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ASO and App Localization: A Must Strategy to Grow User Base

Nika Grigorieva

In this post, we, ASOdesk and INLINGO decided to tell you about the localization of apps and games. Based on our experience, we think that it is essential to localize both the interface and creative assets of the game and the app page on the App Store and Google Play.

Why do we need localization in App Store Optimization?

Localization of the metadata is an inherent part of App Store Optimization, especially if the developer wants to grow user base in new markets. When localization is masterly done, it impacts the success of ASO and how users in a local market will accept the app.

If you make the localization of the app in different languages, you can reach more people, be ranked for many popular search queries, and ahead of the competitors in the local markets.

When you start the localization of the app page on the App Store and Google Play you need not only to translate the popular keywords from one language to another, but you need to adapt them for cultural and language nuances, to find keywords and slang words, which help to drive more users to your app page.

For successful localization, it is essential to collect the relevant semantic core of search queries, which the potential audience uses while searching the apps and games of this category.

Just keep in mind some advice before you start to collect keywords for every additional language for future localization:

  • You need to create a semantic core of keywords in the language which is native for creators of the product. It gives you a clear understanding of users’ behavior. Having the full semantic core for the app makes easy the research for new keywords in other languages.
  • We recommend creating a list of English keywords. It is always easy to have English based metadata when you are planning translation or localization for other languages.
  • Create the list of competitors, which already have top places in the search results in countries you plan to expand. 
  • Don’t make the direct translation, for example, from English to Spanish, or from the English to Chinese. Try to adapt search phrases or find local search queries.
  • Use the help of native speakers for collecting keywords. They can give you explanations of local slanguage.
  • Check keywords ranking in your niche. It helps you to collect the most popular search phrases in the local market.
  • Remember how works search algorithms. For example, the App Store algorithm can distinguish single and plural forms of the English Language. But it can’t distinguish form of words in other languages.
  • Remember that some languages have diacritics, and always check the correct spelling of keywords in every language. Sometimes, you don’t need to use diacritics in the keywords field, the title and subtitle because users do not always use them while searching. Always check traffic volume for keywords with and without diacritics. 
  • In some countries, you even don’t need to localize all keywords. In some countries, people for searching use the English language instead of their own. Keywords in English could have more traffic then keywords in the local language. 
  • Also, don’t forget to track the metadata of your competitors, you can find search phrases and keywords they use, and add them to your metadata.

In ASOdesk, you can use the Keyword Explorer tool and research for keywords in every language.  

For example, you plan to find new keywords for running app, but in Germany. Let’s see search suggestions for the keyword “running” in the US App Store.

Search Suggestions App Store
US Search Suggestions App Store, ASOdesk

When you do the same research for the keyword “running,” but in German, you also should analyze all search suggestions and check their relevancy.

German Search Suggestions App Store, ASOdesk
German Search Suggestions App Store, ASOdesk

Analyzing every keyword you can find many additional search queries in every language and country. Pay attention to your competitors which have top places in the search results in every local market.

So, semantic core of keywords is ready, you have planned changes for app page on the App Store and Google Play, made localisation for textual metadata in several languages and you are ready to conquer the world.

You need to ask yourself about the product. Is it ready for new markets, did you make the localization of the interface and the content inside the app?

Imagine that you made the perfect ASO for the mobile game, but didn’t make the proper localization. The users get a great first impression, see the attractive icon, stunner screenshots, and like the description. But then, after downloading, the user starts playing the game. Some unexpected mistakes occur. For example, some critical text for understanding the game’s plot is not translated; titles’ size doesn’t match the size of buttons; dialogs consist of strange phrases or jokes that difficult to understand. Gamers love to have the perfect game experience, and if they are not satisfied with content quality, they may leave the game very soon.

Or can you imagine another situation, you have released the cooking app with receipts. You want to succeed in the international market, you have created the app page, localized it in Spanish, but all interface and all texts are in English. Users who saw the description and attractive screenshots of the app could download it, but then they couldn’t use it in the right way because they don’t speak English. So, you will lose part of the audience and in the end get lower retention.

That is why, before invest time and money in ASO in different languages, think about the users and who they are. If the app will attract many new users with beautiful localized screenshots and the title, but they couldn’t figure out how to use it, you can get many bad reviews and loose users you attracted from search. To avoid such negative consequences, we would recommend planning ASO and localization of the product page together with the product localization.

Let’s localize mobile games and applications competently

Building the App Localization Process

Quality localization essentially starts when an app is still catered to by the developer. It’s essential to prepare the lockit along with all the nuances and references that will help translators recreate the complete image of the original game.

The localization process itself is rather trivial and repetitive: a Project Manager gets a hold of the text, which is then given to the translators’ team, where it’s going to spend most of its time. After the native speaker is done, editors take care of the text, correcting it according to the genre specifics. In the end, if localization testing was ordered, editors conduct LQA.

For proper localization, it’s best to approach translators with a data package, also known as a lockit, which includes:

  • Formats that localizers are used to receive translation materials in, such as xls, txt, xml, html, csv, java, or json. Translation software works with exactly these formats, hence the selection;
  • Segmentation. There’s no need in breaking the app into several segments. For example, in Korean sentences always end with a verb. If you are breaking a Russian app into several pieces, it’s going to be very difficult to translate;
  • Context and illustrations. It’s crucial to provide translators with the context. For instance, the word “squash” on its own doesn’t have enough information in it to figure out whether it’s a sport or plant;
  • Character limits. Try making them as big as you can, as they are never enough;
  • Filtering and sorting. Localizers are people with experience, so there’s no sense in even trying to help by filtering and sorting the text and deleting repetitions. Simply give it to them in a logical sequence;
  • Dialogs with speakers and character biography. For example, Korea has a very strict social hierarchy. In case your game supposes that characters have to communicate with each other, it’s very important who they are to one another, their gender, age, social position, and family ties. Let’s assume you’ve selected some very simple game, in which two characters are talking. None Korean will be able to translate it without the information about who these characters are to each other.

The technical task compiled together with the Project Manager is just as important. Among other things, all of these data will be used for the creation of a glossary of terms that is necessary for the project’s translation.

Things a Localizer Should Pay Attention to

It’s necessary to pay attention to quite insignificant details – at least, seemingly – since they are what often causes the most trouble. Let’s take a look at some errors in particular game projects that were localized by other companies.

Take a look at the all-time favorite Resident Evil series – it’s not entirely fine, either.

Game Localization
Resident Evil, Screenshot

In the file, this line looks like this: “Очень туго <color = “66FF00”>завинчено</color>”. Obviously, the developer has lost the space before the color tag. This can be solved via additional localized testing – this is when bugs like this are often discovered.

Game Localization
Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of DANA, Screenshot

There are tons of errors related to bad localization from Japanese to English in the game named Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of DANA. They include text repetitions, bad translation, rough semantic errors, and bad lexical errors. Game creators have announced its release on iOS and Android – it would be nice if they’d conducted localized testing before it is launched. Unhappy gamers took to Reddit and Twitter, posting screenshots with obvious fuck-ups. This is a prominent example of how even simple translation issues can set gamers against the app (by the way, the publisher had to apologize for poor localization).

Speaking of fans, quite often there are people, who are very unhappy with the official localization, which marks an end to positive PR. In fact, this was exactly the reason for a scandal that surrounded the Fire Emblem Fates game (you can read an article about this on Kotaku).

Fans were unhappy with the fact that their favorite game was not localized in the US, but rather censored and given an overwhelmingly artistic translation.

localized screenshots in the game
Screenshots from the Japanese and English versions

Fans compared screenshots from the Japanese and English versions. They were particularly outraged by this moment. Seriously, what is that “Rrrghg” anyway?

Projects like this with a big fan base should always be approached very carefully and it’s necessary to remember the fans are the main audience. They will not forgive a frivolous treatment of their favorite game. Negative feedback, angry Reddit threads and maybe even a Vice squelcher about it will follow.

And here are examples of good localization. On the screenshot below you can clearly see in-game elements in a non-commercial Russian localization of BioShock Infinite performed by the CGInfo team.

BioShock, screenshot from the game
BioShock, screenshot from the game
Russian localization of BioShock, screenshot from the game
Russian localization of BioShock, screenshot from the game

Top image: original English version of BioShock Infinite; bottom image: localized Russian version of the same game. Excellent work with fonts and design of in-game objects.

There are localizations, in which the visual part of the project gets a complete makeover, keeping only game mechanics.

This is exactly what INLINGO have done with the Chinese title about Three Kingdoms, ultimately turning a historical game into a post-apocalyptic one. Herewith, the isometric RTS mechanic was saved, but the characters, units, and objects were replaced in compliance with a new setting. The client considered it necessary because the game about three kingdoms wouldn’t be relevant in Russia and the USA for anyone, except a narrow orientalist audience.

Three Kingdom, screenshot for the game
 Russian store localization
Three Kingdom, screenshot for the Russian store

Top image: screenshot for the Chinese store; bottom image: screenshot for the Russian store. Note the drastic atmosphere change – not only character skins but font stylistics, too.

Most Localization-Sensitive Markets

Indeed, the importance of adaptation that is not included in a regular translation can’t be overestimated for a wide range of markets. Besides cultural features (such as wearing of green hats in China: historically, they were worn by husbands of prostitutes), there are things that are prohibited by law or are decried by influential communities or organizations, which may lead to an app being banned from the market.

For instance, in China, game censorship is handled by a special organization – Online Game Ethic Committee. During the first months of its operation, the committee has detained about a half of all the games that were in review at the time “until removal of moral harm.” The list of requirements is rather strict and looks like this: 

  • If a game is a part of a franchise, it has to be outlined separately. Otherwise, the regulator will consider that the project has the same name as the other one and will not provide a license;
  • If an online game has offline components, developers have to explain how they work;
  • There shouldn’t be images of dead bodies or an abundance of blood in games. At the same time, you can’t just change the color of blood;
  • Mobile publishers don’t have to send smartphones with their pre-installed games SAPP (a department that currently controls this niche);
  • Publishers don’t have to provide a printed version of prohibited words for each game. They can simply provide a digital list.

In Arabian countries, you will most probably have to clothe your characters, not let them drink alcohol and gamble. In addition, you will have to avoid religious topics, especially those related to Islam.

In Germany, it’s important to follow rather strict requirements towards violent scenes in games.

Proper localization is the key to users’ hearts.

In the App Store, you can use localization not only in promotion in other markets, but also you can enlarge the number of symbols for the country, which is more important for your marketing strategy. For example, you want to be ranked for new keywords in the US, but also you don’t want to remove keywords from your current metadata. In this case, you can use cross localization and the Spanish MX local. 

In some countries you can double the number of keywords, check the table with actual information about the countries

Cross Localization in the App Store
Cross Localization in the App Store

For example, you want to get new places in search results, but you already used all symbols in the metadata. You can use English UK for additional keywords for the Spanish market. 

These keywords will be indexed in Spain and other countries, except the USA, Australia, Canada, and Japan. You can add keywords for Spain in the keyword field (100 symbols), the title (30 symbols), and the subtitle (30 symbols).

Remember that you can combine keywords only in one locale. You can’t create search phrases from keywords in different locales. If you have the keyword “calories” in the Spanish MX locale and “counter” in the English US locale, you will not be indexed by the search phrase “calories counter” in the US.

Remember about alphabets, grammar rules, spelling, and special symbols in other languages. These features must be considered when working with ASO, where every symbol is worth its weight in gold. Here some advice about ASO localization from ASO experts.

German language
Johannes von Cramon ASO, ASA, Analytics & Retention at Growfirst @https://twitter.com/jovcra

“For German localization, all translations should be done by a native speaker. Sometimes we also saw an increase in CR by writing in a certain German dialect (e.g. in Bavarian for a feature launch only available in Munich). But that’s more of an edge case. An advantage in Germany might be that most of the graphical A/B test for screenshots, videos, etc. are done in English speaking countries, which is why we can easily adapt those new and innovative concepts and benefit from the fact that almost nobody in Germany has seen those concepts before. An example for this might be the app preview from the app “Komoot”. I’ve seen the approach a couple of times in the US, but never here.”

“In terms of keywords, the German language is a little bit tricky, because Apple and Google algorithms are far better in connecting plural/singular forms, detecting misspellings and recognize relevance between keywords and apps.”

Japan Language 
Hiroto Inada (Repro Inc.), ASO expert

@ https://twitter.com/HirotoInada

“In Japan, we use four types of character in our daily life.
1.English: `game` , `kids` etc
2.Kanji: `無料` , `子供`etc
3.Hiragana: `こども` ,  `げーむ`
4.Katakana: `キッズ` , `げーむ`”

“In the title, you need spaces between each keyword to be indexed. For example, the title  キッズ無料ゲーム (“Kids free games”) has high risk of reject since it seems to be just adding keywords not sentence. I recommend  to use in the title  some postpositional particles such as `や` , `が` and `の` so that the title seems more natural to Japanese. As for keyword field , you don’t need spaces between different type of character shown above since each keyword indexed as other language. For example , `キッズ無料こどもkids`.”

For which type of apps the localization is essential

You need to localize the interface and the content in the app if it has a lot of texts inside. We understand that “a lot of textual content” is a very subjective evaluation; it could be 5,000 symbols or 10,000. Still, the most important is the role of the text for users in understanding the app’s features.

If your application or game was created in the English language, you could enter the English speaking market. Still, English is not a mother tongue for people from other countries, and they can not understand some nuances of the product or the content inside. And probably they will not see the value of using it.

Localization is necessary if the company releases the original app, which has no analogs in the market. Users of such apps don’t have any related experience, and you need to explain to them how to use the app, which function it has and tell them about the value. But if you have the UX of the app, which consists of pictograms, you don’t need to explain every step or making the onboarding with texts. In this case, it is not necessary to add localizations.

When you plan to release the product in new markets, we think that it is crucial to do the localization of the app/game together with localization of the app page and ASO for the local market. You should think about localization in the stage of development. Then you should plane the app store optimization, including all textual and visual elements of the product page in app stores. If you do both things, you will have more advantages then your competitors, and users will be satisfied using the product in their native language.

Here the proof of how localization can positively impact organic downloads. Cases from the mobile projects who made localization and ASO optimization for local markets:

Elena Naumova, CMO DEVGAME
1. Application Robocar Poli

We updated the version of the game last spring. We made localization: translated the game into new languages, including voice recording in these languages and the interface. We updated all textual metadata: the title, subtitle, and description. We made localization of screenshots for the App Store and Google Play page.

Results:

iOS: downloads have grown in the French market. After we added Arabic localization, we saw the growth of organic downloads in the regions where the Arabic language dominates.

Android: after we did localization, the game got downloads in Indonesia, the first place of all game downloads, then second place held by Russia and third by Brazil.

2. Kid-E-Cats: Kitchen Games, iOS

We localized the app more than in 10 languages. We saw the growth in organic installs in Spanish speaking countries. When we added ASO in the Vietnamese language, we started to get organic installs from there. And now, Vietnam is the third country with the most significant amount of downloads comparing to other regions.

Vladimir Suhodolov, independent ASO expert

“In one of our applications, we changed the pop up of the subscription. Initially in the app was the screen of the subscription, but we did it without proofreading of a native speaker. Then we founded the native speaker and changed the screen according to her advice: removed errors in the text, added informal phrases, and after the release, we saw the results. The conversion to the purchase from this pop up increased.

Localization of app, in one of our portfolio app, we made ASO and localization for Scandinavian countries. We saw search keywords with good traffic volume. The next month the localization was made, we saw the growth of traffic in Europe. For example, in Sweden, by 13%, in Denmark, by 38% in Norway by 26%.

For the help in creating the article, many thanks to INlINGO; Johannes von Cramon ASO, ASA, Analytics & Retention at Growfirst Hiroto Inada (Repro Inc.); ASO expert Elena Naumova, CMO DEVGAME; Vladimir Suhodolov, independent ASO expert.

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