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.
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.
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.