Make Your App Go Global

Localization is the process of translating your app's information for use in other countries.

You can either:

  • fully localize your app, by changing the actual text inside the app, as well as the advertising material on the app store(s)
  • partially localize your app, by only changing the advertising material on the app store(s)

Partial Localization Is Best for Most Apps

In our experience, partial localization usually achieves the best ROI.

To understand why, put yourself in the position of a consumer in another country. Imagine that you're a native Japanese speaker. You've searched the Apple App Store for パズル ("puzzle"). As you scroll through search results, you find many apps with titles in Japanese. You see some apps with titles in English. Which app are you more likely to check out?

While many people in other countries can read English, many are more inclined to download an app that uses their native language in its app title, app description, and on any descriptive text used in app screenshots.

You don't have to take our word for it. According to the consulting firm Common Sense Advisory, 72% of global consumers prefer to use their native language when shopping online. Meanwhile app analytics firm Distimo found that typically, once an app is localized, its weekly download volume more than doubles.

When you partially localize for 10 languages, a typical cost is $15 per language for translations plus 1 to 2 hours of a developer's time to add the localized metadata to the iOS App Store or Google Play Store.

If you work with Wharton Apps, this comes out to $150 in translation costs + $35 in development costs, for a total of $185. This cost is minuscule compared to the extra revenue you stand to gain by positioning your app to succeed in 10 extra markets.

Full Localization Is Rarely Needed

Full localization is much more expensive because it involves adding substantial new information to the app's source code.

Fortunately, once users have downloaded an app, it often doesn't matter to them whether the actual app is fully localized. It's easy enough for users to navigate an English app because most buttons are either graphics or simple English words like "Share," "Start," or "Game Over."

Since full localization costs much more money, and it isn't that important to users, we don't recommend it for most apps.

How Does Localization Work?

We enlist the translation expertise of OneSky's international translation team. OneSky specializes in translations specifically for mobile apps.

Your app's description is the biggest expense, because it involves more words than your app's title or other metadata. To constrain translation costs, we reduce your app's description to 5-6 sentence. We also only recommend localizing for the top 10 languages, as measured by app revenue by country. In order, these languages are:

  • Simplified Chinese
  • Japanese
  • German
  • Korean
  • French
  • Italian
  • Mexican Spanish
  • Brazilian Portuguese
  • Russian
  • Malay

International Marketing Can Help

After your app's metadata is translated, you might want to go even further by fully marketing your app in one or more foreign territories.

The United States, China and Japan account for more than half of all worldwide app revenues, so these markets are the most valuable to target. If you have an app that is successful in the United States, it may be worth hiring social media experts in China or Japan to market your app in these territories to double or triple your app's revenue.

Many developers target the United States and all but ignore the other two huge markets. By investing just a little marketing effort in China or Japan, you might get surprisingly big results.