App Localization As A Growth Hack
10 tips from Wachanga CEO Maxim Kolpakov
Meet Maxim Kolpakov: he and his popular startup Wachanga are a family development platform. The Wachanga team manages to maintain steady growth in a narrow niche market, attract investments, create new apps in a matter of weeks, and experiment incessantly.
Maxim shared with us his thoughts on how localization is helping them in their quest to dominate their niche globally. And this is no exaggeration: Wachanga’s apps are used in every country around the world. In a dozen countries they hold the top place for their categories.
The idea of boosting growth by expanding the number of localizations occurred to Maxim early on, and for three years now it has been Wachanga’s model for growth. Today the company’s most globalized app is Clover (a period tracker), which has been translated into 52 languages. They offer the newborn care app Babycare in 34 languages, the Pregnancy and Due Date Calendar in 26, and the Water Tracker in 23.
The eight Wachanga apps are combined into a unified ecosystem. They have 8 million downloads and 1.4 million active users, and these numbers see a monthly growth of 10–15%. Here at Alconost we are happy that the folks at Wachanga trust us with localizing their products, and that in a small way we can share in the success of this terrific team.
Maxim and the Wachanga team spoke to us about their insights on getting apps to the point of global distribution.
#1: Leverage geography to boost your growth
For a B2C product, the simplest way to boost organic traffic is to expand geographically. If yours is a narrow niche, the only way to prosperity is to attract users from other countries.
Wachanga’s first globalized product was its breastfeeding app: mothers had to select the breast from which they last fed their baby. (Don’t laugh; breastfeeding mothers really do need this feature.)
When Russia was our primary market, our financial outlook was pretty depressing. Despite the fact that our app was the number one breastfeeding app in Russia, in actual numbers this meant a mere 7500 active monthly users.
As soon as we expanded the app globally, our audience increased 10 times over in the course of 8 or 9 months:
This is exclusively organic traffic: we launched a lightly optimized version of the app, then observed what the users in new countries liked and what needed to be improved.
At that time the entire Wachanga team was living and working in a small town in Siberia, but we produced products for the whole world. Germany, France, Brazil, Korea, and Japan became our primary markets. Why hunker down in one country when people around the world are just waiting for your high-quality product to be offered in their native language?
All we had to do was decide which countries to conquer first.
#2: The USA is not your best choice
If we roughly outline the primary regions for expansion, we’ll end up with something like the following picture:
- USA — a highly profitable but extremely competitive market;
- Europe — closer and easier for Russian-speakers to understand than the USA;
- Latin America — a market with little competition and a large population;
- South Korea and Japan — purchasing power similar to the USA, but simpler.
Many developers are drawn to the potential profits from breaking into the USA (and other English-speaking countries simultaneously), and they decide to translate their app into just one language: English. This means that a ton of products are created for the world’s 500 million English speakers, resulting in an insane level of competition in English. Conclusion? Gambling on English alone is a poor strategy.
One of the key watershed moments in Wachanga’s growth occurred when we realized that our pursuit of global prestige should not begin with the USA. Instead of attempting once again to dive headlong into that highly competitive market, we concentrated on other countries.
The world is suffering from an acute lack of quality products in local languages. By localizing and adapting our product to several markets with lower capitalization, we generated far greater profits than we could have in the USA alone.
Another interesting observation on the USA: we had hypothesized that apps initially released in English and exclusively in the USA would be the most successful. We tested this hypothesis with our launch of Babycare on iOS, but this particular “trick” had no noticeable effect on growth. Now we launch our apps immediately in all countries for which the product has been adapted.
#3: Market analysis: expectation vs. reality
When selecting markets for localization, we go by our experience with our previous apps. Here it is very convenient to have an entire product ecosystem. We always conduct an analysis of our primary competitors who also distribute on a global scale. It’s funny, but our three main competitors in the USA show little interest in conquering the market in other countries. Which naturally suits us just fine.
To complete the picture we also analyze economic indicators (that is, the population’s purchasing power) and the level of development of the mobile app market. In some countries, competition for our category — Medicine — is very high.
Germany is a terrific market. German localization took off immediately: users are constantly demanding new paid features, and basically telling us, “Shut up and take my money!”
Working with Brazilian users is also interesting. They are demanding, but also responsive, and they give us lots of ideas for ways to improve. Many of our apps have seen a ton of feedback specifically from Brazil (primarily on Google Play).
When we translated into Spanish we expected to see impressive results from 100 million Mexicans — after all, they’re the largest Spanish-speaking nation. But profit ended up coming from Spain and Argentina: the population turned out to have more purchasing power and to be more Western in culture.
In some countries the official language is not always the preferred language for localization. For example, while our apps in India were in English we had high numbers of active users. When we localized into Hindi, however, install numbers dropped. The inhabitants of India often use apps in English, so we rolled the localization back to English. The Hindi translation did not go to waste, though — in alternative Indian stores apps need to be promoted in their native language.
English is also widely used in Israel and South Africa. So the first thing to do is check what localization is being used in apps for each individual country.
#4: Minimum content for translation into maximum languages
While localizing the store page alone may be okay for games, for apps it is essential to localize both the store page and the app. Translating a page is cheap, but if the app itself contains extensive text you will be faced with a dilemma.
Our first app, Wachanga Parenting Guide, contains 1 million characters. Translating this amount of text into 1 language costs several thousand dollars. For this reason we translated it into English only, and instituted the following rule: products are to be created with minimum textual content. Content can be translated using a UGC (User Generated Content) model. Some of our apps contain no text at all: they are just tools, making them much simpler to expand to other languages.
Our pregnancy app is our second largest in terms of textual content, at 35 thousand words, but we still localized it into 26 languages, since user engagement is highest during pregnancy and the first year after childbirth. In the next section I’ll talk about why it was essential that this app be localized and adapted to the local conditions.
If you want users to keep on using your app for several years without losing interest, make quality translation a priority. For long-term apps, only use native-speaking translators. We did our translations through Alconost and we always provide screenshots for context. For critical languages we also order proofreading.
For fast translation of various interfaces into multiple languages at once we use the online service Nitro. This is our favorite service for translating small features or just a few words into 52 languages.
We have a number of specialized concepts, and to ensure accurate translation it is important that we show the translator how the screen looks and how the text should be interpreted. With Nitro we write our comments and attach screenshots, check off the required languages, and this information (the comments and screenshots) is automatically forwarded to each of the 52 translators.
#5: The need for content adaptation: an argument for localization
Although we try to create products that depend as little as possible on cultural differences, in some of our apps this factor is unavoidable.
There are many possible differences. Different countries handle pregnancies differently: whereas in Russia women undergo frequent testing and have regular exams, in many other countries they may not see a doctor until the sixth month of pregnancy. Dietary recommendations and lists of what to bring to the hospital also vary.
How do we obtain information on the customs of each country? To compile our content we hire not just an average translator/copywriter, but a physician with OB-GYN or pediatric experience.
In our Babycare app, which focuses primarily on infant feeding, we have to consider that regions differ on what foods to introduce first into a child’s diet. For example, in Southeast Asia avocado is often the first food, while in Russia applesauce is preferred. In Russia babies are given cultured milk foods (such as yogurt) by one year of age, while in Asian countries dairy products are hardly used at all.
Due to these differences we never thought twice about whether to localize the app for countries where English is widely spoken, such as Sweden, Denmark, Iceland, Finland, and the Netherlands. Besides, even if you speak English very well, it’s more convenient to process important information in your native language.
Details can play a major role. In our pregnancy app, a beautiful, shapely bare belly is the standard image for our European audience, but for Arab countries we decided to cover up the pregnant tummy, as their views tend to be fairly strict.
Our pictures differ in style for Europeans, Arabs, and Oriental countries: for Korea and Japan, for example, we use cute cartoon figures.
Interestingly, every nation has their own requests. From Germans, for example, the highest demand is for joint parenting features. Men take an active part in caring for the baby, changing diapers, bathing, and going for walks. And in Muslim countries we encounter requests for features such as “a prayer when putting baby to bed.”
#6: Localizing into less popular languages is a profitable investment
Many apps are translated into only 5 or 6 languages in an attempt to cover the most possible ground. As I noted above, however, processing important information is more convenient in one’s native language.
Wachanga’s apps are available in languages such as Greek, Serbian, Romanian, Hungarian, Croatian, and Malay. We take a pragmatic approach to the matter: each market is a separate growth area. Considering that many developers ignore the smaller markets, we are able to attract a significant number of customers who are planning a pregnancy or already raising children. This means that our investments pay for themselves — first and foremost in terms of organic growth, both for install numbers and for our active user base, including paying users. In the past year income from small, unpopular markets has increased several times over.
The same is true of traditional Chinese. On the one hand, it would be more logical to enter the Chinese market with simplified Chinese: this is the version used in mainland China, and hence by the vast majority of Chinese speakers. Traditional Chinese, on the other hand, is used in Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macau, which are home to over 20 million people. FYI, that is the equivalent of the entire population of Scandinavia, and the inhabitants of Hong Kong and Taiwan have considerably greater purchasing power than the populace of mainland China. We have already used Alconost to localize our apps into traditional Chinese and the Hong Kong dialect.
#7: Store screenshots: consider the culture
Our designers draw people in screenshots to suit the taste of a specific nationality. We attempt to adapt and please users from the given country, and thereby to increase conversion. In our product description we also draw inspiration from national traditions.
We’ve tried to depict various babies in the screenshots, adapting them to each particular country. In Brazil the screenshot portrays curly-haired babies, a soccer field, and a soccer ball. In Asian countries the screenshot shows babies with Asian features, and we also added one of the popular baby names of recent years. You have to admit that it’s nice when an app shows you children who look familiar, rather than the standard European golden-haired, blue-eyed infants.
In Korea, emojis in screenshots boosted conversion. We also noted that for Koreans bold fonts needed to be used, and that call-to-action boxes needed to have wide borders.
Our findings can be used as a starting point, but A/B testing on the Google Play console is a must in order to determine how these ideas will work for your own audience.
#8: Have a native speaker check your CTA
After you’ve translated your call to action (with the help of a native speaker, I hope) and included the text in your screenshots, have the native speaker check your screenshots once again. The goal is to understand how a native speaker will perceive a screenshot with your specific CTA: does it really sound like a call to action? For example, due to grammatical differences, the translator might accidently use the word “Downloads,” when what you need is “Download now.”
Such inaccuracies occur especially often when you are translating from English, and you give the translator a list of isolated words with no context. In any case, a proper call to action means higher conversion to installs, so I am in favor of double-checking these important marketing materials.
#9: Surprises in localization
Not all developers know about local marketplaces. Iran, for example, has Bazaar; India and China have their own alternative stores. It’s important to realize this, so that you don’t release an app on Google Play only to find that no one is downloading it, because the country has its own stores.
Chinese and Japanese characters are tricky: there are no spaces between the words, so if you break lines every which way the meaning of the phrase can be distorted.
And did you know that the Arabs of Asia and Egypt do not use Arabic numerals (1, 2, 3, etc.)?
They use Hindu-Arabic numerals, which look like this:
٠ ١ ٢ ٣ ٤ ٥ ٦ ٧ ٨ ٩
When you first encounter localization into Arabic and Hebrew, it is a bit of a shock that the entire interface has to be redone, since text in RTL (right-to-left) languages is written from right to left. Just imagine what happens when you have to use both RTL and LTR languages in the same app!
We even came up with a meme for Arabic: “So if all interfaces are in reverse for Arabs, are their right thumbs RTL too? Or are they all left-handed?”
#10: Working with reviews in all the languages of the world
Every day we receive hundreds of reviews in every language from around the globe. We have translated answer templates into several major languages. When the response is critical we use English. In addition, all our customer services representatives speak several languages.
In other cases we use Google Translate, but we always run the translation from English into the required language, then back into English. If the meaning does not change, the answer can be sent. With reviews, people care more about having their issue resolved quickly, so no one complains about the translation quality.
For Koreans and Japanese, to be honest, we respond in English: Google Translate handles those languages too poorly. The hardest language for Google Translate turned out to be Indonesian: sometimes a machine translation from Indonesian fails to provide even a vague idea of what the user actually wrote.
Our thanks to Maxim and the Wachanga team for their valuable insight and tips. We wish them success in their ongoing global expansion! As for us, here at Alconost and Nitro we’re always happy to help when you need us. :)