How do you create a content strategy to reflect your company's global presence? It's a big question, but ultimately the content strategy should sharply reflect the company's overall go-to-market (GTM) strategy. This will determine the choices you make when serving new regions.
Full disclaimer—this is not the ultimate guide to creating a global content strategy. Instead, this is a skeleton to help you get started. We can’t possibly cover all the nuance that goes into ‘making the sausage,’ but here’s a blueprint to get you started.
Before creating a global strategy, talk to your CMO or CEO to get aligned on the new market, target audience, their pain points, and your budget. Since GCS can get complex, having a firm grasp on your business strategy will keep you grounded. Thinking like the CMO will help any content team understand content’s place in the broader organization.
So although we could write a book on global strategy, we’ve condensed it down to a basic framework, along with a few choices you can make based on your resources.
A global business is one where people all around the world use your product. Think Apple, Adidas, or Adobe. Whether your business is global or going global soon, one of the first things to do is determine if your product is:
A company with a universal product can translate and localize its content for the different regions it serves. Other companies whose products and delivery change in each country will need a truly local approach. Put another way, are you creating a global strategy? Or developing many local strategies that will be united under a global umbrella?
Since Eventbrite runs local events and processes payments locally, each region has a different business strategy. Ronnie Higgins, the former Head of Global Content Strategy at Eventbrite, explains that ticketing, for example, is very different in Brazil since everything is paid for in cash.
Getting people to buy tickets online is a different business model than in the United States, where people are used to purchasing with credit cards.
This complex business strategy requires regional legal, sales, and marketing teams, in addition to different content for each local version of the site. At Eventbrite, local teams on the ground create unique content for their region, but collaborate with the United States team to create a centralized global operation.
If your product is universal, like Asana, a global content strategy could mean trans-localizing your main pieces of content and publishing them on another version of your site. For example, Asana serves customers in 190 countries but the product doesn’t change. For example, when they released a product feature called ‘Workload’ across countries, they promoted it with the same blog announcement in six languages.
The original blog is in English and a copy has been created in Spanish, French, German, Portuguese, and Japanese. Everything is the same but translated, from the subject matter expert quotes to the animated graphics.
There’s still plenty of nuance in organizing a global content strategy at Asana, but we can reason that it takes less manpower than an operation like Eventbrite’s.
Once the leaders at your company choose the new market, it’s up to the content team to understand the new region. Whether the new customers are in Japan or Colombia, the team should ensure they’re respectful and tactful when translating and localizing.
A simple way to avoid this is by using professional translators, not machine translators, and considering the customer experience in the new market.
For example, as told in “Going Global: Multi-Market Expansion Lessons from Airbnb,” Airbnb expanded by first creating a “universal product without location-specific elements in the design or code.” Then, they localized this “location-neutral” product for each market. Like Asana, Airbnb has made a carbon copy of their site that looks exactly the same for any region, whether in the United States, Philippines, or Germany.
The content has been translated and localized by a “localization vendor, a QA vendor, and in-house localization experts.” But it’s not just translation—they also considered how people make purchases in each market, the local currency, and which social media platforms are most popular. This helped AirBnB create a great customer experience in each region.
As you're growing out into different markets, there are a lot of complexities. David Bell, SEO Consultant and Co-founder of Previsible.io, says, “Go slow and pick your battles–I'd start in one country and just slowly roll it out.”
Next, check your budget. Do you have the resources to build a team in those regions? Or will you have to manage everything from the original flagship location? Going global can get expensive super fast with all the technicalities involved–it’s best to start lean, find mentors along the way, and dip your toes in the water. You’re bound to make mistakes in your first market, which you can learn from before moving to the next.
If you’re working with a small budget, your team can start by building out a top-level domain (TLD), for example, https://www.eventbrite.ch/. Then create a localized and translated version of the blog and website, plus a system for publishing translated content to the TLD.
For example, Altitude Sports, a Canadian Outdoor Apparel Company, has just two markets and versions of their website in English and French. When freelancing for them, we used a project management software to organize this small-scale global organization in the US and Canada. They have recurring approval stages like “Brief created→ Assigned to writer → Editor approved → Translation & localization → Upload to CMS” for every piece of content.
Like Altitude, your company can start simple but implement strong, sustainable processes.
After you’ve made your product location-neutral, it’s time to have the blog, website copy, and other important pieces of content translated so the new market can see it in their language.
Most people agree that it’s best not to use AI or machine translators. They’re just not advanced enough and will seem clunky. Instead, hire a professional translator with experience in localization. Your company can find translators via an agency like Tomedes, Translate.com, or find others in this G2 round-up of the best translation service providers. For example, Altitude has French speakers on the team translating English articles.
The first step may be trans-localizing the important pieces of content, such as eBooks or long-form guides that performed well. For example, Ronnie explains that before Eventbrite had a centralized global content team, the main region would make pillar content–eBooks–which would be turned into blog posts.
If one eBook performed well in one quarter, the other regions would get the assets and trans-localize it. You don’t necessarily need on-the-ground teams to do this–it’s essentially making copies of your site and content for different regions.
As you’re trans-localizing content, don’t forget the distribution strategy. The best results require people on the ground that know the market well, can manage the content, and do social media strategy. But you could have someone working from the main region on distribution channels in the new market while your budget is small.
Once the global operation expands, consider having local content teams with email database marketing, performance marketing, and other tools to fuel distribution.
The drawback with simply trans-localizing your main region’s content is you may lose out on cultural references that create an emotional connection with the reader.
The next level is having people on the ground to create local examples and interview local subject matter experts, as Eventbrite’s central global team eventually did. Instead of the main United States team making content, then the global regions trans-localizing pieces, regions started producing content simultaneously.
The global teams would do a planning sprint and then an execution sprint. Here’s what that process looked like, according to Ronnie:
Companies can consider Eventbrite’s GCS as the ‘gold standard’ for businesses with different strategies in each region. You might not have the manpower for this level of coordination yet, and that’s fine.
Now that you hopefully have an idea of which framework you’ll use as your company expands to a new market, let’s take a high-level overview of some of the nuts and bolts on the backend.
Businesses who want to keep things simple should create a subfolder for the new version of their site, which looks like https://www.apple.com/ke/. David advises companies to do this since it won’t affect site authority.
“If you can keep all the content within one website, that's ideal. Most companies, even Apple, put their 140 different languages into different folders. Creating a subfolder or subdirectory keeps all the content on the same site and won’t decrease domain authority,” David explains.
Another option is to create a top-level domain (ccTLD), which looks like https://www.eventbrite.de/. TLDs are much more expensive to maintain than a subdomain, but each site has its own domain authority and it’s easier to rank locally as each site is separate.
See all the options for URL structure on Moz’s guide to international SEO.
The hreflang tag determines which language to serve based on a customer’s location. It’s essentially just a line of code that tells Google another version of your content is available in another language.
“When Google crawls your site, you need to direct traffic. The hreflang tag tells Google, ‘If this person is in Germany, serve them this German page,’” David adds. Hreflang tags get more complicated when directing traffic to regional sites within countries, like in China.
You need to add this line of code to your on-page markup, the HTTP header, or the sitemap–just make sure you only add it in one location.
If you created a subfolder, you essentially have a copy of your website in a new folder. That copy of your website needs to have a sitemap that you can submit to Google via Google Search Console.
If you created a ccTLD, you’d need to submit the sitemap as well. Google has more information on sitemap submission here.
There are numerous ways to manage a site that serves different markets. Here’s a brief overview:
There are many more CMS options for multilingual sites, which you can read about here.
Some of the biggest brands in business have a recognizable global presence, like Airbnb, Booking.com, and Asana, to name a few. While your business may or may not be on such a large scale, going global may still be a responsibility in your role on the content team.
If it is, don’t fret. Follow this framework, start lean, and ramp up your global content production when your budget and resources allow.