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5 Best Practices for Software Localization

Your roadmap to a successful global launch

Localization is complex work — involving not just translation, but many other processes for adapting content to linguistic and cultural conventions — which by no means happen overnight. Mobile apps alone generated more than 230 billion downloads in 2021 and are expected to generate over $935 billion in revenue by 2023. Clearly, the effort needed to go global pays off.

If you’re reading this before writing your software, great. The most economical way to approach the project is to plan for localization from the very beginning. If you intend to take existing software global, on the other hand, its source language and user interface (UI) may require some alterations. All you need are the right tools to simplify the process.

First up: knowing how to approach localization, plan smart, and avoid functional failures. The following software localization best practices will help you get started. 

What is Localization?

Localization is the process of adapting a product or content to a specific locale or market. Creating “global-ready” software ensures that key functional features — user interface, metric units, graphics, and navigation, for example — were designed specifically for the target market, regardless of language, culture, or location with the aim of satisfying local legal requirements, data compliance, device preferences, and technology trends.

According to ‘Can’t Read, Won’t Buy – B2B’ from CSA Research (September 2020), 70 percent of users will not buy software that does not have a localized version and 80 percent of users will not buy software without local language support. As a result, proper localization of your software or app has never been more important. A properly translated product has the power to improve brand value and create meaningful interactions in your target customers’ native language. Localization can also improve your end-user digital experience, boosting your site’s overall performance and satisfying your customers.

In short, localization is a key factor for user satisfaction.

The Standish Group estimates that:

  • User involvement is 23 percent of the true cost of an IT project
  • 20 percent of features and functions provide the true value of the project

In today’s competitive software landscape, localizing increases marketing relevance, delivers greater value to more users, and improves ROI with minimal added risk.

The global software market is valued at over half a trillion dollars and growing across all sectors.

Key Localization Elements

A number of considerations come under the localization umbrella — some of which might not be top of mind. Here are a few essential pieces:

  • Adapting graphics to meet target markets
  • Modifying content to suit the tastes and consumption habits of other markets
  • Adapting design and layout to properly display translated text
  • Converting local requirements (such as currencies and units of measure)
  • Using proper local formats for dates, addresses, and phone numbers
  • Addressing local regulations and legal requirements

What is Mobile App Localization?

App localization is the process of changing and refining an app to suit a specific market. It often involves updating the interface and functionality of the app to accommodate cultural and linguistic preferences in that market.

The goal of mobile app localization is to create an app that:

  • Accounts for linguistic, cultural, and technical differences, such as idiomatic expressions, significance of specific colors, units of measurement, and currencies
  • Maintains the original intent and functionality of the original application
  • Looks and functions as if it were native to that specific market

App localization can make your app available to millions more potential users. It’s essential if you want to give your app a truly global reach.

The app localization process is similar to software localization, although it’s even more challenging due to constraints like interface limitations.

Developers often design software as mobile apps before desktop versions, which gives them the flexibility to scale up rather than down. Why? Because the core elements in desktop software that provide a great user experience may be hard to adapt to mobile. By developing and localizing an app first, you can help minimize errors and delays.

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What is Agile Localization?

Agile localization is a process that incorporates localization into agile software development, which emphasizes developing and testing code in short, frequent increments. In an agile localization process, translations are delivered as the product is being developed. With new software updates, localization teams work simultaneously on localizing changes introduced in the product by the software’s developers.

This approach requires expert translators who are comfortable working on pieces of loosely connected, out-of-context text. It also requires tight integration between development environments and code repositories like GitHub with translation and localization platforms.

Agile localization can help you develop live and localized software which end users can start interacting with sooner, thus providing valuable feedback early in the development cycle. It also folds software and localization testing into the development process, enabling you to build a more mature product on a shorter timetable.

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The Basics: 5 Best Practices for Global-Ready Software

Now that you know a little more about software localization, let’s take a look at how to ensure your global launch is a success.

1. Design with localization in mind.

To minimize schedule delays and cost overruns, develop a localization-friendly design from the start. Your design should feature source code and structure that helps prevent common localization and translation errors.

Here are a few of the best practices:

  • Use UTF-8 encoding
  • Don’t hardcode text or punctuation
  • Build a library of internationalized objects such as user interface design elements and address, number, date, and currency formats

2. Plan for text expansion.

When translated into other languages, words and phrases can dramatically increase or shrink in total character width as well as text wrapping opportunities. At a minimum, plan for 30 percent expansion.

To minimize translation problems:

  • Keep sentences short and concise
  • Replace phrasal verbs with one-word substitutes
  • Break up noun strings (many consecutive nouns)
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3. Use icons with care.

Icons require less translation and can reduce costs. However, not all symbols are universal or neutral. For example, a U.S.-style mailbox doesn’t translate to many other cultures.

Before you start designing, do your research and avoid images of:

  • Hands and feet
  • Animals
  • Other symbols that may have negative associations

4. Test your software’s localizability.

Pseudo-localization is a localizability testing technique that replaces localizable text with automatically generated “dummy” translations. This helps to reveal potential problems before you invest in translation services.

5. When in doubt, ask an expert.

Your localization service provider (LSP) can provide you with insights and optimized processes that will save you time, money, and rework. Reach out with questions early in the process to ensure your development is ready for localization.

Once your software or app is ready to launch, you can further expand your customer reach by creating localized digital experiences that drive sales in the target market(s).

From the simplest mobile app to complex multi-user systems, all software can benefit from the fundamentals of localization. But there are a few additional details every developer should know before getting a strategy started.

For more useful software localization tips and best practices, contact our localization experts.

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