Content creators have their plates full. As soon as they think they've got their web strategies figured out, something else pops up. Whether it's a new device or an emerging revenue stream, challenges to content strategy are numerous in this increasingly global market-"global" being the key word. Not only do you have to keep translation in mind when you're creating your content, you also have to think about making it discoverable to far-flung audiences that are increasingly important to your bottom line.
Faced with this bevy of global content strategy challenges, John Yunker, co-founder of Byte Level Research in Ashland, Ore., says there are "two elements" to ensuring that your global audience is able to find your content on the World Wide Web.
"You need to be discoverable to your customers as well as discoverable to search engines, and there is a lot of overlap," explains Yunker, who is also the author of the book Beyond Borders: Web Globalization Strategies. "And one of the things I first recommend is embracing country codes," he adds. "In the U.S., we tend to think dot-com is all we need, and dot-com is largely synonymous with the U.S."
Yunker says he encourages global or "going-global" companies to embrace country codes, such as ".ca" for Canada or ".fr" for France, and points out that Amazon is one entity that has had success doing exactly that.
"If you look at Amazon-one of the most successful ecommerce companies-it fully embraces country codes in [places such as] the U.K., Germany, France, and Japan and they're doing that for users so that the users learn that they don't have to go to amazon.com and then navigate to the country code [site]," he adds.
Embracing and using country codes is in "the best interest of users," says Yunker; however, if you are unable to get a country code domain name, Yunker notes there are ways to work around that, using back-end technologies such as geolocation and language detection.
"Geolocation is where you look at the IP address of the user's device and you can get a pretty good estimation of where he is based," he explains. "Lot of companies use geolocation."
Language negotiation or language detection looks for the language setting of a user's browser, according to Yunker. "When you visit a website, your browser sends a preference to the server ... so that server says, ‘Ok, this person prefers English-language content or French-language content,'" explains Yunker. "So companies like Amazon, for example, will respond in kind; so if I am in France and I go to amazon.com, it'll take me to the dot-com site but a little banner will appear near the top of the page that says, ‘Do you know we also offer a French website?' It knows I'm accessing dot-com from France, so what it's doing is it is trying to make the French site more discoverable."
Other than using standard SEO, Val Swisher, CEO and founder of Content Rules-a Los Gatos, Calif.-based firm-notes other options for making content more discoverable include source language SEO. "With source language SEO, you are literally figuring out what words you believe people are going to use to search for things and there's all kinds of tools and all kinds of things, you can do to make sure those words appear in the content so that people can find it," she says. "There is multilingual SEO as well-and each language is its own undertaking."
Some companies, when they go global, don't put enough effort into localized websites and create what Yunker has dubbed "localized facades," which involve "just a few pages" of content.
"They can then say, ‘Ok, we now have a site for Germany,' but there's no real value for someone in Germany if, for example, there's no ecommerce functionality or there's no products in the German language," observes Yunker. "With that, you're making a very negative first impression and users realize there isn't much content for them and go back to dot-com; they might even self-translate using Google Translate."
Although he feels it doesn't replace an actual human being translator, Yunker says Google Translate is "getting better and better."
Swisher notes that exclusively relying on Google Translate for content translation is akin to playing with fire. "We have seen hilarious translations on Google Translate," she says with a laugh.
CHOOSE YOUR WORDS WISELY
Once they've guided people over to their website, content producers need to (naturally) make sure global consumers can understand their content.
Yunker emphasizes that, when hiring a translation agency, you need to bring in someone who really understands your industry. "It's important, when you go to hire a vendor-whether it's a freelance translator or translation agency-that you find someone who really understands your industry and the terminology in your industry," he says.
Swisher points out that there are "two sides to the translation coin." This includes the translation itself-as well as what she calls "source content global readiness."
"The one that most companies focus on is the translation itself. So are they working with a good LSP, which is a language service provider? Are they working with multiple LSPs? How do they do their entire translation/localization strategy?" asks Swisher. "That's usually controlled by a department, depending on the size of the company. It's usually controlled by a person who has experience in this realm and they pay attention and pick the LSPs and the LSPs pick the actual translators and there's all kinds of technology that they use to do this."
Source content global readiness, according to Swisher, comes down to one basic question: Can the content that you wrote be translated? "People do not pay attention to this, and I'm trying to get them to pay attention to it," says Swisher. "Did you write it in such a way that a human translator can understand it and actually translate what you intended to say? Never mind a machine because at least humans can take their best guess. With machines, if you're literally putting garbage into software, you are literally going to be getting garbage out of it."
Scott Abel, a San Francisco-based global content strategist known as "The Content Wrangler," echoes that sentiment, observing, "The rule here is: garbage in, garbage out." He adds, "But the likelihood the translation is going to be done well is increased when you start with good source content."
Cultural familiarity on the part of a translator is also conducive to an accurate translation, says Abel. "If you leave it to somebody in the U.S. or another country, and all they know is about their own country and their own culture and language, they just by default make mistakes that later somebody else will have to untangle," he says. "Those kinds of mistakes are such a big content hairball that untangling them can be so sensitive or prohibitive. I would suggest that companies that value their content as an asset would never allow that to happen. ... They would never allow these things to happen in a money situation."
Swisher notes that short and sweet can be a content producer's best friend when it comes to translation. "The No. 1 thing you can do if you did nothing else to your source content is write shorter sentences," she stresses. "It is the No. 1 problem that translators and machine translations have. You should not be writing sentences that are longer than 26 words-less if you can."
Grammar can also throw a wrench in translation, notes Swisher. "There's all kinds of sentence structure [issues] like modal verbs; some languages don't have modal verbs: might, should, would, could," she says. "There's no equivalent in certain languages. And again your translations are going to be as good as the source input you give them."
In order to assure a quality translation, Swisher notes, companies also need to be willing to spend a little. "The problem for most companies-and this has not been solved even though we all understand it-is that in order to fix the translation and make the translation faster, cheaper, and better-the trifecta. In order to do that, you actually have to spend a little bit of money on the creation," she explains.
"When you go to a content creation organization and say, ‘You need to spend a little bit of money but you're going to save that times six,' the content development managers say, ‘OK, that's not my budget, so I don't care.' We are still siloed, and it's wasting a ton of money for companies. It's causing brands really to be looked upon poorly because the translations are awful," she says.