Going global: How to knock app localization out of the park
Your target market may be broader than you realize. As the world becomes more connected, your audience naturally expands. The beauty of app stores, in particular, is their international availability—Apple’s App Store is available in 175 countries and regions, and Google Play is available in all 195 countries.
Availability, however, does not automatically translate to suitability. This is why app localization is fundamental in scaling your app for a global audience successfully. Localization brings the unique attributes of cultures across the globe to life within your app.
What is localization in app development?
App localization is the methodical approach to adapting your app’s intent for specific geographic markets. Localization molds every aspect of an app to a particular audience’s wants and needs. The process of mobile app localization, in most instances, should not fundamentally change an app’s look or purpose; rather, it replicates the original app so that it is perceived equally in other regions.
Internationalization vs localization
Before you get your localization started, you should have your internationalization ducks in a row. Often referred to as i18n, internationalization is the coding stage of localization that allows user-facing content to be independent of language. Rather than hard-coding each language, calls retrieve the user’s native language.
This stage should be completed before your app is first published, whereas localization efforts can be implemented thereafter.
Elements of your app that should be localized
Some pieces of the localization puzzle are more straightforward than others. Each of the following elements work together to give your end user a cohesive, natural experience.
Keywords: Pertaining to both app store optimization (ASO) and search engine optimization (SEO), keyword volumes change depending on the country. Research accordingly, and include relevant keywords in listings for specific countries. If you localize nothing else, you should be adjusting your app store pages to regions with the highest download volumes. Bespoke pages will encourage users to try out your app, which is a great indicator of which countries you should be focusing on for your more in-depth localization.
Language: Often first to come to mind, adapting the copy across your app to the native languages of your users is actually one of the easiest components to get wrong. You’ve probably heard the phrase “lost in translation”. To avoid this folly, Google Translate is not fit for purpose; you’ll need to get a native speaker to translate the core intention of your message. Proverbs (colloquial phrases) alone are often unique to each language.
Let’s look at how call to actions translations alone can go wrong, using Spanish as an example.
You’ll also need to translate any text within images across your app and within the app store. For this reason, it’s easier to not include text in images where possible.
Translating a language will inevitably change the amount of space copy takes up, which will impact your UX. This is especially true of languages that use glyphs as opposed to characters. Also take into consideration whether any language translations will change the direction the text is read, as this will drastically impact your design.
Currency: A much more direct adaptation, the currency displayed in-app should match the location of the user, and prices should be appropriately updated based on current conversion rates.
Symbols/emojis: The meaning of symbols and emojis can vary drastically between countries, leading to some potentially detrimental misunderstandings.
Units of measurement: Units for length, temperature, mass (weight), and more will change between countries.
Colors: In different cultures, colors have varying meanings. For example, black has a connection to mourning in Western cultures, but mourning is associated with yellow in Egypt and Latin America, and orange in the Middle East. Also keep in mind whether you are using a country’s flag’s colors together in your app. This may be okay in some instances, but a patriotic color scheme may not support the message you are trying to convey.
Images: Depending on your imagery, you may need to update your assets to be more culturally relevant. As mentioned above, if any of your images have text within them, they will need to be carefully translated to appropriate languages.
Date format: Adapt your date format – MM/DD/YYYY, DD/MM/YYYY, or YYYY/MM/DD – to the preferences of local regions.
Time format: Display a 12 hour or 24 hour time format depending on the country you are localizing for.
Address format: Particularly important for e-commerce apps that depend on accurate shipping addresses, but valuable for all apps with in-app purchases that will inevitably ask the user for the address associated with their payment method, address fields will need to change structurally depending on the countries you are localizing for.
Number format: The characters used as the thousands separator and as the decimal separator change. For example, 2,043.1 is correct in the United States and 2.043,1 is correct in Germany. Some languages use a two digit grouping after the three digits denoting the hundreds. For example, 13,025,238 in U.S. English and 1,30,25,238 in Hindi-speaking countries.
Name format: Some cultures use the format First Name, Surname, while others place the surname first. Others use varying numbers and combinations of middle and/or surnames, particularly in countries where similar names are quite common in order to differentiate between individuals. In many cases, you can stick to one field requesting the full name of the user. However, for apps that offer services like banking or investments, among others, you may need to differentiate between names more clearly and should therefore adapt the fields to the countries you are localizing for.
Device focus: The operating system (OS) and device used per region can vary, so you may need to place a greater focus on your development of iOS or Android updates depending on where your priority audiences are located. Apple has a developer guide for iOS app localization and Google has a developer guide for Android localization.
Cultural nuances: Perhaps the most complicated but important changes you’ll need to make are those that accommodate cultural preferences and needs.
Why is localization important?
Still wondering whether you should localize your app? The short answer is yes. The above changes are absolutely worth the effort. Mobile app localization is important because it:
- Shows that your brand is respectful of cultures around the world
- Helps create a consistent experience for users
- Gives you a competitive advantage over apps that do not localize
- Identifies additional profitable demographics
- Allows your app to scale more quickly
- Increases user satisfaction
- Expands opportunities for in-app purchases (IAPs)
Measuring your localization efforts
Your existing analytics can help pinpoint which countries or regions are already the most interested in your app. However, once you start to localize, it’s important to regularly measure KPIs following any changes to make sure that you are getting the best return on your investment (ROI).
Above all else, the most surefire way to thoughtfully and effectively localize is to consult with native users. The payoff will be well worth the work
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