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Apple adds geolocation to improve its global gateway strategy

Apple has redesigned its website many times over the past decade but one thing has remained largely unchanged — its global gateway strategy.

Here’s a screen shot of the global gateway menu from back in 2010:

And here it is today:

But over the past few days Apple did something I’ve been waiting for them to do for some time — begin using geolocation.

Here’s how it works…

If you’re in the US and you try visiting the home page of, say, Apple France, at www.apple.fr, you see this message above the top menu:

The message gives you a shortcut back to the US (.com) website.

And if you’re in Japan and you visit www.apple.com, you see this message:

In this case, the user can go to the Japan home page with one click.

This is a step forward for Apple and I’m happy to see it.

But there are still flaws with the execution which could use improvement.

Beginning with the flags.

I don’t know why Apple clings to flags with such passion. I do believe Apple will drop flags eventually and I’m hoping the move towards geolocation portends bigger and better changes to come. Flags are completely unnecessary for this geo-header to be effective. Also, if you wish to select a different locale you will be bumped back to the array of flags on the global gateway menu. As a general rule, flags should not be used for navigational purposes.

Now let’s examine the message itself: Choose another country to see content specific to your location and shop online. 

The first issue is the absence of “or region” in this sentence. The intention here is not to be verbose but to help Apple avoid any geopolitical issues, particularly given the recent issues that American multinationals have been having with China. Better yet, perhaps the text can be rewritten so “or region” isn’t even necessary. How about asking if the visitor would like to visit a more local website.

Finally, the mixture of pull-down menu with the “Continue” button is a bit cumbersome. Since the pull-down menu lists only two options I’m confident there is a better UI that would save the visitor a click.

Issues aside, I am happy to see Apple moving ahead with geolocation. I can imagine this was not an easy decision. After all, Apple is very sensitive to user privacy and this type of implementation will naturally lead some visitors to wonder how Apple knows where they are. But this is not an invasion of privacy; this is a step towards providing a better experience.

I also believe this change is a sign of a larger shift in website strategy, a more decentralized model, which I will be talking about later this year.

PS:  To learn more about global gateway best practices, check out the 2018 Web Globalization Report Card and The Art of the Global Gateway.

 

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Microsoft: The best global consumer technology website of 2017

For the 2017 Web Globalization Report Card, I benchmarked the following consumer-oriented technology websites:

  • Adobe
  • Apple
  • Canon
  • Dell
  • HP
  • HTC
  • Lenovo
  • LG
  • Microsoft
  • Nikon
  • Panasonic
  • Samsung
  • Sony
  • Toshiba
  • Xiaomi

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
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.
PS: All purchasers of the Report Card receive signed copies of Think Outside the Country, among other goodies!
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Apple.news or news.apple?

Apple News

In a development that few people will notice but is interesting to us domain geeks, Apple is in the process of retiring its news.apple.com domain in favor of apple.news.

The .news domain is a top-level domain, much like .biz or .guru. You can register yours here.

Apple is not going to shed light on why it is making this migration. I suspect that anything to take traffic off the .com domain is never a bad idea.

Perhaps Apple has a long-term vision for making its News app web-accessible (instead of locked within an app).

But what if Apple had instead taken the opportunity to begin migrating to its own brand TLD .apple (which it currently is doing little with publicly). It could have used news.apple.

Which leads me to this question: Is news.apple better than apple.news?

It’s a question a number of companies are asking themselves currently — whether to migrate to their brand TLDs, using subdomains for country and regional websites as well as sub-brand websites. 

Regarding Apple, it’s hard to say which domain is better without knowing the goals for the News app. One could see news.apple and believe that this is the domain for news related to Apple, not a separate service. So, for now, it appears that Apple.news makes the most sense for the app.

 

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Adobe: The best global consumer technology website of 2016

For the 2016 Web Globalization Report Card, we studied the following 15 consumer technology websites:

  • Adobe
  • Apple
  • Canon
  • Dell
  • HP
  • HTC
  • Lenovo
  • LG
  • Microsoft
  • Nikon
  • Panasonic
  • Samsung
  • Sony
  • Toshiba
  • Xiaomi

The consumer technology sector includes many of the most globally successful companies. So it’s no surprise that the top four companies are also in the top 25 list: Adobe, Microsoft, Samsung and Nikon.

Adobe emerged on top even though it is not the language leader; Microsoft leads with 43 languages.

But Adobe leads in global navigation and consistency. Shown below is the Japanese home page, which shares the same global template with most other country websites:

adobe_jp

 

In the footer is the global gateway link, as indicated by the map icon. I recommend upgrading this icon into the header to improve findability. I also recommend using a generic globe icon.

adobe_gateway_footer

Clicking on the map icon brings up an effective global gateway menu overlay. Notice how the country/region names are in the local languages. I call this a “universal” global gateway because it can be used across all localized websites (instead of supporting a separate menu for each local website):

adobe_gateway

Adobe also makes good use of geolocation to help determine which localized website users prefer. For example, if a user in Ecuador inputs Adobe.com, he or she is taken to the .com English-language website but presented with this overlay that lets the user know there is also a Spanish-language site available.

adobe_geolocation

This way, users remain in control but also made aware of localized websites. To learn more about geolocation strategies, check out Geolocation for Global Success.

Adobe also one of a growing number of companies that make use of user-facing machine translation to allows users to self-translate content. Here is a screen shot from the user forums. While the execution could be more user friendly, the feature itself is something more companies should be supporting (and many are currently testing):

adobe_forum_translation

On a separate note, I wanted to highlight the mobile home page for Nikon.

Notice the globe icon in the header. Nikon is one of the few consumer tech websites to include a global gateway link in the header of its mobile website.

nikon_mobile

To learn more, check out the 2016 Web Globalization Report Card.

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Notes from Singles Day 2015

And so it has begun: The world’s biggest online shopping day.

In China.

More than $9 billion dollars was spent this day last year and experts are forecasting a number well north of that this year.

As I’ve been doing for the past few years, I’ve collected a few screen grabs of localized websites in China. Here are the latest:

Nike

singles_day_nike

Continue reading Notes from Singles Day 2015

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Apple’s evolving global gateway provides another reason to rid your website of flags

Apple can’t seem to rid itself of using flags on its global gateway. And, yes, I’ve been writing about this for awhile now.

Every time Apple launches a redesign I get my hopes up.

But this latest design merely offered up newly “flattened” map icons, as shown here:

Current Apple Global Gateway:

apple_gateway_20152

Previous Apple Global Gateway:

apple_gateway_20151

Continue reading Apple’s evolving global gateway provides another reason to rid your website of flags

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Google to the Internet: Go mobile or watch your sales rank fall

Four years ago, for the Web Globalization Report Card, I began noting (and rewarding) those websites that supported mobile devices. Even then one could easily see the virtual grounds shifting in favor of mobile devices. But at the time, only about 20% of the websites studied supported mobile devices.

In this year’s Report Card, the majority of websites are now mobile friendly. Over the past two years, I’ve witnessed a flurry of newly responsive web designs from a diverse range of companies including Philips, Merck, VMware and Pepsi.

Even Apple now supports a responsive website. Shown below are before and after screen grabs:

apple_responsive

If your company hasn’t yet made the leap to mobile, now is the time to accelerate your plans — unless you don’t care much for your search ranking.

Google has made it abundantly clear that websites that do not support mobile devices are going to suffer.

Beginning April 21st.

According to Google:

Starting April 21, we will be expanding our use of mobile-friendliness as a ranking signal. This change will affect mobile searches in all languages worldwide and will have a significant impact in our search results. Consequently, users will find it easier to get relevant, high quality search results that are optimized for their devices.

All languages. All regions. This makes great sense given that markets like China and Indonesia are overwhelmingly experiencing the Internet via mobile devices.

Google wants to remain relevant to mobile users which means your website needs to remain relevant to Google.

Which means, ultimately, remaining relevant to your web users. Particularly if you plan to succeed globally.

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Is your global gateway stuck in the basement?

When you welcome visitors into your home, you probably don’t usher them directly to the basement.

Yet when it comes to websites, this is exactly how many companies treat visitors from around the world.

That is, they expect visitors to scroll down to the footer (basement) of their websites in order to find the global gateway.

Now I want to emphasize that many companies smartly use country codes to create country-specific “front doors.” In addition, many companies use backend technologies such as geolocation and content negotiation to guess what language/locale website the user prefers before forcing the user to select one.

But these technologies don’t work perfectly and there are times when users need to be able to self-select the language they wish to use or country website they wish to visit.

Which leads us to the global gateway.

Apple has long forced international users down to the footer to locate the global gateway as shown below. I’ve already written about the flaws with the flag itself.

apple gateway basement

Apple is not alone. Here is the Microsoft footer (on the Thai website):

Microsoft Thai gateway

To underscore that there is plenty of room in the header for the gateway, below is the header from that same web page.

msft_header_thai

Do you think we could cut back on that search window a tad to make room for the gateway? I would think so.

Kayak manages to fit its global gateway in the header — see the flag at the far right:

kayak_header

So does GE (I love the globe icon):

ge_header

You can tell so much about a company by how it structures its website.

The global gateway is more than a functional element, it is in many ways an extension of your brand.

It’s important to greet visitors from around the world as warmly as you greet those users in your home country.

When you send your global gateway into the basement you are sending many users there as well.