A Guide to Supporting Multiple Languages in Your Help Center
Localization efforts add complexity to your organization.
Whether it’s localizing your entire product or just your help center, expanding to support multiple languages is a big endeavor.
82% of companies that don’t provide multilingual support don’t do it because the volume of support questions they receive in those languages is too low.
It doesn’t feel worth the effort.
But when you ignore localization, you’re hanging your customers out to dry and increasing the friction required for them to use your product successfully.
Translating your help center is critical to providing multilingual support. It’s the best way to provide native language support, even without increasing staffing increases.
Here’s how you can support multiple languages in your help center effectively.
Seven essential steps to localizing your help center
Producing any type of help content is quite simple at the start.
Most people go through these steps:
Plan and research the content.
Draft the article.
Run it by internal or external people for feedback.
Apply edits based on that feedback.
Localization is hard to start because it multiplies these steps.
Once an article is finalized in your source language, it goes to translation. Say you need to translate it into six languages, and each has to be proofread, then manually published and checked.
Suddenly, what used to take a week might take three weeks and involve five times the number of people.
Starting with a great process makes that transition easier.
These are the seven steps involved in translating your help center into multiple languages:
Select the target languages.
Create a content overview.
Establish a translation process.
Start the localization.
Publish the content.
Create a process for maintenance.
Measure success and iterate.
Let’s explore these steps in detail.
1. Select the target languages
Translating the help center usually comes quite late, after figuring out a go-to-market strategy, localizing your product, and running some marketing campaigns in those countries.
Your target languages make a massive difference in determining your process. Localizing into an Asian language like Mandarin or Korean will be a different experience than localizing into a European language like German or Spanish. Not only is it harder to find good translators, but automated translation tools might also lag behind.
70% of end users say they feel more loyal to companies that provide support in their native language. Look at how many of your customers speak the languages you want to translate into and prioritize based on that.
You can either aim to translate into multiple languages simultaneously or start by choosing the most important language for your audience and scale slowly.
It’s often easier to create a durable and scalable process from the beginning if you go for multiple languages, but if budget is a constraint, starting with one will work too.
2. Create a content overview
How complex this project is will depend on two key factors:
The number of articles (and words) you have in your help center
Whether you have rich content, like screenshots, images, or videos, that will also need to be localized.
If you’re only handling a small number of text-based articles, you can simplify the next couple of steps. But if your help center is a bit more comprehensive, creating an overview will make it much easier.
You can create an overview in a spreadsheet or using a project management tool, like Trello. It should list everything that needs to be translated in your help center, and offer some way for you to track which translations have been completed.
An example of an overview built on Trello, where each list represents a category and each card a section. As each translation gets published, you can tick it off in the checklist.
Once you have an overview, you can prioritize the content. You could:
Prioritize the most important articles that cover your top recurring issues, or
Work through the entire help center section by section.
Analytics is your friend. It’s often the case that most help center views land on a few key pages. If translating your whole help center will take months, it’s usually a good idea to start with the pages with the most impact.
3. Establish a translation process
At this stage, you need to figure out:
How to translate the content.
If you’re assigning it to translators, the tools you’ll be using to do that.
Deadlines that are realistic for your project.
How thorough the editing and proofreading process will be.
And, finally, how you’ll ensure quality and consistency.
The translation process can look wildly different from company to company. Some companies work with in-house translators. Others might use an agency or freelancers. And others might use machine translation.
Manual translation is, unsurprisingly, far more time-consuming than machine translation. That makes it significantly more expensive. But it will usually be much higher quality, which means your customer experience will also benefit.
Machine translation is extremely cheap and fast but often suffers from lower quality.
Here are some pointers to help you figure out which option might be right for you:
Automated translation can’t handle complex help documentation that requires expertise or a deep understanding of your product.
However, automated translation is a great option if your articles are simple.
If you have a ton of formatting that needs to be preserved, automated translation can be a huge help because it dramatically reduces the time necessary to double-check formatting.
One way to take advantage of both methods is to combine them. Translate the article through a tool like the Help Center Manager, and use the resulted translation as a draft for your translators to check.
4. Start the localization
Localization will involve translating:
the user interface,
all categories and sections, and
help articles (including any videos and screenshots).
A big part of localization is finding tools that make the process easy for you.
Making it as simple as possible for you and your translators will have the most impact.
That might mean having rules like this:
Empower your translators to correct typos or small grammar mistakes directly.
Don’t copy your articles into Google Drive if you can manage the translation process in your knowledge base tool. For example, most tools let you create drafts, track unpublished articles, and offer a language switch.
Don’t create a bottleneck where you have to review and publish every article unless necessary.
5. Publish the content
This is the fun part.
You can either:
wait for the whole help center to be translated before publishing it, or
publish as each translation (or batch of articles) is completed.
If you’re an agile improver, you find publishing as you go ideal. Every customer that sees an article in their native language already has an improved experience, so there’s usually no reason to wait.
64% of customers say they’d pay a higher price for a product if a brand offers a customer experience in their native language. Publishing your content straight away will help you retain that type of customer.
6. Create a process for maintenance
Translating your articles for the first time is one part of the process, and it feels great when it’s completed.
Until you realize the work isn’t done.
Managing updates is a different can of worms. Keeping your help center up-to-date is its own challenge, but let’s assume your team has a good process. Now you just need to add the extra steps involved in translating.
There are many types of updates:
Removing a section or an article is usually the easiest type. You might not need translators for that.
Translating from scratch is often quite simple too, whether adding a small section to an existing article, writing a new one, or completely rewriting it from scratch.
Doing minor rewrites throughout an article takes more work to manage. These are the situations where being able to track version history in your knowledge base tool can make all the difference.
7. Measure success and iterate
As with every help center project, the final step is to measure success and iterate.
You can use analytics to find the areas with the most significant potential for improvement. Another option is to collect feedback in your help center to get more specific direction from your customers.
You can also learn a lot from your team. Because they’re on the frontlines and (hopefully!) use help articles when they’re providing support, they’ll have good insights into how your translated articles are performing.
Supercharge your translation workflows
Working with tools that are tailored to your help center makes the entire translation process so much easier.
At Swifteq, we aim to build tools that make customer support teams more efficient.
That’s why we’ve recently launched an automatic translation tool that leverages generative AI to translate your Zendesk Guide articles.
It preserves the format of your articles — structure, links, and images — while using ChatGPT to automatically translate the content.
Written by Nouran Smogluk
Nouran is a passionate people manager who believes that work should be a place where people grow, develop, and thrive. She writes for Supported Content and also blogs about a variety of topics, including remote work, leadership, and creating great customer experiences.