refer to Taiwan on their websites, not just textually but visually. And this includes the global gateway.
But the fact is, flags are completely unnecessary in global gateways — not just the Taiwan flag but any flag. And now is a very good time to extricate flags from your website.
Flag free means frustration free.
I’ve published a new report that details the many reasons for removing flags from your website; it also includes examples of websites that have gone flag free, including Costco, Google, Sanofi and Siemens.
The JW.org website supports more than 675 written languages. And it doesn’t stop at written languages; it also supports more than 90 different sign languages as well as downloadable PDFs in languages ranging from Adyghe to Zazaki, for a total of 941 languages.
Apple, by comparison, supports a mere 34 languages. And Amazon, the company now synonymous with world domination, supports just 15 languages. Based on my studies, the world’s leading brands support an average of 31 languages, adding roughly one new language per year.
Religious leaders understand well the power of language. And so do the tech leaders. Sadly, too many other business leaders have not yet come to this realization.
Notice how precipitously the language curve drops; it plateaus at roughly 40 languages for companies such as Audi, IKEA, 3M, Nikon and Cisco. And yet 40 languages is still a significant accomplishment for most organizations. The average number of languages, among the leading global brands, is just 32 languages.
The next great language boom will center around India, but this will take time as even companies such as Amazon and IKEA have been resistant to fully invest in the many official languages of this country.
I’m excited to announce the publication of The 2018 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.
First, here are the top-scoring websites from the report:
For regular readers of this blog, you’ll notice that Google was unseated this year by Wikipedia. Wikipedia, with support for an amazing 298 languages, made a positive improvement to global navigation over the past year that pushed it into the top spot. And Wikipedia, due to the fact that it is completely user-supported, indicates that there is great demand for languages on the Internet — and very few companies have yet responded in kind.
Google could still stand to improve in global navigation, as could Facebook.
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.
As a group, the top 25 websites support an average of more than 80 languages (up from 54 last year); but note that we added a few websites that made a big impact on that average.
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 32.
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.
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 to the people within these companies who have long championed web globalization.
In 2001, I published a report on website weights and their impacts on website performance.
Why, may you ask, was I researching website weights all the way back in 2001?
The great broadband divide
At the time, in the United States and many other countries, homes and businesses were in the process of upgrading from dial-up internet connections to broadband connections. Because businesses were on the leading edge of this upgrade, many web teams designed fancy new websites that relied heavily on images and this fancy new technology known as Flash. But at the time just 5% of US homes had broadband connections, so they were forced to wait 30 seconds and beyond for many of these fancy new web pages to display.
For example, in 2001, the home page of Wal-Mart weighed 238 kilobytes, which, for a dial-up internet user, required up to a 30-second wait for the home page to display.
Around this time period, a startup was emerging that prioritized speed to such a degree that its home page subsisted of nothing more than a few words of text and a logo, weighing all of 13 kilobytes. It’s home page loaded in less than 3 seconds.
That startup was Google.
The Google home page weighed less than half of the Yahoo! home page, and users noticed. It wasn’t just the quality of search that won Google its customers, it was the responsiveness of the interface.
Flash forward to 2017.
Here is the weight of the Google home page in 2001 (blue) compared with today (in green). Google now comes in at a whopping 550 kilobytes (on average). But you don’t have to look far to find websites that weigh many times more than Google, such as IBM and Microsoft and Amazon.
The mobile broadband divide
So what does this mean in terms of website performance?
If you don’t have a high-speed connection, it means the difference between a fast-loading website and a website that you might just give up on.
Not everyone has a high-speed connection
So let’s say you have a smartphone on a 3G network — which represents vast portions of China and most emerging countries, such as Indonesia and Turkey. A web page that weights more than 3 MB could take anywhere from six to 10 seconds to load. If you want your website to display in under the coveted 3-second threshold, you would be wise to keep your website under 1MB.
Based on my research for the Web Globalization Report Card, mobile websites have been steadily increasing in weight. Just over the past two years they have nearly doubled in weight.
Mobile website weight is now one of the many elements that factor into a website’s total score.
If you want to better understand the speed of Internet connections around the world, check out the Speedtest global index.
The Speedtest Global Index compares internet speed data from around the world on a monthly basis. Data for the Index comes from the hundreds of millions of tests taken by real people using Speedtest every month. To be included in the Index, countries must have more than 3,333 unique user test results for fixed broadband and more than 670 unique user test results for mobile in the reported month. Results are updated at the beginning of each month for the previous month.
Here’s an excerpt from October:
So while Norway currently leads the pack with nearly 60Mbps, Brazil comes in at 15Mbps. And Brazil is far from alone at the bottom half of this list.
What’s the key takeaway here?
All the usability testing in the world is meaningless if your customers can’t quickly load your website or mobile web app.
Get your mobile website under 1MB and you’ll be well positioned against the competition — and you’ll be better serving your customers. Get it under 500 kilobytes and you’ll be on par with Google’s home page; not a bad place to be.
China is funding a massive railroad project connecting Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital, to the port city of Djibouti where most of the country’s exports have previously traveled by way of roads in disrepair.
Clearly, China is not doing this for philanthropic reasons. It need resources. But China has a long game in mind as well — selling products to the locals (which is has been doing quite successfully for a number of years).
Some fascinating takeaways from the article:
By 2034, Africa is expected to have 1.1 billion workers, the world’s largest working-age population, according to economic forecasts. By 2025, the continent’s consumers will be spending $2 trillion a year.
Zhang was proud of his Ethiopian investments. The new rail will knock shipping prices from $5,000 per container to $3,000, he said. And for the cost of one Chinese worker, Zhang can hire five Ethiopians. He plans to employ 50,000 within eight years.
“Ethiopia is like China was 40 years ago,” he said. “Even though this place is pretty tough, we think within five or 10 years, its economic development will be pretty good.”
China has not proven yet that it can build global brands. But it has proven itself adapt at building cheap white-label products. It sees in Africa an emerging base of middle-class consumers, a familiar growth pattern. That’s not to say China doesn’t face cultural and political challenges, but that as other Western countries have pulled back in Africa, China has found itself welcomed with open arms.
The CEOs of Google, Microsoft and Facebook have all visited Nigeria over the past year and have announced investments around training developers, supporting new businesses and increasing Internet penetration.
Microsoft and Adobe tied this year for the top spot, with Microsoft winning out based on languages supported. Both companies, along with Nikon, made the top 25 list of best global websites. At 43 languages (not including US English), Microsoft leads this category. The web design remains globally consistent; shown below is the home page for Germany:
Microsoft is a conglomerate of loosely related brands, which presents website architecture challenges. That is, how do you support the brand while still letting visitors know that this brand is part of the Microsoft ecosystem?
The following two-level navigation architecture is a clean and lightweight solution, and one that would work well with most companies that support many different brands, while still keeping those brands unified under the parent brand. Shown below are the headers for Surface, Office, and Windows:
The Microsoft global gateway is universal, which means each country/region link is properly displayed in the native language. This gateway is modified for each brand, such as Surface, shown here:
One needed improvement: Promote the global gateway link from the footer into the header (and replace this globe icon with a more generic globe icon):
Adobe held steady at 34 languages over the past year. Adobe continues to support a globally consistent template that is also mobile friendly. Adobe makes excellent use of geolocation to gently alert visitors to the availability of localized websites. Shown here, a French visitor to www.adobe.com is notified that the French website is available, but is also allowed to continue on to the .com site.
This strategy is wise because it leaves users in control; after all, many visitors may indeed want to remain on the .com site, so it’s important to honor that intention.
What about Apple?
Apple made a small but significant addition to its language portfolio last year: Arabic. The website now supports 34 languages, though I believe it should support a great many more, such as Hebrew, Serbian, and Slovenian. Below is the new Arabic-language site for United Arab Emirates:
Apple tweaked its design last week but still, unfortunately, left the global gateway buried in the footer.
More unfortunate, the gateway menu continues to rely on flags.
I’ve been pushing for a number of years to convince Apple to migrate away from using flags. You can read why here. Hopefully we’ll see some movement on this soon.
To learn more about best practices in web globalization, check out the 2017 Report Card.
I recently wrote an op-ed for the Seattle Times about the importance and value of thinking globally. Here’s an excerpt:
Consider Starbucks. In 2003, this aspiring global company supported a mere three languages. Today, it supports 25, which may sound like a lot until you compare it to many other global brands. Among the leading global brands, the average number of languages supported is 31, a new high based on my years of research. And then there are those companies that left 30 languages behind years ago — like Facebook, which supports more than 90 languages, and Google, which supports more than a hundred.
This degree of language growth isn’t just a tech phenomenon. John Deere supports 31 languages, Ford supports 42, and even Jack Daniels is fluent in 22 languages.
So while the U.S. leaders are speaking the rhetoric of isolationism, American companies of all sizes are speaking a different language — in fact, a lot of languages.