I’ve spent the last few days in classic, end-of-year ‘take-stock’ mode: reviewing projects and deliverables; making lists and notes; planning for the coming months; and cleaning, cleaning, cleaning. As part of this effort, I’ve put together this ‘Dot-Connection Year in Review’, which I’d like to share with you here.
Global content and country sites: consulting and project piloting
Though all projects we were involved with had some element of global content governance, two assignments in particular focused exclusively on it. These were for B2B companies in the fields of technology and biotechnology, and the goal of the assignments was to:
- establish rules around global and local content (who gets to publish what, where; what can be changed/removed/locally-produced, and so on);
- improve information and publishing flows between central and local teams;
- improve visibility and access to localized content;
- improve transitions between sites and languages.
If you’re using geographic attributes and values to meta-tag your content – country, let’s say — you have to ask yourself: are you tagging this content item as ABOUT this country, or FOR this country? Or both?
Usability expert Jakob Nielsen just wrote an Alertbox column entitled ‘Why Country Sites Are So Bad’. Given that much of my day is spent listening to the pains and frustrations of country website managers, I read his column with great interest.
It starts off with a two-line summary:
When a multinational company produces a localized country site, usability is often lost.
How true, how true. But then,
Local advertising agencies design good-looking sites that don’t communicate.
Hmmm…. My experience with multinational websites is that there is often a global template that countries have to adhere to, whether they like it or not. I keep reading.
If you are a company with a multi-language and multi-country approach (what I call the global reach, local touch model), then localizing websites which share a common language presents a particular set of challenges. These challenges have come into sharp focus since Google announced new markup in early December, the rel-alternate-hreflang tag, so that it can more easily serve users what it might otherwise deem duplicate content, in the right language and for the right country.
There is something in the content strategy and web community known as the “11th hour sh*tstorm”. You know: that moment two weeks before the go-live date of a major website redesign when people are scrambling around like crazed chickens because they have everything ready – except the content.
Well, if you’re experiencing storm problems with your content, or suffering from related ones — lack of governance, no maintenance, rework, too much content, lack of purpose, and so on – you’re going to have them to the nth degree if your content needs to be in 5, 15, or 40 languages.
Localizing websites and web content is hard work. It can be costly, time-consuming, and a logistical pain in the butt. It creates complexities all over the place: for information architecture, SEO, look and feel, your CMS, and your infrastructure. And it’s made that much harder when you’re working without a content strategy.
In less than a week, I’ll be attending Content Strategy Forum 2011 in London. I’m very excited about this conference, for three reasons:
Reason #1. Last year’s edition was a milestone for the content strategy community. It was the world’s first dedicated conference on the subject, and it was in Europe—Paris, in fact. I took it as a sign from the heavens because it was held at just the time I was kicking off of my own consulting practice in the field. Kristina Halvorson, whose little red book has become a bible, was there to give a keynote and a workshop. And I discovered an entire community of kindred spirits. So, obviously, I’m looking forward to v2.
I spent the first week of April in beautiful, sunny Italy attending two conferences: the first, a W3C workshop in Pisa on Content on the Multilingual Web; and the second, Eurocomm, organized in Turin by the Europe and Middle East chapter of the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC).
While the two conferences attracted different audiences and addressed different issues, some of the same themes cropped up in several presentations at both.
For those of you who don’t know her, Lisa Welchman is a U.S.-based consultant and thought leader in web operations management. She was in Paris on her way to the J. Boye Conference in Denmark to give a talk entitled “Hitting the wall: why web governance matters now more than ever”, and kindly offered to spend some time with our group.
It seems that web teams everywhere are faced with a common problem: huge projects to undertake, volumes of content to clean up, and inability to muster the internal organizational resources to get things done. “You want to do cool things, but you can’t because you’ve hit a wall. You have a mess on those servers,” she said.
I was in a meeting the other day, and someone from IT asked me a question that caught me off-guard. “Does having content that is consistent from one country site to another really matter?” he asked. “After all, there’s little chance that a user in the Netherlands is going to visit out sites in Turkey or the UK. Our markets are every different. So why does consistency matter?”
I had to think fast on my feet, because content consistency is just one of those things that I’d been taking as a given for as long as I’ve been working in web content. It was like someone asking me why I construct my sentences the way I do: I just don’t think about it anymore.
I gave him the ‘killer’ reason for consistency: the ability to share and re-use content without having multiple authors reinvent the wheel, which has both external and internal benefits. Externally, it ensures brand integrity; internally, it’s more cost- efficient.