Five steps to prepare your mobile app localization

App markets are steadily growing. By 2020, revenues generated by apps are set to reach $189 billion. Entertainment, shopping, photos, financial services; there’s an app for everything and everyone. Several, in fact, as smartphone owners use an average of nine apps per day.

Which markets are the most popular when it comes to using apps? According to App Annie, smartphone users who spend the most time on their apps come from South Korea, Brazil, Mexico, Japan and India, followed closely by the US and UK.

Many of them don’t speak English, though, or if they do, English is their second language, making mobile app localization vital.

English-only apps were good enough a couple of years ago, but as the number of smartphone users continues to grow in non-English speaking countries, the market has been changing.

When you localize your mobile app, you don’t just translate some content into local languages; you make it easier to be found in app stores. A study called “The Impact of App Translations” by Distomo shows that translating an app yields 26% more revenue and 128% more downloads for each country you localize for.

You heard that right: 128% more! App localization clearly gives you access to a massive market, where more than 2.3 billion smartphone users are ready to download and use any app that makes their lives easier or more entertaining.

But choosing the right markets to localize for and going through the app localization process is a hard job. You need a solid plan in place to make sure it’s worth the effort and the cost. Check out these five steps to prepare your mobile app localization for maximum results.

1. Market research and planning

There’s no point in going global just for the sake of going global. So analyze your product and the market you’re aiming for before you start putting money into localization. Your app may be useful in your home country, but what if there are similar products already running on local smartphones in other parts of the world?

Eastern Europe has a large potential, but it also comes with a high number of developers already selling ingenious apps. Can you provide a better customer experience? And if you can, are you able to do it without offending or off-putting local customs?

Analyze local markets. Once you’ve decided that your app has what it takes to succeed in a local market, you need in-depth research about the market where you plan to launch it. Each country has its own rules in terms of marketing and online activity.

China, which has the largest number of smartphones in the world, has rigid laws surrounding apps, and the smallest mistake can have you banned from a market that will potentially generate $42 billion by 2020 alone.

Of course, not all countries are that strict, but they can be tricky in different ways. If you plan to localize for India, for example, don’t just consider light modifications. 150 million Indians speak English, but 90% of the country’s population speaks hundreds of other languages.

Only around nine of these languages are important when it comes to mobile app localization: Hindi, Urdu, Bengali, Kannada, Malayalam, Punjabi, Marathi, Gujarati and Telugu.

Prepare your app. Preparing your app is hard work, so you need to come up with a solid plan to succeed. Your app has to be perfect when you launch it in local stores. As the old saying goes, you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression.

With so many apps downloaded just to be uninstalled (around 90% are deleted within 30 days), whether you persist in a market can come down to a matter of details:

§ Space and layout — some languages require more or less space than English, so you should design your app to leave room for modifications.

§ Interface — what works for one country may be unattractive for another. Minecraft: Pocket Edition registered high revenue in China only after developers changed the interface support and added more local features to the app.

§ Servers — find out if working with local servers can avoid delays and disconnections. 

§ Design — choose images, fonts and colors that can easily adapt to local traditions (Facebook, Skype, PayPal and Shazam are all blue for a reason).

Stay within your budget. With so many steps in this first stage of mobile app localization, things can easily get out of hand. Plan each movement wisely and always analyze costs. Ask your programmers and translators to estimate how much time and money each step needs. Decide on how many countries to localize for and check how many working hours you’ll need for each one. Then set measurable goals and milestones to keep things under control.

2. Choosing the right OS for your mobile app

Choosing the right operating system (OS) is important for your app’s success. 86% of devices use Android, while iOS is the second most popular operating system in the world. But these numbers suffer modifications when looking at each country individually.

A high number of users is not always synonymous with higher downloads. iPhone owners still tend to spend more on apps and within apps in most countries. Yet South Korea seems to be a country where Android apps are more popular.

Japan’s Android app market is also growing, so consider this 110 million-user market before assuming that iOS is the right way to go.

The ideal version is the one where you enter the market through both the Apple Store and Google Play, but your budget may not allow for both. If your app is expensive, start with iOS. If you’re more interested in reaching a larger public with lower prices, go for Google Play.

At this stage, China deserves another mention. With Google Play not available in this country, launching your app with Android means selling through local app stores. There are hundreds of Chinese stores, each with their own ranking rules and fees. So look for a strong local partner to help you cut through the noise and gain visibility in this market.

3. Building a localization team

You can’t pull off effective mobile app localization without a solid team. We’re talking long hours of work in various fields, from programming and translating to building a marketing strategy.

No one has the knowledge to do everything alone, as most IT specialists don’t have a clue about optimizing app titles and descriptions, while linguists don’t understand what Unicode is and why it’s essential in mobile app localization. 

You’ll work with app developers, programmers, linguists, translators, legal consultants, marketing and localization specialists from different parts of the world, each with individual working habits and expectations.

Most of your team will come from countries you’ve never visited, and work at different times of the day, so having a solid translation management software in place can help you save hours and money. Getting your team working together using a unique platform can mean the difference between failure and success.

Last but not least, you’ll need a localization manager to keep things moving in the right direction. Someone to make the right decisions in terms of costs, efficiency and team building. A good localization manager should also be a good organizer, with people management skills and at least basic technical knowledge in this field.

4. Deciding on your

ASO strategy

Once you have your mobile app localized and ready to go, you’ll need to make it attractive both for smartphone users and search engines. The higher you rank in the app store, the more chances you have of getting your app downloaded by users.

Visibility in the app store means more sales and higher revenue. You need to optimize titles, subtitles and app descriptions, using the right keywords. Translating your original texts won’t be of any help after localization, because people in different regions search for apps using different keywords.

Research the right words, and think about hiring a local app store optimization (ASO) expert to come up with the best title and app descriptions. Make sure all keywords you use are relevant to your app. Confusing users won’t bring you any extra points.

Include the main keyword in your app’s title. Both the Apple Store and Google Play scan titles and rank apps higher that include the searched-for words. You have 30 characters for iOS and 50 for Android, but don’t be tempted to use them all in keyword stuffing.

When it comes to descriptions, Google Play scans the entire write-up for keywords, while iOS does not. So, adapt your app description to fit the store’s different requirements before launching. In both cases, make sure you write for people, as they’re the ones who actually pay for your app. 

Work on your visuals. Your app’s logo is the first thing that catches people’s eye, and nothing says bad quality quite as much as a poor image. Experiments with logos can increase app page performance by 26%, and a good logo can help you considerably increase your downloads.

Screenshots are also important. Make sure you add photos of your localized app instead of using the original ones. There’s no point localizing an app if you continue to use the English version images to promote it.

As video is the new black in online marketing, keep some resources to create a preview video for your app. A 15 to 30-second video about your app can help increase your downloads immediately.

A short and entertaining presentation of your product, without obvious advertising purposes, will win many eyes and hopefully hearts, as people love to watch videos on their smartphones.

5. Planning on marketing localization

Mobile app localization is not just translating your app and launching it in local stores. You need a localized marketing strategy to increase app adoption rate in new markets.

You must tailor your message for new audiences with different buying habits, who see entertainment differently and have distinct sets of values. Whether your app is meant to help them be more efficient at their jobs, take better photos or organize their shopping list, you need to explain the advantages of using your app in a language that potential users understand. 

Depending on your goals and budget, you can choose between one global marketing strategy adapted to local markets, or a set of multiple local strategies that mix personal approaches with your brand image.

In the first case, you’ll need to go for a general message that can be easily translated for users from various cultures. In the second scenario, set guidelines that keep your central message but build local marketing strategies around it.

In both cases, work with local marketing experts who know the market from the inside and can provide you with useful information about your audiences. Just downloading your app isn’t enough when looking to make your business successful. You need to convince users to keep the app in their phones and to use it too, for sustainable growth and revenue.

The takeaway

Mobile app localization is a must when selling across borders. But bad localization will probably cause more damage than not translating anything at all. So take time to analyze all aspects before starting this complex process. Research any new market you want to sell to and localize for, without ignoring algorithms or app store requirements.

Build a plan and make sure you include specialists in market research, app localization and marketing. Think about it this way, if your product is so good that you’re planning to sell it globally, it’s worth investing in a professional localization process that will maintain your app’s unique features despite language barriers or technical difficulties. If you follow a well-prepared strategy, you’ll rebound to achieve success. Good luck!