App Localization: What It Is and How to Do It
App localization is essential if you want to crack global markets. Here’s how it can help you amplify your app’s coverage, downloads, and revenue worldwide.
Food delivery? There’s an app for that. Online banking? There’s an app for that, too. You get the idea: From entertainment and education to transportation and business—if there’s a task you want to complete or information you need, it can most likely be found on your smartphone.
With 230 billion mobile apps downloaded to connected devices worldwide in 2021, users have never been so “hungry” for content in their mother tongue. If you want to reach as many users as possible, language and culture shouldn’t be barriers to having them benefit from your app.
The key ingredient that can amplify your mobile app’s coverage, download rates, and revenue figures worldwide is app localization. A multifaceted process with many steps involved, app localization requires a sound strategy and robust technology.
In this guide, we’ll look at both the benefits and challenges of app localization, explain how an app localization tool can streamline the process, and provide app localization tips to help you get started with a future-proof workflow. Let’s dive in!
- What is app localization?
- Why localize your app
- Types of mobile app localization
- Devising an app localization strategy
- The most common roadblocks to effective app localization
- App localization platforms
- App localization tips: How to localize your app
- App store optimization (ASO) and localization
- App localization can be as simple as you make it
What is app localization?
App localization is the process of adapting your app’s user interface (UI), features, copy, graphics, app store descriptions, in-app purchase products, and other app assets so they can be easily used, understood, and enjoyed by users in each target market.
App localization goes significantly beyond simple translation: While translation focuses on the literal transfer of textual content from one language to another, localization ensures that every element of your app is tailored to users’ cultural preferences, habits, or norms.
Why localize your app
While English is widely considered a “lingua franca”, a universal language that facilitates communication between different native languages, research shows that users prefer content in their own language.
Taking the app localization route is a no-brainer for businesses with global aspirations. There are billions of app users worldwide who can’t be reached with an app that isn’t localized—localization lets you target app users in every country around the globe and maximize your app’s exposure and coverage.
Some business benefits of app localization include:
- Tapping into new markets: App localization is the key to app market expansion. Just think Airbnb—the company that began in its founders’ apartment is now in over 220 countries across the globe, going from a value of zero to approximately $75B today.
- Growing app engagement: Users appreciate app content that’s tailored to their own preferences and needs. It makes a huge difference in user experience, and it can help you boost engagement and loyalty.
- Increasing app downloads and visibility: Studies show that app store descriptions written in the local language can improve app downloads by as much as 38%.
- Boosting sales: Investing in localization means your share of the market dramatically increases with each country you enter, and so do your revenue streams. There may not be a one-size-fits-all localization ROI model, but Fortune 500 companies are reported to generate higher revenue when investing in localization.
Types of mobile app localization
In the same way that you can develop only the core functionalities of an app to solve a particular problem and satisfy a certain niche—which is known as a minimum viable product (MVP)—or go all-in with your development, app localization can be carried out at different levels.
There are two main types of app localization to consider, according to their scope.
Minimum viable localization (MVL)
MVL aims at localizing only the app’s key features or content, app store descriptions, and app store metadata. This type of app localization is ideal for early-stage app startups that prioritize a fast time to market and a high ROI, as it demands less effort and resources than full app localization.
A good example is how Evernote, a popular note-taking app, launched in China in 2012 with a simplified product, a local-language brand name—Yinxiang Biji (印象笔记), which translates as “memory notes”—and a basic language pack.
A year later, when Evernote was already claiming 4 million Chinese users, the company launched Yinxiang Biji Business. The Business platform is a fully Chinese product that even overcame internet connectivity challenges—resulting from very small network bandwidth between China and overseas countries—by hosting app data locally within China.
Full app localization
Global app companies that are committed to creating a fully localized app and maximizing their app’s reach, user base, revenue opportunities, and ROI should consider full app localization.
This entails adapting every app element for each target market, app store localization included. Full app localization guarantees that users across all markets feel at home when using your app.
A good example of localization carried out at the full app level is Airbnb—for each of its 220+ locales and 60+ languages, the app has localized everything from the app UI and content to the available payment methods. Ge Zhongjun, former Language Manager at Airbnb, describes what this looked like for the Chinese market:
“Enabling Alipay and WeChat Pay, launching WeChat mini-apps, using Chinese maps, following the latest marketing tactics in China, making hosting and listing search easier for Chinese hosts and guests, setting up servers in China… The localization of Airbnb in China is a highly comprehensive one, covering localized product development, local hiring, local operations, local decision-making, exchanges of tech and information between the HQ and local office, etc.”
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Devising an app localization strategy
The app localization process starts with strategy. In other words, you need a solid plan. Your app localization strategy should take into account:
- What markets will you localize your app for?
- What do cultural differences mean for your communication style?
- Will you launch in-region first or go global from the start?
- What’s your localization budget?
- What parts of your app will you prioritize for localization?
- How will you collect resources other than code: content, images, videos?
- Who’ll be in charge of localization?
- What stakeholders will you include in your localization workflow?
- What’s your app localization timeline or roadmap?
- What language service providers will you use?
- How will all teams involved collaborate?
- How will you monitor the process?
- What app localization platform will you use?
- How will you conduct linguistic quality assurance (LQA)?
- How will you avoid bottlenecks and delays?
- What metrics and KPIs will you track?
- How will you test the localized versions of your app?
- Will you conduct app store optimization?
- How will you iterate based on app store feedback?
- How will you measure success?
Your app localization strategy can vary from app to app and change along with your app’s needs, but it’s a good idea to make localization part of your app’s life cycle by planning for localization during app development and design.
The most common roadblocks to effective app localization
Whether you want to launch your app globally or just want it to be localized for a few selected markets, you might encounter numerous challenges that can slow down your work and even cause problems if not addressed ahead of time.
Challenge: Unforeseen delays and extra costs
It’s not rare for app development companies to design and code an app without considering its future global expansion, forgetting about localization until it’s too late.
Why it matters: This misstep can lead to problems down the line when it’s time to adapt the app to new markets—problems you might not be able to fix at that point without causing delays and extra costs.
What helps: Ensuring internationalization and global readiness from the get-go
While reducing manual work and bottlenecks through automation and centralization can certainly help reduce costs and speed up app localization, they likely won’t help much if app development is not designed with app localization in mind from the start.
The best way to ensure a smooth app launch is to take care of app internationalization in the early stages of app development and design. When you build your app to support multiple languages from the start, you can manage app localization effort and costs more effectively.
Challenge: Quality issues detected at app release
Many localized apps hit the app stores only to find that app localization mistakes—such as app strings that were mistranslated or even incomprehensible—make their app completely unusable.
Why it matters: Localization problems at app release can damage your app’s reputation, cause users to abandon your app after failing to properly use it, and even get you bad reviews.
What helps: Verifying app localization quality before app release
The best way to avoid app localization mistakes at the app’s release is to invest in testing and quality assurance for every language. For cases when it’s not possible to fully test every single string, layout, date, time, number, and currency format, consider using pseudolocalization—substituting all localizable UI elements with a pseudolanguage to check whether any source strings contain issues that would require fixing before the translation process begins.
There are several pseudolocalization tools for developers to test for usability, readability, space requirements, and user input—you can start by checking GitHub for repositories that might work with your own project.
Challenge: App localization can’t keep up with development
In a fast-paced development workflow, if localization is set up as a separate function outside the agile framework, localization work may lag behind app development.
Why it matters: Having to wait for app localization before app launch can increase costs by causing delays in app release and preventing app developers from working on new features while waiting for app translation. Moreover, ongoing communication and feedback loops across all stakeholders—including translators—break down, resulting in potential time, money, productivity, and quality loss.
What helps: Setting up app localization and app development in a single workflow
The best way to avoid app localization lagging behind app development is to set up an app localization process that’s built into your agile app development framework. Continuous development calls for continuous localization.
Localizers should be included in app development teams from the start, working side by side with app developers, sharing knowledge on app design, and slicing topics through regular feedback loops. It’s time to break down the silos: All stakeholders should work together in an agile, iterative framework that allows for constant communication and short feedback loops, allowing you to build an app that’s localized “right out of the box.”
Challenge: Inadequate app localization technology
Many app localization challenges can be solved simply by using the right app localization technology.
Why it matters: When you don’t have the right tools in place, your workflow suffers—long email back-and-forths become the norm, developers spend more time tracking down app strings and feeding them to translators, app releases take longer because of bottlenecks, mistakes go undetected, and localization quality suffers.
What helps: Making app localization as easy as point and click
These challenges can be solved simply by using a dedicated app localization platform that was designed from the ground up with developers, product teams, and localizers in mind.
A solid app localization platform provides the best toolset by automating app string data collection, enabling you to centralize all localization projects in a single workspace, facilitating translation management by grouping all tasks and requests in one place, integrating with app development tools, pushing out notifications automatically, and much more.
App localization platforms
Investing in an app localization platform—a software solution designed to optimize the app localization workflow—can be well worth it. Let’s look at some of the benefits and features these platforms provide.
Key features of an app localization platform
By streamlining app localization processes through automation and centralization, a strong localization platform acts as a one-stop shop with a wide range of features that make app localization faster and easier, such as:
- A single collaboration environment where executives, managers, developers, designers, copywriters, and localization service providers can work together and stay on the same page on app localization plans
- A translation memory that allows you to reuse app strings and other content across projects, which saves time and money compared to re-translating everything from scratch
- Built-in glossaries of app terms to guide app localization work and ensure consistency
- Tools for automating app localization tasks such as app strings extraction, screenshots generation, workflow management, performance monitoring, and more
- Automatic checks of the quality of localized app content with tools that help reduce errors before app release
- Integration with leading collaboration platforms like Slack or Jira
- Support for dozens of file formats, development frameworks, and programming languages
- Possibility to update app copy translations with a single click: