8 features multilingual organizations should look for in a CMS

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For rapidly growing organizations, global expansion introduces hosts of new challenges. As you are spinning out more sites, you will likely be opening the door to new regional sites featuring local translations. In this scenario, a content management system (CMS) with multilingual capabilities isn’t just a nice feature to have, but rather a necessity.

The hurdle of dealing with multiple languages is an issue that can—and should—be dealt with out of the box, through your CMS. We’ve put together a list the most important things to look for a multilingual-capable CMS.

  1. Multilingual functionality out of the box: Many CMSes offer multilingual functionality as plugins or extensions. Although this approach can work, it also can introduce vulnerabilities. Plugins can be coded poorly and go unmaintained because they are not created by the actual CMS vendor. Malware can sneak in from third-parties, and updates are often few and far between. An out-of-the-box multilingual feature will have fewer security vulnerabilities and will likely be better maintained because it is a product of the vendor.
  2. Translatable content objects: In a multi-site setup, having a site with individually translatable objects is much more convenient. This makes translating much easier because content remains in the same position regardless of language. If you understand the content structure for your default site, you can understand the content structure for the rest of your sites. On the developer side, maintaining content objects helps to simplify code. If it works in one language, it will most likely work for all other languages. For instance, on eZ.no, all of the regional websites look exactly the same, except for the language in which the content is displayed. The sites are made up of individual content objects, which populate a predefined structure. This helps to simplify things across the board by making translation and marketing easier, and it serves as a blueprint for all of our regional sites.
  3. Multilingual versioning system: When editing, regardless of the language, being able to go back and see your previous edits can be helpful. This is no different in a multilingual environment, and perhaps it is even more important. Make sure your versioning system supports all the languages you plan to use in your multi-site setup.
  4. Extensive language support: You may not need support for 64 languages right this moment, but as you expand, your CMS needs to be able to support the languages that come with rapid globalization. Gravitating toward a CMS that is capable of supporting more translations makes sense.
  5. Customizable URLs: One of the most important multilingual features, as it relates to SEO, is the ability to fully customize URLs. For instance, consider a blog post that is originally published on the eZ English blog, but will eventually be translated to French. The English URL would read: ez.no/blog/eZ-studio-will-focus-on-user-experience. The French URL should then read: ez.no/fr/blog/eZ-Studio-se-concentrera-sur-l-experience-utilisateur. This is an important distinction when it comes to search because a native French speaker will likely search experience utilisateur and not user experience.
  6. Language Switcher: A language switcher allows you to switch the language of content while remaining on the same page. Sometimes when you switch languages on a site you will find that you are automatically redirected to the homepage. This can make surfing difficult and lead to a poor user experience. With an out-of-the-box language switcher, your users can remain on the page they want, while still switching languages. This way you can make sure that your users have the best user experience possible.
  7. Language fallback options: Sometimes you just can’t translate everything, which is a common problem for growing organizations. Even at eZ, translating blog posts nearly every other day can be burdensome. You need to ensure your CMS has language fallback options, or in other words, has the ability to revert an object back to the default language, even if the other content on the page is already translated. eZ does this on its regional websites by translating the static marketing copy, but enabling the blog post to still be visible in English. Although far from being an ideal fix, this is a great way to save time and cut costs for rapidly growing organizations, while still providing some region-specific content.
  8. Language-specific group and user permissions: When you have a variety of editors working all within the same CMS, making sure they can only edit content that pertains to them works best. Pick a CMS that has the ability to apply user permissions based on language. This will help make your editors' jobs easier by simplifying their experience with the CMS. You can make sure they aren’t bothered by content that isn’t in their language.

Obviously, multilingual challenges go far beyond a CMS and involve the organization as a whole. But from a CMS perspective, taking the necessary steps and doing the research to set up your organization for multilingual success—whether it’s now, or down the road—is good for business.

Originally published on the eZ Systems blog. Republished under Creative Commons.

The Open

This article is part of the The Open CMS column coordinated by Robin Muilwijk. Share your stories about working with open source content management systems (CMS) and platforms, such as Drupal, Joomla, Plone, WordPress, ezPublish, and more.

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Scott Solomon is the content marketing manager at eZ Systems and has spent more than two years researching and writing about technology.

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