Localization strategy

7 Traps to Avoid in Developing a Multilingual iOS App

Best practices and tips on which iOS localization troubles businesses need to avoid to successfully grow their app internationally and go global.
Localization strategy blog category featured image | Phrase

More than 150 countries have access to Apple's App Store, spanning a wide variety of languages and cultures. Your app's success depends on a successful localization and your ability to create a seamless experience for users around the world.

Global consumers want to interact using their native language, and they expect dates and other numbers to appear according to local customs. For example, the United States typically presents dates in a month, day, year format, while most other countries use a day, month, and year structure when communicating dates.

The first step in the iOS localization process is to internationalize your app's user interface and code, giving it the ability to adapt to alternative languages and cultures. Once this is complete, you can move forward with translating and adjusting the content for your target audiences. Successful localization can be complicated, but these tips will ensure you avoid the most common issues:

1. Inadequate Market Research

The biggest issue that most localization projects face is a lack of market research. While testers can fine-tune translations and image choices, you will save a lot of time and money by completing careful research before you begin your app localization project. Immerse yourself in your research, gaining expertise in the subtle differences between cultures. Don't be fooled by assuming that common language means common communication styles.

The key point to remember in conducting your research is that culture provides a basis from which people interpret new information. It sets up the framework in terms of how they think about a situation, which means that even the most basic facts can be understood differently by separate groups of individuals. In other words, localization isn't just about translation.

2. Mediocre Cross-Cultural Communication

In too many cases, localized projects have failed due to fundamental culture-related concerns with how information is presented. Professionals in the field of cross-cultural communication have identified three specific ways in which culture impacts communication style. Understanding where these points fit into your app will increase the odds of successfully reaching your target audience.

Cognitive Constraints

Worldviews and accepted ideas within a culture change how new information is interpreted. For example, the United States has an underlying cultural theme of freedom and independence. Other cultures find this mindset astonishing. In Bali, interdependence is the foundation upon which all activities are built, and the idea of rejecting family responsibilities and values is extraordinary and horrifying.

Behavior Constraints

Expectations around appropriate behavior differ widely between cultures. Some groups favor direct statements, while others consider it rude and inappropriate to overtly share ideas and opinions. In his book Outliers: The Story of Success, Malcolm Gladwell describes a tragic illustration of how differences in communication style can lead to disaster.

He shares the story of Korean Air, a company that had more than its fair share of plane crashes. It was determined that the international aviation industry's expectation that pilots and co-pilots would correct each other's errors didn't work with the Korean communication norms. The emphasis placed on hierarchy in Korean culture prevented co-pilots from directly disagreeing with their pilots. As a result, pilots misinterpreted crisis-level safety issues with catastrophic results.

Emotional Constraints

Whether and how feelings are displayed is strongly influenced by culture. In some parts of the world, it is appropriate to raise voices, gesture frantically, and use strong language. In others, this sort of behavior is considered unbecoming and must be completely avoided to maintain respect.

Understanding how communication styles - regardless of the language used - impact the overall approach of your app means the difference between success and failure.

3. Frustrating User Experience

No matter how popular you are in your current markets, potential users in new locations won't necessarily line up for the opportunity to purchase your app. Examine the expectations of your target population, and ensure you create solutions to meet their needs.

For example, research local payment methods. Is it necessary to make in-app changes to accommodate preferred payment solutions? Does your app have the capability required to accept local currency? When you invest time and resources into making the customer experience perfect, regardless of where users are located, it shows. Customers will reward your attention with loyalty and commitment to the product.

4. Tarnished Credibility

Rushing through a localization project can make you a laughingstock, as KFC's hilarious blunder shows. The company decided to take its message to China but instead of generating enthusiasm for "finger-lickin' good" chicken, KFC's Chinese catchphrase was closer to "eat your fingers off." Many major companies have similar stories.

Begin the translation process by exporting all development language files with user-facing text to an XLIFF file, then forwarding the file to skilled translators for the creation of the alternate language text. Experience matters, because expert localization teams know that word-for-word translation simply doesn't work.

Every language contains idioms and nuances that must be communicated conceptually, rather than literally. The only way to ensure your message comes across as intended is to conduct thorough, careful research. Experienced translators and qualified app testers can prevent a disaster by validating that translations and images are appropriate for your target market.

The first time you export these files, you will notice that you only have the base internationalization resource files: STORYBOARD and XIB. The strings files are generated from your project files by Xcode, and they are automatically included in the XLIFF file. However, the strings files are not added to your project until you import your localizations once complete. Request that your translation team return create separate XLIFF files by language, preferably with the appropriate language in the prefix of the files' names.

5. Unfinished Localization

An inability to access portions of your app will result in a frustrating user experience - and ultimately, you are unlikely to see a return on the investment you made in your localization project. Import your translations, then carefully test each user-facing view to ensure all required features have been localized.

Importing the localized files is simple through Xcode if your translation team has properly formatted and saved the information. Xcode automatically adds the language-specific information and localized strings files to the project, and the information is saved for future updates specific to that language.

6. Globalized Approach to Local Marketing

Each of your markets has unique needs, and a purely global approach is unlikely to attract a full range of consumers. Pay close attention to localized marketing, with a tailored external profile for your app and a full keyword-based strategy. Make sure you have identified appropriate keywords in your target market's language and put the required time into prioritizing your list. This may involve more work than simply uploading your keyword list to the Google Keyword Planner.

The Google Keyword Planner data is an excellent start, showing average monthly searches and levels of competition. However, this information isn't necessarily tailored to your needs. Keyword difficulty also plays a part in how useful specific keywords will be in bringing customers to your page.

When you have sharpened your list of keywords, be sure you prepare SEO landing pages to match. Develop a URL structure that supports the keywords you identified in your target language, giving the same attention to localized pages as you did to your original product.

7. Outdated Technology

The use of outdated technology to localize an app may result in paying more for lower-quality results. Phrase is a leader in localization solutions, offering tools that will give you a competitive edge in the global marketplace. Leverage these world-class tools to create a polished result:

  • In-context editor: Your translators will thank you for incorporating this technology because it is specifically designed to make their lives easier. The in-context editor permits translators to edit and add information as it appears on the website, saving them time and saving you money.
  • Collaboration tools: There are often scores of people working on individual projects, and keeping the lines of communication open can be a challenge. Requesting input or feedback is even more difficult when another user must struggle to locate the specific item in question. Phrase has time-saving solutions, including a dynamic search function. However, the most popular new collaboration feature is tagging capability. You can now point colleagues to the exact information you are referencing without a separate message by typing a quick @ followed by their names.

Your investment in a world-class platform is the best way to ensure world-class results. Take advantage of new features to make better use of your resources, so you can bring your localized app to market as soon as possible.

Finally, as with any major investment, be sure to measure the results of your localization project so you can see success in black and white figures. How has your localized product measured up to historical data? Do numbers compare favorably to your original goal? Examine segmented data to determine which groups are responding to your app, and take note of demographics that don't seem to be making purchases at the expected rate. Is there a communication failure holding you back?

No localization project is ever fully complete. As with any app, localization is a work in progress. Users expect to see regular updates that keep your product competitive, and each update requires a new review of app elements to ensure appropriate localization.