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Website Localization and Multilingual CMS

With the proliferation of translated and localized websites for all of your target global markets, it is no longer practical to manage websites individually. Content Management Systems (CMS) which can handle localization and globalization of multiple target-language websites are rapidly becoming a requirement.

GPI’s team of web designers and web developers have created multiple, scalable CMS-driven web solutions for multilingual websites on projects large and small. In this blog, we review over the essential ingredients you should look for in a multilingual CMS-driven web solution.

What is a content management system CMS?

A content management system (CMS) is a collection of procedures or a web solution used to manage workflow in a collaborative environment. Most CMSs are web solutions designed to help develop and maintain shared information, usually for websites but also for document and content control. Most current CMSs work with content in XML format, separating content from format (design elements), allowing numerous output combinations with less work.

CMS solutions are also intended to empower multiple users to author, edit and share information in multiple formats. A CMS solution also gives the content creator the power to deploy what is known as the “master set” of content.

The old-fashioned way of managing multilingual content

Before the advent of CMS technology, multilingual websites had to be populated and managed manually, one language at a time. This involved an onerous process of creating and managing a separate website for each language. This was a burden, both for the customer and the translation agency. Naturally, multiple parties were involved in creating and translating content on two or more similar, but different, sites. This caused inconsistency, redundancy and confusion.

Not every CMS solutions will eliminate the headaches associated with this older workflow. Many CMS products were designed to manage only one website. This product limitation has led to the many “information silos” commonly described in CMS webinars.

The modern approach to managing multiple target language websites

Improved dataflow and workflow with CMS begins with content creation in the source language. Ideally, content developers should be able to create a set of master content with no specialized HTML knowledge. The developer or content creator should be able to enter content directly into the CMS repository without assistance from a webmaster.

Having a CMS-based solution for multilingual websites reduces the number of people who handle content, which significantly reduces the chance to make a mistake. The elimination of webmaster involvement and technical expertise required by client-side authors or translation company linguists can significantly lower costs through the website translation process.

Most multilingual-capable CMS solutions, like Ektron or EPiServer or Sitecore, make it possible to design a workflow that will allow content creators to work directly with CMS content through a very simple user interface.

In a similar vein, when web content from a CMS repository is to be translated, the translation agency linguist should also not require any specific HTML knowledge. Some CMS solutions are set up to allow translation agency linguists to interact directly with target website content. A more efficient workflow can be achieved if the CMS solution is XLIFF compliant. In this case, CMS content destined for multilingual websites may simply be exported to XML-based XLIFF, translated by the linguist, and then reimported back into CMS for deployment to the translated website.

Coordination of efforts in multilingual CMS

When working across multiple languages, older workflows are problematic in regards to coordinating multiple media updates. Inconsistency of content across media and languages can be highly problematic.

A well-designed multilingual CMS website solution will provide a means for linking content between media and languages. Often, a media catalog is maintained within the CMS, where a list of all media is kept. Simply linking content from the CMS to content in other media can trigger automatic “alerts” to relevant coordinators when an update is applied to web content. The critical objective is to ensure that everyone within the workflow knows what changes have been made to what content and in what languages.

Content and design element reuse in multilingual CMS

Ideally, true localization involves custom website content presentation tailored for each global locale. Brazilian website users may show a preference for a different set of colors than those preferred by Chinese website users. The lead article for one of your European websites may need to be significantly different than one used for your Japanese website.

The multiple site capability of strong multilingual CMS solutions allows time-savings by reusing elements across multiple sites. As an example, in both your English and Spanish website you may be able to use the same templates, CSS, index blocks, etc.

A totally unique presentation for each locale is often beyond the budget limitations of some customers. Although you should seek a multilingual CMS solution that allows unique “skinning” for each website locale, there are times when it is appropriate to have a shared look and feel. One such example has been documented in GPI’s Website localization case study for the Montana World Trade Center. In this case, the client chose to have a “universal,” neutral set of colors and images that would not prove offensive to any of their target locales, (English, Spanish, Arabic, Russian and Chinese.)

If certain content is only relevant for a specific language website, that content does not need to be linked to any other language website. It is possible to maintain portions of a site separately and still use the same templates, indices and CSS shared by other sites.

International character set support

Make sure that the CMS which supports your multilingual websites offers full support for international character sets. The software engine behind the CMS should be double-byte enabled for Asian languages and also have Bi-Directional support for languages like Arabic. Using the Unicode standard is the best way to handle all special characters and major international languages. This allows users to seamlessly switch from language to language without having to change encoding for any of the pages. This will also make sure that text appears in an appropriate character set no matter which regional settings are employed by the user’s browser.

Not only can Unicode support many languages, it can also accommodate pages and forms in any mixture of those languages. Unicode also eliminates the need for server-side logic to individually determine the character encoding for each page served or for each incoming form submission. A significant reduction in complexity for dealing with multilingual sites will result from the use of Unicode.

XLIFF improves workflow within website CMS

XLIFF (XML Localization Interchange File Format) is a format used to exchange localization data between participants in a translation project. This OASIS specified standard format enables translators to concentrate on the text to be translated, without worrying about text layout. The XLIFF standard is supported by a large group of localization service providers and localization tools providers.

Multilingual CMS solutions like Ektron and EPiServer allow for export and import of translatable content in XLIFF format. XLIFF also enables automation at the end of the file exchange cycle: localized files can be automatically uploaded back into the website via the CMS, routed through language-specific approval chains, and published.