Mobile App Localization to Increase your Market Share

The world is about to clock in at around 5 billion mobile phone users, and it will most certainly continue to grow. Furthermore, a considerable percentage of these users don’t speak English as their native language, and a large number of them don’t speak it at all. This is why refraining from localizing hinders your company’s growth big time.

Localization is the process of integrally translating your app content, in order to fully adapt it to the linguistic needs of a different market. And as the numbers clearly suggest it may open new financial horizons for your product. All the big names in the industry have done it, from Facebook to Pokemon Go.

The Harvard Business Review has published a revealing article back in 2012 that clearly shows the importance of localization for a company’s market share:

  • 72.1% of users mostly use websites that are in their own language.
  • 72.4% of users state that they would instead prefer to purchase a product that is in their native language.
  • 56.2% of users consider that linguistic availability is more important than the price of the product.

Confusion between localization and translation

It is critical to eliminate the confusion between the two before we look deeper into the essence of localization and its benefits. Although the two do share many identical features, the final scope of localization is the ease of the user’s interaction with the text. Translation, as a linguistic process, is more concerned with meaning. It focuses on text and how “faithful” a translation is. It is designed to serve language and linguistic forms and standards.

Localization, on the other hand, is translation’s more democratic, people-oriented facet. It strives to accommodate the needs of the reader. For example, let’s take a look at the countries that have Portuguese as their official language:

  • Portugal
  • Brazil
  • Mozambique
  • Guinea-Bissau
  • Timor-Leste
  • Cape Verde
  • São Tome e Principe
  • Angola

If you were to “translate” an ad campaign and market it to all of these countries, you would be wasting a colossal amount of money, because cultures that are so geographically dispersed perceive language differently. They might have different religions, climate zones, moral standards, humor, and a host of other factors that shape the linguistic differences behind these countries. This is where localization comes to play—it cares for cultural and social context, and it translates it.

It’s a high return investment

By localizing your apps into just two essential languages, you’ll be able to make your product available to around half of the international market—Japan and South Korea. These two countries generate more revenue than the rest of the world combined. Incidentally, English proficiency isn’t very high in these two countries. By adapting your app to these two markets, you will discover a new world of opportunities.

To underline how passionate these two countries are about purchasing apps, below you’ll find Statista’s numbers on the most widely spoken languages on the web, by share of users, published in 2017. Just slightly above three percent of people on the web use Japanese, while Korean isn’t even represented in the chart. That doesn’t stop these countries from spending amounts that are exponentially higher than any other states.

Smartling recently published a now popular study that suggests that after only seven days after an app has been localized, it has generated a nearly 130% growth in downloads, and a 26% jump in each country it was localized for.

It will broaden your audience and engage it

Localization demands copious amounts of research, but the payoff is definitely worth. By cracking the linguistic code correctly, your app will be able to affect the lives of millions of people. Having a large customer base comes with vast amounts of benefits, like user experience improvement. By analyzing the behavior of the generic user from around the world, you’ll be able to get a better understanding of how to generate more engagement with your customers.

This provides any product with substantial success in the years to come because merely having a highly engaged user base is an essential element for good business and high customer loyalty.

The challenges


If you’re looking to start working on the localization of your app, you need to start obsessing with space ASAP. While living in an English-centered ecosystem, we tend to forget that different languages have radically different spacial demands. Simply replacing the text will most certainly create interference between the letters and the surrounding elements, which suggests that a potential localization demands to review your design.

Example of the translation of the word ‘views’ and the ratio of the length of the translation to the original.

Source: W3C

When adapting the interface of your app, you’ll have to define how much physical space certain expressions occupy, both in a Latin Alphabet, along with Chinese, Japanese, and a host of other linguistic systems. The design must be universally adaptable for a large variety of foreign characters.


An expression like “buy one, get one free” is only twenty characters long, including spaces, whereas its French equivalent: “achetez-en un, obtenez-en un gratuitement” needs 41. Ensuring that your design along with your copies will be able to translate the same mood and not have an adverse effect on the user experience is among the most complicated tasks of the process.

Furthermore, the technical difficulties will only increase once you start dealing with languages that are written right-to-left and also vertically.

Linguistic peculiarities

When localizing your app, advertisement copies, and website content, it’s essential to note the differences between two versions of the same language. We can continue with French as an example.

There is a host of differences between how European French speakers and the French Canadian speakers articulate certain things. Many of them can cause unwanted issues if not taken into consideration. For instance:

  • Quebecois (Canadian French) often avoid using the second person plural for formal communication, which may be considered unacceptable in European French.
  • Canadian French often use subject and object pronouns differently, compared to what you’d hear in French.
  • Québécois tend to compress prepositions. For instance, they may use “s’a” instead of “sur la,” which is a somewhat unusual form in French.
  • Due to the fact that Quebec is part of an English-speaking country, they do use large amounts of “anglicisms.” The French do as well have a few expressions here and there, but the practice is commonly frowned upon.

There are dozens over dozens of differences that need to be taken care of, when localizing your app for Canadian French or any other non-European type of French. This is just to exemplify how complex this task is and how much actual research it demands.


Putting a team together for the localization process is most certainly a complicated task, since the process itself has a large number of variables and there are many people involved in it. Many people of very different mindsets, most importantly, from developers to project managers, to localization experts, to translators. There are so many things that can go wrong. Plus if there is an insufficient budget for the process, you can possibly fail the entire case like many companies have.

You need to allocate a right amount of budget to translators. This is an expensive and time-consuming procedure, so if you’re going to pay your localization translators a decent price per word, maybe around 8-12 cents, they will be more thoughtful and meticulous, compared to when a translator is paid 4 cents per word.

Before you start

Define a strategy

Besides deciding on the obvious things like the languages you’re looking forward to localizing your app to, it’s also essential to determine the “degree” of localization you’re willing to take your app to; this is typically defined by your company’s marketing strategy.

You can either opt for what is known as “Deep Localization” or MVL (Minimum Viable Localization).

The former approach will have you create an almost custom version of the original app, meaning that you will maybe design special features, enter the local market based on the local media infrastructure, and craft custom marketing campaigns for this country. This is almost a reiteration of the app, but fully adapted to the market you’re about to enter.

The latter is a much simpler process. Your goal is to make the product linguistically accessible to the local customers simply. Generally, the process of localizing for MVL is much more straightforward. You need to translate the app and then add country-specific touches to it so that the user feels like they’re using a product designed for their market.

Despite being a more “shallow” version of Deep Localization, the Minimum Viable Localization has its own benefits. It is more cost-effective in the development process, and it is much, much more agile, while Deep Localization provides a more integrative environment for the user and generate a more significant return.

Build your team

Despite the fact that all parties of the localization process are equally important, you need to focus on the translators. This is the group of professionals that will craft the emotional and linguistic interaction of your end customers with the app.

You can approach the process in a few ways. You can hire a group of in-house professionals, which will definitely cost you more than outsourcing work, but it does provide you with the benefit of permanent communication and smooth interaction with other departments.

Outsourcing your application localization also has a lots of pros, like quick execution and delivery, along with rigorous quality control.

Reference materials are essential

Investing time and effort into providing your localization professionals with reference materials is a crucial element of the process. Reference materials will provide the translators with context and intention, along with a glossary of words that are preferable. Plus you may provide your translators with a style guide so that they maintain a certain tone or voice throughout the end translation.

Decide which TMS you’re going to use

A Translation Management System facilitates the work with the contents of the translation.  This type of software allows you to import and export resource files and lets you track the amount of work that has to be done and has been already done, plus it’s an easy navigation tool through the translated text, since it breaks the code down into strings and facilitates text integration into the code.

What to look for in a TMS? Research the translation tools market in order to find the one that suits your company’s needs. It needs to have agile and scalable project management solutions, a comfortable and intuitive workflow, it should be cloud-based, and it’s important that it offers integration.

In conclusion

App localization is the best way to reach you non-English speaking customers, it’s a lengthy process that demands considerable time and budget investments, but as the research shows, it’s absolutely worth it.

The process itself can be a hefty task, considering how many variables go into it. If you fail to build the right team that will comprise high-quality professionals, you may risk failing the entire operation.

The current trends on the market are suggestive of the fact that localization is by no means a “fad.” It’s now one of the essential precursors to international success and opens new doors to companies of all scales and sizes.

Mobile app localization ensures that your audience and user base will grow. By collecting valuable data from user behavior all over the world, you’ll be able to improve the user experience of your product and create engagement throughout your customer base, which in itself is a precursor of great financial success.

Author Bio

Pauline speaks Portuguese, English, Spanish and Italian. She travelled the world
to immerse herself in the new cultures and learn languages. Today she is proud to be a
voting member of the American Translators Association and an active participant of
the Leadership Council of its Portuguese Language Division.

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