What Apple's Updates Mean for Your App

Four Updates to the iTunes Store and What Brands Need to Know About Them

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As of September 7, users and app publishers alike will see a gradual change in the iTunes app store. Less spammy or broken apps, shorter app names and a better search experience. Or so Apple hopes.

The majority of the planned changes were announced in an email from Apple to its developer community on September 1, to give app publishers time to prepare their apps before Apple's anticipated event on September 7.

Apple Developer App Store 4
Apple Developer App Store 4 Credit: Apple

What do these changes mean for existing app publishers and for publishers planning to launch an app? Is Apple about to remove your app from the app store? How will the new app naming guidelines affect ASO (app store optimization) efforts? And why is Apple doing this now? Here are some things brands need to know.

Are you a rotten apple?

Since its launch in 2008, the app store has become home for 2 million apps (as of June 2016), but Apple is no longer boasting this vanity figure. With good reason, too.

Sure, the ever-growing number of mobile apps for iOS devices is a sign of a healthy app ecosystem and platform popularity. But too many apps are over-egging the app store pudding, so to say, making it confusing and cumbersome for users searching for the solutions they want and need in a haystack of faulty, spammy, irrelevant and old apps.

Apple aims to improve user experience in the app store, so it is taking quick action before the release of iOS 10. On a dedicated page by Apple Support, the company detailed (in part) the criteria for app removal and what will happen to problematic apps that have been flagged by Apple.

For app publishers, this is great news. Fewer old, broken or abandoned apps in the app store means more exposure for quality mobile apps.

An app by any other (short) name

The second update Apple announced in the email to app publishers is the shortening of the app name field in the iTunes connect console to 50 characters from 255 previously available. This change is more significant than many app publishers might think.

Up until recently, iTunes app publishers had only the 100-character keyword field and name field to list relevant keywords to get found in the app store. Since Apple approved most app names composed of up to 15 words or so (as long as they did not include disallowed terms) and keywords in the name field had more weight in SERPs (search engine results placements), many app publishers listed popular (but not necessarily relevant) keywords in the app name field, creating pretty ridiculous sounding "names."

Publishers of apps with names exceeding the limit are likely to receive an email asking them to update the app name within 30 days of receiving notice in order to comply with the new app submission guidelines. App publishers who will not shorten their app name will get booted from the app store until the issue is resolved by the app publisher.

Quality over quantity

Google Play doesn't have a keyword field but instead indexes all app metadata the same way the Googlebot indexes content on webpages. Apple is moving in the same direction with a recent change to its indexing algorithm that now detects keywords in app descriptions.

In addition, Google keeps the app names on Google Play looking tidier with a 30-character limit. So Apple's 50 is actually a lot of room for relevant keywords, especially for brand publishers with numerous apps (like Nike and Pfizer) who won't have a hard time including their brand name in the app name.

The main challenge, however, is not the constraint in character quantity, but rather the lack of precise tools for measuring keyword "quality" in terms of performance, not just visibility. Spamming with irrelevant but wildly popular keywords was easy, but now Apple is pulling the plug.

Publishers, even those who didn't misuse the name field length, will have to find new ways to remain on top of the search results, and focus on making the most of every user visit to the app page through optimization of content for conversion.

App search ads are coming

Back in June, Apple (among others) announced its app search ads, launched in beta and free to iTunes publishers. While this service is being tested, publishers have little to no control of the keywords and settings used in these ads. However, according to Apple's Phil Schiller, developers will be able to target competing brand names with app store search ads in the future with "conquesting ads."

Currently, the app search advertising algorithm only uses app metadata to insert the ads in search results, but once the service goes live, there will be no shortage of publishers directing their budgets to "conquesting ads."

The introduction of app search ads is bound to have a huge impact on ASO efforts, forcing app marketers to finally synergize ASO with media-buying strategies across advertising platforms. It's hard to tell how much of an impact app search ads will ultimately have on the app marketing world, but Apple is trying to get publishers on board in any way it can, including the reduction in characters in the app name field.

After all, with iAd being less than a hit, Apple needs to find ad revenue sources. And what better place to start than the highly competitive app store search results?

As the iTunes app store cleans itself from low-quality apps and spammy search results, the apps that will survive this shake up are those with a solid app store content strategy. So better strengthen your app marketing foundations now.

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