Wednesday, December 30, 2015

International language and country selector and geolocation examples for crossborder ecommerce

I am currently in Jahorina, try to ski somewhere different, a little bit more adventurous. First I made a stop at Kapoanik, and now I am here in Jahorina. That really worked out, it is fun to ski somewhere completely different, if you have skied in many major ski resorts. I am in a real funny hotel here, very, very friendly people.
Unfortunately their car broke down today, so I did not go to the slopes today, but decided to write something, as it is very cloudy today as well, so skiing is not optimal especially not above the three lines. I always like to work a bit from abroad or to write something about my interests from abroad. Internet is so awesome that these things are all possible you can work and study from everywhere!

Fun! All of the hotel including me, packed in a small car on our way to the slopes.
Language or country selectors in crossborder ecommerce:

Many international websites, have a language or country selector. Either everybody sees it and you first have to make a choice, or you are first redirected to the most likely version of the website you need and can change afterwards.
There is not much to be found at the web, about usability best practices for these country and language selectors. So I decided to make a few screenshots, might come in handy for others who are also investigating the best option for users and conversion.

Below I will place some screenshots of country selectors/geo location for your inspiration. I am writing this from the country Bosnia where I am at holiday. This means sometimes the interaction can be a little different then if you are in another country.
These language and country selection pages are very important in crossborder e-commerce.They can make or break a sale or lead.


Zalando.com shows a country selector page with flags. I visited this site before. If you are in a country that Zalando has a website for, you see this page only for let's say 1 or 2 seconds and then they redirect you to the correct country (I guess it is an IP detection system). At Zalando it is not possible to choose another country once you have chosen one. I think that is strange, since IP detection systems are not always correct. But that's the way they have made it. Positive is of course they own all major TLD's from zalando.fr to zalando.de etc. But this not all companies have.

Zalando's country and language selection


KLM.com shows links to their main departure markets, Netherlands, Germany, United States, United Kingdom and Norway and a drop down for other countries. After you have chosen your country you have an option to choose a language. KLM has integrated the EU cookie policy at this first page (see also remarks about the cookie policy at the end of this article).

KLM's country and language selection.

Also if you are at the site of preference you can choose easily another location also another language for the location. It works also (a little bit) with typing if you want to change a country in this menu.

Unfortunately KLM is not so well in their offline service in switching countries (link=Dutch only) if you are traveling, but online switching between countries and languages at KLM is not so bad.


Amazon.com has it's own IP detection system, they redirect you to the correct locale, or incorrect locale is I have now here. But then you can easily change from location.


Easyjet.com automatically redirects me to the UK version of their website, visiting from here at my holiday address in Bosnia. But you can easily change website from the main menu. As you see they have flags representing the country, but also the language, by duplicating the country flag and writing next to it the country name in the local language (so f.e. Schweiz for German speaking Switzerland and Suisse for French speaking Switzerland). Good of course, more companies should do so is the possibility for Chinese people to browse and order through easyjet.com.


Well, off to a fashion website now. Zara.com. I have never visited one of their shops, but they are a global player. They do not use flags, but a drop down menu. And the left one is automatically set depending at your location (must be again an IP detection system). At the right one you choose the language.

However you cannot order online in every country, if you use the drop down button you can see where you can shop online, they use some icon for that.

Geolocation detection at Zara.com
I see also that in all countries you can select, they offer the English language as well as (where available) the local language. I think also very positive. 


Ikea.com is a truly global player and uses a system that is divided per continent and uses textual links instead of flags. Also you can select a language at the same line. Once you have chosen your site/language you cannot change your location from the menu. By the way an interesting article about Ikea and cusotmer insights in combination with localisation can be found here.

Turkish Airlines

I flew with Turkish Airlines to my holiday address here, good experience in flying, however not such a good customer service via social media, as I have experienced. Their language selector is also divided per continent, including a handy "remember my selection" checkbox, however I think hardly anybody notices that checkbox, you better store the selected preference (also) automatically as well. Also what is annoying is that once you clicked on a country you have to click again to select a language, must be horrible at a mobile device as it is already horrible at a desktop.

Turkish Airlines does have an option to change country from the menu, and I think this looks pretty good you can choose the country and languages available, and here the "remember my selection" button seems very handy.

This selector from Turkish Airlines in the menu looks nice


Rakuten.com the Japanese internet giant and marketplace has a remarkably small country selector at their website. And the selection of languages is even more limited. I think they need to localise more. Visiting rakuten you do not get a gateway page but you have to choose from the menu after you first are redirected to an English language page. By the way at that other retail giant from Japan, Uniqlo, I could not even find a country selector? I like the brand and shops however. I visited them a lot in Asia and they really localise their clothings and designs. I saw different local designs in the same holiday at both Australia and Singapore. Really nice! However online it seems they do not localise so much yet unfortunately.

Rakuten's country selector in the main menu
Off to one of my favorite websites. The folks at aliexpress.com even let you choose between your language, currency and shipping country. It automatically pre fills the country where you surf from in the drop down box.

The separate menu shows a few local sites and if this is not one of your choice you can choose a language fia a drop down menu.
Aliexpress language selector

Nike.com has a three step approach, maybe that's because they are a sports brand and they like people to be active, so they let them click a lot of times. As I am not so sportive and more lazy, I do not like this activity so much :).
I only show the screenshot with everything combined, but you have to click three times to get to your destination. It builds up. Very tiring if you are not so sportive :).

I have marked the screenshot with a 1,2,3 in which sequence they appear.

Nikes sportive country and language selector
Well, there are many things to consider when making such a country and/or language selector.
Keep at least these things in mind:

  • Some flags can be offensive, like for example showing the Taiwanese flag in China.
  • People do not always enter a website via the homepage but for example via search engines at a product page, how do you deal with that? Make sure people are visiting the right website before they have placed products in their baskets, or let them easily change from within the basket.
  • IP addresses are scarce, and many people use (proxy) services that let people surf through other countries, so always give people a choice to change their country and language selection.
  • With mobile usage growing and growing, make sure you have a good working mobile version of you country selection.
  • Design alert: in the EU you have the problem that also the cookie law, requires you to ask permission when people visit a page, often the same page as the country selector. So you have two messages you have to combine in one page, as KLM does already but I haven't seen it with others. Legally you have to inform/ask people for cookies already at this page. This results already in difficulties measuring effectiveness and user experience (thanks EU not).
  • Pull down or drop down menu's usually use a general list, with the United States at top. But consider to do it alphabetically or better make it relevant, as shown in the examples above. Show the country that most likely is the one the visitor will choose pre-selected.
  • You can store the prefered selection with a cookie of course, but also if people are logged in via the my environment and in your database, but also you can use the browser language settings or an external IP database. Always make sure people can easily change their preference and locale. Since many PC's are used by different people and all of these options combined do not give a 100% correct locale.
  • If you use a drop down or some menu, make sure it also works when people type in the first letters of their country. It is easier for users.
  • Watch out with standard drop down lists for countries as many countries have different names for the same country. The Netherlands is also known as "Holland" , so make sure you have both options in the list. Wikipedia has a list of countries with alternative names.
  • If you have an e-commerce website and people have products in their shopping cart and change country or language make sure they keep the products in their shopping cart. Note: keep this also in mind with your pricing strategy as prices may differ per country. In the EU it is not even allowed to charge different pricing per country. 1 , 2 , 3 links more :)
  • Try to get all local TLD's in the countries where you are active, so people can always use the local domain. It is still better for seo as well.
  • Find a good IP detection/geolocation company. There are lot's of differences between them and good ones have multiple ways in detecting the location of a user (not only IP). 
I have searched the web, but I could not find any case study of a language /country selector and their effectiveness or user behavior. It would be very interesting to see or test what works best for different user groups. 
As soon as I have the chance I will test it at the company I work for, to see what works best. It will be highly interesting to see test bounce ratio's and to follow user behavior into the chosen website.
  • Are flags the best option? Does everybody knows the flag of the country they live in?
  • Is a combination between flags and text the best?
  • How to best deal with different languages spoken in some countries?
  • How effective is an IP detection system? How many users change country or language after being sent to one via the IP detection system?
  • Does a checkbox to remember settings work, like Turkish Airlines has?
  • It would be very interesting to test user behavior at these gateway pages via a tool like 'clicktale' or something similar.
Maybe this is the best option, stereotypes in country selection :)

Stereotypes in country selection crossborder e-commerce

Whatever you choose, just remember it is important to have a valuable page (f.e. branded page) with links to all your locales for SEO purposes. It does not has to be your main URL.

I wish you all a very nice end of 2015 and a great and healthy and cross border e-commerce 2016 where one of the key drivers of e-commerce success will be localisation and personalisation!


Alex Baar

Saturday, December 19, 2015


International SEO can be an important aspect of your digital strategy. The search engine market is still very much dominated by Google, however there are local differences like Baidu in China, Naver in Korea, Yandex in Russia or Seznam in the Czech Republic.

This chart shows this quarter's (4th quarter 2015) search engine shares across the world. 

The source of this chart is this site, where you can make your own search query and analyse the search engine market.

Each search engine has it's own specific (international) requirements but a few general important aspects to keep in mind with international SEO are these:

  • Always use real local content. Don't translate via "Google Translate" or similar tools. Use real local unique content, use translators who understand seo and give them access to for example a tool like www.brightedge.com, www.dragonmetrics.com or "search volume checkers", from the various search engines". Yandex has a search volume checker, Google has one and Baidu as well.
  • Image naming is more and more important in SEO, especially in some branches like clothing, design, home and garden etc. For image SEO there are three important aspects:
    • The name of the image, should be relevant and it should be a clean URL like /.../uselessbox.jpg. If you have multiple versions of an image just add f.e. 01.jpg like /../uselessbox-01.jpg
    • Alt-text. Each image should have a relevant alt-text. 
    • The text around an image should be relevant as well.
However if you have a webshop with several 1000 sku's and also in multiple countries, you cannot do this easily manually. It is easier to make some rules like to always use the product title for images and alt-texts. But be aware, make sure you can manually override the automatically generated texts. Most e-commerce platforms cannot yet handle different naming for images in a multi-country webshop setup. Usually it is necessary to rename and sometimes copy images in your PIM/CDN system per country,
  • The same goes for the following language specific aspects of a webshop:
    • The page title (appr. 56 characters with the focus keyword in the title)
    • The Meta Description (is about 160 characters maximum)
    • The H1 Heading (each page should only have one H1 heading)
It is essential that all of these aspects/attributes are written by someone with proper SEO knowledge and also that they can be manually overwritten. It is often the case that the page title comes from your PIM system.
  • Don't forget to use a local Meta Description for each page (<meta name = "description">). Also for pages like category pages, landing pages and all others.
  • Search engines need to "recognize" the country or language the website aims at. This can be done via several ways, for example:

    • Host the website at a server with an IP address in the country the website is aims at. There are services , like www.akamai.com that can help you with this. Using a local server is also better for the visitor at the other side of the globe as this really speeds up the page loading time (this is also a very important search engine ranking factor).
    • Both Google and Yandex use the "A-HrefLang" tag. A very important and easy tag to use and to tell search engines your localisation information. This article explains more about A-Hreflang. Bing does not recognize the A-Hreflang tag, see more information how to tell Bing your localisation information here.
    • Use the correct TLD's (Top Level Domains). It is still the best for SEO to have your local domains. Like zalando has, zalando.be, zalando.fr, zalando.nl. However there are maybe organisational , technical or branding reasons to do otherwise. If this is the case you can also use subdomains to make the difference. E-consultancy has made this infographic with some possibilities:
    • Tell the search engines geo location information via for example Google's webmaster tools, nowadays known as Google Webmasters.
    • Make sure you get links to your localised website from other (important) pages in this country.
    • Use XML sitemaps per country and import them via for example Google Webmasters . Usually the location in an international environment with one TLD of the XML sitemap is www.domain.com/de-de/sitemap.xml
  • Make sure you use clean URL's. Use lower case letters and a "-" if the page has a longer title (f.e. /international-seo-information/. If special characters are used like Ç or é convert them to normal characters like "c" or "e".
  • Make sure your product pages are available at only one URL. For example www.domain.com/p/product name/ If your product shows up in multiple category's just place it under these categories. 
  • If you use filters or facets (search and merchandising software) at your webshop platform make sure it contains the filter parameters, More is explained here. This is important to prevent duplicate content which is not liked by search engines. 
International SEO will be more and more important with cross border e-commerce rocketing the next few years. India + 500%, China + 125% and Mexico +96% . Read more details here.

Make sure you keep a close eye at the latest developments since things change very fast. Not only in a technical way but also in a user behavior way. Youtube is in some countries the number 2 search engine, Facebook is constantly improving their search engine and in China wechat can be used for searching and shopping. Localise wherever you can, it will always benefit you.

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