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.
It’s been a month since women have been legally allowed to drive in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and I wanted to get a sense for how this massive new audience of drivers was being welcomed by the world’s automakers.
And, so far, I’d say that most global automakers are treading slowly, too slowly, in welcoming their new customers.
There were two notable standouts, however, that I want to mention: Ford and Audio.
As a bit of background, more than half of the websites I benchmark for the annual Report Card now support Arabic. And most of the automakers studied support partially or largely localized websites for Saudi Arabia.
In English, the headline reads: You Drive in Front. Welcome to the Driver’s Seat.
And when you click on the main link you’ll see this visual:
Audi also leads with a bold, welcoming message: Sometimes history is written. This time, it is driven.
Clicking on the main link takes you to a video that features a husband and wife leaving the house and getting into their Audi. But instead of the man getting into the driver’s seat, we see the woman taking the wheel. In most other regions of the world, this would not be an attention-grabbing video; but Saudi Arabia is not most other regions.
Audi also includes a link to a test drive request form, a very nice feature.
Beyond Ford and Audi, there are a handful of positive examples from other automakers responding to this doubling of potential drivers:
Volkswagen features a TV ad that focuses on female drivers, with one behind the driver’s seat.
Mercedes has a MercedesShe global promotional campaign that does a degree of localization for women in the Middle East, but not nearly enough in my opinion.
Subaru and Toyota have been active on social media in welcoming female drivers. Shown below are examples from Twitter and Instagram:
The automakers not mentioned here are not doing nearly enough to welcome their new customers (if anything at all) — and I suspect this is not going without notice. Web localization is about respect and respect is about languages, cultures, and people.
Mobile apps have also suffered from a serious case of progressive bloat.
Consider that 50 megabyte wireless plan will cost a Brazilian more than 30 hours of minimum-wage work to afford. And let’s suppose your mobile app weighs 80 MB, which is what Instagram comes in at on iOS. Do you really want your customers to blow through their data plans simply because you did not have a weight limit when you began creating your app for emerging markets?
It’s not uncommon for users in markets where wireless costs are expensive to switch their phones off whenever possible. And seek out free wifi networks.
And it’s also no surprise that Instagram, following in Facebook’s well-worn path of world domination, has launched a “lite” app.
Uber also now has a lite app, which is comparatively still overweight, at 3MB. The app was designed in India and, like the Facebook apps, is designed for Android.
Android is key here because it is the dominant OS of emerging markets and slower wireless networks. It’s important to stress that designing a lightweight app is step one. Equally important is helping users make the most of their limited (and often expensive) wireless connections. That’s why maps on Uber Lite are deactivated by default.
For the 2018 Web Globalization Report Card, website weight is one of the many metrics used when benchmarking websites. Which website comes in lightest overall? Wikipedia.
One reason for this — not just a strict focus on text and limited bells and whistles. But also no tracking codes. And no ads.
Globalia is the leading travel company in Spain, generating 3.5 billion euros in revenues across more than a dozen brands.
I visited the global website recently and noticed something missing from the home page — my native language. Not surprisingly, the global home page defaults to Spanish. So I went looking for a link to English-language content.
I first scanned the header. No luck.
Then I moved down to the footer and, in painfully small type, I found the link to the “English version.”
Clearly, this is not the best place to locate a “global gateway,” even if the gateway itself is simply a link to a second language. Language/location links should always be in the header to save your visitors from needless searching and scrolling.
Globalia could take a page from one its companies, AirEuropa, which does an excellent job of locating its global gateway in the header — and using a generic globe icon, as shown here:
Since so many global home pages default to English, I find the Globalia home page to be a useful case study for many American-based multinationals. Because here in the US, it’s tempting to just assume that the global home page of any company should be in English. While this may be the case for most multinationals, the most sophisticated companies greet users in their preferred languages, whatever that language may be.
Web localization isn’t simply about supporting a set number of languages, it’s about support the most important languages of your customers, whatever those languages may be. And, when you do invest in all those languages, don’t let them waste away by burying your global gateway in the footer.
It’s more than a hashtag; it’s a social movement. And it’s growing.
A movement among Indian consumers to force the vendors who depend on their business to actually support their native languages.
As this Times of Indiaarticle notes: From ATMs to deposit slips, withdrawal challans and call centres, most public and private banks feel that service in Hindi and English should suffice their customer base –– Indians who converse in 22 major languages and 720 dialects.
This article is specific to the banking industry, but it’s safe to say that this is the beginning of something much bigger. Linguistically, India has been poorly served by websites.
As I noted in the 2018 Web Globalization Report Card, only 7% of the global websites studied support Hindi, followed by Urdu and Tamil. According to research conducted by Nielsen in 2017, 68% of Indian internet users consider local-language content to be more reliable than English. Facebook certainly understands this; Facebook supports more than half of India’s official languages. And it’s no surprise that Facebook now has more users in India than in the US.
Fortunately, some Indian banks are now becoming more multilingual. The Times of India article notes:
Private banks such as ICICI Bank, Axis Bank and Kotak Mahindra Bank are trying to be more multi-lingual in their digital banking strategy. “For instance, the Kotak Bharat app is aimed at financial inclusion. Users can transfer money, recharge their mobile, buy insurance, etc in Hindi, English, Gujarati, Marathi, Tamil or Kannada. We plan to expand the app to handle other regional languages,” says Deepak Sharma, chief digital officer at Kotak Mahindra Bank.
And as you can see by this excerpt from my newly updated IDN poster, India represents a significant diversity of languages and scripts:
Languages are more than a means to an end; they are a sign of respect.
And companies that invest in languages are not only investing in their customers but investing in their own future.
Successful website globalization is all about asking questions.
A key point I stress in Think Outside the Country is that nobodyknows everything. Nobody can know everything. And you should not trust anyone who says or implies they do. And, honestly, that’s part of the fun of this field — from language to culture to country to technology, you will never stop learning something new.
So where do I go when I have questions?
Well, if the questions are technical and specific to the Internet, I often begin by visiting the World Wide Web (W3C) Consortium, specifically the Internationalization Working Group. Richard Ishida, who leads this group, has done an impressive job over the years of curating and publishing tutorials, best practices and standards.
So where do you begin if you want to learn more?
Here are a few resources that I recommend checking out…