Whatever Happened to Content Source Optimization?
For many years now, localization managers at enterprises have known how they should create content tailored for particular markets, even if they haven't actually done it. Instead, the model that evolved in the 1990s invested in optimizing existing content for translation. Starting with text typically created for their home market, teams of editors religiously scrubbed away or fixed cultural references, embedded strings, and graphics that work in Topeka but might not be appropriate in Tashkent or Timbuktu. They followed the best practices of writing with translation in mind. They kept sentences short, made sure to use the correct terminology, and deployed technology systems to manage localizable content.
However, CSA Research has found that many enterprises – including former masters of content optimization – have retreated from these practices in the past few years. Formal and robust policies to consider international needs at the beginning of a project have withered or disappeared. Some companies have confined content optimization practices to traditional technical documentation, even as new content types have emerged that escape their control.
Why have these policies weakened or even vanished? What has replaced them? In our discussions with enterprises and LSPs, we found the following reasons for their disappearance:
- In-house editorial teams have become less common. As enterprises seek to streamline and outsource non-essential tasks, they shed their in-house editors. In some cases, they have replaced them with contract teams or workers from the gig economy. This outsourced approach led to the loss of the long-term discipline and continuity needed to optimize content. Others have simply stopped trying to exercise control at all for much of their content because…
- “Good enough” rules when content has a short lifespan. Many of the companies we examined have adopted an Agile mindset in which nothing is final. It is more important to get something out now than produce the ideal thing later on. Because they can always fix problems when they appear – even if they never actually do – they do not worry about trying to solve them up front. In addition, the ROI for content optimization is unclear for content of uncertain or transient value that might be replaced in a few hours, days, or weeks.
- The boundary between product and documentation is blurring. Traditionally, companies developed products and created separate user and support documentation that explained them. But consider the latest smart phones that ship with little or no documentation and use embedded strings to create an intuitive experience. In such cases, it’s the developers – rather than professional authors – who create the content required to use such devices. Some enterprises have started to see authoring as an integral part of their development lifecycle rather than as a separate professional task. As a result, the content creation function becomes more important, even as the skills of professional writers take a back seat.
- Discoverability is everything. In the messy world of online text, discoverability is king. And unlike traditional documentation, the primary audience is the machines that serve as oracles for customers, divining the meaning behind their cryptic and garbled queries to lead them to the one true search result. As a result, content today may include misspellings, names of competitors’ products, and multiple terms for the same thing, all mashed into a string with no apparent syntax or structure. Content creators cannot optimize these materials for translation because doing so would make them correct but much less useful.
E-Commerce Strings Pose Challenges for Translation and Optimization
Source: eBay and Common Sense advisory, Inc.
The shifting winds of content creation have left traditional content optimization processes behind, but content creators can still take three steps to ensure proper outcomes:
- Manage your terminology. The principles of terminology management continue to apply, even as their scope has broadened to include “micro-content,” such as e-commerce strings, brand phrases, and other short content that goes beyond traditional terms. Today you need to document misspellings and other variations that you might have avoided 10 years ago so that you can stuff your content with the right words to be found.
- Keep it simple. CSA Research’s checklist for content source optimization contains many items, but our advice is to pick just a few relevant to particular content types and address them well before moving on to others. If you no longer have the luxury of a dedicated editorial team, your requests to authors have to be simple with clear benefits. Focus on items that you can automatically check with tools such as Acrolinx or LanguageTool.
- Exercise discipline in your development. Just because your authoring processes are moving upstream and blending with development does not mean you cannot assert control. Small steps – such as making sure that AV content creators preserve intermediate files rather than hand off rendered videos for translation – can pay big dividends. Create clear requirements for where to store localizable content and provide simple tools to help your authors comply with them.
Whether you are developing your own content or helping your clients navigate the complexities of localization, the changing world of content raises new challenges. Adapting your approaches and understanding how and why authoring practices and requirements have changed are essential ingredients for global success.
About the Author