Seven Habits of Highly Successful Global Web Sites
The best way to build a successful global Web site is to first study other successful global Web sites. If you simply identify what traits these Web sites have in common, you are well on your way to planning a successful global site of your own.
Based on our years of studying the very best global Web sites, we have identified a number of these traits and distilled them into seven best practices that will help guide your company in building a truly global Web site.
1. Treat the World Equally
There is a difference between a US company with foreign customers and a global company with local customers. Companies that tend to do the best job at Web globalization are those that view each native market as just one of many markets they serve. This way of thinking permeates the design, functionality, and content of the Web sites, ensuring that a Web user in France has the same experience as a Web user in Florida.
You do not have to look far to find examples of companies that give preference to some markets over others. A common example is the global gateway pull-down menu, which all too often places the US at the top to save Americans the trouble of scrolling to the bottom of the list.
A better solution would be to avoid the pull-down menu altogether, as exhibited by Ikea:
2. Use a Global Template
Your company’s Web site may only support four locales today, but three years from now you may have 25 sites to manage. In order to efficiently manage all of these sites, you need a global template.
The global template is easier to manage globally and provides consistency to aid in more quickly rolling out global promotions. For the end user, global templates provide a consistent, trusted interface that will aid in usability and credibility.
3. Direct Users to Local Web Sites Immediately
It’s not enough to create a localized Web site; you also need to promote it. The best way to ensure that visitors find the local sites quickly is to use a splash gateway Web page or some type of content negotiation/geolocation.
4. Use a Permanent Global Gateway
Since you cannot guarantee that users will always enter your site through the “.com” front door, you need to be sure they can navigate to their country or language site from anywhere in your Web site. To do so, they need to use a permanent gateway that is highly visible on every Web page. The Philips site, shown here, includes a gateway at the top of every page. We also recommend using a globe or map icon to make its purpose clear to all Web users, regardless of their native language.
5. Use Bandwidth Wisely
Of the top 10 Web sites, not one weighs more than 200K. The top-rated site, Google, weighs a mere 13K. To be successful globally, Web sites must be ruthlessly economical with graphics, scripting, and other bandwidth-hogging devices. That’s not to say that graphics cannot be used. With the exception of Google, all of the home pages of the top 10 Web sites use more than a half-dozen graphics. However, they all make the most efficient use of these graphics, keeping them as small as possible. And only one of the 10 sites uses any animation, and minimally at that. Unless there is a solid business case for doing so, we recommend against using animation in Web sites.
6. Act Locally
The best global Web sites create unique local user experiences. From using local models to being sensitive to specific holidays and cultural icons, localization is a significant challenge. Successful localization manifests itself in the details. As illustrated in the IBM Mexico site below, such details may include a local phone number in the upper right corner or a search engine localized for Spanish. An additional detail not currently addressed would be to provide product pricing in the local currency rather than in US dollars. Acting locally is as much about managing expectations as it is about providing a high degree of customer support.
7. Never Stop Improving
Finally, one of the most important traits of the best global Web sites is that they never stand still; they are always being improved. In the past 12 months, Google has gone from offering search interfaces in 60 languages to 97 languages. Both Philips and IBM underwent redesigns. And American Express continues to expand its Web site functionality into new markets.
Had any of these companies decided to rest on their laurels, they may not have made our top 10 list. Web globalization may be a relatively young field, but it is maturing quickly. Companies that continue to challenge themselves to improve the global user experience will remain competitive; those that don’t will move further and further down in our rankings.