Hyper-global brands design websites as apps

More than 50% of searches, globally, now take place on a mobile device. Additionally, 80% of Facebook ad revenue has shifted to mobile. Digital experience experts now focus on smartphones as the primary platform to design for. People who carry handheld devices download apps for handling frequently repeated tasks, like checking the weather, but otherwise expect to perform functions via their mobile web browser. Increasingly, business-to-business and business-to-consumer companies alike provide an app-like experience for their brand websites. An app provides added convenience and speed for heavy users, but the same features and simplicity of app experience can now be found on many advanced websites.

For customer acquisition purposes, global brand websites and campaign landing pages should load on a mobile browser with the look and feel — and function — of an app. Even for many physical product manufacturers, the brand website is a point of entry for audiences that, if converted, transition to using an app. To narrow the gap between the first visit and an ongoing customer relationship, where audiences will spend more time on the app, brands bring the look and feel of the app or apps over to browser-based experience.

In best practices reporting from 2010 onward, Common Sense Advisory (CSA Research) has propounded taking an app-like approach on global websites. Today, the convergence of market globalization, smartphone adoption and the growing maturity of digital and localization practices have pushed app-like web experiences into the mainstream for high-tech and native web brands. Companies in other industries will eventually adopt these practices as well, as digital teams recognize an opportunity to grow market share.

App-like websites get more languages

It turns out that app-like websites get localized into many more languages than old-school, desktop-centric websites. Each year, CSA Research categorizes the websites of 100 global brands, each offering at least 30 languages. In 2016, the 17 sites using an app-like user experience design averaged 55 tongues, while those delivering a more traditional page-oriented experience averaged only 35. Significantly, 11 of the 12 sites offering 45 or more languages look and function like apps. What’s the correlation?

Streamlined development and digital content production allow brands with app-like sites to add languages faster — with lower expense — than traditional document-oriented websites.  App-style features and design typically centralizes code and content development, versus traditional sites where regional and local subsidiaries might develop their own features and content. If the companies that consider their website an app are the kinds of brands that globalize before creating powerful in-country subsidiaries, and those companies tend to add more markets, that partly explains the correlation. However, lower cost and less organizational friction lower the bar for return on investment in entering new markets, thus providing a more direct explanation for the 57% more languages found on app-like websites.

Mobile-forward design expands global market share

Earlier research demonstrates how quickly the opportunity curve drops on the long tail of languages, with the size of the market getting ever smaller as brands push further in search of new audiences. According to CSA Research’s annual review of top global websites, of the 2,657 brand websites CSA Research visited in 2016 only 150 publish in 25 languages or more. Examining the global web presence of these companies, CSA Research identified significant differences in approach between brands that get stuck at 25, 30 or 35, versus companies that push through to 45 or more languages.

The most advanced app-like websites exhibit traits that CSA Research identified in 2016 as “mobile-forward design.” Extending the idea of mobile-first, these brands not only design first for the small screen, they put that experience forward onto desktop screens as well, using responsive web design. Thus, a mobile visitor encounters a mobile-friendly website. The same visitor who returns to the website on a large screen finds the same experience, or one that is already familiar but now in a larger format. Responsive web design enables consistency and flexibility in global customer experience.

In mobile-forward design, the same experience is loaded not only on all devices, but also in all country and language markets, providing benefits to both customers and brands. Some sites, such as godaddy.com, create different experiences on each platform. This approach creates confusion for device-swapping users (see Figure 1). It also raises obvious concerns for globalization, as two separate experiences are required to support each market. Adobe adopts the best practice for adobe.com by loading the same experience on all devices, in all markets (see Figure 2).

Best practices such as app-like experience development drive return on investment (ROI) for market entry and growth, by helping a brand to develop and release new features faster across all markets and improve customer experience, two critical factors in global competition. Research finds that centralized production accelerates content velocity, which in turn improves content relevance and ramps the quantity (and quality) of traffic from search engines. Lower costs improve ROI parameters for new languages allowing brands to expand market coverage to 40+ languages, growing their global market share.