What a Systems Integrator Needs to Know About Multilingual Publishing

Prior to joining Lionbridge, I had spent over 15 years implementing web content management systems and helping companies select the right content technologies. While I had configured multilingual publishing features in CMSs, it was not until I started working at Lionbridge that I truly understood the challenges and nuances of managing multilingual websites. From talking to my peers in the field, I have come to realize that most CMS implementers have never been exposed to these aspects of web content management.

A common trap that content management experts fall into during analysis and design is that they forget about the editors who “live in the holes.” That trap is particularly dangerous with multilingual publishing, which turns those holes into a labyrinth of tunnels that can swallow up editors if technology and process do not adequately support them. Sadly, the pain is often felt after the consultants leave so content managers suffer alone and the consultants never learn of the pain they have inflicted. In addition to making sure that the CMS implementation is localization-ready, there are a number of ways that an agency can help an organization be successful with its multilingual publishing program.

Validating Localization Strategy and Budget

Companies tend to underestimate the cost of managing their website. Underinvestment is a consistent problem all over the web with stale and sloppy content. Multilingual publishing multiplies that cost, by creating the need to pay translators as well as complicating the editorial process.. Before committing to multilingual publishing, a company should have a solid strategy that quantifies the opportunity and anticipates the cost of effective execution.

Organizational Design

There are many ways to organize for global business. Two common patterns are: “multinational company” and “global enterprise.” In the multinational model, each region operates as a semi- autonomous business — independently adjusting brand and marketing tactics based on the local climate. The websites for these divisions are often managed separately. In many cases it is recommended to not have them hosted on the same CMS instance. Global enterprises are more centralized with brand and content driven from a top down model, translated, and then adapted for local relevance on an exception basis. Both operating models have their merits and weaknesses, but the important thing to know is that the choice has profound implications on the CMS implementation design and rollout. The only thing worse than designing a CMS implementation without understanding these organizational dynamics is to use the CMS implementation or site redesign as a catalyst or first step in a change in organizational design.

Software Design

Multilingual publishing raises the stakes on usability. Not only is there more content to manage, there will be a broader community of people working with the content. Because of this, user interfaces need to be much simpler because you can’t expect everyone to have adequate training.

While all user levels should be considered, the biggest risk is the occasional user, which is often an in-country reviewer that wants to check translated content before publishing. Unfortunately, most CMS implementations provide user interfaces that are so complicated that only a power user working in the tool every day can figure them out. Still, most CMS have light user interfaces or ways to hide functionality that is more likely to confuse than empower. Another important class of user to consider is the translator. Translators should not be translating in the CMS at all. Their preferred environment is a CAT (Computer Assisted Translation) tool, which looks nothing like the content editing interface of CMS. CAT tools break content into segments (like phrases or sentences) and use translation memories to suggest translations. A CMS implementation should have an easy way to send content for translation and receive the completed translations. A more robust CMS platform will allow translation connectors or plugins that automate this process.


If you have not experienced a localization project or been involved with the ongoing management of a multilingual site, it is unlikely that you are aware of the details that can make or break a localization program. A minority of integrators have had this experience. Most do not — even if they worked on sites that were eventually localized. I would love to see a greater awareness of these issues within the CMS community as well as connecting buyers of integration services with the integrators who have this experience.

Read this related article for a guide on how to make a website multilingual.