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How to write a great app description

Writing great app descriptions for your games is the mobile game industry’s version of the elevator pitch.  This week’s guest post provides detailed instructions.  This blog was originally posted on Localize Direct’s blog on Nov the 4th 2014.

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Crafting a compelling description of your iOS app for the App Store is very important if you want to entice as many people as possible into downloading it. This is your chance to explain to a potential customer why they should choose your app from the multitude on offer.

We’ve taken a look at how to choose a name for your iOS app, and we’ve discussed the importance of strong display screenshots, now it’s time to focus on the app description.

What’s the purpose of the app description?

The app description is obviously there to give potential customers some insight into exactly what your app is and what it does. But, from your point of view as a developer, the app description is your chance to pitch. You have to sell the idea. You have to tell people why they should download your app instead of another.

You know that anyone reading the description has already found your app based on a search they’ve done. The name and screenshots were appealing enough for them to take the time to read the description. You’ve got your foot in the door, now you have to close the sale.

Take your opening

There isn’t a lot of room here to snag your customer. Take a look at the app description on the iTunes preview website, the iPad screen, and the iPhone screen. You have two or three sentences at most displayed by default. After that the reader has to tap “More” if they want to read the rest.

The iPhone screen is the most limited. You have about 225 characters to play with. This is by far the most important section of your app description. The entire app description field is limited to 4,000 characters, but the first 225 will determine whether the rest gets read at all.

You must be clear and concise, but the app name and the screenshots should have already created a clear picture of what your app is all about. You can get into details deeper in the copy.

The opening of your app description should be an emotive call to action. Try to put yourself in your customer’s shoes. What are they looking for? There are a few simple copywriting rules that apply here:

  • SLAP – Stop, Look, Act, and Purchase. Grab attention and use subjects and verbs early in the sentence to encourage action and make the meaning as clear as possible.
  • KISS – Keep it simple stupid. Don’t use jargon, it can be off-putting. Cut out superfluous words, there’s no room for filler.
  • WIIFM – What’s in it for me? What’s the value proposition? What will the customer get, learn, or experience if they download?

Use the free AddLingo StoreFront web app to preview your description and find out exactly how it will look on an iPhone or iPad screen.

Once you have a great hook in place it’s time to dive deeper into your description.

Fill in the details

It’s good to explain exactly what people will be getting from your app. After a couple of opening paragraphs, which provide the emotive call to action and form an overview of your app, it’s time to offer up the details.

How you break the information down depends on the type of app you have, but generally-speaking you should stick to the same rules that newspapers apply – the most important news comes first and the least important comes last.

Think about your use of white space. People are turned off when they see a wall of text. Paragraphs should be short. Sentence length should be varied. Use sub-headings and line breaks. Bullet point lists are great for breaking up the page and making it all look more appealing.

Nailing bullet point lists

The simplest and most popular way to present your app’s features is to provide a bullet point list. Here are a few suggestions to help you get it right:

  • Don’t make it too long
  • Place the first two most important points at the start and the third most important at the end
  • You probably aren’t reading this one
  • You definitely aren’t reading this one
  • Vary the opening word and letter for each point

You might consider breaking your features down into a list and ordering it by importance. If you put every point in one long list then everything in the middle is liable to be skipped. You can break it into two separate bullet point lists. There may be a natural way to do this by topic, but don’t be afraid to do it arbitrarily. People tend to read the first two points of a list and then scan down and read the end one. They also tend to skip or merge points that look very similar.

Impact on search

For people searching within iTunes the app description doesn’t weigh in for the search results, they are based on the app name, keywords, and other factors. However, since iTunes preview pages appear online, and the app description is indexed by search engines like Google, the app description copy can have an important impact on your search ranking.

It’s another reason to make sure that your app description is carefully crafted and highlights the important features and unique selling points of your app.

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Take a look at this page on App Store Statistics and you’ll find a potentially useful list of the most commonly used words in the app descriptions in the Apple iTunes App Store. You can even filter by genre. You may also want to do some research using Google Trends and the Google AdWords Keyword Planner.

While it may be beneficial to stir a few keywords into your copy they should be natural and relevant. Do not list keywords in here, or try to crowbar them into your app description when they don’t fit. If you need more help with App Store SEO, or ASO, and you’re willing to pay then check out a service like Appnique or Sensor Tower.

The importance of localization

Localizing your app description is a relatively cheap and easy way to boost downloads and there’s really no downside. A recent survey by Common Sense Advisory of over 3,000 consumers across ten non-English speaking countries found that 75% of respondents want products in their native language.

The report, entitled “Can’t Read, Won’t Buy” also found that 55% of respondents will only buy at websites where the information is presented in their language, and that figure rises to 80% for those with limited English. Interestingly, 50% said they would prefer at least navigation elements and some content appear in their language, with another 17% strongly agreeing, which suggests there is value in partially localizing your content.

Consider the fact that you can localize your app description, even if you haven’t fully localized your app. It will still contribute to greater interest and more downloads from other countries.

The Localize Direct App Store stats page provides useful data on the number of apps that support various languages, which can be filtered by genre, so you can gain an insight into where best to target your efforts. You can also see a list of the most commonly used words in the app descriptions for each language.

Make sure you engage a professional localization firm because you want to ensure that your app description copy has the same seductive appeal and nuance in every language, and a direct translation will not achieve that.

Testimonials

A lot of developers like to include testimonials in their app descriptions. Social proof can be persuasive and it’s a popular selling technique for just about everything. There are different schools of thought about how effective it is.

If your app has been reviewed by a well-respected website or reviewer, then it may well be worthwhile lifting a quote and including the website name. If you’ve won a coveted award then you’ll want to mention it. Consider the weight that the testimonial might carry.

You can also use testimonials to expand on features and highlight specific aspects of your app. Sometimes a reviewer, particularly if they are a professional writer, will hit on a concise or especially appealing way to describe your app.

Apple’s guidelines on app descriptions suggest that you “Include user reviews, accolades, or testimonials only at the end, if at all.”

Keep it up to date

Don’t think of your app description as being written in stone. You will obviously write summaries of what’s new when you release a new version of your app, but beyond that, remember you can change the app description itself.

If you think of a great phrase that really sells a feature, you get user feedback that gives you a new perspective, or you get a glowing review from the biggest website in town, then use it to improve and hone your app description. If you add core functionality or improve a specific feature then make sure your original app description is edited to reflect that.

Cross promotion

Let’s not forget that the app description is prime real estate. Not only is it an app shopper’s window into your world from the iTunes App Store, but it will also likely be a high ranking result for searches for your app name through the search engines. It’s not uncommon for the iTunes preview to rank higher than your actual website.

There are four things to consider that you can benefit by linking to or mentioning. The first two are non-negotiable and should always be included as part of your app description.

  • Website –the website for your app with screenshots, text, and links to buy.
  • Support link –the right contact for any customer with a question or problem.
  • Social media –your social media accounts, covering updates and other apps.
  • Other apps –any other apps that you have created.

Make sure that you have a system in place to respond to support requests within a short time frame. If people can’t contact you easily, or they contact you about a problem and don’t get a quick response, then they’re going to give you a bad rating and possibly post an angry, critical review.

If people repeatedly ask the same questions then think about whether they should be addressed in your app description or on the app website.

For developers with a track record it’s important to name drop earlier successes. “From the creators of” is an easy way to write this into the copy. Alternatively you might just list your other apps towards the end of your app description under a sub-header like “If you enjoyed this then check out our other titles”.

Cross referencing your other apps can help drive traffic and boost downloads.

Common mistakes to avoid

There are lots of potential pitfalls when you’re crafting an app description. Some of these mistakes will send potential customers packing before they even get to the download, and others will ensure a flood of negative reviews and low app ratings which can be the kiss of death.

  • Typos and poor grammar – Use a professional writer, or at the very least a spellcheck.
  • Confusing and vague – If they can’t understand what it does then they won’t download it.
  • Hyperbole – Is it really revolutionary? Don’t get carried away or expectations will soar.
  • Bending the truth – The truth will out just a few seconds after download. Don’t lie.
  • Keyword stuffing – It looks ugly and it won’t have the impact you want.
  • Targeting the wrong person – Write for the customer, not for yourself, or other developers.
  • Omitting important details – How big is it? How much is a subscription?

Time to get started

To briefly summarize, the basic process is to prepare, write, polish, localize, and then update as needed.

Research and prepare before you start to write your app description. Find desirable keywords and phrases. List out all your important features and order them by importance.

Write a draft of your app description, or hire a talented writer to do it for you.

Edit, tweak, and re-order for maximum impact. Check out how it will look on the iPhone or iPad screen. Keep working on it until it is silky, smooth, and seductive.

Have it localized into additional languages starting with the most popular in terms of downloads.

Make sure that you update to reflect any changes in the app, make general improvements to the description, and highlight positive reviews or awards.

A great app description will close the sale and trigger that all important download.

This blog post was written by Simon Hill, a technology journalist, game designer, editor, lover of video games and a member of Gamasutra’s community.

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