2000 pages and 22 languages: Content modeling and localization at scale

At DFDS, we started out with more than 2000 pages on 15 independently-managed localized sites. We transitioned all this content from a legacy CMS to Contentful just a few years ago, adding seven more localized sites for a total of 22 languages supported. Now we’re able to easily manage this enormous amount of content across locales and channels.

In this post, we’re talking about the concept of content modeling with a particular emphasis on translation and localization. But you can go back and read about our overall framework for content management with Contentful and examples of simple CMA operations that save time during the phase of content delivery.

Developing the DFDS content model

With such a large amount of content and 22 markets to manage, we needed to come up with a well-structured, intuitive content model. We also needed to pay special attention to alignment across locales.

It took us a while to develop our content model, but the process paid off. We involved user experience experts, developers and editors from the beginning. We ended up with over 150 content types, most of which corresponded to website components, such as pages, rows, menus, schedules, graphs and charts, URLs and links, user forms and various types of text blocks. We tried to optimize the content model for simplicity of code, editorial experience and visual consistency. We wanted to make sure that similar elements could be reused as much as possible, while at the same time, leaving flexibility for the variations that editors might want. 

Anatomy of a page 

Let’s take a closer look at the organization of a page to see this content model at work. A typical DFDS page has multiple rows that serve as containers for presentation blocks, such as text blocks and media blocks (see figure two below). Each of the presentation blocks reference content blocks in various languages. The concept of separating the presentation from content has been covered by Contentful, and corresponds to the concept of topics and assemblies.  

Splitting pages up like this allows us to take advantage of reuse. For example, the media blocks and the info blocks are reused in 16 languages, two of which are depicted on the figures below. The info blocks relating to certification are also reused on several other pages not depicted here. 

Here’s a typical example of how we organize DFDS pages into components.

Figure 1a. Part of a typical page (English

Figure 1b. Part of a typical page (Russian)

Figure 2: This diagram explains how a DFDS page is broken down in Contentful. (Note that dfds.com supports 26 languages, but for simplicity we only display two here.)

Even though the diagram and screenshots are simplified versions of how a page looks, we can already see some advantages in visual consistency and reuse with Contentful over the traditional CMS approach.

Results of transitioning to Contentful 

Moving from a traditional CMS to Contentful was a long process but we were able to achieve a lot in the end.

  1. Visual consistency: The presentation blocks (such as the info block and media block) have a well defined and consistent look and feel.

  2. Reuse: Our solution has over 100,000 entries, but our data model now allows for reuse. An entry is reused an average of 1.7 times, which is a 40% reduction of content volume compared to our previous, traditional CMS implementation.

  3. Long-term maintenance: Although it was easy to create pages from scratch in our previous CMS solution, content quickly fell out of alignment across locales. This resulted in high and increasing maintenance costs. With our Contentful solution, making pages from scratch has a slightly higher complexity, but elements are easy to reuse. This makes it easier to maintain pages and correspondence across locales. 

  4. Faster time to market: Because content entries are reusable, editors can pull in blocks with existing translations instead and attach entries in the tree structure. This saves the effort on creating pages from scratch every time. The separation of content and presentation gives us an additional advantage of being able to reuse a whole presentation block along with the translations attached to it, eliminating the need for error-prone copy/paste operations.

While the advantages of working with a content platform are undeniable, and can be demonstrated numerically, there are also some important aspects that were difficult about our journey.

  1. Complexity: The model is complex, which makes it harder for editors to get started. 

  2. Cost of transition: The current solution has a low maintenance cost, but it’s important not to forget the cost of transition from a traditional CMS to a content platform isn’t trivial.

  3. Working with a third-party translation provider: Working with translations proved to be an additional challenge because our third-party translation providers were not on Contentful. 

  4. Content modeling: The content model we came up with had to be adjusted along the way, underscoring the need for leveraging Contentful’s Migration API.

The beneficial results of switching to a content platform are convincing — but it wasn’t clear from the start what it would take to get there. It took some unforeseen effort to navigate the switch and find the easiest ways to accomplish certain steps. For example, we were able to automate some of the work with our translation provider by leveraging the Contentful Management API (which will be the subject of the next post) after we found out how much manual labor was required otherwise. We were also able to gain significant flexibility with our content model by taking advantage of Contentful's Migration API (the subject of a later post).

Adopting Contentful allows us to continually reuse content and organize it into manageable, discrete chunks of data. At the same time, we’re achieving faster time-to-market speeds and decreased long-term maintenance. 

Interested in trying Contentful for yourself? Let us know.

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