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.

Best global retail web site: IKEA

It’s been awhile since I’ve posted findings from the 2010 Web Globalization Report Card, but I did want to include a brief note on the retail sector.

We define this industry segment to include those retailers (and a few food/beverage chains) that have a physical presence in the countries in which they do business. This excludes a company such as Amazon, and it greatly narrows the selection of global web sites, as most “bricks and mortar” retailers have been slow to expand into new markets. For bricks and mortar retailers, the world is not quite as flat as it is for their virtual competitors. To illustrate, the average number of languages supported by the retail web sites we studied was 13, well below the overall average of 22.

We included 11 retailers in the 2010 Web Globalization Report Card.

The Web Globalization Report Card is an annual benchmark of how effectively companies internationalize and localize their web sites and applications for the world. It is now in its sixth edition.

Of the 11 retailers studied, IKEA emerged on top.

IKEA is no stranger to the top spot. It was an early leader in this space and has done an amazing job of balancing global consistency with local flexibility in every market it enters. IKEA was also one of the first multinationals to use a splash global gateway — which it still uses today (FYI: if you want to learn more about global gateways, check out the brand new edition of The Art of the Global Gateway).

Starbucks made significant improvements over the past two years, and adding eight new languages. Starbucks has also beenagressive in embracing social media around the world. For example, its German Facebook page — Starbucks Deutschland — has more than 175,000 followers (it gained more than 100,000 followers in the last seven months).

Best Buy has done an excellent job with its US Spanish web site, blogs, and community forums.

It will be an interesting site to watch over the next year as the company expands into Europe.

Here is the full list of retailers included in the 2010 Web Globalization Report Card:

  • Best Buy
  • Build a Bear
  • Godiva
  • H&M
  • Home Depot
  • IKEA
  • McDonald’s
  • Starbucks
  • Subway
  • Tiffany
  • Wal-Mart

Starbucks puts its web site where its growth is

Starbucks may be closing stores in the US, but it’s still growing internationally.

According to the Seattle PI:

Starbucks recently opened stores in the Czech Republic, Amsterdam and Poland. And it has plans for a big push in China.

Starbucks began its expansion outside of North America in 1996 when it opened two stores in Japan. By 2000, teamed up with its Canadian operation, it had opened 127 stores internationally. Its appetite for worldwide growth grew bigger in 2005 when it set its sights on 1,500 stores internationally, including expansions into Brazil, India, Russia and China.

Perhaps it’s coincidence that when Starbucks redesigned its Web site recently the “International” link was promoted to the top of the page, as shown here:


For Starbucks, this is big.

The previous two web designs, stretching all the way back to 2003, relegated the “Worldwide” link to the bottom of the left column.


Not an ideal location.

That said, now that Starbucks has promoted its international interface, there is still room for improvement.

For starters, the accented characters used in Österreich and España didn’t appear correctly on both my Mac and PC browsers. It looks like an Adobe Flash glitch, but a pretty big one I’d say.

Second, I’d like to see the “International” link accompanied with a globe or map icon. Would a non-native English speaker know to click on the International link? I’m not sure. A globe icon speaks many languages.

I’m glad to see Starbucks put an emphasis on International. It may seem like a trivial change in the great scheme of things, but I know how various departments and divisions within companies battle over the precious real estate of a global home page. Here’s hoping the International link retains its high-profile position.

I think it will. After all, international is where the growth is.

Update on the World’s Number One Starbucks Fan

In 2005, I interviewed a man named Winter, who was on a quest to visit ever Starbucks location on this planet.

Four years later, the quest continues.

Unfortunately, as documented by the Wall Street Journal, Starbucks is now closing stores faster than Winter can visit them.

In 2005, Winter had visited 4,500 Starbucks stores. Today, his count stands at more than 9,000. And he is now racing to visit those stores scheduled to close, sometimes missing them by a matter of hours.

Winter is single (no surprise there) and lives at home with his parents, who wish he’d just give up this Sysiphean quest.

But I get a kick out of his quest. In this period in our history when so much seems ephemeral, so many trends little more than 15-minute Wharholian blips, it’s nice to see somebody out there, crazy as he may be, sticking with it.

“Pointless though it might it be,” says Winter, who plans to go to the U.K. next week, “a goal is a goal.”