Q&A with John Yunker, author of The Web Globalization Report Card

John Yunker recently published the 20th edition of The Web Globalization Report Card, the first report to benchmark the websites of the leading global companies and brands. He spoke with us about his inspiration for making the report, what he looks for in a global website, and who came out on top this year.

What inspired you to start producing The Web Globalization Report Card?

In 2002, I published a book called Beyond Borders: Web Globalization Strategies. I was starting to consult with companies who were just getting started in web localization, and I realized that I had no formal process for benchmarking the “best” global websites. After all, I want to see companies emulate best practices, not poor practices. So in 2003, I published the first edition of the Report Card. Google, by the way, was the best website overall, with support for 67 languages — making it the most multilingual major website at the time. I didn’t anticipate that I’d be still producing the Report Card so many years later, but I’m grateful to all the companies that have supported it.

Over the 20 years of producing the report, what notable trends or shifts have you observed in the strategies and approaches of global websites to cater to diverse audiences worldwide?

The first trend is that websites will continue to add languages. Languages are a means to an end, and as companies pursue opportunities outside their home markets, they will inevitably add languages to communicate with new customers. As shown here, the average number of languages supported by the leading global brands is now 34, well up from 12 when I began the report.

As I often say: The internet connects devices, but languages connect people. It’s curious how many companies still have yet to learn this lesson.

Could you walk us through the methodology you employ to evaluate and benchmark leading global websites for your report?

To be considered one of the best global websites, it must excel across four key areas:

  1. Global Reach (Languages): To achieve a perfect score in this category, a website must support 50 or more languages, not counting US English. 
  2. Global Navigation: If a web user cannot find his or her localized website, the site may as well not exist. That’s why global navigation (the “global gateway”) is so important.
  3. Global/Mobile Architecture: A website design should be globally consistent yet flexible enough to allow for local content and functionality. In addition, the design must adapt to mobile devices and usage scenarios. Global consistency provides users with a credible brand and experience as they navigate between the “.com” and local sites, and also allows for more efficient management. In addition to global consistency, the site must also be built so that users on mobile devices have a similar (or better) experience. The website should also be optimized for viewing on mobile devices, such as via responsive design. A mobile app is not required; however, if an app is available, it should provide language parity with the desktop website.
  4. Localization & Social: Content should be localized for the user’s culture, country, and community. A website may not translate all content for users across all sites (few companies go this far), but a website should translate enough content for users to have a positive experience. In other words, does the user find enough content in his or her language to fully understand a product or service, to complete a sale, or to contact customer support? In addition, are visuals localized, including the use of local models? And social platforms should be supported in the user’s language and made prominent via the local websites. Finally, I look for signs of websites using automatic translation to allow visitors to “unlock” content as needed instead of leaving the content untranslated.

Are there any specific industries or sectors that have consistently performed well or struggled in terms of global website localization and internationalization efforts?

Software companies had an early lead in web globalization because they were already localizing their software products. But these days, most industries now have at least one company that excels in web localization — except for luxury websites. They generally lag for a number of reasons, namely “overweight” slow-loading websites and limited language support. There’s a bit of Catch 22 with luxury brands; they want to appear exclusive, yet they want to appeal to the world. So they lag in languages, for sure. 

Can you share any memorable success stories or case studies of companies significantly improving their global website performance as a result of insights gained from your report?

One thing I’m particularly proud of is the impact the Report Card has had in coaxing companies away from using flags in their global gateway. Directly or indirectly, I’ve influenced many of the Fortune 100 websites people visit every day. Websites that have moved away from flags just over the past five years include Apple, Spotify, and Nestlé.

Why are flags a big deal? Because flags fail on numerous fronts — both from a usability perspective as well as geopolitical. They may look colorful, but they are better left on flagpoles.

With the rapid advancements in technology and the evolving digital landscape, how do you anticipate the future of website globalization to unfold over the next decade?

It’s funny to be part of an industry that was one of the earliest adopters of what we all now call AI. Machine translation (MT) has clearly gone mainstream, but what we will see in the years ahead is more customer-facing implementations — as exemplified by Airbnb

There is still a massive language gap between what languages people around the world need and what companies are providing. AI, or automatic translation, is inevitable.

Finally, who are the leads in this year’s Report Card?

Wikipedia emerged on top — and for good reason. Wikipedia proves yet again that you don’t need to a be multinational corporation to successfully communicate with the world. You need only build a world-ready web template and recruit a passionate group of content creators and translators from around the world with a shared mission of creating and unlocking information for all. 

As you scan the list, you’ll notice that tech companies don’t hold a monopoly in web globalization; you’ll see companies such as Bosch, IKEA, John Deere, and Pfizer. When I began the Report Card 20 years ago, tech companies dominated this list — not any more.

A new entrant to the list is Tesla, and it could have scored even better had it not recently taken a step in reverse with its global gateway. Tesla is anything but predictable.

To learn more about the 2024 Report Card, visit: https://bytelevel.com/reportcard2024/

MultiLingual Staff
MultiLingual creates go-to news and resources for language industry professionals.

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