New updates available for Content Strategy 101

Sarah O'Keefe / Opinion3 Comments

Check out Content Strategy 101: Transform Technical Content a Business Asset over at There are new sections on business goals (increasing product visibility, building user community) and on localization, and other updates throughout.

I’m running into some interesting problems with the scope of the content. For instance, the section on localization has turned into a localization primer with some strategic discussion at the end. Does this make sense to you? It’s based on my consulting experience—when we discuss localization with a customer, they often do not have any understanding of localization issues. For example, using translation memory systems may be obvious if you have ever been exposed to a professional localization workflow, but many organization ship content to their in-country employees (commonly as PDF) and let those employees translate information. It’s acceptable to make an informed choice to use the sales force as translators if you understand the pros and cons. It’s my experience, though, that the “just let the China office do it” is very similar to “just write the content in Word.” The people making those decisions have absolutely no understanding of what their options are.

Therefore, I felt that I had to provide some background information on localization instead of just launching into a strategic discussion of localization. What are your thoughts?

About the Author

Sarah O'Keefe


Content strategy consultant and founder of Scriptorium Publishing. Bilingual English-German, voracious reader, water sports, knitting, and college basketball (go Blue Devils!). Aversions to raw tomatoes, eggplant, and checked baggage.

3 Comments on “New updates available for Content Strategy 101”

  1. I think companies would appreciate guidance on how to decide which route to take when planning localisation – the pros and cons of each option. It’s very easy to say that one must use translation management system, for example, but what happens when you’ve just gone through a merger, you’ve a limited budget and your European office is insisting on 15 languages for its market alone when you thought your budget could do an initial global release with just 3 or 4 languages? And Europe is insisting that 3 of its languages are legally required in order to sell in those countries.

    Most companies have limited budgets when it comes to translation. What I’ve found is that many companies usually get an agency to translate the important commercial or legally required languages but to save money (or to provide extra languages for which there is no budget) they get the local sales offices to do the less important commercial languages themselves. The result is that the important languages are done using translation memories and possibly terminology management but the less commercially important languages can be very hit and miss. To be able to better plan a strategy you do need to understand the mechanics of localisation and why certain elements are so important.

    Discuss localisation and invariably you end up discussing money. This is an area where many technical writers don’t give enough thought: the cost impact of their work. Localisation is an area where cost becomes very visible. The cost starts with the source content and tech writer. I wish I’d no longer hear, “Oops, I forgot about that” or “I didn’t have time to consider it” when querying tech writers about something they wrote that unnecessarily increased translation cost.

  2. I’d say your crash course in localization is about the right length and you hit the high points.

    I’d try to make the point stronger that machine translation is not something a company would want to do to make its intentionally-written content available–that is, if you’ve put any effort at all into creating it, you should put at least some fraction of that effort into translating it properly. The way it is right now, machine translation is what end-users do to get around content not being properly translated; it’s NOT what a company who cares about its content does.

    But machine translation is sometimes a reasonable way for a company to get a huge quantity of low-value, low-effort information available–for instance, a knowledge base, or a customer-driven forum, where crappy machine translation that’s good enough to get the point across or to make content searchable at least, if not actually understandable–then it may have some value. If something crappy is better than nothing, then machine translation is an option. As you write, machine translation’s real promise is in the area of computer-aided translation.

    In either case–machine translation as a complete strategy, or machine translation to aid human translation–the machine can only be as good as its input data, so MT offers the most potential to organizations with a huge corpus of content that has been produced in careful, consistent, strategic ways, and a significant portion of that content has already been localized by skilled human beings following a similarly careful, consistent, strategic process.

    Regarding in-house translation, the key is that you get what you pay for. If you “throw it over the wall” and tell someone else just to get it done without offering any support or structure to the process, you might just possibly get lucky and get good results by accident–and your odds are much improved if you’re throwing it over the wall to a local office that is more quality-motivated than your headquarters is, such as might indeed be the case with a Japanese office–but more often you will pay more to get lower quality. Don’t forget that the true cost of localization is not what you pay to some vendors–it’s what you lose in labor availability and efficiency when you tie up local resources doing something outside their skillset, what you lose in quality when the nice people doing their best don’t really know what they’re doing, what you lose in reputation when your shoddy translation hits a market that expects better, and what you lose in the legal system when a translation mistake leads to a lawsuit.

    Yes, there are cheaper ways to get localization done than hiring, properly managing, and investing in a long-term partnership with top-quality vendors, but there’s a reason none of the major organizations in the world do it one of those cheaper ways more than a few times.

    Jennifer’s right–you talk about money when you talk about localization, but that’s just because it’s easy to look at costs when the effort is outsourced. If companies paid as much attention to their internal costs as to the invoices from vendors, they’d realize that localization costs are the least of their worries. Better still, if they looked at the difference in opportunities that a good quality localization (and yes, an appropriate local business development effort) can make, they’d see that a good localization effort in a well-chosen market is not a difficult investment decision.

    But the key lesson about localization for any content strategist, manager, or creator is a simple one: localization quality starts with source content quality. Garbage in, garbage out, end of story. Treasure in, totally different story!

  3. Thank you, Jennifer and Erin. Lots of great points in there. Part of the problem is that I haven’t yet written the sections before and after this one, so there is definitely information missing. I do have some fairly extensive discussion of business case elsewhere, and I plan to return to locali[z|s]ation later in the document when I talk about scenarios.

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