App localization has become so widespread that product managers consider it an integral part of development. Localization is a complex and continuous process that, ideally, begins at the design stage.
The caliber of its implementation can have a radical effect on the success and profitability of an app, so it should be given its due priority. Developers aim to release their apps quickly, even simultaneously, to multiple markets worldwide to gain a competitive advantage over local and international rivals. But to achieve a genuine advantage, companies need top-rate localization that is up and running from the very start.
With that in mind, here are some of the app-specific localization best practices we’ve uncovered while working with multilingual content.
App Localization Best Practices That Save Time and Money
Many of the critical steps in localization come before an app is even launched. It seems like an obvious point, but it is well worth making: you’ll save time, money, and nerves by doing it right the first time.
Here are the practices that we consider most important:
1. Externalize translatable content from code.
The content you want to localize must be readable by the translator, whether human or machine. A necessary first step in internationalization is to create a resource file and populate it with all content strings. Unlike the original code, your string resource file is ready to feed into your workflow for all languages you choose to pursue in translation.
2. Prepare for text expansion at the design phase.
Different languages take up different amounts of space in text form. This is an issue for apps, in particular, because you’re always at risk of pushing the limits of your mobile screen real estate. At the time of release, you need your text to be accessible and easy to read—not cramped or spilling off the screen. And you need this to be true for every iteration, for every language you pursue with localization. So, during the early planning stages, you need to have the localization goal in mind and be sure that your app will be adaptable for text expansion when the time comes.
3. Try pseudo-localization first.
Text expansion is far from the only design issue you may face, so proactive troubleshooting is a no-brainer. Before release, a simple trial run with machine translations can assess whether you’ve built enough space into your UI to manage language variations. You may find that languages with diacritic-rich writing systems need greater line spacing, for example, and you want to be sure the right-to-left alignment in Arabic and Hebrew is completely consistent.
Similarly, you can test out your UI by interspersing currency symbols, Cyrillic letters, Chinese characters, and other unique typographic elements into the original text. The test will be to make sure these characters and writing systems render properly or to reveal flaws in the design early.
4. Map out your continuous localization approach.
Plan ahead for integrating translation into the overall architecture of your app. This is the right time to partner with a localization management service, before launch, when it is possible to devise an ongoing system of automated cooperation even before the app goes live.
There are a couple of great options for handling continuous localization effectively from the start within an integrated platform: A GitHub connector can monitor your code base for changes in translatable content and route them directly into the platform’s translation pipeline. Alternatively, you can use a command line interface (CLI), which gives you more control and flexibility. You can build in API calls to other management systems you may have in place to send and retrieve translations in your localization platform.
5. Have a policy on testing.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking about testing and quality assurance only after you’ve localized. It’s in your best interest to plan from the very beginning and to decide where you are going to aim along the spectrum of quality. This will help to determine how stringent you will be with testing and tweaks.
You certainly need to integrate both internationalization and localization testing on your app before release. But are you going to be so hyper-focused on your brand that you will not allow any aspect of user experience to be even slightly flawed on release? Or will you be comfortable with a cursory QA look and then, depending on feedback from users, make tweaks after release? Where you draw the line will bear on your time and resources. And an experienced localization partner can certainly help you gain perspective and a confident grasp of your QA policy.
6. Think critically about the level of localization you really need to achieve.
While there are undoubtedly times when it’s necessary to hyper-localize an app (to translate content into German-Germany, German-Austria, and German-Switzerland, for example), it may not be necessary for your purposes. It’s worth taking a careful look at the level of localization you need before you dig too deep into the process and the resources.
The answer is in the data. Define your global targets based on where you can reasonably expect enough downloads to return your investment. A tool like Google Analytics can give you as-close-to-tangible predictions of traffic and conversions as possible. So, you can commit your resources to a localization strategy with data-driven confidence.
7. Embrace localization as a journey.
Localization does not have to be an all-or-nothing proposition. And it doesn’t have to happen all at once. It can be done in steps. In fact, there is a lot to learn along the way, so a gradual localization process often has long-term benefits. And there may be more creative approaches to localization that you’re not yet considering. For example, you could prioritize focused segments of content localization:
- Translate marketing content. You may want to prioritize localization of your app store content for discoverability of your English-language app in various target markets. This will give you even more concrete data for which markets to prioritize for more comprehensive app localization based on the number of downloads.
- Translate tutorial content. You may have success with leaving your app in English but localizing the tutorial elements that show someone how it works. This is especially applicable to apps that are not heavily text dependent. It can even be a value add in markets where playing a game in the original language is a prestige marker.
8. Remember discoverability and search optimization.
Localization doesn’t stop with your app. Once your content has been translated into your target languages, users have to be able to find it. To make your app accessible in the app store, you need localized keywords—the words your in-market audience actually uses to search for apps like yours. You need a clear and appealing localized description of the app. Without localized marketing content, your awesome app will never actually reach your target users. The good news is that an expert localization partner can help to point you in the right direction and to avoid any holes or blunders in your local marketing efforts.
Don’t Manage Your App Localization
Once you have sorted out your specific localization needs and instituted these app localization best practices, the key to success in multiple global markets is long-term reliable service that maintains that level of excellence without additional demands on your developers. Don’t doubt that ongoing localization of your app is going to be complicated. But a localization management partner carries that burden—and probably does a far better job than you could manage in-house. Besides, you have your own talents and responsibilities calling.
Bureau Works provides exceptional automated localization services, thanks to our team of highly qualified translators, unique QA system, and seamless CLI/API integration. We leverage our depth of experience working with diverse localization clients. To see how we can improve your company’s localization experience, contact our team today.
April 11, 2019