For which languages should I localize my apps?
When faced with drafting a global strategy for your products, the question is not which languages you should offer your product in (eventually all of them), but which ones to include in your localization plan first. It is not an easy question to answer, and advice will differ. Here are some of my thoughts on which languages you should localize your software, app or website in, and some numbers to go along with those thoughts.
Less than 40% of all app downloads across platforms are from native English speakers
Your product will tell you: Low hanging fruits I
Depending on your product, you have certain target markets in mind already. Go with those first. If your product will be an easy sell in Asia for some reason, go there first, it does not matter how much richer other markets are. Don’t make it harder for yourself than it already is to roll out globally, grab those low-hanging fruits.
Where is your home base: Low hanging fruits II
Now look at where you are starting off. In most cases, it makes sense to expand first to your linguistic and cultural neighbors, as the amount of adaptation required will be much lower than to expand into a market that is entirely different from the one you are coming from. Watch out for misconceptions though. Many geographical neighbors are not at all similar markets, neither linguistically nor culturally. Some examples would be: Develop a mobile app in Germany, and extend to Austria and Switzerland, then either grow into additional European markets, or jump onto the Anglophone, Francophone or Latinamerican markets. Look at your global roll out as a set of stairs that gets easier to climb the further you are up.
According to Distimo, localization can increase app downloads by 128%
Now look at the numbers
If you run a mobile app, there are a few app stores that give out numbers on what their top language markets are, but always take those with a pinch of salt. I for example have my phone set to English, but I don’t live in an English-speaking country, and download numbers from the US do not automatically signal a demand for English, as those statistics do not convey what the big picture would look like considering the large percentage of Hispanics in the US that would possibly use your product in Spanish. Localize for language that you either know signals a high demand, or bears the potential for rising demand. A great example are the emergence of copycat products, these usually arise because the original company failed to expand, so a local “copy” of the original product seizes the opportunity and brings a localized product to market, possibly blocking the original product from ever extending there.
Talk to people
Do some research, talk to potential customers, inquire with business partners and closely study potential new markets. Base your decision on these factors as well. Some strategies are obvious: if your product strategy is to cover the EU domestic market, cover the main European languages. If your product is aimed at low income customer segments, target languages most prevalent in lower income countries, and so on. Keep an eye on your user numbers as well, if for some reason demand for your product is increasing in a country that you don’t even offer the language options for, hurry up and seize that opportunity, after all there is a reason for the demand, which might increase manifold if you localize. Another interesting tip comes from an App Store optimization company, they were looking at the languages of reviews in the App store.
Recommendead reading: The impact of app downloads study by Distimo