App Localization Is More than Just Translation by Lior Eldan

app localization

Lior EldanLior Eldan is the Co-Founder & COO of Moburst, a mobile success agency that helps brands and startups grow through innovative, creative, and cost-effective mobile campaigns. Today he shares with us some insights on app localization based on cultural characteristics, and how some changes can help your app succeed.


App Localization Is More than Just Translation

For most, app localization simply means translating it to different languages. Entrepreneurs then sit and wait, hoping this would instantly turn their app into a huge success in those foreign markets. I hate to pop your bubble, but in order for your app to successfully penetrate a foreign market, there’s a whole lot more than translation that needs to take place.

Scratch the Surface

app localization

If you want to keep effort to a minimum but still localize your app as much as possible, ASO (App Store Optimization) is the way to go. This means optimizing what users in a certain country see in the app store: title, description, and visuals.

Using Google Translate is highly risky, and I strongly recommend working with a professional translator who is also experienced in app store optimization and app localization. Make sure that your description includes the most common relevant search words in that country, and that your visuals correlate with the local culture. Spanish for example, has a couple dozens of different jargons, and therefore using native-speakers as translators is the only way to overcome such cultural differences. If you have a travel app, as another example, your Mexican users are searching for different destinations than your UK users.

As always, it’s best to run A/B tests for creative materials, keep up with ongoing industry changes and optimize the text and title on a regular basis.

Copy, Translate & Paste

app localization

This is still a basic level of app localization, which includes translating not only your app page, but also the content of your app word for word. (Of course, some UI tweaks are required to make sure the interface accommodates the text). This basically means that people everywhere are exposed to the same type of app regardless of their cultural differences.

While this can be enough for utility apps (such as Google maps), it’s not enough for apps that either offer a more “complex” experience, more than one feature, or attempt to engage with the user on an emotional level.

Beat the Culture Shock

app localization
To penetrate into a foreign market successfully, performing the two steps mentioned above is not enough. In-app alterations beyond basic translation must take place. To make appropriate tweaks, first conduct an extensive market research examining various aspects: the use of mobile devices in the country, competing apps, and users’ purpose for using these apps.

The conclusions derived from such a study should give app developers a better clue as to how they should adapt their app to the desired market. If the target audience for example, seems to be a fan of highly expressive emoticons (this is actually the truth in many Asian markets), a messaging app should make the emoticons button more accessible to users than the photo attachment button.

The same app could also be aiming to penetrate another market where locals opt more towards utility features, and will be exposed to a version of the app where the voice recording button is more prominent than the emoticons button. Successfully penetrating this country could also mean having to alter the emoticons themselves to make them more culturally appropriate.

Making these minor tweaks to your app localization based on cultural characteristics can mean the difference between failing to penetrate into a foreign market and becoming a huge success. We realize that even the most basic steps are somewhat tricky and recommend working with an experienced partner that can ease you into this crucial process.