How to Localize Your App for China

Sarah B. Touimi by
ASO Manager at AppTweak

Last updated: 14 min read

China has become the world’s biggest app market, surpassing 1.1 billion app users in December 2021 (AdChina). For app developers, this makes for a huge opportunity to tap into a productive market. So, what do you need to take into account when localizing your app/game for the Chinese market? We’ve gathered for you all the information and tips you need to know to localize your app/game successfully in China.


Mobile landscape in China

iOS versus Google Play

The Chinese mobile market is very different from any other market. While the App Store is present and operational in China, Google Play is blocked, which makes it more difficult for apps/games to reach Android users. Still, Android devices dominate the local market with the number of Android users much greater than iOS. So how to make your app/game available for Android users in China?

Localize your app for Android users in China

With Google Play officially not working in China, there are over 200 local alternative Android app stores (top 20 covering almost 90% of the market). Each of these stores has its own distinctive features and tools for content promotion on its platform, so in order to localize your Android app for China, you’ll have to negotiate with each store individually. Here, we have listed the top 5 most popular Chinese app stores:

  • Myapp
  • 360 Mobile Assistant
  • Baidu Market
  • Huawei App Market
  • Oppo Software Store

Despite there being more Android users than iOS users, it is still very profitable for app developers to be present on the App Store, as iOS users have a much stronger spending power than Android users in China. But even though listing an iOS app in China is pretty much the same as in other parts of the world, Western developers in China still prefer to partner with local studios to enter the market.

Top apps & games in the Chinese app market

Local apps dominate the market in China, and many Chinese users don’t like apps that look too “Western” or have very little knowledge about the latest trends outside their country. Still, that doesn’t mean Western apps don’t stand a chance. When looking at the top charts in China, we see publishers like Supercell, Voodoo, and Supersonic in the Games – Action Category and Picsart in the Photo & Video Category.

Top 10 apps and games in the Chinese mobile app marketTop 10 apps and games in the Chinese mobile app market.

How to localize your app/game in China?

China is a hard market to crack for app/game developers, all the more because Chinese mobile users are very particular. It is therefore very important to adapt your app to the local culture in order to make it feel like it was actually made for China. So to help you, we have listed the different elements to keep in mind when localizing your app/game into Chinese.

Language

Chinese is a very concise language that generally does not require much space. Therefore, words in Chinese consist of much less number of characters than in English (requires 30% less space). Still, Chinese characters are very complex, so it is recommended to use a larger text font in your in-app/game text.

Differences between Simplified Chinese and Traditional Chinese

There are two different types of Chinese available to choose from on both the app stores: Simplified Chinese (zh-CN) and Traditional Chinese Taiwan (zh-TW). Whether to use one or the other depends on the region you want to target as the language spoken differs from a region to another.

  • In mainland China, Singapore, and Malaysia, Simplified characters are mostly used, whereas in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Macau, Traditional Chinese is used.
  • Also, if your target users are younger, using Traditional Chinese might not be that effective because those users often dislike reading traditional characters, especially the ones in mainland China. Still, mainland users are able to read traditional characters.

Which type of Chinese to use for your app/game?

Well, as most users in mainland China prefer Simplified Chinese nowadays, we recommend defaulting your app/game to that. Still, if possible, offering the possibility in your app for users to be able to choose between the two different Chinese characters might increase your outreach and retention rate.

Finally, the Chinese like complex expressions and have different expectations when it comes to writing styles. So, it is important to use human translation to make sure your message is appropriate for the target audience.

Expert Tip

It is recommended to work with a native speaker for the translation because many elements need to be taken into consideration in the translation process including cultural and lingual specifics as well as, font selection and size for example.

Metadata

Title and subtitle

  • It is advised to translate your title when you enter the Chinese app market. In fact, popular international brands/games such as Angry Birds and Subway Surfers have kept their original names in all markets, except for China. However, be very careful and work with a local translator as too literal translations of your title can be confusing (they don’t sound like the original English name).
  • Phonetic translations don’t always resonate with your brand image, as they might have a different meaning or negative connotation. Because of this, some apps and games choose a new title that highlights the core gameplay and features that are the most appealing to the target user.
  • In the App Store, we often see that international apps choose a careful phonetic translation but also add their English brand name in brackets.

Apps and games brand names in Chinese app storeApps and games brand names in the Chinese App Store.

  • Use your most relevant Chinese keywords in the app title (like in English). Make sure to select keywords that have a good volume and will drive traffic to your app. Since Apple released Apple Search Ads in China, AppTweak fetches the Apple Search Popularity score to indicate the volume of a keyword.

Learn more about the Search Popularity score and how to interpret it

You can also use our keyword research tool to get inspiration on the best keywords to add to your app’s title and subtitle.

  • The top search terms show you the top 50 keywords with a good volume and for which your app ranks well. We also show the Top 50 keywords for your competitors so that you can see which keywords work well for them and maybe try them for your app.
  • The Search Ads recommendations are pulled directly from Apple Search Ads. These are 100 keywords that Apple Search Ads recommends your app to bid. This means that Apple’s algorithm has identified that these keywords are relevant for your app. For each keyword in the Search Ads recommendations, we indicate the volume so that you also have an idea of the traffic these keywords drive.

Expert Tip

If you’re not too familiar with Chinese, make sure to use our Auto-Translation tool. In just a click, the suggestions will be translated to English so that you have an idea of what the keywords mean.

  • Finally, when adding keywords whether in the title or the subtitle, you don’t have to add indents or spaces between the hieroglyphs. Most importantly, you should be careful when combining hieroglyphs as some combinations might be ambiguous.

Once your selection is made, don’t forget to regularly measure the impact of the keywords added to your app’s metadata on your app’s installs. You can create a list of keywords in AppTweak and check the number of installs they drive to your app. This will enable you to easily filter out low-performing keywords and replace them. Make sure to check the keywords that also bring installs to your competition. There might be some interesting keywords for your app too.

Installs per keyword for Action games in the Chinese App StoreInstalls per keyword for Action games in the Chinese App Store.

Read this blog to know which languages you should localize your app or game into

Long description

Chinese mobile app users are not too keen to read long app descriptions. Instead, they prefer to watch the preview video, screenshots, and/or gameplay for the games. So keep these tips in mind when writing your long description for the Chinese app store:

  • Use bullet lists rather than long paragraphs because it makes it easier and less time consuming for users to grasp what the app/game is about.

Example of an app long description in US vs China app storeExample of an app long description in China vs US (App Store).

  • Highlight social proof in the app long description, such as awards received, the number of players reached, the number of levels available, and more, as these elements increase users’ trust and value perception to the game/app. In fact, Chinese users are positively influenced by these elements when deciding whether to download an app/games. So, make sure to put as many pertinent social proof elements as possible in your long description.

Creatives

When it comes to creative assets, including icons, screenshots, videos, and app previews, the Chinese have a preference for bright and cluttered creatives rather than minimalist design like in the West. Follow these useful tips to successfully localize your app/game creatives in China:

  • When updating your screenshots, it is recommended to increase saturation and remove dark colors (brown, grey, etc..), especially for games.
  • Make sure that your app/game creatives and the text or keywords in them align with the cultural elements and beliefs of the local market, such as having Chinese game characters or Chinese UI models. But let’s look further at some tips specific to each visual element:

Icon

With regard to mobile games in China’s app stores, very often the game icon reflects a game character. Even when looking at the top games in the Games (Card) category – a category that is not often associated in the West with a storyline or characters – in the Chinese market, we see that 9 out of the top 10 apps display a character in their icon.

Top 10 games in Card Category in China vs US App StoreTop 10 games in Card Category in China vs US (App Store).

  • When we compare the use of characters for games in China vs the United States, we see that characters are in general more realistic or less cartoon-style in China. Designers in China use a lot of thin lines and details in their icons in comparison to the US.

Top 10 games in Simulation category in China vs USTop 10 games in Simulation Category in China vs US (App Store).

  • For apps, similar to the Western world, we see that apps in China often use logos or brand names in the app icon. But the Chinese branding and logos often have a different look and feel than in the Western world. For example, since brand names can sometimes be reduced to 2 or 3 characters, the logo and app icon represent the full brand name.

Top 10 apps in Shopping category in China vs USTop 10 apps in Shopping Category in China vs US (App Store).

Another very important tip to keep in mind is that when designing your app icon, look out for the meaning of the color you use. In the Chinese culture, the colour red is associated with money and prosperity, hence most apps in the Shopping category use the colour red or a close variation of it.

Screenshots

Talking of screenshots for apps and games in China, here are some best practices we have observed:

  • App screenshots for China tend to be cluttered, very bright (even for apps/games with a dark theme), with clear text/subtitles and links that show users all the features and functions.
  • Also, the Chinese have a preference for customized text boxes in each screenshot along with a colorful and cute design less common in the Western markets. Generally, 5 or 6 screenshots are used to feature the brand image.

Mobile game screenshots for China vs US Create customized text boxes for screenshots with a colorful and cute design when localizing for China’s app market.

  • For games in particular, if the content has already been localized, you should present it in your screenshots. In the case of mobile games, for example, this can be Asian characters (facial features, wardrobe, etc.) or appealing animal representations in China such as Chinese dragons and pandas. Other cultural elements such as symbols or architectures, for example, the Great Wall or the Forbidden City should be highlighted in app/game creatives and video, if any.

Additional tips to localize your app for China

Colors

The color selection is crucial as colors have a clear meaning in China that is different from the West. For example, like we mentioned earlier, red represents joy and welfare and, therefore, is often used as a background color. On the other hand, white represents death and so it is better to avoid. But, in general, the Chinese tend to use bright colors and avoid low saturation.

Chinese app market color guideChina app market color guide for app localization.

QR codes

The use of QR codes is very popular in China’s mobile app market. The majority of the apps/games in China’s app stores have used them to link to promotions or to display interesting features. These can be used by integrating them into your app/game to either show users promotions and deals or to lead users to other social networking pages. For instance, China’s social network app Renren has integrated animated visual QR codes in order to entertain users and strengthen their engagement with the app.

The use of QR codes is very popular in the Chinese mobile app market
The use of QR codes is very popular in China’s mobile app market.

Social sharing ability

Social sharing ability in screenshots happens to be very effective in China. Top apps in China’s app stores use some sort of social sharing ability in their screenshots to make their app visible and searchable on the web. However, many major Western social platforms are banned by the Chinese government, such as Facebook and Twitter. So keep this in mind when adding a social network to boost engagement. Some great options allowed in China to integrate social into your app/game are WeChat and Weibo, as well as the Chinese version of Twitter and Whatsapp.

Sensitive topics

Some topics are negatively received in China’s culture. It is recommended to avoid displaying elements such as blood, skeletons, skulls, and drugs and any bad behaviors, including sexual, drinking, gambling, and others. Politics is also a sensitive topic along with defaming the Chinese government. All these topics need to be avoided to avoid being banned from the app stores.

Note: Apps in China tend to pop up and disappear overnight. So we recommend updating your app/game at least every 2-3 weeks. It is very important to keep your app/game continuously up-to-date in order to stay relevant in the Chinese market, as it is a fast-paced and an exigent market. In fact, apps/games that are frequently updated tend to be more relevant and drive more positive reviews from users.

Follow these tips to successfully localize your app or game in any chosen market


TLDR

The app market in China represents both a huge opportunity as well as a challenge for mobile app developers. Anyone looking to crack this market has to really understand what works in China’s app market. Here are a few tips you can follow to successfully localize your app/game in China:

  1. Allow users to choose between Simplified Chinese and Traditional Chinese in your app/game to increase your outreach and retention rate.
  2. Translate your app/game title when you enter the Chinese app market. Work with a native speaker for the translation.
  3. Use your most relevant Chinese keywords with a good volume in the app title.
  4. For long descriptions, use bullet lists rather than long paragraphs. Also, don’t forget to add social proofs like awards, etc.
  5. The Chinese have a preference for bright and cluttered app/game creatives with clear texts. For example, the color red is associated with joy and can positively influence users.
  6. Make sure that your app/game creatives and the text or keywords in them align with the cultural elements and beliefs of the local market, such as Asian characters, Chinese dragons and pandas, or the Great Wall.
  7. Use QR codes to offer promotion and deals when localizing your app/game for China.
  8. Avoid elements that have a negative connotation for the Chinese, for example, blood, skeletons, skulls, and drugs, etc.

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Sarah B. Touimi
by , ASO Manager at AppTweak
Sarah is an ASO Expert at AppTweak, helping apps increase their visibility and downloads. She has experience in digital Marketing and is passionate about new technology. She is a born entrepreneur!