What is App Localization? And How to Implement It The Right Way?

Alex Danchenko

You might be surprised to learn that, although English seems to dominate the Internet, it’s the mother tongue for only about 26% of users. And you will reach another 26% by simply including support for Chinese and Spanish. We have more stats that prove speaking your customers’ language is truly important, so discover how to leverage app localization for your business growth.

What Is App Localization?

What does localization mean

To avoid common misconceptions, let’s shape our answer clearly around the main question — what is app localization? The term implies a comprehensive application adaptation to the specifics of a local market, covering the UI, functionality, and even app store optimization. As such, it is not limited to only the linguistic aspect but also addresses the cultural, technical, legal, and business requirements of a target market. 

Why Should You Localize Your Mobile App?

Before jumping into action, you should consider the following: What does localization mean for your business goals? Here is a short list of the main benefits it can provide.

Go Beyond the App Store and Google Play

Did you know that the United States is the only English-speaking country among the top 10 markets by mobile app downloads? China and India are far more welcoming destinations. We all know that Google Play is officially banned in China, and strict local regulations hamper the distribution of iOS-based apps through the App Store.

At the same time, both leading platforms are overcrowded with apps, making it increasingly difficult for new releases to gain visibility. With over 300 app stores available worldwide and with their teams constantly looking for the best choices for local users, mobile app localization seems like a promising idea.

Increase Your App Visibility Across App Stores

Whichever app distribution platform you choose, your product will have to compete for users’ attention. Along with sweating over visuals and reviews, your ASO strategy is sure to include metadata optimization, where you can get a leg up on your competitors by expanding the permitted volume of keywords. For example, when localizing an app for the Indian market, you get 100 characters for keywords in Hindi from the App Store in addition to the initial 100 characters in English.   

Besides, an app is more likely to get featured in app stores designed with a focus on local markets. The Mavenfall gaming app by Blue Tea Games, which earned Apple’s Editorial Feature in Hong Kong immediately upon its release, is only one of those successful app localization examples.

Gain More Downloads

Better visibility doesn’t always translate into more downloads, but localization does. An experiment conducted by David Jenner, an entrepreneur, and the founder of Make App Magazine, shows how localization turns 3,000 downloads into 23,000, resulting in a whopping 767% increase. Keep in mind that these outcomes were achieved by localizing only the app name, keywords, and description, without even delving into visuals and all language strings.

The benefits are confirmed by an App Guardians’ case study, which provides a nice example of localization strategy implementation leading to a 101% gain in global downloads and a 67% rise in local countries.

Reach Fast-Growing Markets

Mobile app localization

While your competitors are trying to sweep North American, European, or Asian markets, your product can capture lots of users by targeting less obvious yet promising places. According to Mobile Market Forecast by SensorTower, Latin America and Africa will generate the highest revenue growth for iOS and Android apps by 2023, with the predicted increase in user spending reaching 239% for the App Store and 408% for Google Play. You can skim the cream off this up-and-coming customer base by delivering your products or services to your target audiences in their native language.

Expand Your Audience Within English-Speaking Countries

The leading English-speaking countries like the United States, the UK, Canada, and Australia are famous for promoting cultural diversity and embracing immigrants of various backgrounds, resulting in large communities that consistently use languages other than English. Over 67 million people communicate in a foreign language at home in the US, while in California, their percentage amounts to almost half of the population. A smartly localized app can kill two birds with one stone, expanding your customer reach inside an English-speaking country and outside its borders.

Boost Your Revenue Through Better UX

Here are two significant figures from a survey by CSA Research: 65% of consumers prefer content in their mother tongue, and 40% of them won’t buy products or services offered in other languages. It’s that simple — you can either increase your profits by catering to the needs of the former or lose revenue by brushing off the latter group.

Even simple translation removes the language barrier from the customer journey, but smartphone app localization extends beyond just converting one text string into another. By supporting the time format your customer uses or adding subtitles/dubbing to your video instructions, you deliver a seamless user experience, which pays off with higher engagement and increased sales. 

You can discover even more app personalization ideas to improve UX on our site.    

Improve Your Brand Recognition

Many companies build their brands with global reach in mind, making the elements of their brand identity universally comprehensible. If you have skipped this step, you will still be able to catch up with brand building by going the extra mile during localization. The Evernote app is a great localization example: its Chinese name contains a character that means ‘elephant’ and resonates with the app’s logo to arrive at better memorability, not to mention showing the knowledge of local culture and respect to its Chinese users.

Common Difficulties You Might Face During Localization

Despite all the listed advantages, localization is not child’s play and can turn into a disaster because of the following roadblocks.  

Changes in Text Sizes

When translating English texts into other languages, you can end up with size leaps of +/-30% from the initial space occupied, which inevitably affects the whole page layout. This issue involves horizontal space and vertical placement, as some non-Latin scripts, such as Japanese, have a greater character height.

Different Script Directionality

Arabic, Persian, Hebrew, Urdu, and Pashto are only the most widespread right-to-left languages, while Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, and Korean are traditionally written vertically (although it’s optional nowadays). Again, since the script direction impacts app design, you will need some flexibility to deal with those fluctuations.   

Language Dialects and Varieties

By the way, is it localisation or localization for mobile applications? English causes plenty of hassle about its British, North American, or Australian versions, and German exists in different dialects for Austria, Belgium, Switzerland, and Germany itself. Of course, a British person will understand ‘French fries,’ but disrespect for the specifics of your audience can ruin the brand image.  

Formatting Issues

While 10/05 will mean May 10 for an Italian, the same numbers will be read as October 5 by an American, which can lead to critical misconceptions. From currencies and addresses to time standards and measurement systems, many formatting issues are easy to overlook, but tackling them converts into smooth UX.   

Cultural Differences

Localization for mobile applications

Even a giant such as Amazon can face a problem with its localized app. This happened when it turned out that the magnifying glass icon was not associated with searches in India. You can stumble upon cultural differences dealing with colors, emojis, symbols, and whatnot without deep research into your target market.

Localization of Visuals

Since a picture is worth a thousand words, it would be unwise to turn your back on the visual content of your app. However, it takes a good deal of time and effort to locate all the pictures, screenshots, icons, or videos your product contains, then translate their textual and alt-text elements, and check their cultural appropriateness.   

Extra Coding

Whatever the reason triggering changes in the app design, it may require additional coding efforts. In turn, this increases the cost and time-to-market delivery of app localization while reducing your ROI. 


The localization process requires designers, developers, and linguists to work together as a single team to produce the best results in the fastest way, but things don’t always go to plan. There can be lots of time and money wasted because of miscommunications and hectic workflows.  

Having No Strategy

With so many potential benefits of localization for mobile applications, you can still land a poor ROI if you approach the task incorrectly. You need to clearly understand which markets to target for the best outcomes and learn how to build the process with the utmost efficiency. With effective marketing strategies based on customer behavior in a mobile app, you can achieve great results in the shortest time.   

Actionable Tips for Localizing Your App

Luckily, app owners can rely on the best localization practices developed in the industry, and here are some fixes to the above problems. 

Do Your Market Research

App localization

You can explore the number of times your app was downloaded across countries and research location-specific demand for products and services, matching your app’s functionality with Google Trends. Look through social media and forums with social-listening tools to learn whether your product spars interest in foreign nationals.      

Pro tip: Learn the crucial mobile app KPIs to track besides app downloads. 

Start Early with Internationalization

App localization

Although changing your code for every version of an app is often technically doable, this approach is time-consuming and cost-intensive. Internalization, on the other hand, allows for separating the content from coding at the development stage and results in little to no engineering changes during localization.  

Size Up Text with Pseudolocalization

App localization examples

This testing method works by mechanically replacing all localizable elements with a pseudo-language that contains the specific features of a target script. This will highlight problems that can arise during localization, such as text shrinkage/expansion or hardcoded elements.  

Arm Translators with Context

Delivering screenshots, live previews, or other forms of contextual information to linguists will help them quickly find the most accurate translation. Otherwise, they will need to take a wild guess or lose time clarifying ambiguous text pieces through app developers.

Use Brand Glossaries and Style Guides 

Translation memory tools, glossaries, and style guides are all useful for keeping your app content consistent throughout its localization, which adds to building your brand voice and winning customer trust. Besides, they help to localize mobile app solutions faster and more efficiently.

Don’t Keep Text Glued to Images

Rather than storing multiple versions of each picture to translate the text inserted into it for a different locale, you should split your media content into layers beforehand. That’s how you will remove extra expenditures from your localization process while pleasing customers with fully localized visual elements.   

Avoid Hard Coding

Localized app

Using resource files for storing text strings and UI elements instead of hard coding them is vital for keeping the content readily adaptable. Make sure to stick to the right file formats, such as JSON, XLIFF, ARB, or YAML. 

Engage Local Experts

Since there are so many nuances that come with cultural diversity, it’s better to engage local experts in your mobile app localization from the get-go. Namely, professional translation and localization services will help you identify potential issues within preliminary research and check if everything is fine at the testing stage.

Employ Automation Tools with Simple Integration Features

Localize mobile app

Manual operations, which cause numerous errors and delays, adding time and expense, can be handsomely automated with the help of app localization tools, especially if they integrate easily with your CMS, design app, repositories, and other tools.

Do Localization Testing at the Design Stage

An app released with bugs is not an option for someone aiming for a great UX. Even more to it, according to IBM System Science Institute, resolving bugs during the design stage is 15x cheaper than doing it at the testing stage.

Rethink Your Optimization Efforts

App localization

ASO should go hand in hand with smartphone app localization, meaning that you need to conduct new keyword research, adapt the app’s description, icon, screenshots, and videos, and even translate user reviews to maximize the yield of your app store optimization. You can add some other actionable methods of promotion to your app’s listing optimization.  

How to Test Your App after Localization

​​We have already highlighted the importance of testing, and now it’s time to see how it is done.

  • Linguistic testing. This stage involves experts who will look at the content with a fresh pair of eyes to spot cultural discrepancies, strings that were left untranslated, or pieces of translation that make no sense in context.
  • ​Functional testing. Here, in-house stakeholders or a third-party QA team will check how the app looks and behaves in other languages and locations to reveal functional bugs or an incorrect layout.
  • A/B testing. This part is performed by local users or beta testers to receive feedback on the customer journey and find areas for improvement. 

Useful Tools to Simplify the App Localization Process

App localization tools

Based on G2 ratings, we have selected the top five app localization tools, which support multiple file formats and integrations, provide translation tracking and workflow management, and give access to translation memory, screenshots, QA, and glossary, among other helpful features.

  • Crowdin 
  • Lokalise
  • Phrase
  • Transifex
  • Unbabel

Final Thoughts

You don’t need to invest heavily in minimum viable localization, which can cover only app store metadata or the app’s core functionality to reduce time to market and increase ROI. With global-ready code, you can localize everything from push notifications to in-app chats when your country-specific user base shows convincing signs of growth.

Alex Danchenko


October 31, 2022

Alex Danchenko


November 11, 2022

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