Creating Compelling App Descriptions for iTunes and the iOS App Stores

When you submit an iOS application for review, you’ve got to make sure your ad copy is tight.  The app description may be the last thing holding back a tap to buy your app.

Apple doesn’t give much guidance on this important chunk of text. “Write your Application Description with a focus on what makes the functionality or design of your app unique.” was a tip from this past June from the App Store Tips blog.

We know that 4000 characters is the limit.  And App descriptions are made up of simple text, including unicode symbols like checkboxes (✔) and more (♣☢☂).  Apple takes your unicode text and formats it for display on the web via Web Preview, in iTunes and on the iOS devices themselves (the app store).

Since you probably have very specific points you want to get across, and users have a very short attention span, you need to pay attention to how Apple will format what you write.  In this entry I discuss how to create app descriptions that look great everywhere Apple publishes your app description.

Word Wrap and the Fold

Word wrap occurs in app descriptions when enough characters fill up a line.  Each line has a maximum number of characters and when a word goes over that, it is bumped to the next line.  This is important because one word of word wrap can waste an entire line of potential ad copy.  This is important: the length of your lines in your app description affects the placement of the fold.

The fold is the point where iTunes, Web Preview or the iPad App Store app decide to make the user click or tap the More… button.  Everything below the fold is out of sight, out of mind.  Without the data to prove it, my hunch is that at least half the time, users are not bothering to click More… before deciding whether they are installing an app or not.

All this means is that you must use the space above the fold as effectively as possible.

All app purchase vectors limit the top of fold line display to three lines.  Two important rules here:

  1. Blank lines count as lines.
  2. Lines over 120 characters in length will lead to word wrap and the use of an additional line above the fold line.

App Description Formatting on iTunes and Web Preview

Web Preview and iTunes behave in a similar way, Web Preview is just that, a summary of your app description and screenshots along with a link to view the app in iTunes.  The final step on a computer is to have iTunes open to the page where the user clicks purchase to download the app.  A history of Web Preview and SEO implications may be found here.

Both iTunes and Web Preview show the same number of lines from your app description before the “break” point.  A break point is where all text is hidden below the fold, and the user must click the More… link to display the rest.

Let’s look at some examples. The following three shots were taken from Web Preview.  iTunes displays the same amount of information as Web Preview, however only Web Preview has fixed width.  Resize the iTunes app window, allows longer word-wrapping lines but ultimately the same amount of information above the fold as Web Preview.

Note: Click any images to see the full size.

App description itunes app store seo fold line wrap

Here the app publisher has chosen to highlight two specific sentences and put a line of space between them for readibility.  Note that if the first line was longer than 120 characters, top of fold would be a complete and a partial line (due to the wrap) and the third would simply be a blank space.

Apple app store iTunes submission app description

Here the app publisher has one long line of text with no carriage returns.  This means that all three allowable lines of text are the result of one word wrapped line.  This is the maximum amount of information you can cram into the top of fold, but it does not read very well here.  Wait until you see how ad copy like this looks in the iPhone’s App Store.  For your reference, this one line of text is about 343 characters in length.

Looking at the devices

Currently there are two different sizes in the iOS hardware family.  The long one, (iPhone and iPod Touch devices), and the wide one, (iPad devices).  In addition, there are three types of binaries, iPhone only apps, iPad only apps and Universal apps, which work on both iPhone (iPod Touch too) and iPad.

If your app is only for iPhone you need to focus on how it is displayed in the iPhone’s app store.  If it is only for iPad, you need to look at it there.  In either case you also need to look at how Apple’s relatively new Web Preview page displays your app description too.

App Description Formatting on the iPhone

Often users install apps directly on their device, rather than using iTunes and syncing a purchase.  It is certainly less clunky and you have instant satisfaction of getting to run the app right away.  That means your app description marketing copy should be influenced by how the lines of text look when displayed on each of these devices.

Here are some screenshots of how word wrapping of text affects readability on the iPhone App Store app.  Note that the iPhone app store app only supports portrait orientation.

app description hacking paragraph line spacing

Interestingly, a long line of text looks like a nice paragraph on the iPhone.  Also, Apple uses the bullet character to bullet features.

iPhone sdk binary uploader application category

Note here that the long lines make the display of this text awkward and difficult to read.  (I use it anyhow!)

Rock Show iPhone iPad iPod Touch platform app description

Note a few things here:

  1. The first and third lines are used so Web Preview and iTunes display both lines top of fold.
  2. The bulleted lists do not word wrap, (the max char per line is 45).
  3. Unicode goodness makes it look crisp.
  4. Attention goes to lines 17 and 18 in the app description.  They are the final ones before the user would scroll down to see the screen shots.

Here’s Rock Show’s Web Preview:

apple app description itunes store ios

App Description Formatting on the iPad

The iPad app store app supports both landscape and portrait modes.  It also brings back the idea of the fold and its exposing link, “More…”  In this way, the iPad’s app store application is formated more like iTunes’ traditional display.  See for yourself by comparing iBooks Web Preview with the landscape view of the iPad App Store app. iBooks also happens to have a fancy custom background that 3rd party developers generally won’t have access to:

Conclusion

There isn’t an easy way to preview how your app’s text will look in all these different store fronts until after it is published , but you can at least know what you’re up against.

Experiment with your language and line length.  Every opportunity for a new installation of your software on an iOS device holds not only immediate, but residual value.  Since potential users may view your value proposition from a few different angles, pay attention to the quirks and write accordingly.

8 thoughts on “Creating Compelling App Descriptions for iTunes and the iOS App Stores

  1. Pingback: AppStore SEO: How to SEO for a Mobile App | Mobile Moxie

  2. Hi,

    This is interesting. Just wondering if all this information is still current, and still applies.

    Thanks,
    -JK

  3. This is exactly what I was looking for… thanks!

    You’ve taken the time to count the number of characters, and the iTunes/App store comparison is super helpful.

    Thanks so much,

    Etienne

  4. Coming back for my second app description job =)

    Just to let you know: your rel=nofollow tag is somehow included in commenter’s name, and it breaks the link.

    Thanks for the good work,

    EJ

  5. Pingback: 20 Things Every iOS And Mobile Dev Should Consider in Their App Promotion Strategy — kate{mats}

  6. Great info, especially how to make the meta description more readable. I was told that once you enter tags and title that it cannot be changed unless you make an upgrade to your app and resubmit it? That would mean getting this right the first time is critical.

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