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.
And let’s suppose this vendor refers to Taiwan as a country and the email goes out to people in China who believe differently, and they happen to be in a position to punish you by blocking your website within China.
According to Skift it was indeed a vendor that led to this misstep. And the CEO, Arne Sorenson, has vowed to make sure it won’t happen again:
“We should have caught it, even though it was provided by a third party, and we didn’t catch it,” Sorenson said. “We moved quickly to fix that mistake and we are moving as quickly as we can to look at all of the stuff we’ve got exposed out there online to customers in China and customers around the world to make sure we are not making similar mistakes in the future.”
This is a lesson that all companies should take to heart. When you hire vendors to communicate with the world on your behalf — you have to audit their work just as closely as you would your own. Because at the end of the day it’s your brand name that will suffer.
Here we are, roughly six weeks later, and the Marriott website still appears to be blocked. Mistakes happen, but the more educated your marketing and web teams are to global and local regulatory and cultural issues, the fewer of these mistakes you will make.
I’ve found over the years that it often helps to highlight the more common mistakes that organizations have made to help other organizations sidestep them. This report is included with the 2018 Web Globalization Report Card.
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.
If you visit Marriott’s China website today you’re likely to see this:
I dumped the text into Google Translate and here is what it loosely says:
So what exactly happened here?
According to Skift, Marriott sent a survey in Mandarin to its Chinese loyalty members that referred to Tibet, Macau and Taiwan as “countries.” As readers of this blog will know quite well by now, in the eyes of Chinese authorities, this is no trivial oversight. It appears that this shutdown could last a week.
I can only imagine the lively conversations being held at the highest levels within Marriott right now.
This should be a wake up call to all organizations
I’m working on the 2018 edition of the Web Globalization Report Card and have compiled a list of a number of websites that are currently vulnerable to the wrath of China.
For the record, I don’t agree with China. And I know many execs at Western-based multinationals don’t as well. But it doesn’t matter what we think. If you want to do business in China you have to play by its rules.
In Marriott’s defense, its website did not list Taiwan as a country — but it appears that someone in marketing was not well versed on this very delicate geopolitical issue. This would be a good time for any company that does business not just in China but anywhere outside of its native country, to consider planning regular Globalization Summits. I’ve participated in a number of these over the years and find they go a long way in raising awareness to a range of geopolitical issues — as well as the sharing of best practices. Contact me if you’d like more information — I also now include copies of Think Outside the Country.
PS: If you haven’t purchased the 2017 Report Card, we’re now offering a special 2017/2018 bundle that will be available for short time. You can purchase both reports here.
And for those of you who already have the 2017 Report Card, we’re going to offer a discounted advance purchase option as well. Please contact me if you’d like to do this sooner than later.
And speaking of travel, we have a unique report out devoted to destination websites — there are a few that also run the risk of offending Chinese authorities.
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.
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.