What Is App Localization and How to Ace It

Chidinma Egwuogu
03 May 2023

17 min. read


Offering your app in the users’ native language can improve downloads and overall revenue. In fact, studies show that nearly 66% of B2B users and 34% of B2C users are willing to pay a higher price for a localized product.

Clearly, app localization is well worth the effort.

Pro tip: App localization entails the adaptation of UI, graphics, features, content, and app store descriptions. To tackle a project of such complexity, use a professional localization management platform – Centus. Learn more.

What is App Localization?

App localization, also known as l10n, is the process of adapting an app to a particular language, market, or culture. App localization goes well beyond content translation. When implemented properly, application localization involves:

  • content translation
  • legal review of content
  • UI adjustment
  • graphic redesign
  • date and time format adjustment
  • payment system adjustment
  • product functionality adjustment

When you focus solely on translation, you’re bound to make some less-than-ideal choices.

Types of mobile app localization

Localization is an expensive, time-consuming project. And if you’re a first-timer, the time, money, and effort required to expand into new markets can be daunting.

Luckily, app localization is not a one-size-fits-all affair. There are two types of app localization for you to pick from:

1. Minimum viable localization (MVL)

Sometimes starting small is better than going all-in, especially if you’re a start-up or a bootstrapped business.

Minimum viable localization involves changing the parts of your app that are absolutely necessary for the target market: buttons, basic texts, and app store localization.

The advantage? Faster time to market and a less stressful localization process. However, the trade-off is that minimum localization may cause users to perceive the app as lower quality compared to fully localized competitors.

2. Full app localization

Most global brands choose full app localization to maximize their app's reach and revenue. This means localizing everything from the UI, features, app content, keywords, multimedia, and descriptions, to in-app products.

Although it may take longer, full mobile app localization ensures your app is user-friendly and enjoyable for native speakers in your target market.

How to localize your app in 11 simple steps

Once your app gains traction, it’s time to plan its expansion.

Below is a TL;DR version of the app localization guide. Keep reading for a detailed overview of each step.

  1. Develop a localization strategy - make a concrete plan for all aspects of your app localization including, content, budget, and workflow.

  2. Prepare your app for localization - ensure your app is flexible and localizable at the development stage.

  3. Select your target market(s) - reviews, analytics, and competitor research can help you pinpoint the regions to conquer with your localized app.

  4. Research your target market - research local demographics, user base, and cultural nuances for your app.

  5. Choose your translation management system (TMS) - pick a TMS that streamlines your localization process.

  6. Remember app store optimization - localize your app store content to make it discoverable and appealing to local users.

  7. Perform localization testing - this ensures that the localized version of your app is high quality, bug-free, and meets your users' needs.

  8. Release your app - launch your localized app, but pay attention to timing.

  9. Market your app - use localized campaigns and partner with influencers and businesses to promote your app.

  10. Provide user support - address user concerns and act on their feedback.

  11. Measure success and refine your app - localization never really stops. Measure, refine, and update.

how to localize an app

1. Develop a localization strategy

Before you start smartphone app localization, develop a strategy to guide you. It’s cliched and all, but if you fail to plan, you plan to fail.

Your app localization strategy should cover the following questions:

  • What is your target market, and what is their culture like?
  • Will you pick one language, or will you cater to multiple languages?
  • What are your product expansion goals?
  • Will you use translation management systems or just translation service providers?
  • Will you localize the entire app or pick core features?
  • What is your localization budget?
  • How will your localization team collaborate?
  • Who will manage localization?
  • How can you supervise the process?
  • What is your schedule?
  • Will you need to optimize for the app store?
  • How will you conduct QA tests? What kind of QA tests will you conduct?
  • How will you collect user feedback?

App localization can happen at any stage in your product’s growth. However, planning for it at the development stage makes localization simpler and faster.

2. Prepare your app for localization

Before setting off on your app localization journey, make sure your app is primed and ready for the road ahead. This is done through internationalization. An illustration with text Developing your app with internationalization in mind can save you time and effort in the long run. While it may not seem like a big deal during development, it will make the localization process easier and more efficient when you're ready to expand into new markets.

For instance, make sure your app’s content is not hard-coded. That way, you can easily tweak it to fit different locales.

Some factors to consider during the app internationalization process include:

  • Text: Make sure to save your app strings in an XML or XLIFF file format. This helps make localization and translation easier without modifying code. Comments, screenshots, and a glossary can be added to aid translators' understanding of content and provide consistency.
  • Images: Using editable text layers instead of embedding text in graphics can simplify your mobile app localization process.
  • Date, time, currency, and numbers: You shouldn’t hard-code your date, currency, or time formats. Instead, store them in variables that can be tweaked for each location.
  • User Interface: When designing the UI (user interface) for your app, it's important to consider how text expansion across different languages might affect it. Your designers should use flexible pixel dimensions and percentage measurements to ensure that the UI can resize smoothly as the content changes. It's also important to make sure that the app will support languages that read from right-to-left, such as Arabic or Hebrew.
  • Using Unicode UTF-8: Unicode UTF-8 is a type of encoding that can represent all the languages in the world. Using it during app development makes it possible for your app to support more scripts and therefore more languages than you would otherwise be able to.

3. Select your target markets

When considering app localization, one of the first questions to ask is what languages to target. While app localization provides access to a global market, it's important to choose the right languages for your app to maximize your investment return.

Let’s say you have an app that connects beer buddies. It makes more sense to expand to countries that consume alcoholic beverages first, before moving to halal regions. An illustration with text To select a market, conduct market research and then decide what languages or locales to target. Here are some ways to get that much-needed data:

Read your app reviews

If you see multiple users from the same region who love your app, it might be a good idea to expand there. You might also find requests for specific locales or complaints from existing ones.

Check your analytics

Look for customers in non-target markets who use your apps, customers from your current market who use the app in an alternative language, and outlying customers who have uninstalled your app immediately after download. These numbers can provide valuable information about what languages and markets you should localize for, and what features need improvement.

Research your competitors

Find out your competitors’ best-performing markets and factor that into your decision. You can also research the markets targeted by your competitors to see if there’s an untapped opportunity.

Check industry reports

Look at recent market reports to identify what languages are prioritized in app marketplaces.

According to Statista, the top 10 most common web content languages are English, Russian, Spanish, French, German, Japanese, Turkish, Persian, Chinese, and Italian. top 10 most common web content languages Source: Statista

4. Research your target market

When it comes to localizing your app, identifying the languages and regions you want to target is just the first step. Once you've done that, conduct thorough research to ensure your app can meet the needs and preferences of your target audience. An illustration with text Here are the key areas to focus on during your research:

  • Legal requirements, such as age restrictions or banned content
  • Local app store guidelines and regulations
  • App usage habits and trends
  • Payment preferences and options for in-app purchases
  • Popular keywords
  • Cultural nuances
  • Local graphics and color preferences
  • Local competitors and their app features
  • Local social media platforms and influencers to collaborate with
  • Local holidays and cultural events to incorporate into your app marketing
  • Localization challenges specific to the target market, such as non-Latin alphabets or complex grammar rules
  • Accessibility requirements and preferences for users with disabilities in the target market.

5. Choose your translation management system

A translation management system (TMS) is a tool that simplifies the localization process by helping you connect with your localization team, collect content for translation, and integrate that content back into your app. A TMS also offers quality assurance tests, project management tools, and a centralized glossary for brand consistency.

To manage your app localization process, use a professional TMS – Centus.

Centus streamlines your app localization process and saves you money by combining the features of a translation service and a project management tool. With Centus, you can manage your translation workflows, automate repetitive tasks, and enjoy fast turnaround times and high-quality translations. Centus dashboard Centus’ unique features include:

  • Translation memory: store previously translated content to maintain consistency.
  • Glossary management: keep track of important words and phrases to ensure consistent terminology across translations.
  • In-context preview: see how the translations will look like in the final app interface.
  • Collaboration tools: enable team members to work together efficiently.
  • Quality assurance tools: ensure accurate and consistent translations.
  • Tool integrations: integrate Centus with commonly used apps and tools for easy incorporation into existing workflows.

6. Remember app store optimization

App localization goes beyond your app content. It also covers your app store listings on the Apple App Store or Google Play. A screenshot of Apple phones Source: Apple

Localize all your app store content including:

  • Text: Ensure that the text in your app store listing is culturally appropriate for the target market. Adjust units of measurement, symbols, and cultural references that may not translate well in different markets. For example, the "thumbs up" sign is considered obscene in Iran.
  • Keywords: Simply translating app store listingword-by-word isn't the best strategy since culture and language influence online search. Instead, you use research tools like Moz or Ahrefs to perform keyword research for each market. This will help app store users find your app when they search for related words or phrases in their language.
  • Videos: Localize video content on your listing forthe target market. During localization, make sure to adhere to the visual content guidelines of Apple and Google.
  • Screenshots: Similar to videos, screenshots in your app store listing need to be understandable to users in the target market. Make sure that the screenshots are localized and show content that applies to that market.
  • Positional information: If your app is location-specific, list positional information like city or region to help app stores index your app by location.
  • Metadata: Localize app titles and descriptions to increase app visibility, downloads, ratings, and reviews.
  • App previews: App previews should be localized to explain the app in a way that resonates with the target audience.
  • In-app purchases: Another vital aspect of app store optimization isin-app purchase pop-ups. People cannot buy what they don’t understand.

Localizing your app store content for both iOS and Android apps makes your app discoverable, downloadable, and appealing to local users.

7. Perform localization testing

Testing your soon-to-be-released app is an essential step to ensuring the high quality of localization. Simply translating the strings is not enough, as there could still be content issues that need to be addressed. To avoid this, there are a few preemptive steps you can take: An illustration with text

Smoke testing

Test the localized app’s functionality to ensure it hasn’t been affected during the localization process. Smoke tests can be performed by either your QA team or app developers who should focus on app performance rather than the quality of content translation.

Beta testing

After smoke testing, arrange beta testing by native speakers to make sure that all the translations are correct.

The hardest part of this step is finding beta testers, distributing your app to them, and establishing cooperation and feedback channels. To make this process easier, incorporate a TMS tool like Centus in your mobile app localization process.

8. Release your app

After localizing and testing your app, the final step is releasing it to your target market. This means publishing the localized app to the app store, along with all the localized app store content like text, keywords, videos, screenshots, positional information, metadata, and app previews.

It’s important to consider the timing of your app release. Different countries and cultures have holidays and seasons that may affect the popularity of your app launch.

For instance, launching a workplace collaboration tool during the Holi Festival in India might not go well. An illustration of people celebrating the Indian Festival of Holi

9. Market your app

After localizing your app, let the target users know about it.

Important considerations for marketing your localized app include:

  • Launching localized marketing campaigns to promote your app
  • Utilizing cost-per-install promotions to attract your desired audience
  • Leveraging social media platforms and influencers in the target market
  • Partnering with local businesses and organizations
  • Monitoring user engagement to improve marketing effectiveness. An illustration of a marketing team

10. Provide localized user support

Expanding your app to new markets may lead to an increase in comments, reviews, questions, and requests from app users. An illustration of a customer support person If possible, provide localized support to the new users to address their concerns in a respectful and timely manner. This helps to create a sense of trust and loyalty among users and assure them that their feedback is heard and acted upon.

In addition to providing user support, you should also adjust your localized app based on user feedback. By doing so, you can build a strong user base and increase user engagement, thereby contributing to the success of your app in the global market.

11. Measure and refine

After launching your app in a new market, don't just sit and wait for downloads to happen. Measuring your return on investment (ROI) and assessing the effectiveness of your app localization process are critical.

To achieve this, you must regularly monitor your app analytics data. Filter the data by country or language to determine what locales need support and if your localization process has been successful. An illustration of an app update process Localization isn't a one-time event. It's an ongoing and intertwined part of the app development process. You must continuously update the localized versions of your app as it grows and changes.

Keeping your localized app updated and optimized is crucial to reaching and engaging your target audience in the new market. Therefore, stay on top of your app analytics and keep your localized versions fresh and up to date for the best results.

What are the benefits of app localization?

App localization enables you to expand your brand's reach and reputation by providing content that aligns with the culture and language of global users.

Although many businesses view English as the key to global communication, studies suggest people are more comfortable with content in their own language. As many as 64% of buyers look for localized content when making their purchase decisions.

Other benefits of app localization include:

Increased app downloads

Localization allows you to reach untapped markets and audiences around the world, resulting in increased downloads and revenue.

Increased brand authority

Localizing your app demonstrates your commitment to your users’ languages and cultures, which can increase brand loyalty and authority in the market. Speaking your market’s language is so important that cutting off languages can lead to massive revenue loss.

Increased search engine visibility

App store and search engine visibility can also improve when your app is localized, as it's more likely to appear in relevant search results for users in different countries.

Improved UX experience

Enhancing the user experience through localization can make your app more accessible and user-friendly, allowing users to navigate and use the app better.

What are common localization challenges?

App localization is a high-impact, maximum-effort process. And like any other business decision, it’s fraught with challenges and roadblocks, some of which include: An illustration of a roadblock

Inconsistencies within the app

It’s not unusual to find inconsistencies and cultural don’ts in localized apps. But it’s not acceptable. The initial version of your localized app is what your customers will relate your brand with, so it’s essential to get it right the first time.

Make extensive research on the locale, its norms, and values. Thoroughly beta test and A/B test all aspects of your app before its release and make sure to add only culturally relevant content.

Delayed time to market

Ever started a project and found out it’d take way more time and resources than you expected? App localization is no different. Companies often find themselves scrambling to reach deadlines, and launching poorly localized apps.

Set generous timelines for your app localization roadmap, even if it’s just an MVL. But most importantly, plan for localization from the get-go. Your app should be flexible right from the development stage to whenever you decide to branch out, and beyond that.

Hard-coded text and units of measurement

Hard-coded text can pose a substantial localization challenge. To overcome it, accommodate localization at the app development stage.

Specifically, create keys with separate language files for all app elements containing text or units of measurement. For example, your code for login screen should contain login_screen_welcome_message rather than simply Welcome.

Creating space for languages

Some languages take up more space than others, which can be a challenge when designing your app for localization.

Make sure you consider all kinds of language formats when developing your app — left-to-right, right-to-left, or vertical. Also, try not to embed text into your graphics to avoid formatting issues.

Inadequate localization tools

Google Translate and Google Cloud Translation are effective translation tools. And yet, they are not a substitute for a localization tool.

Investing in a comprehensive translation management system and localization platform will help you avoid the pitfalls most brands face when they DIY the localization process. The right localization platform allows seamless integration into your organization’s workflows and collaboration with stakeholders.

How to choose an app localization platform?

Localizing an app can be a daunting task. However, with the right app localization platform, you can find your way through the complex maze of languages and emerge with a perfectly localized app.

Below are the key factors to consider when selecting a good app localization platform:

  • Communication: Your platform should allow you to communicate with and manage your translators, whether they're internal team members or external freelancers.
  • Collaboration and integration: Look for a platform that allows for multiple people to collaborate on the same project to avoid confusion and duplication. Bonus points if it integrates with collaboration tools like Slack or Jira.
  • Automatic sync and quality checks: Pick a localization solution that offers automatic synchronization and quality assurance checks to reduce inefficiencies and errors.
  • Translation progress: A good localization platform allows you to track your progress and see the percentage of completed translations.
  • Translation memory: Choose a platform that offers translation memory to help you identify previously translated strings, saving you time and money.
  • Built-in glossaries: Find a platform that offers built-in glossaries to guide your app localization and ensure consistency.
  • File format support: Look for a platform that supports a wide range of file formats, development frameworks, and programming languages.
  • Affordable: Choose a platform that fits your budget while offering the necessary features for your app localization needs.

Create a winning localization strategy with Centus

Localizing mobile apps can be a time-consuming and costly process. Unless, of course, you manage it using the right app localization tool.

Meet a professional localization platform – Centus.

Using Centus, you can streamline your entire localization process, from importing and exporting localizable strings to managing localization teams, monitoring progress, and conducting quality assurance tests. All within a single dashboard. Learn more.

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