You can learn a great deal about your website visitors without asking them a single question. That’s because web browsers on both PCs and mobile devices transmit little bits of information every time they request content from your web server. And this information can be used to improved the user experience – particularly for users who are in search of localized websites or language-specific content.
In this article, I’ll show how companies use two technologies – geolocation and language identification – to greatly improve the discoverability of their localized websites.
Geolocation: Where Are Your Users Located?
When someone in Germany inputs www.amazon.com into a web browser, Amazon takes the user to the English-language .com website with a prominent banner message displayed, shown here:
Amazon uses geolocation, which looks at the IP address of the user’s computer or smartphone, to determine that the user is based in Germany.
What’s nice about Amazon’s implementation of geolocation is that Amazon still honors the user’s intent. So an American in Germany wishing to shop from amazon.com is still allowed to do so. But users who are not aware of the German website are made aware of it via the banner message.
Hotels.com, shown below, uses geolocation to automatically route web users in Germany to its German website.
I typically recommend that companies follow the Amazon approach so that web users remain in charge of where they wish to go. That said, Hotels.com does include elements in its header to allow users to override this automatic setting fairly easily.
Nearly 50% of all companies studied in The 2014 Web Globalization Report Card use geolocation to improve global navigation, including Intel, Booking.com, Hertz, and Philips.
Geolocation can be particularly handy in mobile scenarios, saving the user from navigating lengthy global gateway menus. In mobile scenarios, the more you can save users from having to click from web page to web page, the higher your ultimate conversion rate will be; geolocation can and does have a direct impact in increased sales conversions.
Language Identification: What Languages Do Your Users Prefer?
Language identification, also known as language negotiation or content negotiation, is an effective tool to deliver users content in the languages they want — before they ask for it. And, for the most part, the technology is quite accurate about user language preference.
Web browsers send a “locale code” to web servers when they request a web page. This code may be as simple as a language code, such as “de” for Germany, or may include both language and country codes, such as “es-mx,” for Spanish-Mexico.
Most often, the user’s web browser language setting is aligned with the operating system of the computer or smartphone. However, be aware that users may speak more than one language and prefer to interact with your website in a different language than you assumed.
As shown here, Ford detects that the web browser is set to prefer Spanish and yet provides this language gateway overlay so the user can select the preferred language. This is not a bad approach, not just for keeping users in control but also for learning what languages users prefer.
Language negotiation is particularly valuable for mobile websites because, like geolocation, it saves users from the tedious step of selecting language/locale. In addition, because users rarely change their language settings on their mobile devices, the odds are very good that language negotiation will give users the language they desire.
Try Both Technologies, but with Caution
Companies such as Facebook, Twitter, Google, and Microsoft make use of both geolocation and language identification. But neither technology is perfect. Users may visit your website via a proxy connection that makes it appear as if they are in a different location. And users who share a computer, such as in an Internet café, may not actually prefer the language setting that the web browser is sending to your web server.
So don’t view either technology as a replacement for a visual global gateway but rather as an extension of your global gateway. That is, before you test either technology, make sure you have an effective visual global gateway in place.
But do begin planning to test both of these technologies, as they can go a very long way in improving the visibility of your localized websites – and improving your user’s experience.