My Dream International Content Management System
Choosing a content management system which helps you make progress internationally - rather than blocking every move - is a good plank to have in your strategy. Even if you're not planning that international expansion just yet. Reason? Retro-fitting a new content management system to an existing project can bring a heap of extra pressure - just when you need it to be helping!
Content management systems (CMS) have evolved over the last decade to become core tools of the SEO trade—or at least platforms on which much SEO work must be based. Sadly, this isn’t so true in the international space, particularly when different languages are involved. Yet the choice of a content management system or approach is often a key step to achieving success.
Content management systems can help you succeed with both international SEO and multilingual PPC where they deal with the differences or additions necessary compared with a single-language, single-country system. Sadly, retro-fitting a new system can pose numerous additional hurdles to your international roll-out just when you need to be thinking about other things, such as logistics and how you’ll deliver support. So if you’re specifying a new system now—and have plans to expand internationally later—it’s good practice to include “international” in your specifications.
Note that in this post I won’t be digging into what makes a good content management system per se, but rather simply looking at the “extras” that give a system, and your project, better international potential.
Including the world’s character sets
Your CMS will need to be able to specify, and help browsers render, those funny characters that all those folks who don’t seem to want to use a nice clean characterless language, like English, seem to need. I know this is stating the obvious, but when your name is “Atkins-Krüger” and you carry one of those funny characters around, you become very conscious of how many sites replace that “ü” with a question mark or a square block or something weirder.
Many languages have an accented character or two—in fact even English has a few borrowed adopted words which really should carry an accent. But some languages actually need to use those characters so that the reader can actually understand what is being said. In many cases, dropping an accent, or replacing a character with something similar, will not only destroy meaning,it could lead to some very unfortunate misunderstandings—rather like the days I explained in French to a group that a woman wanted to “avenge herself,” but sadly used words meaning “prostitute herself.” This is not a route to universal popularity. Trust me.
The way browsers interpret characters is actually set by the character coding which is buried in the source code of the pages. The best one to use on multi-language sites is known as “unicode” (what Google generally calls it) or UTF8. This isn’t a perfect solution as UTF8 is a catch-all character encoding and sometimes a local code might work better. But for most people checking that UTF8 can be managed by the CMS is a good idea.
It’s not always about the way the pages are presented to the user that causes problems. Sometimes the problem with a CMS is that its internal functionality either can’t edit the characters in their natural form (they have to be replaced with HTML codes) or that workarounds add to the workloads of the webmasters or site administrators. This internal usability problem causes you frustration, error and ultimately unnecessary cost.
Managing content across local domains
In popularity terms, choosing a CMS which cannot be easily rolled out to manage sites across multiple local domains is problem numero uno (note the fluid language switch). The number of workarounds, sticking plasters and downright programming wizardry I’ve seen to get around this one is amazing and could be the subject of a cartoon by Heath Robinson. As the subject of why you should choose local domains is already covered in detail here—today I’ll stick to the structural questions.
The key to this is that you really want to be able to manage all of your sites across multiple domains, potentially sitting on local servers all over the world and yet you want to be able to access them all from one login. You want to be able to share resources between the sites.
You also want to be able to manage the internal linking of the sites from that single interface and to manage the geo-selection tool which links one domain to all others on one single URL linked to from all pages.
Working with local hosting and the cloud
Everyone’s hosting strategy may be different depending on their global targets, aspirations and the nature of their site. Two trends, however, are quite apparent. First, more and more of site content will be delivered to users from the cloud using caching systems to speed up delivery. Second, more sites will want to host locally.
These two options amount to much of the same thing, which is really about getting close to the user. From a content management point of view, you really need to consider what your longer term plans are to make a decision on this. My recommendation is to always choose a system which can manage locally hosted content as you may need that for at least some of your markets.
Translation and SEO workflow
For international sites translation or localization workflow is a big question. Not that many content systems actually have a workflow tool included and even fewer are designed to deal with the very specific demands of translation workflow. This is what you really want the system to do:
- Identify translation opportunities
- Download original content to translation tools
- Incorporate SEO facilities
- Re-upload new content
- Allow quality assurance checks
- Publish page
Not many systems can do all the above. The trickiest part of the task will be to organize how SEO and translation steps are integrated. The best way to do this is to link it to a keyword map of all pages, so you know what needs to be targeted where and to link those keywords to glossaries to be used by the translators that support your SEO initiatives.
You may actually need to undertake an SEO localization review determining the way your organization will work before you challenge a system to invent this way of working for you!
Maintaining content in multiple languages
I have mentioned before in this column that a great many new international web marketers simply overlook or underestimate the costs they will incur on an ongoing basis just to keep their website up to date. Many international projects are approached with a one-off cost for localizing the website with no consideration of what happens when the original English content changes. This will probably happen around 24 hours after you sign the contract with a CMS vendor who doesn’t have all the international or workflow tools in place.