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Peak flag: The decline of flags on websites has begun

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:

  • Delta Airlines
  • General Electric
  • Google
  • Marriott
  • Siemens

To name just a few.

Apple global gateway

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.

To learn 10 reasons why you should remove flags from your website, check out my report FLAG FREE, which is also included with the Web Globalization Report Card.

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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.

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Navigating the multilingual web: The Art of the Global Gateway


In 1999, I first used the term “global gateway.”

At the time, I was referring to a company’s “select language” pull-down menu.

Needless to say, the term stuck. But it has also evolved. Today, a global gateway is so much more than a pull-down menu. It is an umbrella term for the visual and technical elements you employ to direct users to their localized web sites and applications.

Well executed, the global gateway functions like a multilingual tour guide, helping people find exactly where they need to go. As companies add languages to their web sites and mobile apps, the importance of the global gateway is sure to grow.

Which is why I’m pleased to announce the second edition of The Art of the Global Gateway.

What people appreciated about the first edition was the wealth of real-world examples — both good and not so good. Included in this new edition are global gateways from more than 30 companies, including: Bank of America, Best Buy, Caterpillar, Dymo, Dyson, Emirates, Evian, Facebook, GE, Honda, Nike, and Starbucks.

This new edition is nearly twice the size of the first edition. That’s because I’ve included some new best practices that have emerged over the years. I’ve also added new sections that address how global gateway concepts apply to mobile web sites and apps, as well as social media. For example, how do you ensure that people find your French Twitter feed or your Japanese Facebook page? Multilingual navigation isn’t just about web pages. Finally, this book includes a case study that illustrates how global gateways evolve over time, as companies add languages and country/regions.

The Art of the Global Gateway is now available in PDF format and is also now available in print and Kindle format from Amazon.