So you’ve just finished building your amazing new iOS application. You’ve spent countless hours making sure it’s the best Facebook-integrated location-based to-do list with slick bird-flinging action, and you may be excited to finally get it listed in the App Store. But you’ve got a little more work and careful consideration to do before you submit your app for approval, because you need keywords, a good description, and some screenshots for your App Store listing. So here are some quick tips and best practices to help you out.
App Store Optimization is becoming as sexy and lucrative as traditional SEO. While Apple constantly tweaks the App Store search engine, the name and keywords of your app are the two fields Apple seems to regard the most important when it comes to search (others include number of downloads and ratings; the description of the app is mostly disregarded). Although Apple doesn’t encourage you to do so, the app name in the App Store can be different than the name that shows up on the home screen under your icon (the two have to be “similar” though, and Apple’s approval team gets to decide what that means); you may want to take advantage of that to include additional terms you don’t put in your keywords.
Speaking of keywords, you’re allowed 100 characters worth, separated by commas (to make the most of that limitation don’t put a space after each comma). Think about what keywords best describe your app, but don’t be too broad as you’re likely to be drowned out by the thousands of other apps with that keyword. Nor should you be too specific–make sure it’s something people actually would search for. Don’t include your app name and company name as part of the keywords, since you’re already searchable by those terms. And if your app is free, the keyword “free” is automatically associated with your app, so don’t include it in your list. Apple also doesn’t let you use keywords that are irrelevant, offensive, and refer to other apps, products, or trademarks. In the latest search update, plural forms of keywords seem to be handled similarly to singular forms, and similarly, using phrases as keywords offers no advantage–use “peanut,almond,butter” rather than “peanut butter,almond butter”.
While your description doesn’t help your app be found using the App Store search feature, it is just as important since it informs your users. Craft the first three lines of your description carefully since they’re the only ones that are displayed before the user has to expand the field. Summarize what your app does and why it’s awesome in those first lines. For the rest of the description, avoid writing in paragraphs; use a few short sentences to provide an app overview and bulleted lists to quickly highlight app features. Consider using Unicode characters like ★,☆, and ✔ to draw attention to certain items. Include social proof and praise that your app has received, as well as links to any social media accounts associated with the product or company. Don’t include the changelog in the description–use the What’s New field instead.
The screenshots of your app may be even more important than your description, because of the whole picture-is-worth-a-thousand-words thing. You can include up to five screenshots per platforms (so upload separate iPad images if your app supports it), and Apple recommends you crop the status bar out of all the screenshots. Use the most relevant screenshot first, as the iOS 6 App Store update now includes it in the search results listing. Feel free to combine screenshots, and add explanations, arrows, and any other useful or attractive flare to the images.
If your app is available in multiple countries, be sure to localize the title, keywords, etc. for each location. You’re only allowed to change all this information when submitting an app update, so do a good job on preparing it the first time. Also remember to check out the App Review Guidelines and Apple’s own App Store Best Practices.
Finally, note that some of these tips, particularly in regards to the description, also apply to apps in Google Play and the Windows Phone Store. Those platforms have their own challenges and opportunities and a post on that may be forthcoming. I look forward to downloading your app!
One more thing to know that we only learned out of experience: if you submit your app to Apple and the reps reviewing it have no idea how to use it, or the app requires access to hardware or additional software the reps don’t have, then they’ll reject it and ask for an instructional demo video. Although it’s easier to do a screencast showing the app in the iOS Simulator, Apple wants to know the app works on actual device, so it’s recommended you actually film yourself going through all the app features and functionality on your device (we found that putting an iPad on some books, with the camera lens hanging off the edge pointed down towards your device on your desk, worked well for us). Then just upload your video to YouTube and include it as a link with your submission.