Preparing Your Content to Go Global

As the old saying goes, "The world is your oyster." Today, that's certainly the case. Emerging markets in China, India, and Brazil are creating a gold mine of opportunity for organizations savvy enough to tap into the fast-growing international marketplace. Unfortunately, most organizations are woefully unprepared for such an endeavor.

It's not enough to redesign your website and rebrand your organization as a player in the global marketplace. That's just marketing lip service. What's needed is a global content strategy that will allow you to reach the untapped masses.

Reaching the global market involves communicating in ways that resonate with international prospects. First and foremost, you have to make sure your message is getting out and can be understood by those you hope to woo. That superbly crafted English content on your website may work in Peoria, but it won't work in Peru.

Globally, despite what you may have been told, few people understand English well enough to decipher the content created by your well-intentioned writers, most of whom were schooled by "language arts" teachers who had no idea their students would need to create content for the international stage. As a result, your website is likely loaded with overly creative language, unnecessary words, ambiguous terms, jargon, metaphors, analogies, and other impediments to connecting with a global audience.

To go global, your organization must adopt a strategy that makes your content findable, accessible, and understandable. The way to do that is to structure your content consistently, mark it up with semantic tags, and remove the impediments introduced by writers.

Here's how it works. Structure your content in XML so you can manage it at a granular level using a component CMS designed to publish personalized content dynamically. Mark up your content with semantic XML tags so your component content management system can automatically route the right pieces of content to the right prospects, in the right language and format, on the device of their choosing. Don't forget to use a terminology management system that enforces content rules as authors create content to ensure your message is global-ready.

Global-ready content is internationalized content-content stripped of barriers that prevent it from being understood by those who are not masters of the English language. More importantly, internationalized content is machine translation-friendly. The accuracy of machine translation relies heavily on the quality of your source content. "Garbage in, garbage out" is the rule.

"Highly structured, semantically enriched, super-clean, internationalized content works best because machine translation engines rely on rules to process content," says Val Swisher, CEO of Content Rules, a consulting firm that specializes in helping organizations tackle global content challenges. "Unlike their human counterparts, machines don't have the ability to accurately filter out the noise words and confusing concepts humans introduce without some intervention. They attempt to translate verbatim, content warts and all. When the content we feed it is not global-ready, your prospects won't be able to easily understand your message," Swisher says.

A useful machine translation system-and the least expensive-is Google Translate. Many nonnative English speakers rely on the freely available translation suite to aid them in deciphering foreign-language content they encounter on the web. If you're serious about going global, you better understand the experience international prospects will be subjected to when they visit your website and attempt to learn about your products and services. At a minimum, you should test the accuracy of translations produced by Google and use the results to guide your global-readiness plan.

If you've done your homework and have determined you're going to get serious about becoming a global player, you'll want to enlist the help of global content consultants such as Swisher to guide you. Preparing content for a global audience involves more than just translating content. You'll also want help localizing your content for specific target audiences, ensuring that your content is sensitive to cultural, religious, and geopolitical differences-and that the images, colors, and symbols you use don't unintentionally offend those you're trying to impress.

Additionally, you'll also want to take a serious look at software tools designed specifically for creating, managing, and delivering global-ready content. Companies such as SDL provide powerful global product and component content management systems, while firms such as Content Rules provide terminology management software tools designed to help ensure that your content is ready for international prime time.