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February 23, 2021

Best practices for multilingual content management​

Back in 2011, NoA Ignite’s Krakow office set up a multilingual content department from scratch. As we get ready to celebrate our 10 year anniversary as a team, we thought it was about time to share what we have learned along the way. Here’s how we handle web portals with more than 10 language versions successfully.

NoA Ignite’ content services department’s 10 year anniversary is coming up! Time flies when you’re managing a web portal in more than 10 languages. Photo by Alexander Naglestad on Unsplash

In this article:

  • The early days of content marketing
  • Inhouse native web editors
  • CMS and other tools for multilingual websites
  • Strength-based development
  • Working with freelancers
  • Personal development
  • Sharing knowledge: Pair work and workshops
  • How to nail remote cooperation
  • Is localisation worth the effort?
  • Results
  • What people say about us
  • Key take-aways
  • Conclusion
  • Contact us

The early days of content marketing

The content services department at NoA Ignite in Krakow was initially created to serve one particular client. One of NoA Ignite’s long-term customers, a major tourism web portal in Norway, saw the need for a dedicated content team that would focus on their language versions.

At this time, content marketing was definitely becoming a hot topic, but it was far from the established and widespread practice it is today. Our brand new content team took on the challenge with full energy and enthusiasm.

Our official job titles were web editors, but we were a diverse bunch from different backgrounds. I came from the translation/localisation industry, and the rest were a mix of people from marketing, design, journalism, management, and IT support.

This fantastic combination of skills and experiences also became our biggest strength as we developed our internal processes. We all contributed with different perspectives and skills. As a team in an IT consultancy, we have also been influenced by processes commonly found in the tech industry (see an example below under Sharing knowledge: Pair work and internal workshops).

Inhouse native web editors

Our office in Krakow started by hiring one native content editor per language version: German, French, Italian, Spanish, Swedish, Danish, Dutch, and Russian. The English and Norwegian versions are maintained by NoA Ignite’s content studio in Oslo.

Each editor had full responsibility for everything related to their language version:

  • Translating/transcreating articles
  • Planning and creating campaigns in our local language
  • Formatting images and publishing everything in the CMS
  • Creating or translating microcopy
  • Keyword research for SEO
  • Site maintenance (checking and fixing broken links, for example)
  • Liaising with the local marketing office in each market
  • Communicating with the team that creates the English version of the site.

A clear benefit we have seen is to have native editors not just producing the text, but also publishing it in the CMS. This means that we have full control over the final version. We can see exactly what it looks like on the live page and quickly make any necessary adjustments for the desktop and mobile versions accordingly.

Another essential advantage with native editors is that we can flag and adjust content on culturally sensitive topics. We have ongoing discussions in the team about content that may be inappropriate in some markets. Depending on the situation, we either make small changes to fit our local audiences, or report the issue back to the client. Sometimes, our input leads to updates across all versions. A great thing about localisation is that each text is scrutinised multiple times by the people who translate it. As long as open communication is encouraged with the localisation team, the translators can help to highlight any potential issues related to cultural references and unclear language. There’s no better way to proofread a piece of content!

Key take-away: Involve multilingual editors and/or translators in the content process as much as possible. Text in a Word document is not the same as text on a screen. We produce higher quality content in projects where we are responsible for the publishing as well as the content creation.

The Content Services’ team The Content Services’ team on a field trip in Norway in 2018. Photo by Outdoorlife Norway

CMS and other tools for multilingual websites

During the first few years, our client used Episerver CMS to publish their language versions. This was a great tool for us as it is built for multilingual content management.

In 2015, they decided to change CMS. From the point of view of managing language versions, this didn’t work as well for us. A CMS that hasn’t been built to cope with many languages means that the editors have to copy and republish many modules and blocks manually. This is both time-consuming and comes with a high risk of human error. Luckily the new provider turned out to be fully committed to constant improvements, not just for the end-user but for us editors too. They always welcome our ideas and feedback. With time, they have made sure that we can easily clone pages and widgets in the system, and it now works pretty well.

Still, for a new project where multilingual content is a priority, the easiest way is of course to choose a tool that has been built to deal with language versions.

As our translation process was straightforward (one main client, one editor per language, almost always Word documents), we chose Wordfast as our translation tool. We know, this is hardly considered the Jaguar of translation software. But for a small team without complex translation assignments, it has done the trick – it has all the functions needed to ensure consistency and make it easier for us to carry out page updates efficiently. We have also been very happy with Wordfast’s customer support service.

Our main headache when it comes to translation software is that it’s not connected to the CMS we use, so we have to add our translations manually when publishing. As our client base grew, we have also missed a full-blown TMS (translation management system) to coordinate the translation process with inhouse and external staff. Currently we are looking into tools like Lokalise and Crowdin.

As for our task flow and QA process, we are happy with the task management tool JIRA. We often share our JIRA with our clients, which has been great both for efficiency and transparency.

Key take-away: Pick a CMS that has been built for multilingual content management.

Strength-based development

As we settled as a team, it became obvious that we all had our strengths and weaknesses. Some of us were naturally drawn towards content creation and translation, whereas others dived deep into SEO and analytics. Some preferred to work with the technical side of the CMS and others turned out to excel at quality assurance.

So we started streamlining our tasks. Each editor is still responsible for their own language version and is the point of contact for any queries regarding that language version, but we take advantage of each other's strengths a lot more. This makes us more effective as a team, and everyone enjoys work more.

Focusing on developing strengths, rather than trying to fix our weaknesses, is part of Making Waves’ company culture. As a way to explore our natural talents, staff are encouraged to take the Clifton Strengths test. In content services, we even printed out posters with each employee’s strengths. This is a great way to remind ourselves of our individual differences. You can read more about Making Waves’ strength-based approach here.

Posters with each employee’s strengths In Content Services, we put posters with our strengths on the wall to remind ourselves of each others’ key characteristics.

Key take-away: Allow people to explore their strengths and focus on what they do best – this is where they have the best chance to shine. It is also great for boosting people’s confidence both professionally and privately.

Working with freelancers

As the web portal grew, more language versions were added. Sometimes, we hired a new editor and sometimes we started working with freelancers. At the same time, some team members became involved in other projects within NoA Ignite, which created a need for further freelance support. This in turn opened up the need for a translation coordinator, a role which was filled by our Russian editor.

When freelancers were introduced into the process, we had to think about how to keep them in the picture. It has always been important for us to go beyond regular translation and create properly localised content that is as relevant as possible for the target audience. To achieve this, the translators and editors need context, information about the content goals, and a style guide. We also made it clear that they have the freedom to use their own judgement to adapt the texts as they see fit for their market.

For this reason, our text QA process focuses more on the readability of the finished text, and not on comparing the translation against the original text. After all, the most important thing is that the language versions resonate with the website users in their respective markets and not that they repeat what is on the English version exactly.

Another great way to boost communication with the freelancers was to set up a shared Slack group. In this group, everyone can ask questions and share how they deal with thorny translation issues. To help everyone write translations that give a good user experience, we made a transcreation map – check it out and read more about our approach to translation, localisation and transcreation here.

Key take-away: If you work with freelancers, or order translations from an external agency, make sure they get enough context to be able to do a good job. They are part of the team and should be invited to ask questions and discuss their work. Communication is key!

Personal development

The digital industry is constantly changing, and it’s changing fast. Luckily, we are part of a company that values personal development. With a generous learning budget, everyone in the team has the chance to stay up to date with industry trends and keep developing their skill set. Apart from going to conferences, we buy books, attend courses, and arrange workshops, both inhouse and with external providers.

It is thanks to Noa Ignite’s commitment to personal development that we can now claim to have content experts within related fields such as content strategy and marketing, SEO and analytics, UX writing, and project management. It also means that we are ready to take on new and exciting projects.

Key take-away: Be sure to stay up to date with fast-moving industry trends.

Sharing knowledge: Pair work and internal workshops

NoA Ignite is an IT consultancy, which means that the small-ish content services and design teams are surrounded by developers. Early on, we found out that the developers used something called pair programming to learn from each other. What a great idea, we thought. We decided to try it with our content work.

Our first pair session was pair publishing: Essentially, it consists of two people in the team working together for two hours. One person publishes a page in the CMS just as usual, while explaining every step verbally as they work. The other person listens and takes notes. During hour two, they swap roles and the second person now explains how they navigate the system and publish a page. Later, we shared our findings with the rest of the team in our weekly meeting.

Pair publishing in Content Services Two content editors doing pair publishing

This is a great way to share any tricks and shortcuts we’ve learnt. Most CMSs are massive with numerous functions, and pair publishing ensures that we all know how to use the system efficiently.

After trying out pair publishing a couple of times, we started thinking about if we could expand this method to other types of tasks. Could we do pair translation, for example? At first, we were sceptical as most of us don’t have broad knowledge of each other’s native languages. But then we thought, why not pair up and simply explain the translation issues we encounter in English to each other? We gave it a go.

So for example, when showing how I work with Swedish, I would say things like these:

  • “In this sentence, I have to change the word order to make it sound natural”.
  • “Not all Swedish people will know that ‘NRK’ is the public broadcasting service in Norway, so I will add an explanation”
  • “There is no need for me to say that Norway is situated next to Sweden, so I will remove this sentence.”

This way, pair translation worked surprisingly well and helped us to raise awareness of the kind of changes that are necessary to make a text relevant for our target audience.

Apart from pair work, we also make sure that we share other insights and skills regularly. This is so important in a team where everyone specialises in certain aspects of content management. We regularly arrange workshops both within the content team and on a company-wide level through NoA Ignite’s monthly Show & Do sessions, where anyone is free to present a topic of interest to the rest. This is great for practising our presentation skills too!

Key take-away: Share knowledge within the team, with the rest of the company, with your clients, and with the world!

How to nail remote cooperation

If you’re involved in a multilingual project, one thing is for sure: You will have clients and colleagues in other countries. As one half of our team, and our biggest client, were physically in Norway, we have been practising how to cooperate remotely long before the pandemic struck in 2020.

What have we learned? Most importantly, that remote team work takes effort. It’s surprisingly easy to forget to inform people you don’t see regularly about what’s going on. And when we don’t know what’s going on, it’s really easy to lose motivation.

When you can’t meet in person, it is vital to have regular meetings online, with cameras turned on. It’s also important to make time for chitchat – don’t rush through your meetings by just talking about work. You have to get to know each other. And do remember to do something fun together online too – online games, or quizzes, or coffee breaks, or watching a short film together.

Last but not least, take the opportunity to meet in person as often as the situation allows it! You can read more about NoA Ignite’s experience with and tips for remote working practices here.

Key take-away: Remote team work takes effort.

Is localisation worth it?

If anyone wonders if localisation is it, these data from Google Analytics say a great deal about specific needs in different markets:

Top landing pages The most popular entry pages to our client’s web portal in different countries show that every market has specific interests

The top landing pages show the most common entrance pages for most visitors, and give an overview of the topics that are of high interest for a specific audience. The topics highlighted in red are landing pages that only occur in the top 10 in only one market (for example the page about the national day in the Danish market, Trollstigen in Sweden, and currency and prices in Spain).

The data in the image above is based on organic traffic, which means that it shows visitors who found the site through a Google search. Even if SEO optimisation may have influenced the numbers somewhat, it is clear that every market has very different interests and needs.

Apart from the northern lights landing page, which is popular across the board with the exception of Norway’s closest neighbour Sweden, and a few destinations that appear in most top 10 landing pages (for example Oslo and Lofoten), every market has their own preferences.

Another striking example is the popularity of the article about budget travel in Norway, which varies significantly between key markets:

Position of budget travel page The page Travel to Norway on a budget shows a lot of variation in terms of popularity between different markets

Key take-away: Every market is different. Even two countries as close as Denmark and Sweden have different needs.

Results

So has our localisation effort paid off? It certainly has. The website showed steady, healthy growth year on year up until 2015, when our client decided to change CMS and at the same time re-started their content efforts almost from scratch. Most of the existing content was archived or heavily rewritten for the relaunch in early 2016. Since then, the numbers speak for themselves as we went from 30 million pageviews in 2016 to 44 million in 2018.

What people say about us

This quote says a great deal about the cooperation we have with our main client:

Quote

More recently, these kind words showed up in our department manager’s inbox:

It has been one hell of a year – but you have been working hard and we are very happy with and thankful for all the good work you have done for us during the very special year of 2020.

Key take-aways

Phew, this turned out to be a long article! Here are the key take-aways:

  • Involve multilingual editors and/or translators in the content process as much as possible. Text in a Word document is not the same as text on a screen. We produce higher quality content in projects where we are responsible for the publishing as well as the content creation.
  • Pick a CMS that has been built for multilingual content management.
  • Allow people to explore their strengths and focus on what they do best – this is where they have the best chance to shine. It is also great for boosting people’s confidence both professionally and privately.
  • If you work with freelancers, or order translations from an external agency, make sure they get enough context to be able to do a good job. They are part of the team and should be invited to ask questions and discuss their work. Communication is key!
  • Be sure to stay up to date with fast-moving industry trends.
  • Share knowledge within the team, with the rest of the company, with your clients, and with the world!
  • Remote team work takes effort.
  • Every market is different. Even two countries as close as Denmark and Sweden have different needs.

Conclusion: Multilingual content is more than translation

I hope this blog post illustrates that multilingual content management is more than just requesting texts for translation. If you want a living, healthy website that resonates with your target audiences in different countries, you have to give each language version the attention it deserves.

Contact us for support with your language versions

Do you need help with content creation, publishing, or management in different languages? Please contact us and we’ll be happy to discuss how we can support you!

Author

Anja Wedberg

Anja is a Senior Content Editor with a background in translation, marketing and web publishing. She spends most of her spare time fighting, either with new karate moves or with Polish consonant clusters. Check out the rest of her blog articles at medium.com/anja.

Contact Anja: anja.wedberg@noaignite.com