Developers often suffer from a failure of imagination. They want to give their apps high organic visibility, of course, and they imagine topping the charts in their local app market.
That’s all wonderful, but it neglects a key fact: app stores aren’t just local distribution channels. They are global marketplaces, parceled into hundreds of localized versions. Right now, the iTunes App Store and Google Play, the two largest app stores in the world, are each available in more than 130 countries.
Don’t just imagine your app sitting at the top of iTunes and Google Play in the United States (i.e., in two markets, with tens of millions of users). Imagine if your app ranked #1 in every single app store in the world—hundreds of markets, with billions of users.
We are not talking about local success. We are talking about global domination.
Irresistible, right? To get started, you’ll need two things. The first is a top-notch, wonderful app. Unfortunately, I can’t help you with that part. But you may already be there.
The second thing you’ll need is localization—and, in particular, app store localization. For some reason, that’s the part that intimidates a lot of developers, even more so than building a great app. Overseas markets can be hard to navigate. Where do you go? How do you start? Who should do the translation?
There’s no reason to be scared. App store localization can be tricky, but it’s not exactly rocket science. In this post, we’ll show you how to do it right.
Who Fits This Hack?
- If your app is “off the ground”—in other words, you don’t depend on local business partners—and you rely on organic app store searches for distribution, then keep reading! Localization could be a useful growth hack for you. Productivity apps, utility apps, and games all tend to fit this category.
- More generally, if your business is growing fast in an English-speaking country, then localization is probably in your future. It’s a big world, and global expansion is key to growth.
The vast majority of smartphone users do not speak English. So why is your app English-only?
Yes, English is the universal language. But the large majority of people on earth don’t speak it at all—not even with low proficiency.
Meanwhile, all these non-English-speakers are using smartphones. According to AppAnnie, the top three app markets in the world are the USA, China, and South Korea.
China has low English proficiency, according to the EF EPI 2014, a survey of global English skills. South Korea only has moderate proficiency. In other major, fast-growing markets—such as India, Brazil, and Russia—English proficiency is sparse.
For most app users in these markets, your English-only app looks confusing. Or maybe the content has been run through a machine translation system, such as Google Translate.
In that case, your English-only app looks, to overseas users, much like this looks to you:
Ouch. I think this example illustrates the importance of localization—at least if you want to reach overseas users in a respectful, non-silly way.
App stores love localization
Localization can also give you a better relationship with major OS platforms like iOS and Android. Why? Because Apple and Google are multinational enterprises, targeting customers around the world.
They want to offer beautiful, high-quality, localized apps to their users. So both Apple and Google tend to reward apps that localize.
For a real-life example, check out Hong Kong’s iTunes page. Apple’s team in Hong Kong tends to feature apps that are specifically tailored to users in Hong Kong, or at least localized into Chinese.
By translating your app into a particular language, you give a friendly signal to their local editorial team. The message is clear: “Hey, Apple team in Hong Kong! We take your market seriously.” Who can resist that kind of message?
Localization boosts downloads
People prefer apps in their own language. When you go local, you become more popular. It’s common sense, and the numbers bear it out.
According to Distimo, apps will experience a 128 percent growth in download volumes during the first week after localization. The growth for revenue is lower, but still promising at 26 percent. And that’s just the increase after one week.
Localized apps experience an especially large boost in Asian countries, including the Chinese, Japanese, and South Korean markets. It seems that users in East Asia have an especially strong preference for apps in their local languages.
Sounds good. How do I get started?
Minimum viable localization
Okay, so you’re ready to localize. Do you (a) spend money to produce a beautiful, shiny localized version of your app for a random overseas market? Or do you (b) test the waters in order to figure out which markets will be most receptive to a fully localized version?
Option (b) is, of course, your best bet. There’s a system here. It’s based on the principles of product development, and it’s called Minimum Viable Localization (MVL).
Basically, with MVL, you localize your app store description for different global markets, but you don’t actually translate the app itself. Then you see how much interest your localized description generates, and use that to decide where to invest resources down the line.
MVL is relatively cheap. There are usually 300 to 400 words in an app’s description, so each translation should only cost around $30-$80. This allows you can cast a wide net. For less than $1,000, you can translate your game description into the 10 most popular app store languages.
MVL is also fast. The turnaround time for such a short translation should be within two days.
Choose the languages
Even with MVL, you want to do a bit of strategic thinking. There are a lot of countries in the world, and a lot of languages that have major app markets.
It’s like deciding where to take a vacation, only this time, someone will hopefully be paying you. In making this decision, you want to consider three factors: the language demographics of your current users; the potential size of a given language group; and the competition in any given market.
What do your current users speak?
Even untranslated, apps tend to develop small followings in overseas market. Your ninja-themed calendar app might be inexplicably popular in Brazil. Your Katy Perry trivia game may already have found a niche in Russia. With this data in hand, you can identify overseas markets where localization can help you build on that momentum.
How much profit potential does a given market have?
Tuyen Nguyen from Google suggests that you keep two things in mind when considering localization. Thing one: the top languages spoken by web-users. Thing two: the top countries by paid app installs.
This tip is pretty much common sense: if a country’s market is big, lucrative, and growing, you probably want to be there.
Other than English, the ten biggest app markets in the world are in European Spanish, French, German, European Portuguese, Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Russian, Latin American Spanish, and Brazilian Portuguese.
What’s the competition?
Market size and potential matters. But so do your rivals. You need to know the competition, which can vary widely from country to country. App analytics tools such as AppAnnie and Sensor Tower let you track competitors’ localization efforts and figure out which markets have less competition. These tools organize all their data in verticals, which makes it easy to evaluate the results and draw clever comparisons.
OneSky’s AppGrader is a small tool that helps you check the localization progress of any app, including your competitors. And it’s free! OneSky also provides an estimate of how many users you can reach with a designated localization plan.
What am I going to translate?
Start with your keywords. Not your app title, not your app description: keywords. They are, as the name implies, key. After all, keywords drive app store search results. And search results will drive your success in a new market.
Just localizing app keywords can lead to a sevenfold boost in downloads.
Apple and Google have different settings for inputting keywords.
For iOS apps, app developers write up a list of keywords, called the Keywords Field (100 characters max) that they want their app to match. It’s pretty straightforward.
The Google Play store is a little trickier. Here, the algorithm pulls keywords from the description, and then ranks the app accordingly in the search results. If you want to rank high in Google Play, you’ll have to include strong keywords within your app description.
Ready to translate keywords? Great! But don’t just grab, say, your favorite Chinese-English dictionary and do a literal translation. Instead, use a little creativity. Make sure that local users are actually using your translated keywords. Simply translating “big” into Chinese, and then praying that Chinese app users regularly use that particular translation of the word when they search for “big offers,” is pretty much a perfect recipe for failure. Translation is rarely so simple.
Use ASO platform to analyze the localized keywords
Once you come up with a list of localized keywords, plug them into an ASO platform and do a little analysis. Mobile marketing platforms like Sensor Tower and MobileDev HQ are really helpful here. They’ll tell you how popular a particular keyword actually is in a given market.
Don’t forget to consider English keywords even when you’re analyzing an overseas market. Certain English keywords get traffic overseas, too.
App name and title
Should you translate your app name? It depends. On the one hand, by keeping your app name untranslated, you help develop a unified global brand. On the other hand, a localized name can make it easier for locals to find, understand, and engage with your app. Sometimes, it’ll also make it easier for them to pronounce it.
There are compromises. You can keep your basic app name, for example, but add a localized element as well. Flipboard, for example, uses the word “Flipboard” in every language market, but translates the descriptive part of its title—“Your News Magazine”—into local languages.
If you have any localized keywords that can also be part of your app’s title, that’ll help people find your app more easily.
App descriptions have length limits (Google, for example, limits them to 4,000 characters). When you translate a description, the length will often change. For example, text translated into Brazilian Portuguese tends to be about 30% longer than the original English.
That’s inconvenient, but it’s not a disaster. You can prioritize ahead of time by letting translators know which content is most important to the consumer—and what can be cut or trimmed down. You can also ask for a backward translation, in which the translators turn the localized content back into English. This lets you see how the translators have slimmed down your app description.
And, of course, use those keywords in the app description! But not too much—app stores will punish you for overusing keywords. The sweet spot tends to be about five repetitions, maximum, of any given keyword.
One other pro tip: don’t forget to be honest about the degree to which you have or have not localized your app. Make sure to mention that the app itself is still in English. Otherwise, your users may think that your app is already localized into their native language. When they discover it’s not, they’ll often become grumpy and post mean comments.
Visual-audio items: screenshots and video
“Localized screenshots make it clear to the user that they’ll be able to use your app in their language.” – Android Developers Blog
When app store searchers first notice your store listing, it’s likely that the graphics will grab their attention first. But images don’t necessarily speak a universal language. They cross borders more easily than text, but they may need a little localization, too.
Go beyond translation. Culturalize your visual.
Try to make your graphic culturally specific. In American app stores, you might (just to make up an example) have a picture of a bald eagle in the description of your birdwatching app. But when you take your wonderful product to Japan, you might want to find an image of a crane, or maybe a green pheasant, the country’s beautiful national bird.
Or follow the example of the messaging app Line, which has taken screenshot localization to a whole new level. Line doesn’t just localize text. They actually localize the identity of the imaginary users in their screenshots. On the Google Play store in Taiwan, the example Line user is Wei-Wei. In France, she’s Emma. And so on.
When you’re tweaking graphics, User Inter Faces can be a good resource (remember to select the “Authorized” photos). If you’re looking for common names in a certain region, Google, of course, is helpful. For local images, Free Stock Images & Videos has aggregated an enormous library of stock photos. Just search your target country, region, or city (e.g. Berlin) to find some top-notch scenes.
When in doubt, your translators will have suggestions.
Wait, who will actually do the translation?
Your English is excellent. Maybe you speak another language, or two other languages, or more!
That’s very impressive. But you probably don’t speak the languages of every country with an enticing app market. And even if you do, that might not be enough—translation is a craft, and it takes more than fluency in two languages to put together an excellent translation. In fact, it generally takes one of two things: an individual with pro-level abilities, or the wisdom of the crowd.
In an ideal world, you’d handle translation in-house. As with SEO and marketing, in-house translation is easier to manage. But in-house work is usually out of reach for early-stage startups, or for any company that doesn’t have a huge localization budget.
So, what to do? Two options: crowdsourcing and outsourcing.
Do you already have lots of overseas users? Are those users hyperloyal fans of your app? If so, consider crowdsourcing your translation.
Here’s how it works: you take the content that you want translated. You upload it to a translation management system (more on this below). And then you open that system up to volunteers who speak your target language, and who feel excited about getting involved in the growth of your app. You add in some incentives to make the project appealing to these fans, and then you let the crowd drive your localization effort.
Those are the basics. But, to be honest, we don’t recommend crowdsourcing app store descriptions for translation. Descriptions are short, and they can be done cheaply and quickly by professional translators. Crowdsourcing, on the other hand, tends to slow things down. Quality can be an issue, too, especially with something so short and important.
For app store localization, outsourcing is usually the way to go. With a good translation services provider, you’ll be able to get excellent translations without going broke.
We always suggest finding a vendor that offers translation services for at least 10 different languages. That way, if you want to scale up your global campaign sometime in the future, you won’t have to go searching for another translation vendor.
Just to be up front with you: my company, OneSky, offers professional translation services. We do so for more than 30 languages. I think we do a great job. But this information should be useful to you regardless of your translation provider.
How do I submit a localized product page to the iTunes App Store?
Once you get your translated content, you’ll need to update your beautiful, new, localized product page to the app store. Here’s how to get it done, with all the nuts-and-bolts detail that you could ever desire:
Add a new language
- In iTunes Connect, go to “My Apps”
- Choose the app that you want to localize.
- Select your target languages in the right panel. (You’ll have some choices. The iTunes App Store currently supports 28 languages.)
Input the translated metadata for your chosen language.
- You’ll be asked for the following items:
- App name (255 character limit)
- App description (4,000 character limit)
- “New in this version” information (4,000 character limit)
- Keywords (100 character limit)
- In-app purchases
- Display name (75 bytes)
- Description (255 bytes)
- You’ll only be able to enable a nonactivated languages if your app is in an editable state (see a list of editable states here). If your app is NOT in an editable state, you can still modify the metadata for any languages that have already been activated. But you can only add a new language if you create a new version.
- If you want to localize the details of your in-app purchases, go to “In-App Purchases” on your app page. Choose an in-app purchase, and click “Add Language”. Then input the localized name and description of the in-app purchase.
How do I submit a localized product page to Google Play?
Google Play supports 52 different languages—everything from Afrikaans to Hindi to Zulu. Here’s a comprehensive guide to uploading your translated content:
- To get started, select your app at the Developer Console
- Select the languages you would like to add. Then click “Save.”
- Go to “Store Listing” and choose “Add your own translation text”
- As you add languages, you’ll see them appear on your store listing. Plug in your translations and localized visuals for each language.
- Google Play will ask you for the following text:
- Title (limited to 30 characters)
- Description (limited to 4,000 characters)
- Recent changes (limited to 4,000 characters)
- Promo text (limited to 80 characters)
- In-app purchase information
- Display name (character limit: 55)
- Description (character limit: 80)
- Click “Save and publish” when you’re finished.
Automate your translation process
Whether you’re crowdsourcing or outsourcing, you’ll probably want to automate your translation process. You can do so using a translation management system, or TMS.
Imagine replacing a filing cabinet with a hard drive. Or imagine replacing a 150 person email listserv with Slack. Or, picture replacing a long chain of .doc attachments with a single, integrated Google Drive folder.
Basically, that’s what a TMS does to a regular translation project. It’s a high-tech, low-cost system that streamlines every step of the translation process.
As your localization campaign progresses, translation will get complicated. It’ll involve multiple players (managers, engineers, translators). It’ll often involve multiple languages. And, with time, it’ll involve multiple players making multiple updates in multiple languages.
A TMS keeps track of all these things for you. It’s a shared platform where translators can collaborate with each other and with you, the client. And it stores and organizes all your different translations in one place.
How exactly does a TMS help localization?
A TMS lets you import and export resource files automatically. It also lets you set up notifications for team members and flag your most pressing tasks. It’s like a robot calendar.
It improves collaboration and prevents confusion.
On a TMS, everyone is working in the same digital space. They can collaborate. They can keep track of each other’s projects. This will be especially helpful after you’ve conquered the world and need multiple translators for each language—say, a primary translator, who then sends the work to a proofreader, and who occasionally loops in a target-language copywriter.
It improves communication.
A TMS will let translators know when there’s new stuff for them to translate. It’ll tell an engineer when it’s time to implement a new translation. It’ll keep everybody in the loop, making the process more efficient, and therefore cheaper.
It lets you avoid duplication.
As you update your app, there’ll be new text to translate. Some of this content, though, may overlap with older content that someone has already translated. Your old-school spreadsheet method can’t detect those duplications. A TMS can. As a result, translators won’t redo work that has already been completed, streamlining the process and saving you money.
It includes built-in features to ensure translation quality.
Translation management systems include some built-in quality assurance features. These include spaces for a glossary and other reference materials for translators. It also includes placeholder validation and length limits on translated text.
Having a single platform gives you greater control over the project.
A good TMS is air traffic control for localization. It centralizes the entire process on a single platform. Instead of overseeing a tangle of spreadsheets and email attachments, you can actually see and control the entire process.
It’s a big, big world. These days, the most successful apps are those that can jump across borders, explore new markets, and find users around the globe. Yes, localization can be daunting. But it’s doable, and minimum viable localization is a great way to get started. You do a little translation, you play around a bit in the app store, and, BAM: you have a foothold in the global markets, and a chance to gauge which countries are most fertile ground for your app.
Have any questions about app store localization? Want to offer any advice from your own experiences in localizing app store descriptions? Let us know in the comments!
About the Author: Patrick Yip heads content at OneSky. Heavily attracted to any brilliant growth hack and the idea of making the Internet globally accessible. In his leisure time, he’s a lame, amateur hiker.