The state of web globalization today
By McElroy Translation,
An interview with Byte Level Research’s John Yunker
McElroy Translation recently had the privilege of interviewing a top web globalization consultant about the state of web globalization today, and where it is headed. For E-Buzz readers unfamiliar with who Byte Level Research is and what they do-Byte Level researches hundreds of websites on a regular basis to pinpoint what makes a global web site truly successful and shares this information through reports, benchmark services, and the monthly publication: Global By Design. Their goal is to help marketing and Web teams create Web sites that truly speak to the world, across languages and borders.
McElroy Translation: Your website says Byte Level Research started in 2000. How has the climate of U.S. companies doing business globally changed since then? Did the end of the dot com boom have an impact on how the importance of web globalization was perceived?
John Yunker: During the dot com years, Web globalization was hot, but prematurely so. I say prematurely because Internet penetration globally - particularly broadband penetration - was still in its early stages.
After the dot com bust, Web globalization spending virtually froze for a period as companies took a much-needed reality break. But over the past two years, companies have been spending robustly – and, thankfully, realistically on Web globalization. If anything, most companies are now too cautious in their Web globalization investments, running the risk of missing out on opportunities in many emerging markets.
What we are now witnessing on a large scale are companies transforming themselves from "domestic companies serving foreign markets" to "global companies serving local markets." Many companies now generate more than half of their revenues from outside of their domestic markets and the Internet has played a large role in this evolution.
McElroy: Byte Level Research has evolved since 2000 as well, with the breadth and depth of content continuously expanding. In the past seven years, what have you learned that surprised you the most?
Yunker: The most surprising development would have to be the success of Wikipedia. Before Wikipedia, you would have been hard-pressed to find a content-rich Web site that supported more than 20 languages; today, Wikipedia offers content in 250 languages. And the fact that this is user-generated content is amazing; I believe there are valuable lessons that corporations can take from Wikipedia in regards to transparency, global consistency, and decentralized content creation and management.
I also think it’s important to recognize Unicode for how it has helped Web sites like Wikipedia easily support so many different languages. In 2000, Unicode was not well supported on the Web or in software applications. As a result, it was very difficult to work with languages of various encodings, such as Japanese, Russian, and Arabic. Today, Unicode is (almost) everywhere and it has dramatically improved the lives of those who work in this industry.
Unicode is a truly spectacular achievement – and the volunteers and companies that have championed it have played a major role in creating a truly global Internet.
There are still challenges ahead, namely the domain name system, which does not support Unicode. There are many security risks inherent in doing so and ICANN is trying to come up with a viable solution.
McElroy: Do you think there are many companies doing global business that may still be less than totally convinced of the value of comprehensive web globalization? Why is this?
Yunker: You don’t have to dig very deeply into many localized Web sites to find English-only language content. So we’re still very much in the early stages of Web globalization. To fully localize a Web site – from marketing content to product documentation to support knowledgebase – is not a trivial expense. So companies tend to move slowly, localizing in stages. It’s not necessarily a bad approach to work in stages, provided you set realistic goals along the way.
Psychologically, Web globalization can be intimidating. There are languages and cultures you may know little about and then there are the vendors and analysts like me who offer up horror stories about Web globalization missteps. I find that the executives who tend to have the best success in Web globalization are those who are inherently curious, comfortable asking lots of questions, and enjoy working with teams. Web globalization is by default a team effort.
McElroy: Are there particular industries or sectors that lag behind in web globalization?
Yunker: Based on studying 200 global Web sites across more than a dozen industries for The 2007 Web Globalization Report Card, I would say that financial services, health care, and fashion/apparel industries lag in regards to Web globalization. The industries that do the best job overall are the IT and Web services sectors.
McElroy: You’ve written a great deal about large corporate web globalization activities. Which of their web globalization strategies apply to smaller companies with international business prospects?
Yunker: Web globalization, like the Internet itself, gives small companies the ability to be competitive with much larger companies. That’s because large companies often already have in-country offices around the world that for many years have given them an advantage over smaller companies without such offices. With Web globalization, small companies can have a virtual global presence within a matter of weeks.
In regard to trends, I think that small companies are more likely to be early adopters of hosted translation and Web globalization services. Also keep a close eye on Google and their machine translation developments. I believe that Google will eventually bundle in an MT service with their Google Apps service designed specifically for small businesses. This is pure speculation on my part but it does seem like a natural evolution for Google and potentially a great service for small businesses.
McElroy: We recently published an article in E-Buzz on the topic of getting buy-in for web globalization. In your experience, what are the two or three most important things a web professional should consider when seeking top-down buy-in from management for web globalization?
Yunker: I usually recommend starting slowly and developing a track record of small-scale wins. For example, you may develop a localized "mini-site" for an emerging market with the sole goal of gathering leads for your in-country sales team. These leads can then be used to make the business case for greater investment within the market or for expanding this strategy into other emerging markets.
Web globalization is a journey and sometimes baby steps make the most sense. However, it’s also important to keep up with your competitors. Based on The Web Globalization Report Card, the average number of languages supported by the 200 Web sites studied was 18, up from 14 last year. If your company is still looking at adding language number two, you might want to consider taking those baby steps sooner rather than later.
Ultimately, upper management is moved to act by the competition. And the good news is that Web globalization has become a fact of life across most industries.
McElroy: China, India and Brazil are frequently in business news these days. What other countries we can expect to hear more about in the next five years or so?
Yunker: Eastern Europe, in general, is the focus of many global companies these day, and not just because of the expanding European Union. These markets are growing rapidly and have generally embraced e-commerce. Looking ahead, countries you will hear more about include Russia, Poland, and Turkey. As an example, the most recent languages that Cisco Systems added to its Web site are Arabic, Bosnian, Estonian, and Macedonian.
McElroy: With consolidation occurring in the language services and technologies industry, what do you think the most effective role will be for middle-tier providers in the future?
Yunker: I think there are great opportunities in specialization and value-added services. Clients are looking for translation agencies that understand their industry. That’s not to say you have to pick just one industry and live with it, but that you should at a minimum speak the language of each industry you’re targeting.
The second thing I tell agencies is to think about how they would survive if they couldn’t actually sell translation services. Because I believe agencies can and do provide a great deal of value-added services to clients, but they often do a poor job of branding, promoting, and charging for these services. Clients often look to their advertising or Web design agencies for help in testing a new brand name or Web site across global markets, but there’s no reason a translation agency couldn’t also provide these services. The same goes for usability testing, search engine optimization, cultural consulting, global workflow integration, and so forth.
Language is just one element of "going global" and I believe agencies have an opportunity to provide many more of these elements. It’s a great time for innovative and creative agencies. Consolidation gets the headlines these days but simply buying market share is probably not the best strategy for many agencies. You need think about where your clients are headed rather than where your competition is headed.
John Yunker consults with many of the world’s leading multinational companies, providing Web globalization training and benchmarking services. Over the years, he has authored a number of landmark reports on Web globalization and Web development, including The Web Globalization Report Card.
John authored the first book devoted to the emerging field of Web globalization, Beyond Borders: Web Globalization Strategies. Widely acclaimed, the book is now used in a number of university and corporate training programs.
John is editor of Global
By Design, the world’s leading Web and
business globalization resource. He is also an expert on
wireless technologies, including Wi-Fi, WiMAX, and mobile
content. He speaks at many leading industry events and is
regularly quoted in such publications as Wireless Week,
The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Fortune, and
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