Translation and Language Industry Observations


Mobile App Localization & Translation: The Only Guide You’ll Ever Need

by Emily Doxon

Ever noticed how some apps look different by location or language? That’s the genius of app localization and translation. Localizing your app involves changing the user interface, language options, and color schemes to accommodate local regulations and cultural nuances. Why is this such a big deal? One example is that 73% of consumers prefer shopping in their local language. But app localization goes beyond translation. This article discusses everything you need to know about how to localize your app to improve installs and conversions.

Let’s dive right in.

What is app localization?

App localization (also app internationalization) is the process of translating your app for target audiences and changing the presentation of visual content on the interface to align with local laws and societal norms.

Here are numerical acronyms that depict variations of localization:

  • Internationalization: for localizing applications for audiences with varying cultures and languages,
  • Localization (l10n): product adaptation for a specific market or locale,
  • Globalization (g11n): expanding business operations on a global scale
  • Translation (T9N): converting source text to a different language.

For simplicity, they all boil down to localization (l10n). Most companies limit application localization to simple translation: they pay a professional agency to translate and transcribe the text. This could work in some cases, but it doesn’t even scratch the surface of in-depth localization.

How does localization work?

Let’s briefly discuss the surface-level technical details of localization. The app content is stored in JSON (JavaScript Object Notation) and XLIFF (XML Localization Interchange File Format). You can make changes to the XLIFF files for direct strings.xml translation.

Here is a snippet of an XLIFF file content:

<trans-unit id=”Hello!” xml:space=”preserve”>
<note>Just saying Hi.</note>

For Android localization, add <xliff:g> if the content should not be translated. This applies to text such as the company name, promo codes, and names.

<string name=”promo_code”>
Apply this code “<xliff:g id=”promotion_code”>X1Z2Y3</xliff:g>” to get a discount.

Auto-scaling also allows you to adjust the space for tall languages such as Hindi, which require more vertical spacing. APIs can also help you figure out grammatical agreements for languages with gendered pronouns and nouns. To test the success of the localization process, use pseudolocales and other dev options to simulate UI changes when an app is translated. You can see the amount of work it takes to do this manually. To avoid this stress, automated app localization is a no-brainer. Any app localization tool can handle these conversions in seconds.

Note: XLIFF is an XML-based bitext format that standardizes the exchange of data in the app localization process.

What are the core tenets of app localization?

The four core tenets to follow when you localize your app are:

Visual modification

Make changes to the user interface to improve navigation in any language, whether Arabic, Cyrillic, or Latin alphabets. Additionally, consider adjusting the color scheme to align with regional preferences. This small detail can significantly impact how different audience segments perceive your app. For example, while red often represents danger in many cultures, in Chinese culture, it symbolizes happiness and prosperity.

Cultural adaptation

To localize mobile app content based on cultural norms, pay attention to the governing law in the region. As mentioned earlier, colors mean different things across cultures. Similarly, age restriction is not constant in different legal codes —16 somewhere, 18 elsewhere. These laws affect the visual content and illustrations your app can display. For example, a leisure and vacation app cannot show models in swimsuits for users in Saudi Arabia. Apps for users in the European Union must also contain GDPR banners.

Technical configuration

This involves changing date, currency, and number formats for specific regions. Advanced technical modification involves adding acceptable social media and payment integrations based on legality and regional availability. For instance, PayPal payment is not universally available. So, the app should not reflect it as an option for users in Monaco or Cameroon.


Translation involves changing the app’s display language for every user segment. You have to factor in writing styles, font legibility, text directionality, and other details. The app should be able to detect the device’s language — or the user should be able to change it manually.

Why is app localization necessary?

If you are about to roll out an app or make changes to an existing one, here are the potential benefits.

Better user experience

When an app is internationalized, the user experience improves. Why does this matter? Research has shown that 40% of online shoppers will only buy products offered in their native language. And this makes sense: you can only trust your purchase choices if the language is familiar to you. Otherwise, you’d have to resort to guesswork or look for alternatives.

Extensive audience reach

Localized apps extend your reach to multiple audience segments. Think about this: Less than 26% of internet users understand English fluently. This means that your app is only available to English speakers—which is less than one-third of the global population.

localization graph showing languages and speakers worldwide

Source: Statista

By adding Arabic, Mandarin, and Spanish language options, you could double or triple your reach instantly.

Solidified brand image

Multinational companies are easily recognizable across all continents thanks to product localization services. If users can access your app in their native language, they will be able to recommend it to others and leave positive reviews. As a result, your brand reputation will improve among consumers.

Increased conversions

With more people using your apps, the conversions will increase as well. The logic is simple: as user impressions increase, the likelihood of them turning to paying customers skyrockets. That’s why your localization should target your largest user pool first, apart from English speakers. Internalization also leads to more downloads from your site or the app store, so you need to optimize the app store listing as well.

Better monetization opportunities

More eyeballs translate to ad dollars. When more people can use the app to complete purchases, your monetization becomes more fruitful. You can customize different ad creatives to target specific audiences, leading to better engagement and monetization.

Here is a common scenario. A French speaker is playing a game that requires in-app purchases, but since they can’t understand how the checkout process works, they’d abandon the purchase. Now, if there is a French language option, they are more likely to proceed to checkout.

Access to feedback

Expanding the app’s user base with localization makes it possible for people with different views and expectations to leave detailed feedback.

This will help you spot errors, bugs, and inconsistencies faster in order to improve your application’s market fit.

What makes app localization difficult?

Here are some of the challenges and hurdles to mobile apps localization:

Language complexity

Nailing the translation is difficult because of contextual changes. Besides, most languages contain gendered nouns and expressions, which make standardization difficult.

In addition, one language may have several dialects, making it difficult to choose the version for localization. For example, Chinese has 93 distinct dialects. Now imagine the amount of work required to add multiple languages.

Figuring out market fragmentation

Even within linguistically homogenous regions, cultural differences can complicate localization efforts.

A region that speaks English might have a significant market segment split between religious lines. In such a scenario, adding alcoholic beverages to the visual content might alienate some users.

Handling compliance

Application localization across regions must pay attention to compliance and regulatory standards.

Some restrictions include:

  • Content age restriction
  • Payment regulation (PCI DSS, etc)
  • Data governance and privacy (GDPR, CCPA, HIPAA, etc.)

If your app doesn’t comply with these laws, the regulatory body or government will ban it or force you to pay fines.

Running updates and maintenance

Localization is a continuous effort if you want the app to continue delivering top-notch performances. However, keeping up with maintenance, debugging, and updates will cost time and money.

Allocating resources

Choosing MVL or full localization is a massive call, especially when working on a shoestring budget. This means you need to allocate personnel and finances to only the core tenets of localization that would lead to significant monetary gains. Consequently, the quality of the final product ends up falling below expectations.

Technical limitation

Most companies don’t have the right experts and tools for localization. Here are some roles and solutions you need:

  • Machine learning experts
  • Quality assurance engineers
  • Developers (iOS and Android)
  • Automated translators
  • Human translators
  • Designers

If you can get a fully-fledged mobile app localization platform, some of the roles mentioned above would become redundant. You also need compliance lawyers to make sure everything you’re doing is above board.

Market readiness and inconsistent experience

Full localization will lead to inconsistencies in the user experience—which will delay the time to market. Since the features and text might vary for users, you have to find a way to deliver a consistent experience for users from Beijing to Alaska. Also, applications with video and audio content will prolong the delivery timeline significantly because you’d need to add subtitles or record alternate versions.

5 Best practices for localizing your app

Here are app localization best practices to make the process a breeze:

Do your research

The first step in research is to determine what your audience needs. Analyze user feedback and suggestions to identify the main pain points—the languages they want to see. Use analytical tools like GA4 to understand the largest source of traffic based on country and region.

Source: Analytics Help

For instance, if your core audience is from Germany, Brazil, Portugal, England, and Spain, your localization options should include German, Portuguese, English (UK), and Spanish. Check what your competitors are doing to gain an edge wherever untapped potential pops up. If they support only three languages, go for five.

Develop a strategy for app localization

This stage involves answering questions based on business objectives and research findings.

Your strategy should address the following issues:

  • The extent of localization (MVL or full)
  • Language versions and dialects
  • Standardization of formats and compliance
  • Human or machine mobile app translation
  • Delivery timelines
  • Testing and quality assurance SOPs and tools
  • Collaboration and communication channels
  • User feedback collection and processing

This strategy will help you break up expected outcomes and milestones across timelines, as well as assign roles to stakeholders.

Embrace app store optimization (ASO)

ASO localization doesn’t stop with the in-app content; you must reach the shores of app stores on your internationalization quest. First, conduct keyword research with Ahrefs and SEMRush to determine which keyphrases and keywords to embed in app descriptions for better discoverability.

Some SEO strategies for app product page localization  include:

  • Avoid generic names such as “DietApp”.
  • Embed keywords naturally: “DietApp: Pro Nutrition For Athletic Performance”.
  • Optimize the app description, focusing on the benefits offered by the available features.
  • Translate the text, audio, and video content for different regions and countries.
  • Use catchy visual content with consideration for cultural norms and legal codes.
  • Use consistent brand imagery such as icons, taglines, and logos.
  • *Pay attention to Google Play Store localization and Apple’s App Store localization rules.

*App store rules for content, payment, and monetization vary by region and product specifications. You can also get default packages for App Store localization languages for 170 different regions.

Images of app localization ios

Source: Apple

When localizing iOS app content, the accessibility inspector allows you to confirm that the app provides a consistent user experience.

Start marketing

If you are localizing an existing app, now is the perfect time to launch a marketing campaign targeting users within the regions you intend to reach. But if you are rolling out a new app, your marketing campaign should have started earlier to create buzz around the product. Use different mediums, including social media sponsorships and paid ads, to create awareness. Now, users can see that the app is available in their native language.

Conduct rigorous testing

After localizing the app, the QA machine should kick into high gear to crush all bugs and ensure a seamless user experience. Solutions like TestFlight allow specific users to test your product and provide feedback for improvements before the final launch. Even after the launch, continue A/B testing to figure out which visuals and text variations resonate with the audience. Other tests to carry out include regression testing, smoke testing, and beta testing.

Work with professional translators

Machine translation is not perfect. That’s why you need a professional translator service to go over the content for contextual accuracy. Here is a machine translation error that a human can catch. The “book” in “Book a tour” means reservation. But the machine can translate it into something like “livre” in French. Only a human translator can spot this gaffe.

Track performance metrics

After localization, use analytical tools to monitor the key performance indicators (KPI) in order to determine what works and what needs to change.

Some metrics to track include:

  • Total revenue (Return on investment)
  • New users or signups
  • Downloads, installs, and uninstalls
  • In-app purchases
  • Retention and bounce rates
  • Customer satisfaction score
  • App Store ratings and reviews
  • Engagement (impressions, clicks)

Summing up

Application localization is a significant challenge for product owners, but the benefits are worth the time and effort. Localized apps attract more users from untapped markets and improve the experience for new users. They also allow owners to convert more leads and earn more money. For a seamless localization experience, follow our systemic strategy and refer to our blog for more tips.

Good luck!

About the Author

Emily Doxon is a freelance content writer covering technology, security, and privacy-related articles. After seven years of experience securing users’ devices from online threats, she is now sharing her expertise in numerous tech-related publications.

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