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Everything You Always Wanted to Know About App Localisation

Everything You Always Wanted to Know About App Localisation

If you think that developing an app is hard work, you might be surprised to know that mobile app localisation is probably just as hard. With over 342 thousand app downloads from the stores every minute and a user retention rate for mobile apps at 32%, effective localisation has become a must for any company intending to reach international markets.

However, mobile app localisation does not involve a simple word-for-word translation of an app’s contents. App developers also need to take user experience, usability, user interface, and other aspects into account.

The Need for Mobile App Localisation

Even though nowadays most people have at least basic competence in a second language (especially English), that’s not enough. It’s been proven that users, even if bilingual, ignore products if they are not available in their language. The reason for this is that we build emotions in our mother tongue.

As it turns out, emotions affect not just the nature of our decisions, but the speed at which we make them. That’s why getting into anyone’s heart and persuading them to spend money on your product or service requires you to communicate in their own language. 

With global unique mobile users projected to grow up to 5.7 billion by the end of 2020 (source: GSMA Intelligence), failing to localise a mobile app correctly (or to localise it altogether) means a missed opportunity for exceptional market growth.

Just to illustrate this point, consider the following: a study by Statista shows that 11.3 billion apps were downloaded in the United States in 2017, while other countries like China reached a jaw-dropping 79.3 billion downloads. 

App Localisation vs. Internationalisation

A lot of people often use these two terms interchangeably, but they don’t mean exactly the same. Internationalisation happens when the app is first created and relates to preparing the app for future localisation. Internationalisation involves things such as making the app language independent (i.e., supporting non-Latin alphabets or bidirectional text when users need to switch from English to languages such as Japanese or Arabic), storing user-facing content in separate strings to facilitate their translation, etc.

Localisation is about making the app suitable for the target language and culture. It goes beyond translating textual content. Localisation involves setting the default currency, numerical systems, and date format; adapting images that need to resonate locally; finding equivalent symbols for certain meanings; even changing emojis! (Ever wondered if emojis will ever become an independent language? You might want to check out this post).

Top Languages for App Localisation

What’s your app type? What’s your promotion strategy? Depending on your answers to these questions, you might want to localise it into one or more of the below top 10 languages and respective countries for app localisation:

  1. English — USA, UK, Australia, Canada
  2. Japanese — Japan
  3. Simplified Chinese — Mainland China, Taiwan, Hong Kong
  4. Hindi — India
  5. Russian — Russia
  6. Korean — South Korea
  7. German — Germany
  8. Spanish — Mexico, Argentina
  9. Portuguese — Brazil
  10. Indonesian — Indonesia

Types of App Localisation

Minimum Viable Localisation

MVL is when an app is localised with minimal features and content. While still offering a certain level of value to users, MVL requires significantly less time and investment. It’s a good option for brands who want to trial their app in a new market without committing to full localisation (yet).

You may have heard of a minimum viable product (MVP); it is an early iteration of a product or software solution with sufficient features to satisfy early adopters. Minimum viable localisation follows the same logic and relates to agile localisation.

Deep Localisation

This approach adapts every aspect of an app for a specific market. While heavier on resources, if an app is serious about doing long-term business in a chosen market, it’s definitely the way to go.

What Mobile App Localisation Involves

When dealing with mobile app localisation, there are many factors that come into play. The main goal is making the app look and feel local while enabling a smooth customer experience. Your translator needs to be able to approach the project not only linguistically but in a holistic way, which requires the capacity to appeal to all of the user’s senses. See below some key aspects involved in the localisation of apps.

Checking Information Flow

Not all cultures process information in the same way. As a consequence, the below needs to be considered:

  • Text compression: when it comes to app localisation it’s essential to keep the content concise and to the point, expressing only the main ideas (with an option to read more if necessary). The translation strategy to achieve this comprises either grammatical or lexical ways to shorten the text without destroying its meaning. Text compression gets rid of redundancy in human language to transmit messages quickly.
  • Sign-up flow: this is one of the most critical aspects of the user experience journey when it comes to apps. According to what’s the purpose, what’s the audience, and what’s the language, the chosen sign-up flow will be different. The key idea is to reduce unnecessary friction and only ask for what each culture considers essential information.
  • Character limitation: as some languages are larger than others, or less concise, there are different character limitations to follow. Text reduction can be achieved not only by minimising the number of words but also by abbreviating words and using shorter synonyms.
  • Skim-reading-friendly design: we all skim-read. Skim reading means reading rapidly in order to get an overview of the text. With visible headlines and clear buttons, the reader can detect the general idea of a piece of text, and decide whether to keep reading or to avoid that part.

Adapting Visual Information

  • Layout. Did you know, for example, that users in China prefer e-commerce websites and apps cluttered with elements? That’s something that would feel overwhelming for the average western consumer, though. However, appealing to cultural archetypes of this sort in both cases will ensure higher sales, which is why something as simple as rearranging the layout of catalogue articles according to the target culture can make a huge difference. Localising the app layout also refers to things like adding extra space in text boxes or adding additional fields in forms (in Spain, for example, everyone has two surnames, so you need two fields in personal information forms).
  • Emojis, colours, and symbols. Your translator will also need to consider the best localisation strategy for emojis, colours, and symbols. Thumbs-up emojis are offensive in Nigeria. In China, the white colour tends to represent death and mourning (it’s the colour worn for funerals). In Japan, the colour purple represents danger.
  • Identity. Consider this example: if your app will be marketed in Asia, and it includes images of people of western ethnicity, those images or pictures should be changed to people of eastern ethnicity. You want your users to feel represented by your product, which you achieve through appropriate brand messaging.

As a consequence of preferences like the above, a good localiser needs to have outstanding cultural analysis and cognitive research skills to be able to synthesise localised content and visual data in such a way that the user doesn’t feel bored, offended, overwhelmed, underrepresented, or any other negative feeling.

Naturally, front-end developers play an essential role in the localisation of mobile apps, and you need to involve them in the process. They are in charge of implementing the required flexibilisation in the app (which the localiser will have identified).

Researching Local Competitors

Before localising an app, getting to know your local competitors and what they offer will be paramount. You can then establish your prices and create marketing campaigns on a competitive level. In addition, you can highlight your strengths as opposed to your competitors’ weaknesses, which can improve your app’s performance in the local market. Researching local competitor apps is essential to unveil what threats are in place, but also what opportunities.

App Testing

As explained by VMO, 

“Mobile app testing is a form of A/B testing wherein different user segments are presented with different variations of an in-app experience to determine which one induces a desired action from the user or has a positive (or better) impact on app key metrics. By consistently figuring out what works for your mobile app and what doesn’t, you can systematically optimize it for your desired metrics and unlock limitless growth opportunities for your business that were always lurking in plain sight.”

Testing can be either:

  • Functional testing:  it helps determine whether the app features work the way they were intended to. It also ensures that users can perform all the necessary actions.
  • Linguistic testing: it checks for correct and context-appropriate translations, and usually involves the inspection by a native speaker.

Apple App Store Guidelines for Mobile App Localisation

Apple offers a variety of app localisation guidelines for its App Store that can be very useful to know. Once you are familiar with them, you can set up your app for an international audience. Besides, these guidelines can help you understand what’s necessary to expand into new markets. If you take advantage of the different steps suggested by Apple, you’ll manage to assess the success potential of your app and you’ll be able to make its localised versions a reality.

App localisation-Android-vs-iOs
Android vs. iOs

Android PlayStore Guidelines

Android also offers its own Play Store localisation checklist that will help you with the same purpose. If you’ve adapted your app for Android, then you will definitely benefit from having a look at these guidelines in order to guarantee the success of your app.


Metadata and keyword localisation are crucial. Multiple studies have shown an increase in app downloads following metadata and keyword localisation. However, in order for your app to rank high on search engines, you need more than just translating your keywords into different languages. The right thing to do here is to perform some research on what keywords rank top for a certain target locale and then localise your metadata and keywords for such markets. This process is called multilingual keyword research followed by SEO localisation, and only expert marketing translators know how to do it right.

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