Global Gateways

Multinational companies, with multilingual and country-specific websites often face the challenges of producing a global gateway front page, directing the customer to the “local” page most applicable to them.  As with all aspects of international business, a system based on good knowledge, well thought through and thoroughly tested, along with a healthy dollop of common sense, will get you a long way.

Many companies automatically forward customers to a local site based on the IP address, which works in a majority of cases.  For those customers for whom that is not the best solution (for example, where they do not speak the language of the local site or where, like me, they have an IP address which does not always resolve itself to the correct region), a clearly visible and accessible way of entering an alternative site via a global gateway is a must.

I had reason to pass by the EMC site recently, and their global gateway shows a few of the pitfalls designers need to look out for.

emc-gateway

Watch your language

EMC has chosen to list country sites on their global gateway – but in English.  Can EMC be sure that its customers all know the English names of their country?  Wouldn’t Albanians be looking under S for Shqīpëri and Germans under D for Deutschland?  Wouldn’t customers whose first language is Chinese, Japanese, Arabic or Hebrew be looking for their country not only in their own language but also in their own script?  Granted, many of EMC’s country-specific websites are not localised (that is, translated into a local language), but many are.  This information is, however, not shown – a list showing “Netherlands – Dutch” (or, even better, “Nederland – Nederlands”) would be more informative and useful.

Global gateways more usually list country names in the local language(s) – it reduces a barrier to customers continuing on to the main website.

Order

The less a customer has to search and peck around for their choice, the better, and the order that the countries are listed is important.  Adobe’s gateway at  makes a common error in the ordering of the region list.

Adobe

In their list, country names are listed in multiple languages, but are ordered alphabetically according to their English names.  So Hrvatska, which any Croatian will search for under H, is placed where Croatia would come in an English-language list. Suomi is listed under F for Finland, España under S for Spain, and so on.

This list also demonstrates another issue – providing multiple options, usually unintentionally.  Using the Adobe list, if you are in France you have a single valid option: France.  If you’re in Mexico, though, you could choose México or Latinoamérica. Customers in Slovenia or Slovakia could choose their own sites – or head for the all-encompassing Eastern Europe.  This may appear to offer a customer choice, but for some customers it may add doubt and confusion.  As in any interaction with a customer, clarity always improves understanding and success.

Asking the right question

The customer has little interest in how you choose your sales regions or structure your web site, so expecting a customer from New Zealand to look under A for Australia/New Zealand is fatuous.  Furthermore, it is essential on such pages to ask the right question.  EMC asks “Please select your country”.  The country I’m in?  The country I’m from? The country where a language is spoken that I understand so that I will understand what is written on the website? The country which is most likely to deliver to me?  Adobe asks “Choose your region”.  IBM recognises the difficulty this wording may bring, and indicates instead the structure of their online presence by showing a list headed “Web site by country/region and language”.

IBM

Which brings us to …

Being exhaustive

There are over 240 countries and territories on the planet.  The EMC list contains just 95.  How do you proceed if you are from Georgia, Armenia or Azerbaijan, Bangladesh or Iceland, Chad or Zimbabwe?  What do Italian- or Romansch-speakers from Switzerland click on in any of the gateways shown in this blog post?  The only clue in the EMC gateway that there may be a catch all site is the tiny asterisk next to United States to indicate “EMC Corporate Headquarters” – hardly a clear invitation to the “Rest of the World” to come on in.

HP

HP have chosen to show country names in different languages and scripts, but has not done so consistently – “Azerbaijan” is carefully written using letters from the local alphabet, but “Armenia” and “Georgia” are not written in their local script.  They have also chosen to group countries in ways which may reflect their company structure but may not be immediately apparent to the customer. “Africa” (in just two languages), “América Central” (where the Spanish language is far from universal), and “Middle East”.  And again, only French- and German-speaking Swiss are catered for.

Creating a global gateway is a greater challenge than one might imagine, but with forethought and a little care, it can be done.  Unfortunately the design of the gateway often occurs after the rest of the web presence had been created, and tends to be a reflection of the site map instead of a customer-friendly portal.  Too often customers find the gateway half closed.  A little more though and a lot more common sense would greatly improve these pages.