This post is part of the Ten Golden Rules of Global Content Strategy series.
Making your content easy to find is just about as important as making it easy to read. In fact, some would argue that making it easy to find is more important than making it easy to read. But, for now, let’s just pretend they are equally important.
I’m not talking about search engine optimization (SEO), though I do have thoughts and opinions about the importance of multilingual search and how to do it well. What I’m talking about is making sure your global readers can find the site they need, in the language they need, in as little time (and frustration) as possible.
First, let’s talk about the need to access multilingual sites, in general. If I am based in France and I want to go to a site that has a presence in France, I am going to be taken to the .fr site automatically. Same for Germany, where sites end with .de, and all of the other international sites that have unique domains. So, to some extent, having a welcoming front door to your multilingual sites might not seem that important, because I am taken to my chosen country or language if I am already online in that country.
However, there are times when you need to have access to a site that is in another language, written for another country. For example, you want to purchase something in France that isn’t available in the U.S. You need to be able to find the site for France. Or, you need access to complex information and English is your second language. You’d much prefer to interact with a site that is written in your native tongue. There are other reasons, too.
In my extensive research for this post (that’s why it took me so long!), I have found that there are almost as many ways to access international sites as there are multinational companies. Okay, that’s an exaggeration. There are a handful of standard ways to do it and seemingly a gazillion slightly different implementations.
Welcome! ¡Bienvenidos! أهلا وسهلا!
By far, the easiest sites feature access to other languages and/or countries right on the home page. There is no wondering where you need to go to find Yugoslavia. Here are two examples.
Lush is my poster child for an incredibly well-done global presence. For years, I’ve been trying to find someone at Lush to talk to me about how they do it – how many people work on the various sites, what workflows and processes do they have in place that help their sites look integrated, yet have a keen eye towards localizing content and presentation for each specific audience. Really, Lush, you do it so well. Won’t you talk to me? Here is the home page for lush.com:
If I want to look at the site for Kazakhstan, for instance, I can find it with ease. Lush uses flags as a visual icon to identify each country. There are pros and cons to using flags. In general, international English best practices say that you should stay away from flags, if at all possible. Why? Because flags can change, just like map borders and country names can change. If you have the wrong version of a flag, or the wrong flag it could potentially be disasterous.In the case of Lush, though, I think it works. The flag is a quick, non-textual marker to help get you where you need to go.
Ikea is another site that welcomes international customers on its home page:
There are two things that I really like about Ikea’s home page. The first is that they organize the countries by region. If you support 30 or 40 countries, splitting the list into regions makes it easier to navigate. Even more than the organization, I like the way Ikea uses the native language word for the name of the country, with the English version next to it in parens. This small feature shows that Ikea is thinking about their international customers and including relatively small features that can have a big impact on usability. Welcoming me in my own language is a really nice way of rolling out the carpet.
Step Into My Doorway
Lush and Ikea are two examples of sites that allow you to select your country of choice directly from the home page. The majority of sites that I’ve looked at do not. Usually, access to the list of international sites is at least one additional click off of the home page. I don’t really have any issue with having to click once, as long as I can at least find the button easily.
Henkel, one of the world’s largest international consumer products companies, does a nice job of making it easy to find their international presence:
From a global welcome mat perspective, there are many nice features of this site. First, notice how Henkel International is featured in the top right corner. It has its own bordered button and it is displayed in red. I was able to find the button within 1-2 seconds.
From here, it is very easy to locate my country of choice using the drop down menu in the middle of the screen. Many sites operate this way. But what I like most about the Henkel site is the checkbox under the drop down menu. By checking the box, you will always be taken to your location of choice, avoiding the intermediate steps to locate your country. Another small, but very nice and welcoming feature that you can use to make your international customers feel at home.
Avon is another multibillion dollar multinational. Here is the home page of the Avon website:
On the positive side, recognizing that a significant number of U.S. readers speak Spanish as their native language, Avon makes it very easy to switch to the Spanish version of the site. That’s great. I did, however, have to look around a little bit to find the international button. There it is, at the very bottom in light grey. As far as being welcome, well, I feel like a distant relative from the “other” side of the family. Sure, I can come in, but you’re not going to roll out a mat for me or anything. There’s the door, turn the knob.
Keep out! Défense d’entrer! הרחק!
I would be remiss if I didn’t point out at least one site that, in my opinion, really botched their opportunity to have a warm, international welcoming.
Let’s take Kraft Foods, another enormous multinational company. Here is the homepage for Kraft Foods:
That’s just the top half of the home page. The homepage is very (very) long. Examining the top of the page, I see absolutely nothing about other languages, other sites, other locations. Here is the bottom of the page:
I was expecting to find a button to take me to the other countries here. Especially since I can easily get to the Canadian site by clicking “kraft canada” from the column furthest to the right. There is a button that says “other kraft food sites”. And here is the result:
From here, I can [finally] access comidakraft.com, a Spanish Kraft Food site. But where oh where is the rest of the world? I know that other sites exist because I can manually enter their URLs. Here is the result of kraftfood.fr:
Not only does it exist, it also provides me with a very easy way of switching languages, at the very top of the page. Unfortunately, many supported languages are missing, including Japanese. Here is kraftfoods.jp:
Rolling out the welcome mat is an important best practice when planning your global content strategy. If you are going to have unique sites for different countries or languages, make sure you provide your customers with an easy way to navigate to their country of choice. If it is a needle-in-a-haystack, most likely you will lose the customer.