A Multilingual Website Is
It has been at least a decade since most corporations, associations, universities, and other organizations launched their first websites. During that time, the business strategies and technologies around using the Web to market to customers, to communicate information, and to build online communities have come a long way.
Yet there’s one area where most companies have barely started to recognize their potential for tapping the true capabilities of their websites: creating and running a multilingual website.
They call it the World Wide Web for a reason. The Web enables organizations to connect with diverse audiences, no matter where they’re located or what language they speak. That is, as long as you can speak their language.
Too many companies that could and should have multilingual websites don’t, and it’s for a variety of reasons. For starters, many website owners have failed to fully recognize the chance to use the Web as a multilingual platform to expand their reach. Others truly see the opportunity, but have been bound by conventional thinking that running multilingual websites is beyond their reach, due to cost, complexity, or both.
The good news is that it’s 2006, not 1996. The entire concept of running a website—even a single-language site—has changed drastically for the better over the past decade.
Other factors have also contributed to “lowering the bar” to maintaining a multilingual website:
In 2006, the confluence of global business strategies, software technologies, service-provider savvy, and Web professionals’ skills means that even the smallest organizations can create and maintain a multilingual Web presence. Now, more than ever, the Web is inviting organizations to consider their online strategies as truly multilingual initiatives—global platforms for marketing, communications, collaboration, and more.
STRATEGY FIRST, TECHNOLOGY SECOND
To be sure, creating and running
a successful multilingual website takes more than
just someone saying “let it be.” Organizations must
identify (and be willing to capitalize on) the strategic
need to go global on the Web. There are many reasons
For some, the opportunities might revolve around delivering products and services to multilingual audiences right in their own backyards (for example, a New York-based law firm expanding its English-only site to include Spanish, French, German or other languages to tap new clients in the area). Others might unite their geographic expansion into foreign markets with Web strategies that support diverse geographic and language realities (for example, an electronics manufacturer that needs to support new sales offices in Barcelona, Tokyo, and Moscow).
Consider these suggestions as well for getting to a successful multilingual website:
GET THE BASICS RIGHT
If you’re going to think “multilingual” on the Web, you first need to think single-language. Specifically, consider the organization, format, and usability of your website. Too many websites still present an unorganized face to the world when it comes to their source-language site.
Usually, this is a reflection of how things are working behind the scenes. Lack of process and ad hoc “strategies” for managing Web content and sites lead to internal inefficiency that’s visible to your audience: stale content, limited resources and information, difficult navigation, and a lack of interactive features that create true dialog with customers and visitors.
Web content management software systems developed to support multilingual websites have emerged as a solution. A global Web content management system (CMS) is the “engine” behind a successful site, enabling authoring, organization, publishing, and versioning of Web content—all in multiple languages. Indeed, such systems have emerged as sources for all the features and tools that sites are requiring today to deliver a truly interactive online experience to their visitors and customers.
These software systems increasingly are all-in-one applications, offering tools to create and manage Web forms, calendars, blogs, threaded discussions, site membership and registration, alerts, polls, and surveys—all of which can be versioned into more than one language. If you’re going to get your single-language site in order, consider how these features apply to your total business.
DEVELOP A MULTILINGUAL WEB STRATEGY WITH A GLOBAL CMS DESIGNED TO SUPPORT IT
If your source-language site is operating right, it’s much easier to take it multilingual. Identify your business goals. Identify the languages you want to support. Then, identify the technology to manage your site and the service providers who can provide the localization or globalization services.
A Web CMS, such as Ektron’s CMS400.NET, should tightly integrate source and multilingual content. Built-in automated workflow enables translators to be assigned a task and access content via the Web to conduct translations. Simultaneously, site managers can monitor the real-time state of projects. Each language can have separate workflow and approvals.
Pay close attention to whether a software solution supports the emerging XLIFF standard for localization service providers. This XML-based standard for localization (supported by standards-setting body OASIS) enables content files to be extracted, converted to the XLIFF format and sent to GILT service providers for translation and localization in a familiar format. It’s easy to see what needs attention and what does not. That automation is complemented on the return trip: localized files can be automatically uploaded back into the website, routed through language-specific approval chains, and published.
GOING BEYOND “JUST CONTENT”
CMSs are going far beyond just managing content. They provide tools to manage all elements of a multilingual Web presence and to ensure a great customer experience. This includes calendars, metadata, menus, and forms, as well as “traditional” content, such as product information data, marketing messages, brand information, and news. Adopting a Web content management system designed to be a single point of control (with complete integration, one interface, logical approach to versioning multilingual sites and publishing those sites) can produce far more efficient and effective results.
PRINTRONIX: A MULTILINGUAL SUCCESS STORY
One company finding success with its multilingual website is Printronix, a large California-based manufacturer of printing solutions (www.printronix.com). The company operates 17 sales offices and provides products to customers in 21 countries.
Under the leadership of its director of e-business, Printronix has evolved its website in the past three years from a site that provided limited information for overseas markets to one that now offers complete information across its worldwide markets in eight languages, including English, French, German, and Chinese. The goal is to provide Web language support in emerging markets to boost sales.
Using Ektron’s Web content management system to manage global content, Printronix has created a site that tailors the content and the experience based on each of the markets they serve: language, product selection, and other criteria.
Source content is created at Printronix,
and the files are exported
This achievement has been realized through the use of global content management software from Ektron. Now, all site changes can be managed centrally from the main Printronix office in California, using a process that is automated and streamlined for a core staff running the website, and each language version retains a similar look and feel.
A CMS AS A GATEWAY TO GILT SERVICES
A Web content management system designed to support multilingual sites is a bridge for services to flow between customers who own a website and the service providers who deliver localization and globalization services. The CMS eliminates barriers to the work getting done, helps website owners expose more of their content to translation and localization work, and helps service providers conduct Web-based work more quickly than before.
At the end of the day, a content management solution has the power to automate website globalization projects. A CMS can streamline processes by allowing content to be rapidly exchanged between clients and translators and speed up the time to Web release for multilingual content. At the same time, a CMS can lower the overall project costs.
As your multilingual demands evolve, there are Web technology and service providers to support your requirements. The rise of Web content management systems to support multilingual sites has eliminated key barriers to “going global” on the Web.
In the end, this spells good news for website owners, GILT service providers — and especially the customers who benefit from accessing products, services, and information via your website.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
David Aponovich is Director of Marketing at Ektron, Inc., a leading provider of Web content management tools and solutions. Ektron CMS400.NET was named Global Content Management Product of the Year, 2006, by ClientSide News. Ektron is based in Amherst, N.H., and is on the Web at www.ektron.com
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