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:
To name just a few.
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.
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.
BMW deserves credit for an increased focus on local-language social content — as well as the promotion of this content on its local websites. It also made slight improvements to its global template over the past year.
Here are a few highlights from the report:
The automotive sector has long been a leader in languages. The average number of languages supported by these 16 websites is an impressive 41 languages.
Mercedes most recently added two new local websites (and languages) raising its language total to 44. The company has been slowly (perhaps too slowly) rolling out a responsive design.
When it comes to global navigation, no automotive website stands apart. Too many automotive websites either bury the global gateway in the footer or overlook it entirely. Technologies like geolocation and content negotiation are not utilized to the degree that they could be to improve the user experience.
What’s the best global website among American-based automotive companies? That would be Chevrolet. Among other best practices, Chevy does a good job of supporting Spanish for the US market. Note the bilingual toggle for US Spanish and English speakers:
Subaru was a new addition to the Report Card this year. With support for 39 languages, it holds its own with the other global auto brands.
Ford made a notable improvement to its global navigation over the past year. As shown below, the website added a globe icon in the header:
Currently, this gateway only allows toggling between Spanish and English (similar to other automotive websites). Ultimately, we believe its function will expand to enable better global navigation.
Automotive companies still have a long ways to go in improving global consistency and navigation. They decentralized structures have historically prevented them from working globally in this regard. And it’s easy to see how fragmented a site from Toyota or Chevrolet appears when compared with Tesla. Granted, Tesla supports a fraction of the number of models, but the architecture of the Tesla website ensures that it can scale better than the legacy sites of other automotive companies.
That said, even Tesla could improve its global navigation. Its gateway link is buried in the footer:
Tesla relies too heavily on flags for navigation. I believe it’s just a matter of time before this strategy shifts.