The Key to Discoverable Content in a Global Market

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When going global with content, U.S. publishers also need to be mindful of the impact visuals can have on people from different cultures.

"There is a fairly high chance that if you did not design your content for an international audience, you've put in a whole bunch of things that nobody's going to understand when you translate them and you really have a very high risk of offending someone with your images or other aspects. That's the worst, when you have offended your audience," says Swisher. "If you have simply confused them, that's pretty bad but maybe nebulous."

Yunker encourages companies to avoid using flags on their international websites. "A lot of companies like to use flags to indicate their country website, but I have long been an advocate for avoiding them-there's a lot of geopolitically sensitive baggage attached to flags," he notes. "They also don't scale well."

Yunker also advises against using flags to indicate language. "That's one of the biggest mistakes companies make," he notes. "If you go to Europe, companies will use the British flag to indicate English and that's sending the wrong message to someone who is based in the U.S.; if you can avoid using flags, you would generally be better off."

Global templates are also "really important to global standards," says Yunker. "You need that to enable efficiency," he says. "If you're just getting started out, you might think, ‘We are just starting off and we are just doing one or two countries,' but 5 years down the road, you might have 30 countries and every country has its totally different web design using different platforms-the complexity is just too much to handle. So companies that are successful globally usually work off consistent design, architecture, global hosting platforms ... you just need to do that."

Yunker points to some examples of companies that do that well, including Apple. "Even though Apple's global gateway is covered with flags, I believe they will eventually move away from flags, but Apple is very good in terms of global consistency," observes Yunker. "If you go to any of their country websites, they're usually the same template.

"Google is one of the best," continues Yunker. "They support a wide variety of services and products and their baseline for Gmail, YouTube, etc., is around 40 languages; they are now raising that baseline to roughly 60 languages." In fact, Google is one of the leaders of Yunker's annual "Web Globalization Report Card."

"That's because a) they support so many languages; b) they are very consistent globally; and c) if you look at a lot of their products-and this is true for Google, for Facebook, for Twitter-their templates are very heavily text-based, so there's no extraneous visuals generally," says Yunker.

"When you're thinking globally as a company you really have to do a world readiness audit of your website and ask yourself-‘What is going to travel well and what's not going to travel well?' And visuals are culturally loaded elements.

"If you have to use visuals, you have to be very careful about auditing them from a global perspective," adds Yunker. "If you have people in those photos-what are their hand gestures? What are their clothes? Their poses? Because those are really culturally loaded elements."

In terms of Google, Yunker notes that the search giant keeps the visuals pretty simple. "So if you look at a Google, they don't have extraneous pictures of people and so forth; it's very text-based," he notes.

As technology continues to erase borders and more companies go global, keeping cultural sensitivity-as well as content discoverability and translation, of course-in mind can mean the difference between your company succeeding or failing on an international stage. 

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