What is App Localisation? (And Why You Need it For App Growth)

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If you want to maximise your application’s downloads and users, app localisation is what you need.

Because users in different markets, speaking different languages, will only use your app if it feels like it was designed for them.

This means you need to adapt the language your app is available in. But it also means you need to understand how to adapt other aspects of the way your app looks and functions to meet local cultural norms and expectations.

But mobile app localisation isn’t simple. You can’t afford to treat it lightly. Because if there’s one thing that’s worse than an app that isn’t available in a certain region, it’s an app that’s obviously been localised with very little care.

What is app localisation?

Mobile app localisation is the process of adapting your app and its app stores listings to the needs, wants, and expectations of different regions.

If you want a significant boost in app downloads and rankings, localising your app is the way to do it.

Even if you only target English-speaking countries, it is still important to localise your app. The UK, the US, Australia, Canada and New Zealand might have a lot in common linguistically. But there are big differences in culture and in the keywords local people will use to search for your app.

What is the difference between localisation and translation?

Localising your app goes well beyond simply translating the words on the screen. True mobile app localisation involves:

  • Taking into account local cultural norms
  • Changing elements such as locally-preferred time, date, and currency formats
  • Adapting images and video content to regional differences
  • Considering colour symbolism in specific regions
  • Researching whether app icons mean the same thing in your target region
  • Localising your app store listings

The link between app localisation and growth

There are two important statistics regarding mobile usage which make app localisation the go-to growth strategy for developers around the world:

  1. Around 3.5 billion people own a smartphone.
  2. But less than 10% of those people have English as their native tongue.

This means that app developers who localise their products see dramatic uptakes in download and user figures.

In China alone, there are over 630 million smartphone users. But comparatively few Chinese people prefer to use English-language apps.

Examples of localisation leading to growth

Even if you aren’t familiar with how localisation drives growth in the app market, you only need to think about how it has led to international success for authors and other media producers.

Picture Netflix’s excellent recent work localising their series and regional offerings for different global audiences.

In literature, think of how much more limited the fame of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series might have been without good localisation. Concepts like “muggles” and the many tongue-in-cheek nods to elements of British culture have often been cleverly transcreated for different international audiences. Without this, the series’ global success was unlikely.

Just check out the differences between the UK’s Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone and the US’s Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone to see how publishers adapted the work even for two different English-speaking audiences.

 Why is app localisation important?

  1. User experience – the overwhelming majority of users prefer apps that are available in their preferred language. As well as making your app more appealing to foreign users, proper localisation ensures they have an improved user experience and are thus more likely to rate your app well.
  2. Grow your customer base – even localising your product for just one or two carefully chosen markets can dramatically increase the reach of your app. The only vital step is to ensure that your app localisation efforts prioritise quality and cultural understanding.
  3. Guarantee a Return On your Investment – the process of localising an app is comparatively cheap compared with the possible returns. Research has shown that localising an app in specific regions can lead to increased iPhone App Store downloads of 130% and a 25% boost in revenue.

What does app localisation involve?

Professional localisation used to be something that only the biggest brands could afford. But even the biggest names sometimes produced lacklustre localisation results. Results which provoked amusement rather than appeal in their target regions.

Today, app localisation services are far more accessible for developers and businesses of all sizes. But even the largest corporations need to remember that app localisation calls for a cohesive approach which involves every aspect of your app offering:

 1) Consider the cultural implications of language

The words you use in your app are perhaps the most obvious aspect of your app to localise. But some of their implications are not so obvious.

True cultural awareness and knowledge require a professional translator who is a native speaker of your target language. For this reason, this is the only kind of linguist which reputable translation agencies like Kwintessential will use.

2) Consider your layout

Will the localised version of your text still fit your UI in the same way? Text often expands and contracts when translated into different languages. Some languages are also written right-to-left or read from top to bottom.

Concatenated strings are a particular problem for localisation if you use them. It is always a good idea to leave some space for text expansion. Strings in UTF-8 encoding are faster and less likely to cause issues.

3) Consider icons and colour schemes

Icons are not universal. They need to be localised so that they can be more easily understood by app users from your new target market.

You should also bear in mind that your app colour scheme may need to be adapted for different regions. Green can be a colour associated with cuckoldry in certain parts of China, for instance. Yellow might be viewed as a positive colour in many places. But in parts of Latin America, it is a funerary colour.

4) Consider your app listings

You need to localise every part of your app listings in the Google Play Store and App store:

  • App name or title
  • iOS app subtitles
  • Annotations
  • Screenshots and previews
  • Promotional videos
  • Short description for Android apps
  • Long description

5) Consider keywords

Directly translating keywords you have chosen to focus on in your app listings, website, and elsewhere is always a mistake.

You need to research and select relevant keywords for your specific target regions. People in different places search for the same thing in very different ways.

App localisation best practices

There are some key elements to bear in mind when you are localising your app if you want to get the best possible results:

1) Use a professional translator

Using free online translation tools like Google Translate or any machine translation options for app localisation will be a complete disaster.

No automated tool can correctly adapt an app bearing in mind cultural aspects, colloquialisms, and other important factors which a professional human translator will be able to.

Equally, no amount of time or budget savings are worth the horrendous results which an automated approach will lead to. On top of the fact that your “Google Translated” app may not make sense to a native reader, there are also security concerns attached to using free online translation tools. As the recent Translate.com case demonstrated all too well.

It’s worth noting that Google can sometimes go ahead and provide an automatically translated version of your app store listings in other languages. It’s meant to be helpful. But it can be a serious reputational danger for unaware app developers.

2) Give your translation team some context

If you want the best results, be sure to convey the meaning and context behind your app and its functionality to your translation team.

This may be particularity important for gaming apps. The localised versions of names, rules, and explanations can be vastly improved if their meaning is properly explained to your translation team.

3) Look into internationalisation

Internationalisation (sometimes written as i18n) is the name given to the process of designing your app so that it is ready for later localisation into different languages.

This can involve doing things like:

  • Extracting the UI strings from your app code
  • Having text in external files so it can be changed without changing the code
  • Creating multiple resource files, one for each language
  • Naming and storing these files correctly so that they can be accessed properly

4) Choose your target regions carefully

Size is not the only important aspect to consider. Check for numbers of users already using your English language-version in other regions. This may indicate demand for your app in that market.

There is also the matter of cultural inappropriateness. In some regions, your app may simply be completely inappropriate given the local cultural norms and expectations.

You might also consider researching which markets your competitors have decided to localise their app for. This information may lead you to try to compete there or to avoid that market.

5) Test, test, and test again

If your localised app is full of bugs or linguistic errors, it is going to undermine all of your good intentions in localising your app for a specific region in the first place.

Make sure to go through full functional and linguistic testing – again, handled by a native of your target culture – to ensure your app works just as smoothly and efficiently as your English language version.

Taking the first step with app localisation

You can’t afford to skip mobile app localisation if your goal is to grow your app.

The benefits in terms of revenue and download numbers speak for themselves. But there can also be other motivating factors – such as the fact that the App Store lets each of your localised versions rank in the same country.

But it is the fact that apps which have been properly localised are a natural, attractive choice for users in your new target market which will drive your app’s growth after localisation.

Effectively meeting that consumer demand for apps which are in your audience’s preferred language and carefully adapted to their world-view is a huge driver in terms of downloads.


Do you have a mobile app that’s ready to be localised?

Kwintessential specialises in app localisation. We localise applications for companies of all sizes and in every industry.

Contact us today. Get a free, no-obligation quote or find out more about how we can help you grow your user base.

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