I’m pleased to say that, based on the websites I study regularly, we’ve reached “peak flag.” In other words, at a high level, companies are now beginning to move away from using flags on their websites within their global gateways.
This is a good thing.
On a personal level, I love flags. But from a usability perspective, flags often cause more problems than they solve.
Companies that have stopped using flags on their websites over the years include:
To name just a few.
And, yes, I’m well aware that Apple still uses flags. I do believe that Apple will drop flags as the risks far outweigh the rewards.
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.
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.
The Marriott website was taken down in China and Taiwan on or around January 11th. You can read why here.
And here we are two weeks later and the websites are still blank — or nearly so. Here’s what I’m seeing at the .cn domain — appears to be a “maintenance” page:
Delta, Zara and Medtronic issued apologies for somewhat related infractions and are still doing business in China. So why did Marriott take such a hard hit?
Perhaps the survey they sent out that referred to Taiwan (and Hong Kong, Macau, etc) as countries went to some very high-level people within China’s government. Or there are other reasons that we may never know.
Regardless, the end result is financially painful and it underscores a few key lessons for companies doing business in China:
You may not agree with the rules, but rules are rules. I seem to remember this line from childhood — I have a feeling it was repeated to me quite a few times. Every company that does business in China (or any country) has to be play by that country’s rules. Of course, there are also the rules of one’s home country and this is where things can get complex.
Online travels agencies (OTAs) and other partners are particularly valuable as fallback channels. Based on some cursory searching, Marriott is still doing business in China through OTAs. So even though hotels and other hospitality companies may not love relying on OTAs for revenues, these partners certainly come in handy in moments such as these.
If your organization hasn’t conducted a China compliance audit by now, what are you waiting for? I’m working on the 2018 Web Globalization Report Card right now and have documented a number websites that could be shut down or blocked by China right now. This is serious.
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:
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 Card. Travel and travel services is the largest sector covered by the Report Card, a section more than 50 pages long.
I’m pleased to announce a new (and free) report focused on the globalization of travel websites.
From American Airlines to Kayak to Wyndham, this report highlights those websites that have the widest global reach and are the most user friendly — regardless of the user’s language or nationality.
Lionbridge sponsored the production of this report and is making the report available for free (registration required).
Lionbridge suggested the websites they wanted to see included but they did not play any role in the analysis of these sites. I’ve been studying many of these companies for years now through the Web Globalization Report Card.
Even if your company is not a member of this industry, you may find this report valuable. Included are a number of general web globalization best practices.
Furthermore, the travel industry includes a handful of companies that have really innovated in regards to the globalization of websites and mobile apps, companies like Booking.com, Hotels.com, and Kayak.
In all, this report scores 71 companies across a seven segments, including hotels, airlines, rental cars, cruise lines, and online travel agencies. Companies include Starwood Hotels, Delta, United, Booking.com, Expedia, Hotels.com, Avis, Sixt, among others.
What you see here is not one but two pull-down menus. First you select your country, then language. And don’t you dare try to touch that language menu because it doesn’t work until you select a country.
And what about that “Worldwide Sites” link below the menus? Don’t you dare click that link because you’ll end up on a page that basically says this:
Translation: You shouldn’t have clicked the Worldwide Sites link; Now go back and start over.
I’m not making this up. I have no idea why there is a Worldwide Sites link.
I’m not trying to pick on only Delta here. For some reason, a number of airline web sites are suddenly in love with these two-part pull-down menus. I wrote about this earlier.