Localizing your keywords to attract international users

Becky Doles


You’ve launched your mobile app and your increasing revenue has convinced you to market the heck out of it. One of the easiest — and cheapest — ways to do that is by expanding your international audience through keyword localization. In this blog post I’m going to share 3 pieces of advice for getting the most out of localizing your keywords.

Why you should localize keywords

First, let’s understand exactly why it is so important. Just take a look at your current download statistics and you’ll probably see nearly all your downloads come from North America, the UK, and Australia. But there are probably also islands of users from several rich and populous regions of the world, especially in ones that speak French, Spanish, German, Japanese, Korean, and Chinese. These are brave souls who have stumbled upon and downloaded your app even though your app description and keywords are in English. Imagine the uptake if more users in those international markets could actually discover and understand the awesomeness of your app! With just a handful of localized keywords, you can do exactly that, and since you’re only translating a few words, the cost is minimal.

Context is everything when localizing keywords

The localized keyword metadata you include in iTunes Connect or the Google Play Store helps international users find your app. That’s why it is very important to get those translations right. And, more often than not, localizing keywords is much more nuanced than a straightforward translation. Consider a few of the following keywords for an app we recently localized:

score, notes, sheets, journal, practice, timer

If you handed over these words to a translator (or Google Translate) with absolutely no context, what might the result look like? Most likely, score would be translated as “points in a game,” notes would be translated as “comments,” and sheets could be anything from “bed sheets” to “pieces of paper.” Now what if I explained that the keywords above are for a Music Practice Journal?

Tip number one: Context is key. Whenever you send your keywords to a translator, be sure to explain them and include your app description, too. Only then will the translator use the correct words for “musical scores,” “music notes,” “sheet music,” and so on.

Give your translators freedom to (re)write

Once you’ve provided context, you’ll be surprised to learn that your translators actually make very good (and underpaid) SEO consultants. Tip two: emphasize that the keywords are simply the words and phrases that a person in their country would type into Google to find the app. This will lead many translators to give you a few extra phrases that might work better in their own language or locale. For instance, sometimes there are two words in another language for a single word in English. We translated an alarm clock app recently and the developer was surprised to learn that in French there are a few words used for that search:

alarme – something general that reminds/warns you
sonnerie – the alarm bell sound, used as a synonym
réveil – a clock that wakes you up

A French user looking for an alarm app might type in any or all of these three keywords into a search engine. There are several keywords for watch and clock as well. Make sure that, in addition to context, your translators understand the purpose of the keyword translation, and give them the freedom to help you include all the relevant terms.

First things first

The final tip is the simplest: write your words in order of importance. Apple limits keyword metadata to 100 characters. Once you localize your keywords you’ll find that in many languages you’ll end up with far more than 100 characters! That’s why it’s important to deliver the keyword list to translators in order of importance. That way, if you have to leave out some, you’ll know which keywords can be dropped without affecting your campaign.

Having translated your keywords, international users are going to discover your app when searching the App Store. Now if you just localized that app description too…

Becky Doles

Becky is the Senior Content Marketing Manager at TUNE. Before TUNE, she led a variety of marketing and communications projects at San Francisco startups. Becky received her bachelor's degree in English from Wake Forest University. After living nearly a decade in San Francisco and Seattle, she has returned to her home of Charleston, SC, where you can find her enjoying the sun and salt water with her family.

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