How to Create a Multilingual Content Strategy

A speech bubble with the word "hello" written in many languages.

Figure 1. So many ways to greet a person—multi-language design.

Multilingual design is a complex undertaking, but it is crucial for making websites accessible to international markets. You need to factor in a lot of elements, such as the native language of your target audience, the connotations associated with different colors and gestures, the typography of the letters, and the user’s preferred device.

A multilingual content strategy covers the lingual aspects of the content of your website. It does not necessarily determine the layout arrangement or interface components. You can include colors and visual elements in the content strategy, or you can address mainly textual elements. How you strategize will depend mainly on your knowledge-base and skillset.

In this article, you will learn what are the key roles of multilingual design and how a multilingual content strategy can help you achieve your goals.

What Is Multilingual Web Design?

Multilingual design is the practice of optimizing the design of a web application for more than one language and its related culture. This is why multilingual design is often referred to as localization—you take a website and recreate it in a way that speaks to the new local market.

Typically, multilingual design starts with a primary language and expands towards other languages. The assumption is that the website has a main location in which it operates. To appeal to other markets, the website is translated into other languages. The translation work often includes visual and cultural elements, as well as text.

The goal of multilingual design is to enable different language-speakers to make use of your website. For this purpose, multilingual design includes the localization of the following:

  • Language: Every single word on the website is translated (automatically or manually) to the additional language. That includes navigation bars, metadata, alt text, images, icons, sign up and contact forms, and any element delivering language.
  • Visual elements: Colors and images are not neutral and universal. Elements (such as colors, images, icons, videos, and illustrations) need to be optimized for the targeted culture. Colors and body language signs are especially charged with cultural connotations. Some gestures and colors might signify respect for one culture, while being offensive to others.
  • User interface layout and components: The multilingual designer needs to translate not only the language, but the overall look of the website. Words look differently in different languages. For example, the phrase “About Us” is longer in English than the Hebrew version “עלינו”.
  • Usability: User behavior changes in different locations, including device preference. In the US, for example, 54% of users use smartphones to access the internet. In India, more than 74% of internet users prefer smartphones. Simple responsiveness will not necessarily meet this criterion for India-based users. The site should be optimized for mobile usability to ensure you deliver the best results for the majority of users.

The main focus of this article is language. You can find more information on visual multilingual design here.

What Is Multilingual Content?

A multilingual website needs to display content in more than one language. In web design, multilingual means serving different language speakers with different versions of the site. It does not mean serving one website that incorporates two or more languages.

For example, if your website is currently displayed in English, and you want to add Spanish, you will create a new version of your website. This version will be displayed in Spanish. That means you have two websites, each serving a different language.

How to Create Multilingual Content for Your Website

The localization of textual content is typically achieved through translation. Here are several common translation methods:

  • Automatic translators (such as Google Translate): These are manual programs. You copy the source text into the translator, and the software does the translation. This is a cheap and sometimes effective method. However, the translator is not always accurate and can miss subtext, syntax, and cultural references.
  • Real-time auto-translators (such as WPML): These are plugins that integrate with WordPress and automatically translate the content of your website. The main benefit of these plugins is that they save you the effort of feeding content into the translator and then uploading it to the site. However, they are not as accurate as human translators.
  • Human translators (such as freelancers or localization agencies): Human translators, with a native-level understanding of the target language and audience, know how to accurately translate your text. The main advantage is that your text will seem natural on all levels, including syntax and cultural references. Prices range from one translator to another, often depending on their level of expertise.

Defining Content Roles: The Multilingual Pipeline

If you need to create new texts, you will need to hire a content writer. Often, you will find professionals who wear two hats: the content writer and the content translator. However, these are two completely different roles.

The Content Translator

The translator takes a piece of text written in one language and then translates it to the other language. Translation work should be kept as close to the original as possible, while ensuring all messages are properly translated without offending the target culture.

You would hire a translator if there are no huge differences between the two languages or culture and the message can be translated from one language to the other. For example, from US English to UK English, you probably need not bother to write brand new content. What you might need to do is modify the message for the different target audience.

Screenshot of webpage.

Figure 2. Nike USA—home page ad.

Screenshot of webpage.

Figure 3. Nike UK—home page ad.

The two images above advertise the same product—the new Nike Air. However, each image sends a completely different message, using the same language to target different cultures.

The US ad says: “A NEW ERA OF AIR.” The design mimics a comic book and shows one man wearing the shoes. The UK ad says: “AN ICON. RECRAFTED.” The focus is on one image of two people’s feet: one person wearing blue Nike shoes and the other in pink Nike shoes. Each ad tells a different story, while using the same materials.

In some cases, translating messages will be done by a brand manager or a localized creative team. Either way, there is translation work involved, even when the languages are based on the same alphabet.

The Content Writer

A content writer creates brand new content for your online (or offline) publications. Your ideal content writer is a native speaker of the target language. Why? Because a native can translate not only text, but subtle cultural messages.

The most important aspect of marketing is delivering the right message, to the right audience, at the right time. To do that, you need to speak your target’s language. That includes subtext, cultural references, and a tone of voice that appeals to the target market.

In 2018, Nintendo launched a multilingual campaign, promoting the Switch home gaming console. However, instead of creating one video ad, and then translating it to other languages, Nintendo created different videos. Take a look at the differences between the video commercial created for the Japanese audience and the video ad created for US-based audience.

Nintendo Switch Summer 2018—Japanese TV Commercial.

Nintendo Switch Come Together Black Friday Deal Switch 30—US TV Commercial.

In this case, the languages are different, the videos are different, but the message remains the same. In both videos, viewers are shown families having a great time together while playing Nintendo Switch.

In the US commercial, the music is in the background while white Americans are playing the game, and it ends after 30 seconds. In the Japanese commercial, the music is in English, and the people are Japanese. The families are shown smiling and having fun, but they do not speak. These multilingual commercials helped Nintendo sell 20 million units.

What Is a Content Strategy?

A content strategy is a plan that outlines the purpose, management, and deployment of content throughout relevant media channels. A content strategy should answer the following questions:

  • Why: What is the purpose of the content? What goal do you want to achieve?
  • Who: Who is the recipient of the content? Who is the target audience?
  • Where: Where are you going to publish the content? What is the right media channel?
  • What: What type of content are you going to produce? Are you going to inform, engage, or promote?
  • How much: What is the expected cost of producing, deploying, and managing the content? What is your budget?
  • When: When is the right time to deploy the content? Will it always be relevant or is it a passing buzzword? Is it the right time to engage your targeted user?

The answers to these questions will vary between industries, markets, targeted audiences, media channels, and budgets. Keep your content strategy flexible and dynamic, and update it regularly to ensure its relevance.

The Multilingual Content Strategy: What It Is and a Quick Guide

A multilingual content strategy includes a content plan for more than one language. The strategy should answer the above questions for each language.

Content strategies can be categorized into two types—setup strategies and operational strategies. You would use the setup content strategy for designing a new website, the launch of a new language version, and the introduction of an additional media channel. You would use the operational content strategy for planning the creation, deployment, and maintenance of new content on a continual basis.

For example, if your primary language is English and your targeted languages are French and Chinese, you will need a content strategy for each language. You should end up with three content strategies and one multilingual strategy that provides an overview of all languages.

Here is a sample table that provides a simplified example of a multilingual content strategy for an imaginary eShop.

Table 1. eShop: Handmade Music Instruments

English French Chinese
Why Primary market

Goal: online sales

European market

Goal: expansion

Asian market

Goal: expansion

Who US-based musicians

Pro and amateur musicians

Interested in handmade instruments

Musical instruments for performing artists

Musicians living in France

Pro musicians and collectors

Interested in handmade instruments

Musical instruments for performing artists

Musicians living in China

Pro musicians

Musical instruments for performing artists

Branded musical instruments

Where Main website

Facebook

Twitter

Instagram

Main website

Facebook

YouTube

Pinterest

Main website

WeChat

Tencent QQ

Douyin (TikTok)

What Main website – informative content

Facebook – engaging content

Twitter – engaging content

Instagram – visually appealing content

Main website – informative content

Facebook – engaging content and promotional ads

YouTube – engaging and informative videos

Pinterest – visually appealing content

Main website – informative content

WeChat – engage and promote

Tencent QQ – engage and promote

Douyin (TikTok) – engage and connect

 

The “How Much” and “When” will vary significantly, depending on your budget and time limitations. Figure this out in advance and then create the plan that works best for you.

A Quick Step-By-Step for Creating a Multilingual Content Strategy

You can follow these steps when creating a strategy for each language.

Stage I: Marketing Goals and Research

  1. Define a SMART goal for your strategy.
  2. Based on market analysis, locate the relevant target audience.
  3. Create a profile of the target audience.
  4. Based on market analysis, identify competitors.
  5. Locate opportunities and trends used by competitors.
  6. Identify micro-segments and niches.
  7. Identify the language of micro-segments and create appropriate content language.

Stage II: Content Goals and Research

  1. Create a list of keywords relevant to your website and your target audience.
  2. Identify general topics that combine your website area and the audience language.
  3. Set a budget for content creation and maintenance.

Stage III: Content Deployment and Maintenance

  1. Create and outsource content that fits your targeted audience.
  2. Promote the content in relevant media channels.

These steps are intended for use as a simple checklist to help you start creating your strategy. As you start working on your strategy, you will discover that content is dynamic. Your strategy will serve you as the baseline that keeps your work grounded, even as trends continuously change.

Conclusion

Hopefully, this article has helped you gain a better understanding of multilingual design. For some, multilingual design will be a strictly visual matter. Others may choose to focus on multilingual interface design. Writers might opt to focus on the textual side of multilingual design.

In the end, it is the combination of all of these aspects that make a website user-friendly for multilingual users. The more aspects you cover in your strategy, the more comprehensive it will become. Of course, you do not need to do all of these on your own. A portion of your budget can go towards outsourcing.

Often, organized collaborations can help you achieve your goals faster than solo work. Let your strategy guide you, collect data, and optimize your plans. Figure out what works best for you and your projects, and set your workflow accordingly.

Shem Tov, C. (2020). How to Create a Multilingual Content Strategy. User Experience Magazine, ().
Retrieved from http://uxpamagazine.org/how-to-create-a-multilingual-content-strategy/

Comments are closed.