The following is an excerpt from Global Content Strategy: A Primer by Val Swisher, the third book in The Content Wrangler Content Strategy Series of books from XML Press (2014).

Chapter 1. What Is a Global Content Strategy?

Content. Our world revolves around content. These days, buying decisions are often based on experiences not with products, but with information about products. People consume more content in more ways than ever. We have printed books, newspapers, and magazines. We have e-readers, smartphones, and tablets. We have TV, radio, YouTube, Instagram, Pinterest, and Hulu. We consume more content in more ways than ever before.

No one can dispute the increasingly important role that content plays in our lives, our work, and just about everything we do.

Naturally, with the growing importance of content, a lot of attention is being paid to content strategy. This is a good thing. Companies need to stop throwing content out to the world without a good reason. They need to manage content strategically to contain their expenses, control brand, avoid confusion, improve search and findability, and more.

But what about global content? What about all the content that your company produces for people in other parts of the world? Content professionals who focus on in-country strategy, failing to think strategically about millions of words, images, and media that are destined for other languages and locales, do so at their peril.

According to Common Sense Advisory, in 2014, the translation industry (that includes both tools and services) was US$37 billion and growing over six percent per year. They predict that by 2018 the language-services market will increase to US$47 billion.

Companies that spend big bucks on translation need to spend time, energy, and money creating strategies to manage all that content.


Let’s start with a definition of global content strategy:

A global content strategy is a plan for managing content that is intended for people whose main language is something other than the source language.

Components of a global content strategy

A global content strategy can be broken into three parts.

Part I – Understanding where you are and where you want to be

  • What are your goals for managing global content?
  • How is your global content currently created and managed?
  • How do you currently create and translate content?
  • What content do you currently have?

Part II – Analyzing the gap

  • How far off is your current situation from your goals?
  • How far off is your current situation from industry best practices?

Part III – Moving ahead

  • What do you need to do to narrow the gap?
  • What tools and infrastructure changes do you need?
  • How can you improve the quality of your source content before it is translated?
  • What changes do you need to make to your workflow to support your global content strategy?

Why you should care

Here’s why should you care about having a global content strategy:

  1. You care about the money you spend translating content.
  2. You care about the quality of your content in all languages.
  3. You care about the time it takes to localize and translate content.
  4. Someone told you that you’d better figure out this mess (probably because of reasons 1–3).

Global content strategy is a large topic. Think of it as putting the topics of structured authoring, single sourcing, and web-content management into a global blender. Puree on high, then add those cumbersome tasks of tracking the number of languages, the number of translation vendors, the content created in other countries, and more. Garnish with a nice chunk of pineapple.

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You need a global content strategy if…

“But wait!” you say. I don’t really need to care about my global content, do I? Isn’t that someone else’s problem? Isn’t that the job of the localization team (whatever it is those people do in that other building on that other campus)? Why would anyone other than the localization and translation people need to care? I’ve got enough content to worry about.

Well, my friend, I’m here to tell you that if you care about content for customers who are located in your country, then you must care about content for your foreign customers, too.

You need a global content strategy in any of these cases:

  • You translate content into four or more languages. In my experience, after you hit four languages, you’d better start managing your global content strategically. Many companies chose to implement a global content strategy with three languages. If you are in a situation where the number of languages will grow, it is never too early to plan to manage the growth.
  • Multiple groups in your company translate content independently. Often, multiple groups translate content with no coordination or even awareness between the groups. I’ve seen product groups release datasheets or web pages in multiple languages without anyone in marketing ever participating in a review. International offices are creating content in their native languages, and no one at corporate ever sees it or knows about it. I’ve seen sales teams located in Asia, for example, create their own materials without informing the localization team in the United States. It’s common – and often beneficial – for regions to create unique content in their native languages. After all, who knows a market better than the people who live there? Still, it’s important for you to know where all your content is, who is managing it, how many languages it is in, and where it lives.
  • You don’t know the name of the head of localization. If you are responsible for content – any content – that is being translated, you must have a direct line to your localization team. Siloed efforts at translation and localization might work for a while, but eventually, they fail.
  • You have so many translation vendors that you can’t remember which ones you sent what content to. Many large companies work with more than one translation vendor. That’s a common practice. Unfortunately, I’ve seen companies work with so many translation vendors that they can’t keep track of who is translating what. This lack of coordination results in some content being translated multiple times and some content never making it to translation. In some cases, the lack of coordination can even delay a product launch.
  • You don’t know what TM stands for. TM stands for translation memory. If your content is being translated, you need to understand what TM is and how it works. You also need to manage your TMs. Having multiple vendors, each using its own version of your TM can be ridiculously expensive and can create mismatched translations and overall confusion. Know where your TMs are, and keep them to a minimum. In an ideal world, you have a single TM that is used by all your translation vendors.
  • You are considering using machine translation. There are different kinds of machine translation: statistical, rule-based, and hybrid. Machine translation (MT) systems can be complicated and expensive. To do it right, you need to use best-of-breed MT software and have experts help configure the software for your content.
  • You have tried using Google Translate for real work. Many companies think that using free machine translation software is good enough. It is not.

Even if you have only one of the factors listed above, it is important to strategically manage all the moving parts in the global content workflow.

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Google Translate is not a global content strategy

We would all love to believe that free MT suffices as a translation strategy. In fact, some companies use free translation engines, like Google Translate or Bing Translate, for real work. I’m here to tell you what you already know: you cannot rely on free MT engines if you want to be certain that your translations are accurate.

Free MT is fine if you’re translating a letter that your great aunt sent you from Italy. It’s also fine when you want to tell a new friend Welcome to the United States in his or her native language. But free MT is unacceptable in any setting where you depend on the quality of the translation. This includes all business communication more significant than an email to your colleague in Uruguay telling him that you look forward to seeing him soon. If you care about your brand, if you care about your customer, if you care about your job, hire a professional translator for content that matters.

Will there come a day when free MT is as good as professional translators or even specially programmed MT? Perhaps. But that day is far off.

Content strategy versus global content strategy

You would think that any thorough content strategy would include all of the concerns that are important for global content. Unfortunately, this is not the case. These days, there are several types of content strategy. Examples:

  • Web content strategy, which focuses on content delivered via the web
  • Technical content strategy, which usually includes structured authoring and content reuse
  • Global content strategy, which includes all content, everywhere, in every language

I think it is time we stop segmenting content strategy into global and non-global. If all companies included global content from the beginning of the planning phases, and if all content developers planned for translation as they created the source content, companies would avoid many problems – and we wouldn’t need the term global content strategy. Ideally, the term content strategy would cover global considerations implicitly.

Until we get there, we need to put the global in content strategy. And we need books like this to show how it’s done.

To read more from Global Content Strategy by Val Swisher, check it out on the XML Press website, or buy the book now on the AmazonBarnes & Noble or the O’Reilly Media website. To learn more about the global content strategy services Val provides, check out her company website, Content Rules.