Update June 2017: Apple reduces the character limit on app titles further to 30 characters.

Moritz leads an ASO Agency called Phiture. We are looking for an ASO Consultant to join our team in Berlin.

App Store reduces the title from 255 to 50 to 30 characters limit in 2017

Apple announced at the 1st of September 2016, that app names of over 50 characters will now be rejected. At WWDC in June 2017, this was further reduced to 30 characters. This didn’t come entirely as a surprise. Partially because Gabriel Machuret whispered it to us a day in advance, but also for any of the following reasons:

  • it was always a bad UX because as most app names were trimmed
  • the time was right with Search Ads around the corner
  • the 255 character limit was only used by some developers to their benefit

R.I.P. 255 characters

Previously the App Store allowed you to fill your title with up to 255 characters. The limit had been introduced with the introduction of the app store itself. Having worked a fair bit with SQL, it seems more like a database field type limitation than a limitation that Apple wanted to enforce for UX/UI reasons.

Even though Apple never publicly enforced another limit than the 255 characters, they did tend to bounce long titles back. Some of our clients that were a bit more under Apple’s radar because of their size, sometimes had their updates rejected from the App Store review team for using titles somewhere between 75–100 characters. Some indie developers however definitely saw the chance to fill up the full 255 characters:

Itunes preview

As you can see from the above example, these titles sure look ugly and unreadable. But since titles get trimmed on iOS devices anyway the user would read something like “TracknShare — A universal life management diary tracker…”, which is already a lot more readable.

For developers there was a clear benefit: not only were keywords in your app name indexed by Apple’s search algorithm, there was even given an extra weight in comparison to keywords from the keyword field (even though the latter can only host 100 characters).

localizable information

Whilst the 255 character limit was a nice trick to appear in more searches, the competitive edge became less impactful as many apps started using long title strategies.

Welcome: 30 characters, and limitations!

The 255-characters were a bit silly, and we really welcome the new paragraph 2.3.7 of the App Store Review Guidelines now announcing the 30 character limit:

welcome of 30 characters and limitations

Whilst technically you can still submit a >30 character app name, it’s highly unlikely that Apple will accept this. There are even developers hinting at the fact that Apple automatically ignores everything post-50 characters. That would make it even a bit counteractive to getting more people to download your app.

So the 50 character limit is fact. Stick to it. But what about the second part of that sentence which says your app names “should not include terms or descriptions that are not the name of the app”? Let’s call it the “descriptor ban” for lack of a better word.

I would challenge that all long titles are necessarily a bad thing for users. If it was the case, and if Apple would’ve thought so too, it would’ve restricted it to 30 characters like Google do. The title might be a great place to communicate a unique value proposition or build your brand, and therefore a great way to boost conversion.

I believe that the Descriptor Ban is not interest of users as they will often have no clear idea by just looking at the title of the functionality of the app, let alone the promise that it makes. In think Apple built in this clause to have some means against people using obvious keyword spamming within the 50 character limit (ie. a title like “Spanish,french,english,japanese,german,language,learning”) but it could very well be enforced across the board. If they do enforce, it will be interesting what they then would consider “the name of the app”. It’s unlikely that it’s just the bundle name, since they could’ve taken that from the Info.plist file as well.

Why now?

Keyword stuffing in the titles has been best ASO practice for ages. Why does Apple care about it now? Does it have something to do with Search Ads? The most characters I got to show up in a Search Ads title, is 50. After that it gets trimmed (see picture below which exactly shows 50 characters and three dots).

In the past months, Apple has tried to optimize these ads for the highest conversion. They must have analyzed CTR on millions of ads shown to early-adopters running iOS 10, and suddenly ran into the artifact of the trimmed titles. Of course, those titles do not convert well: they look ugly, keyword-stuffy and users likely tend to engage a little less with them. The downside of lower conversion rates, must have been by the ability to target more keywords and add extra weight to them.

weather shield

Descriptions indexed?

Apple wants to get better at search. Whether it’s because they want to create a great user experience or cash in on search ads, you see Apple working on search everywhere. Spotlight and Safari search can now can look inside your apps and Apple even started indexing the web.

We believe that Apple will at some point leave the keyword field behind altogether, just like Google did with the Meta Keyword tag for websites. Apple will only do this however, when they clearly are able to understand better what your app is about based on your description, your in-app content and what users write about you. It’s likely that they will start with the description, and there are indicators hinting at this (as you can read in the App Store Optimization Monthly from June).

We’ll be watching closely to see if and when:

  1. a) Keywords that you have in your keyword field and description are preferred over those that do not appear in your description
  2. b) Words or phrases from your description come in play in App Store search even if you don’t have them in your keyword field.

We’d love to hear back from you if you’ve seen anything indicating that this will happen.

What’s next for your App Store Optimization?

First, check how many of your localizations are over 50 characters. Our updated App Store keyword strategy spreadsheet can help you quickly identify that if you just enter your iTunes URL. (Make sure to copy the file to your own Google Drive first)

keyword strategy spreadsheet

If your app title and all it’s localizations were already 50 characters or less, you’re likely in the safe for a little bit longer. It remains to be seen how Apple will treat the “Descriptor Ban”, but I wouldn’t cut any descriptors out just yet.

If your app title and potentially localized app titles are over 50 characters, you will have to act. If you have been using our spreadsheet before, you can just walk through the localizations, move some Title keywords to the regular keywords and remove some of the keywords you had previously.

title keywords

Now that there is a real limit, make sure that if you communicate clearly to your translators that they have to abide by that. Translations to a language like German uses up 80% more characters on average.

Finally, we believe that with even fewer characters at your disposal, choosing the right developer name & in-app purchase names, and using keyword localization tricks will become even more important.

Good luck, and let us know your thoughts.