5 simple steps to the perfect app store description
Making the difference to your downloads
Like moving house or getting married, launching a game on any mobile marketplace is a stressful affair – and one a large portion of PocketGamer.biz's audience will be well aware of.
The result of that stress, however, is that it's easy for developers to let seemingly unimportant things fall by the wayside.
In between ironing out bugs to meet a deadline or optimising a monetisation strategy, it can be tempting to let something like an app's app store description fall down the to-do list.
But getting those couple of hundred words right can make a big difference when it comes to discovery and, following on, download numbers. Even if a developer nails the app icon and pulls together a collection on engaging screenshots, a substandard bit of writing can undo all the hard work.
So, just what tips and tricks can developers utilise to ensure their app descriptions – at the very least – don't leave potential customers searching for the back button?
We spoke to folk in the know to pull together five simple steps designed to ensure app store success.
Before you even pick up your pen - or laptop in this instance - you need to make sure your app is in with a fighting chance of being discovered by users.
While marketing, PR and advertising all have roles to play, the most consistent way for you to accrue a regular stream of traffic to your app is by optimising your key words to suit the App Store Optimisation (ASO) algorithm.
However, as Tomasz Kolinko - founder of AppCodes - discovered, mastering ASO means taking a different approach to search engine optimisation (SEO) than you may be familiar with.
"App Store SEO is nothing like web SEO," details Kolinko.
"In case of web SEO, you need to find the best possible phrases, and then work your way to the top search results. In case of ASO, there is no 'working your way to the top' - if your position is low, there is nothing you can do, aside from looking for different phrases."
AppCodes' guide to App Store SEO
So when presented with a 100 keyword character limit, Kolinko believes developers need to be finding combinations of keywords that are both plausible search terms that users might hit and that have relatively little competition from other apps.
And while this may be tricky initially, once you've got the hang of it, Kolinko believes optimising your ASO is a breeze.
"Unlike Google SEO, the ASO is all about spending an hour or two before an update, polishing the keywords. So the effort is truly minimal, and it's hard to not at least break even when you do this."
If an app store description isn't clear or is muddled, the app could miss out on a large chunk of downloads. How's that point for clarity?
In all seriousness, ensuring a description is clear is a vital part of withholding a consumer's attention beyond an initial 10 or so seconds.
If someone isn't able to ascertain quickly and easily just what a game is about from its description, then a download – even for a free release – is especially unlikely.
So, developers need take the time to keep things as straight up as possible.
There's little to be gained by trying to be all too clever, making references or in-jokes there's a risk people won't get. Keeping the language easy to read is key, as well as making sure the copy appeals to the app's target audience and is a readable format that's easy on the eye.
Bullet points and short sentences are a developer's best friend here, so use them to great effect.
It's very easy for a developer to be so wrapped up in their own game that, when it comes to conveying what it's unique selling point is, they can't see the wood from the trees.
While the team behind a title might know why it rocks, the average punter isn't going to download it to find out – that's something that, difficult as it sounds, needs to be conveyed in one way or another within the app description.
So, what are the key bases a developer should look to touch? For starters, it's key that the genre – what slot the game fits into – is conveyed in some form, as game mechanics can often be hard to decipher from screenshots.
Also, any original features that the competition simply can't boast needs to find a spot in the copy. Ustwo's Whale Trail, for instance, used its app description to push forward the game's soundtrack, written by Super Furry Animal Gruff Rhys.
This USP was, in fact, layered throughout all of the game's marketing material.
In particular, selling the uniqueness of an app in the first five lines is really important. As Thomas Sommer from AppLift explains, design changes Apple implemented within the App Store makes this a key way to draw curious users towards the download button.
"The structure of navigation is paramount on iOS 6, since after a user discovers your app only the first five lines will be shown on the main app page," details Sommer.
"Therefore you need to pack your unique selling point, or the gist of your game's awesomeness into the first sentences of your description to get users in. Apps like Candy Crush Saga do this really well."
While developers need to make sure that their description is crammed with detail, brevity is also key.
Rather than hitting the install button, consumers are likely to respond to needlessly lengthy copy with the "tl;dr" meme - that's "too long, didn't read" if you're out of the internet loop.
Planning and editing is key to avoiding such a situation. Before a developer sets about actually writing the description, a simple trick is to try and summarise in just one line why consumers should download the game in question.
The next step is to stretch that argument into five connected narrative points, fleshing it out with the tactics illustrated in the points above to form a coherent draft.
Then put it away for half an hour, come back with a fresh pair of eyes and edit like mad.
Cut out anything superfluous (for example, switch from "the graphics are really great" to "the graphics are great") then double check to make sure that all the game's features are mentioned and the argument outlining why the user should download is clear.
The last step may feel like the trickiest bit for a developer to get right but, according to Sue Keogh - director of Sookio and specialist in writing for the web - being unique is a great way to garner attention for a game's page on a marketplace.
"There is a lot of competition on the App Store and you have to be able to capture people's imagination in an instant," says Keogh.
"If you can talk in an attention-grabbing way it might just give you the edge over someone with a similar product but who has put all their effort into creating the game itself, not the way it's presented."
Fortunately, there's an easy way to get that tone right; go for a drink. Well perhaps not literally but, as Sue explains, imagining yourself at the watering hole is a great way to get that friendly tone
"Try explaining the app as you would to a friend in the pub," adds Keogh.
"Saying it out loud helps you get to the nub of what the game is all about, and imagining yourself among your peers helps give you a conversational tone."
Melding this personal approach with the strategies laid out above should, at the very least, ensure that – success or failure – a game's app store description isn't going to hold it back commercially.
Short of pinning every customer down and taking them to task as to just why they downloaded the games they did, it's extremely difficult to know just what impact app store descriptions have on a title's uptake.
However, in a market as competitive as mobile, few developers can afford to let even one element in their app assault slide.
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