Software Localization: The Ultimate Guide

Shreelekha Singh
09 Mar 2023

14 min. read


Your business is thriving, revenue is multiplying, and customers are happy. It’s time to take the next step—expanding to new markets globally. As exciting as it sounds on paper, breaking into international markets can be daunting in real life. You have to juggle many moving parts: local regulations, cultural adaptation, political awareness, hiring globally, and it only keeps piling up.

Wish there was an easier, more seamless way to handle everything on your plate? You found it the second you opened this blog: software localization.

This detailed guide will give you a rundown on what software localization is, its benefits, and how to get it right with five best practices.

What is software localization?

Software localization defines the technique of modifying and adjusting your software to the cultural and linguistic context of a target market you want to enter. Also identified with the sign l10n, software localization requires a holistic revamp of your software—in terms of language, design, user interface, and code—to make it more user-friendly for your end user.

A software localization process goes beyond basic translation to revamp your product contextually. Unlike traditional translation, a localization workflow involves updates in your backend code and UX design along with language and content changes.

Here are a few critical elements in a standard software localization process:

  • User interface: adapting your UI design to the adjustments you make in the content across your software. This includes changing different design components, like the box for a CTA button or window labels.
  • Documentation: updating your documentation with translated content and contextually accurate information. This involves revamping customer education resources, like FAQ pages, knowledge base, and developer docs.
  • Operating systems: changing your software code to ensure it’s compatible with different operating systems used in different parts of the world. Software developers require help from a human translator or linguist to navigate these OS in foreign languages.
  • Cultural adaptation: modifying different aspects based on the new markets' cultural contexts. This requires in-depth research on the local culture and preferences of the region you want to target.

What’s more, once you’re done with the localization process, you have to pass these changes through a quality assurance framework before deploying your new code. Put simply, software localization covers a combination of translation, engineering, project management, and testing.

5 reasons why you need a software localization strategy

Building a software localization strategy is not just a nice-to-have. A well-designed strategy for your localization efforts works like a simple playbook to accelerate your time to market and localization quality without losing time or direction.

Need more convincing to build a strategy? Here are five reasons to show you the benefits of localization when you’re going global:

Build brand awareness

Localizing your software for a specific region can give potential customers a seamless experience using the tool. The ease of use promotes positive word-of-mouth publicity and maximizes your reach among international users.

What's more, localizing your software user interface to meet the region's regulations can also give you visibility on local platforms. Getting featured on review platforms and communities can build your brand image and organically bring more users into the sales funnel.

Continuous localization is the key to becoming a popular name among international users without spending too much on advertising and marketing campaigns.

Gain competitive advantage

Localization of software can also help one-up your competition. Launching your software in a global market means you're expanding your reach and going a step ahead of your competitors. But more importantly, you can use your global presence as a key differentiator in the industry—domestically and globally.

You get an edge over your competitors by expanding your user base at the domestic level. At the global level, you deliver the promise of excellent quality wherever you launch and beat the competition.

Case in point: Airbnb is a global platform for booking accommodations anywhere in the world. While every country or region has Airbnb's competitors, none are as widely known or trusted as the global giant.

Improve customer experience

Your users at home love your software, but that might not work for users in different, unfamiliar markets. After all, when you localize software, you must invest most of your time customizing the user experience for your target users abroad.

Remember that poor localization can create friction for your customers, eventually leading to churn. Instead, you want to create a detailed localization path focusing on the user experience for a specific language and locale. This is especially important in the sphere of videogame localization.

More than impressing customers with fancy design and copy, aim to make it easy for them to navigate the tool. This can create a positive brand reputation.

Increase customer acquisition

What comes with solid brand awareness, competitive edge, and happy users? (Hint: money) It’s streamlined customer acquisition.

A good software localization process sets you up for consistent sign-ups and revenue growth. When users are comfortable navigating your SaaS and achieving its desired value, that means you've done your job well.

Here’s the thing: users make buying decisions emotionally and often depend on customer reviews—79% of them do. Delivering users' expectations and producing positive social proof can set your customer acquisition strategy for long-term success.

Coin Splash's localization efforts are a case study in smart customer acquisition through localization. Their localization team adapted the app for six main regions: the US, the UK, Canada, France, Italy, and Germany. This led to a 101% increase in global downloads and a 67% increase in new regions.

Accelerate your launch in local markets

Lastly, the most important yet underrated benefit of software localization is the ability to speed up your launch in new regions. By planning ahead and integrating your localization efforts with your software development process, you can completely overhaul your software significantly faster and cheaper.

With this game plan, your software developers won't need to invest too much time in changing different aspects. Instead, they can create new and modified strings for different languages beforehand (more on that later).

3 types of software localization processes

Now that we’ve established what localization is in software and how it can benefit your expansion plans, let's get down to business. We'll break down the three main types of localization processes to see how each fare against another.

This quick comparison will help you decide the ideal approach for your software localization workflow.

Waterfall localization

Waterfall localization is a more traditional approach to localized software. You have to start the software localization project only once the software development cycle is complete. You need more teams to manage translations and extended timelines to roll out your software in new regions.

The general process in waterfall localization involves launching your software in the source language, creating translated text for multiple languages, and sending the translated text back to the development team for quality assurance and coding.

While not many teams use this localization method anymore, the biggest benefit of the waterfall approach was the accuracy of translations. It's a foolproof process for removing localization errors before deploying.

waterfall localization Source: Supertext

Continuous localization

Continuous localization translates all the content to multiple languages as soon as you create it. It's a subtype of agile localization where you don't have to update your software separately for different markets. Instead, a localization specialist coordinates with multiple translators and project managers to localize your app for all target markets simultaneously.

This localization software workflow can help you:

  • Save time on managing translations across different timelines
  • Improve SEO rankings by instantly updating software whenever necessary
  • Control costs by reducing the need for a bigger workforce and more resources
  • Achieve faster time to market and meet market demand by upgrading technical aspects

continuous localization Source: Supertext

Agile Localization

Agile localization is a non-linear approach to adapting software for a local market. You localize your software in other languages during the software development process itself. So, development and localization happen simultaneously.

Localization teams developed the agile methodology to overcome the challenges of the waterfall approach. Agile is faster, less resource-intensive, and more responsive than the other methods.

When using the agile method, teams can expect:

  • Faster turnaround times for all translation files
  • Quicker timelines for launching your software in new areas
  • More seamless and swift upgrades based on user feedback

agile localization Source: Supertext

7 essential software localization best practices that work

You're all set to chalk out your software localization workflow and gear up for launching in more regions worldwide. Before you jump into the specifics, hold your brakes and read these localization best practices to maximize your ROI for the long haul.

Include localization as a part of your software roadmap

Localization can benefit your software in many ways (like we saw earlier in the post). But to hit all those targets and realize the benefits, you need to integrate your localization process into your software development roadmap.

This is because localization can be a time-consuming, nuanced, and complex process. You have to take care of everything, from a simple translation and currency symbols to hard-coded strings and culturally appropriate images. This can be a lot of work.

So, instead of leaving localization as an afterthought, include it within your software roadmap to speed things up and optimize your efforts. Here’s how you can prepare for this:

  • Build an application framework for localization: Design your application framework for easily adapting software to local requirements. Create resource files in other languages and build language-specific resource bundles. Prepare your APIs and features for multiple locales.
  • Plan text to support multiple languages: Prepare for localization while writing the copy and designing the user interface. Create dynamic UI (more on this shortly) to easily modify your interface for different languages without compromising language quality.
  • Code strings for localized software: Code software strings under Unicode/UTF-8 to prepare your code for multiple languages, except Asian languages. Save all strings to a resource file and create several such files, each covering one language.

Remember to keep localization as a fundamental part of your development process instead of leaving it for the final stages of your release plan.

Follow a dynamic approach to UI/UX expansion

UI/UX expansion is a critical part of any localization framework. You can’t simply translate the app’s content into a target language and call it a day. You have to go a step beyond to understand the implications of the translated text on your user experience and interface.

Mapping your UI/UX design changes will allow you to intuitively alter your software for a different target language.

Focus mainly on the placement of action buttons, forms, and information in different sections. Test your design changes for all screen sizes to optimize for responsiveness. You can also dig deeper to find visual conventions of your target region and iterate the design according to these rules.

Learn more about UI/UX localization in our comprehensive guide.

Choose a proven localization software

The most crucial link in the chain for your strategy is the software localization platform you use for the process. Your choice of localization software can make or break your prospects—a good tool will prepare the groundwork for success, while a bad tool might sink the ship.

Consider these key criteria to find the perfect software localization tool and get cracking on your expansion project:

  • Translation memory: The tool should keep a database of all previous translations to make future projects more consistent and quicker. Besides, translation memories simplify the process of updating your localized software.
  • Machine translation: You can accelerate your localization project with machine translation that automatically translates your content to a target language. This is great for time-sensitive projects. So, choose a tool with this core feature.
  • Multi-format translation: Localization isn’t limited to in-app content. You have to translate websites, documentation, customer resources, and several other elements. Pick a tool that allows you to translate all resources simultaneously.

Wondering where you’ll find a tool that ticks off all these parameters? Right here.

Centus is a powerful software localization software with advanced capabilities to localize your software in any language. The tool is designed for everyone—designers, developers, translators, and project managers—to simplify the localization and translation process. centus dashboard

Work with native speakers to localize text and design

One way to ensure your localization project exceeds your expectations and produces stellar ROI is to double down on human translation and testing.

Adding human translators or native speakers to the mix, especially for the quality assurance process—can significantly improve your odds of identifying and eliminating localization bugs.

More importantly, you’ll get a good perspective on the impact of every language on your software. For example, you might present some text or graphics in a culturally inappropriate style. Only a local speaker from the region can identify such nuances and help make the localized software error-free.

Design a style guide and glossary for consistency

A style guide is another one of the proven software localization best practices followed by experts. A style guide to localize your software typically includes:

  • Information about your software

  • Details about your target audience

  • Your mission, vision, objectives, and all other details

Think of it as guidelines for your software localization teams and translators to position your brand and convey your voice as consistently and accurately as possible. So, no matter how many people you work with, you can design a consistent brand experience across different regions.

This document can benefit software developers too. Since it includes information about your software’s capabilities and core value propositions, developers can compile all the information in this resource instead of sharing the same details repeatedly.

Here are a few components to cover in your software localization style guide and simply the translation process:

  • Brand overview: Give translators a brief overview of who you are. This section will talk at length about your software, its core capabilities, the ideal customer profile, and the main markets. You can add more information to explain everything about your software for ease of translation.

  • Communication style: Every software company follows specific brand voice guidelines. Curate your guidelines to explain how you want to communicate with your customers. Add examples in your own language to share some do's, and dont's for translating textual copy.

  • Visual guidelines: Dedicate an entire section covering the visual side of your software. Include details about your software colors, typeface, and preferred styles. Source examples from your original software to explain each aspect, particularly the style you want to reflect in the localized version.

  • Glossary: Include a list of brand-specific terminology to inform translators about jargon they might not be aware of. This is essential to your style guide to minimize errors and translate the copy with the right context.

Microsoft’s language-specific style guides are the perfect example of how it's done. Each guide shares a set of best practices for translating Microsoft software to a particular language. The guides are simple, skimmable, and all-inclusive.

Microsoft's style guide

Source: Microsoft

Leverage a testing and QA process

Building a software localization strategy is a job half done. The other half is about quality assurance and localization testing.

The testing process examines whether your app is properly designed for use in a given market. The process includes parameters like interface, currency format, metric system, language, date and time format, and similar elements. Besides UI/UX design, testing also evaluates your app’s hardware compatibility for devices available in that region.

Follow these steps to conduct your testing process effectively:

  • Set up the environment for testing your software

  • Choose one localized version for testing

  • Generate a script for the region you’re testing for

  • Compare the in-built and local attributes for quality check

  • Analyze the results with help from your development team

Create an airtight software localization strategy

If you aspire to scale your software to a global level, software localization is the key to unlocking that opportunity. But going into software localization without a strategy can do more harm than good for your business.

When thinking of a localization project, invest the initial time in building a failproof strategy to focus your efforts in the right direction. Once you’ve laid the groundwork, the million-dollar question is: which localization platform will you use?

Thankfully, you don't have to go far searching for the perfect tool. With Centus, you get a complete localization suite equipped with advanced features to do all the heavy lifting on your behalf. Learn more.

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