As of last July, there was a combined total of 2.5 million apps in the Google Play App Store and the Apple App Store. The app stores get more and more competitive every year, and app publishers are using every available advantage to increase their downloads.
Number of apps in each of the app stores, as of July 2014. Image Credit: Statista
One of the most powerful ways to increase the number of downloads of your app is to localize it (including language translation) so that it can be used in other countries. But this can be a huge task, especially for complex apps. Is it worth the trouble?
This post will show you why localization is usually worthwhile. More important, it will show you how to determine if localization would be a good fit for your app without risking a lot of resources. Then if your test is successful, you can confidently proceed with the entire app localization process.
Localization vs. Internationalization
To avoid any confusion, let’s start by taking a look at two terms you will hear frequently – localization and internationalization. The two terms are used fairly interchangeably when referring to apps, but there is a subtle difference.
Internationalization is the overall process of converting an app so that it can be used in a foreign country. Localization is the translation of each asset (graphics, text, etc.). This includes language translations, but it can also mean converting units of measure and other cultural adaptations.
Now that we have that detail out of the way, let’s jump right into finding out if your app has the potential to do well in other countries. It may not be as complicated as you think.
The Localization MVP
Localizing your entire app can be a huge job. It can consume a lot of time and money. In addition, although localization has worked very well for many apps, there is no guarantee that it will work for all apps.
So in order to limit your risk, you can do a minimum viable product (MVP) experiment to see if there is a market for your app in other countries. Instead of localizing your whole app, you can just localize your app store profile, otherwise known as your metadata. The degree to which you localize your app store profile will depend on the localization resources at your disposal.
At a minimum, you should translate your app’s keywords. If you want to take it a little further, you can also translate your app’s screenshots and app name.
Clash of Clans – English and Chinese screenshots. Image Source: Apple App Store
Of course, there is a downside to this method. Since you are localizing only your app’s metadata, people might be disappointed when they download your app and discover that your app’s assets are not localized. This could lead to negative reviews.
There are a couple of things you can do to minimize the negative impact of this test:
First, you can run your MVP test for a very limited amount of time. This will allow you to gauge the interest level of people in that country. Then if there is sufficient interest, you can remove your app from that country’s app store until you are able to accomplish a complete localization.
Second, you can clone your app and launch a similar version under different branding. In this way, you won’t damage the reputation of your existing app so you can run your test for a longer period of time. This will give you a chance to do more localization tests.
Whichever method you choose, be sure to consult with a native speaker or professional translator when translating your metadata. You want to be sure that you are targeting the right keywords and conducting a valid test.
Target These Countries First
If you aren’t sure which countries to start with, target countries that have large populations and high mobile device ownership. This would be countries like South Korea, China, India, Russia, and Japan.
Choose one or more of these countries and implement your MVP. The more countries you can target, the better. Many times, you can get translations done on sites like Elance or oDesk for a very reasonable price.
A Case Study
Now let’s take a look at an app developer who was able to increase his downloads by 767% just by localizing his app’s keywords. David Janner didn’t localize his app, Harlem Shake Yourself. He left it as-is.
After localizing his keywords, the English language accounted for only 19.8% of his downloads. Before the localization, English had accounted for 76% of the app’s downloads. So his downloads went from 3,000 per month to over 23,000 per month.
Country distribution of app downloads after localization. Image Credit: Make App Magazine
This is just one example of how localization significantly increased the number of downloads of an app. If this study doesn’t convince you, do some research on other apps that have been localized. There are varying degrees of success, but the majority of the results are very positive.
iOS and Google Play Differences
Now that you’ve seen the benefits of localizing an app’s keywords, let’s take a look at how to localize for the two biggest app stores – Google Play and the Apple App Store.
The basic strategy for choosing keywords is the same for both stores. You are looking for low competition, “download” keywords. These are keywords that people will type into the search field to download an app like yours.
Beyond these basic keyword characteristics, the two app stores discover an app’s keywords in different ways. The following information is some very basic information on App Store Optimization (ASO). To learn more, you can read this post.
Clash of Clans app description on Google Play. Image Credit: Google Play Store
Google Play takes keywords from both the app title and the description. Keywords in the title carry more weight, but since titles are limited to only 30 characters, the bulk of your keywords will be from your app’s description. Be sure to create a description that sounds natural and is not just stuffed with keywords.
As with the Google Play App Store, the Apple App Store gets an app’s keywords from the title of the app. However, instead of taking keywords from the description of the app, it uses a 100-character keyword field to determine an app’s keywords. Since you have a limited amount of space, you need to use as many of those characters as possible and choose keywords that will have the greatest impact.
Keyword character count and optimization module. Image Credit: Sensor Tower
If your MVP test is successful, then congratulations! You are now ready for a complete app localization. Here are a few things to consider before getting started:
Use Professional Services
It may be tempting to try to save some money and rely on Google Translate to localize your app. But if you do, you may be setting yourself up for some embarrassing mistakes.
Machine translation can help you spot check a few words and learn more about a language (if you are interested), but don’t use it as your primary method of translation. Be sure to work with a native speaker or professional translation service to get the best results.
Here is a sample list of professional translation services you can use for your next project:
- OneSky – Provides translation services for apps and websites. Their Translation Management Platform makes it easy to track the progress of your translations, get push notifications, and take snapshots of previous translations, so you can go back to them later.
- iCanLocalize – Has over 1,000 translators that can translate your app into over 45 languages. Their translators all translate into their native languages.
- Babble On – Can translate into every language available on all app stores. Their support is handled directly via phone or email; there is no support ticket system.
It’s Not Only About Language Translation
It can be easy to forget that other countries follow different conventions. The most obvious example would be units of measure.
If you are used to seeing the temperature in Fahrenheit, seeing it in Celsius can be as foreign as trying to read Chinese. People don’t want to do the conversion, so make it easy for them.
Just as with units of measure, there may be other cultural differences that you need to take into account. Overlooking these nuances can have devastating consequences for your app.
For example, forming the V (victory or peace) sign with your index and middle fingers can seem like a gesture of goodwill. Maybe one of the cartoon characters in your app does this or maybe you use it in an in-app video.
But what happens if the palm of the hand is facing the signer (the back of the hand facing out)? In England and Australia, that is the equivalent of our raised middle finger.
Think about all the cultural implications that come with localizing an app before you try to cut corners to save money.
To stand out from the increasing number of apps that are being produced every year, you need to start targeting a much larger audience. Localization is one of the best ways to expand your user base. (Just keep in mind that not all apps can benefit from localization.)
If your app could be used in another country, you should use the localization MVP in this post to test your market. This will limit your risk and give you an idea as to whether it is worth localizing your entire app.
About the Author: Hugh Kimura is the Head of Content at Sensor Tower, an App Store Optimization platform that gives app publishers the app intelligence they need to rank higher in Google Play App Store and Apple App Store search results.