Since 2000, I have studied how companies localize their web sites for the world's Internet users. In the early days, a company would have been content with half a dozen languages and little in the way of cultural or product-specific localization.
Today, however, web globalization is serious business. Companies such as Google, eBay, and HP generate more than half of their revenues outside of the United States and web globalization plays a fundamental role.
Yet web globalization, done poorly, can also hinder a company's global expansion efforts, or at least make the process much more expensive and complicated than it need be. That's why in 2003 I launched an annual effort to benchmark the world's major web sites, known as The Web Globalization Report Card.
This report, which we recently published for 2010, evaluated 225 global web sites and services according to five criteria:
1. Global Reach: A web site must support enough languages to reach a significant global audience.
2. Global Navigation: Web users should be able to quickly and easily find their localized content, regardless of what language they speak.
3. Global Consistency: The web site should leverage global templates to support global branding, operational efficiency, and usability.
4. Localization: The web site should be truly relevant to the user's locale and culture. Products, promotions, and customer support information should be localized.
5. Community Localization: This is a new measure for 2010, focused on how companies leverage social networking platforms to engage and foster communities.
The Sudden Rise of Facebook
Google has long dominated the number one spot, but this year faced quite a challenge from Facebook. Facebook supported only one language in 2007. But thanks in large part to its innovative translation crowdsourcing platform, Facebook was able to add 70 languages in only two years. And it should be no surprise that more than half of Facebook’s users now live outside the United States. Facebook has gone from local to global in an impressively short period of time.
Moving down the list, there are a number of familiar faces from previous editions of the Report Card – companies like Cisco, Deloitte, Philips, and NIVEA. These companies have not only invested heavily in web globalization over the years, but have continued to improve upon them. For example, Cisco just recently launched localized sites in Azeri and Kazakh.
Shared Best Practices
While these web sites represent a diverse range of industries, they share a number of web globalization best practices. For starters, they support an impressive number of languages. While it’s well known that Google supports more than a hundred languages through its web browser, fewer people are aware that Cisco supports more than 40 languages and Panasonic supports more than 30 languages.
The top 25 companies also demonstrate a high degree of global design consistency across most, if not all, localized web sites. Global consistency supports rapid localization. For example, Facebook could not have expanded so quickly had each language required an entirely new web design. In addition, global consistency allows companies to focus their energies on content localization. For example, Samsung not only localizes its product assortment and promotions for each country site but also promotes local-language Twitter feeds on several sites.
Customer support contact information and help documentation, while not fully localized even across the top 25 sites, continues to show signs of improvement. Finally, from geolocation to language-agnostic global gateways, these sites do an above-average job at helping non-English speakers easily navigate to their native-language content.