Mastering the East: Strategies for App Store Optimization and Localization in Asia

The app market in Asia is a lucrative challenge for anyone who wants to expand their business and attract users from that region. Asia boasts some of the world’s largest and fastest-growing app markets, which presents a huge opportunity for businesses and developers. Not only that but languages such as Chinese have a large number of native speakers, which can further drive more customers to your app. However, the Asian market requires special attention rather than a one-size-fits-all approach. In this article, we are going to delve into the strategies needed for App Store optimization (ASO) in several Asian markets, such as the Japanese, Korean, and Chinese markets, as well as localization strategies tailored specifically for these markets.

Understanding Asia’s App Market Landscape

Asia has some of the world’s largest and fastest-growing app markets, where each country offers unique potential for app developers and businesses. It’s crucial to understand the specific characteristics of each market to effectively succeed in them.

Japan’s App Store

The Japanese app market is one of the world’s most vibrant and profitable arenas for developers and businesses. It ranks third in consumer spending worldwide, being behind China and the United States, mainly due to a consistent rise in smartphone users. Notably, Japanese users dedicate over 4.5 hours daily to mobile app engagement, a figure that has surged after the pandemic. 

The Japanese app market has a wide array of options, but mobile gaming seems to be the driving revenue. For a decade now, Monster Strike has maintained its position as one of the highest-grossing apps in Japan. Other titles such as Fate/Grand Order and Dragon Quest Walk also have achieved incredible success, solidifying the gaming dominance in the Japanese market.

App Store Optimization in the Japanese market 

App Store Optimization (ASO) entails comprehensive keyword research, which may be a straightforward process for certain languages – such as English, for example, where ASO specialists have established well-known methods for compiling keyword clouds by using special software or independently. 

App Store Optimization for the Japanese market, however, can be quite different. Japanese consumers exhibit a taste for quality, aesthetics, reliability, and meticulousness, necessitating developers to refine apps in order to align with the consumers’ taste. Therefore ASO for the Japanese market requires attention to detail, linguistic understanding, and cultural understanding. Linguistic understanding and localization are the most pivotal factors in App Store Localization, as they allow consumers to understand the message of the specific app. It demands not only precise translation but also a nuanced understanding of Japanese culture.
 

Adapt your language and tone

While other languages utilize one alphabet, Japanese employs three distinct writing scripts: kanji, hiragana, and katakana. This complex writing system can be a challenge for App Store Optimization, as ASO specialists must ensure accurate keywords and precise representation of their app’s title across all three scripts to optimize comprehension and visibility among Japanese users. 

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Having three different alphabets can be quite a challenge when researching popular keywords and the potential traffic they can bring. A single word for example can vary a lot in popularity and traffic solely based on the choice of script. One example of this is the keyword “puzzle” – the more popular word “パズル” written in Katakana garners higher estimated traffic. In contrast, the word “ぱずる” in Hiragana, though sharing the same pronunciation in Japanese results in a different score and estimated traffic. Therefore, ASO specialists must be very careful when choosing a keyword and script.

Japanese Culture

Japanese consumers prioritize cultural relevance, so it’s of huge importance to adapt and navigate Japanese culture very well. Selecting the appropriate language styles and honorifics, as well as integrating culturally significant imagery and themes will help resonate with Japanese users and stand out in the competitive app market. Therefore, ASO in Japan requires a deep understanding of linguistic specifics and cultural subtleties to captivate and engage the audience. 

For example, Japanese users prefer to have all available information in one place. That is why users from Europe or the US may consider some apps as visual overload, but for the Japanese consumer, this is a well-rounded and complete design.

South Korea’s App Store

App Store Optimization is also quite dynamic in South Korea as well, requiring a nuanced and tailored approach to the preferences of South Korean customers. South Korea has one of the highest smartphone penetration rates globally, which makes the country a promising yet competitive market for app developers and ASO specialists. Succeeding in App Store Optimization demands a deep understanding of the local culture, language, and user preferences.

Translating into Korean

Language localization is a pivotal part of App Store Optimization for the Korean market. More often than not, Koreans prefer to use apps in their native language for a more comfortable user experience. Therefore, it’s essential to translate all textual elements in the app such as titles, descriptions, menus, and so on into Korean. Using appropriate honorifics and formal language in apps is also very important, as Koreans value politeness and respect. However, it’s important to mention that while translation is important, localization is also paramount for ASO. Apps need to be adapted to the needs of the local user and their culture. 

The app name for example is best to be translated in Korean as well. Some applications may have an English name which is popular around the world and known by most users, but Korean customers prefer to see the name written in the Korean alphabet as well. Popular apps such as Tinder and Uber Eats also translated their brand name into Korean.

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Korean Grammar

According to Korean grammar rules, nouns require cases when written, which are often omitted in casual conversations or internet searches as users prefer simplicity to save time. 

In search queries, you can often see misspelled words, and while native speakers will be able to understand the text, this can lead to errors in conversion rates. 

To address this, words without cases are best utilized in the App Store keyword field. For Google Play, where users may stumble across these errors in the description, these words can be added at the end, within direct speech. Additionally, inserting a high Daily Impressions keyword in the incorrect case, disguised within direct speech, could also be beneficial.

Understanding the culture

South Koreans have unique preferences and trends that shape their daily app usage habits. For example, in recent years Koreans have preferred clean and minimalist designs, so ASO specialists should ensure that the app’s interface is intuitive and clutter-free. Furthermore, using social apps such as KakaoTalk or Naver as login options will make the user experience easier and enhance engagement. 

Leveraging local trends will give apps a competitive edge in the South Korean market. Having an understanding of popular topics, cultural events, and seasonal trends will help ASO specialists tailor the app to better appeal to Korean users. 

In gaming apps, for example, Koreans love the so-called aegyo style, reminiscent of Japan’s kawaii culture. Aegyo encompasses endearing, childlike gestures and expressions that enhance the cuteness of game characters. Therefore, using anime-inspired elements and the aegyo style will probably entice a broader Korean audience.

App Store Optimization for the Chinese Market

App Store Optimization in the Chinese market can present a unique challenge for developers and businesses seeking to make their mark in one of the largest app ecosystems in the world. The Chinese app market has a massive user base, diverse preferences, and a complex regulatory environment. Therefore successfully optimizing apps for the Chinese market requires a deep understanding of linguistic and cultural nuances, as well as technical intricacies.

What’s different about App Store Optimization in the Chinese Market?

In the US or European countries, users typically rely on either the App Store or Google Play Store for downloading apps. That approach simplifies the task of ASO specialists operating in these markets. In China, however, the app market landscape shifts significantly. While ASO specialists targeting iOS continue to focus on the App Store, it’s quite different for Android users. Google Play is not accessible in China, which impacts the user base a lot – by 74.5%. Chinese Android users turn to alternatives for app downloads, which are categorized into two groups: 
Asian App Market

  1. Mobile Manufacturers’ App Stores: These include platforms like the Huawei App Market Store, Xiaomi GetApps, VIVO App Store, and Oppo Software Store.
  2. Third-Party Stores: Popular options include Tencent MyApp, Baidu Mobile Assistant, 360 Mobile Assistant, and Wandoujia.
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Language Localization

Both options for app downloading offer two variations of Chinese: Simplified Chinese (zh-CN) and Traditional Chinese Taiwan (zh-TW). The choice between them is based on the specific region you are trying to target, as language varies across different locales. 

Simplified Chinese is predominant in mainland China, Singapore, and Malaysia, while Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Macau use Traditional Chinese. The choice between the two can be also influenced by the demographic characteristics of the target audience. 

Which type of Chinese to use for your app?

While most users in mainland China prefer Simplified Chinese, it’s best, if possible, to offer the possibility to choose between the two different Chinese scripts. This can increase your outreach and retention rate even more. Also, the Chinese really prefer complex expressions and we suggest using a human translation to ensure that the audiences’ expectations are met.

Content Localization for the Chinese Market

To ensure that the Chinese audience resonates with the message of your app, ASO specialists need to be sure that the layout and design, as well as content, are suitable for the audience’s sensibilities. Chinese users have become more and more discerning, so a slight oversight can have a detrimental effect on a foreign’s app success. Adapting to the preferences of the audience is key and it requires attention to detail and a deep understanding of local norms and expectations. 

Similarly to users in Japan, Chinese audiences prefer it when they can see all the information in one place. This may seem too “busy” for Western audiences, but it’s what the local audience likes and expects. That’s why it’s important to localize the layout of your App to match the taste of the Chinese users.

Conclusion 

In conclusion, App Store Optimization in Japan, Korea, and China can present distinct challenges and opportunities for developers seeking to enter those competitive markets. In Japan, attention to linguistic specifics, cultural preferences, and the incorporation of culturally relevant elements is key to standing out. In Korea, a deep cultural understanding of tastes and visual preferences, as well as linguistic understanding is paramount in enhancing an app’s visibility. Finally, in China navigating the complex multiple app stores and cultural nuances can be challenging. Effective ASO is possible by localizing content to the target audience’s preferences and focusing on language localization as well. By tailoring ASO strategies to the unique characteristics of each market and embracing cultural relevance, developers can maximize their app’s potential and effectively engage audiences across Korea, China, and Japan.