Think writing a website is hard?
Ha! Try filling up – or, even harder, not filling up – the “description” for apps on the App Store (iTunes).
See, in the normal web world, you already know that copywriting isn’t easy. Everyone talks about it: “Writing a website [well] is hard!” So you look for resources to help you, and you find that they exist… like, say, this one, this one or this one. In Ecommerce Land, you’re at least somewhat equipped with tools to help you attract visitors, keep them on the page, and get them to download/buy. You can even split-test to be sure!
Now compare that to selling your product on iTunes, where:
- Your product icon can make or break your success
- Competitors are presented all around you… and are just a click away
- A price point above $0.99 – which is a pittance! – can easily drive people away
- You’ve got essentially 2-3 sentences above the break point (i.e., everything above “More”) to compel people to click to learn about you
- You don’t have the luxury of typography or scanner-friendly formatting to help key messages stand out
- You can’t split-test
After reading that list, a savvy copy hacker can quickly say:
Well, Joanna, competitors are always a click away online. And in the SERPS, you’ve only got ~1 sentence to compel people to click.
True, true. All true. (Except that competitors are really 2+ clicks away. But whatevs.)
But, let’s be real.
…is nothing like this:
I mean, let’s not kid ourselves. You can do A LOT to optimize your website – including better qualifying the search traffic that comes to it – than you can do to optimize your iTunes description.
If that weren’t the case, why would I get emails like this one?
I’m an app programmer. My biggest problem is figuring out how to write app descriptions for the various app stores I sell in. I can’t figure out if that’s more like web pages or “long form” (I just bought that eBook).
I don’t know if I should tell a story, use bullet points or what.
Also, I can’t measure my success rate as a percentage since I have no way to know how many people viewed my app’s page.
Can you help?
Thanks so much. My brain hurts, but reading your short course has been good for me. I hope I’m eventually going to “get” this.
So I think we can all agree that writing for the App Store is a massive mystery, if nothing else.
Now that we know that, it’s time to conquer it. (!)
Let’s figure that mystery out.
Solve that puzzle.
Get people to 1) click on your app, 2) click to read more, and 3) read as much as they need in order to 4) click “$1.99 Buy”…
~Start with Getting Found: Names & Icons
Unless people are searching the App Store for you by name, you can’t depend on ‘direct’ traffic… so you’ve got to get comfy with the fact that you must stand out from the competition in your category based on these 2 factors alone:
- Your 57×57 icon (which is 512×512 on your description page & in a few other places)
- Your app name
Das ist das. Just accept it. Don’t fight it.
So if you haven’t named your product yet, don’t rush to name it something clever!–unless you’re sure it’s as clever and memorable as “Angry Birds”. If you’re considering a “thinky” or funny name, ask yourself why… and make sure your answer has the word “customers” in it.
You should consider taking your cues from the world of search marketing and naming your app based on:
- Popular keyword phrases, so you get found online and in the App Store
- Long-tail keyword phrases
- Fun misspellings of common words
- Pop culturisms
That means your memory-exercising app could be better named “Improve Your Memory Daily” than “Memor-o-la”. (Tip: Use a numeral or the classic phonebook “AAA” to get ranked at the top of the list.)
With SEO keywords as the basis of your name, you know your name is useful in at least 1 way: it may help you get found. Good. Better than just being a clever collection of letters.
…Now what about that icon?
It’s hard for me as a copywriter – but EASY for me as a CRO consultant – to declare this: Your icon is the most important tool you have to help your app get found.
It shouldn’t be drab. It shouldn’t be grey. It shouldn’t be cluttered with words. It shouldn’t be glossed to the point of looking whited-out.
Spend some time reviewing the App Store objectively – in your category and others (especially apps meant for kids) – and also check out these fantastic resources:
- PixelResort’s recommendations for iPhone icon design
- WDL’s “how to design app icons”
- Little Drummer Boy’s “visibility strategy”
- Characteristics of the top 50 iPhone app icons
Please don’t underestimate the importance of your icon. Please.
After all, unless you have an icon that pops, you don’t even need to worry about trying to convert visitors with page copy… ‘cos they won’t get to your page!
Speaking of which, let’s move along to tips for writing your intro text…
Search in the App Store is exact match only. So, in order for your app to appear when a keyword is searched, that keyword must be matched exactly in either your app name, your company name or your keywords. Exactly.
~Make Your Intro Copy Magnetic
The intro lines are what’s shown to users before they click “More” to expand the copy at the break point or fold.
By the time a prospect gets here, they’re at least somewhat aware of you. They’ve either searched you and landed on your product page… or they found you in the App Store catalog and clicked your name/icon.
They’re not as lacking awareness as, say, someone who’s still on the catalog. Knowing that can help you know what to say — and what not to say (yet).
It may help if you think of this copy in 1 of 2 ways:
- As Adwords ad copy
- As the headline and subhead (or supporting elements, like reasons to believe) on your home page
Why would that help?
Because both follow generally the same principles, which are:
- Lead with the most powerful, crisply stated message that your visitor wants to see
- Cut the nonsense or filler – like “Our product is designed in Florida to…” – and just get straight to what the damn thing does and why that’s awesome
- Make the user want to click to learn more (so, in many cases, TEASE!)
Messages you’ll want to strongly consider using in this space include:
- Your value proposition / USP, stated as succinctly as possible
- Your “ideal for” statement
- A short snippet from a product review: “A must have for moms!” – TechCrunch
- A short snippet from an influencer review: “A game-changer” – Seth Godin
- Media mentions: “As seen on ABC News”
- Reasons to believe: “Free upgrades for life!”
- Teasers like, “Click ‘More’ to see the screenshot that Angry Birds designers called ‘Sick on a stick’“
- Star ratings
- Numbers of downloads or users (if it’s large)
- Other apps you’ve created: “From the creators of _______”
Although typography is a no-go at this point, you do have some formatting options at your fingertips… and you should use them to draw the eye where it needs to be. Bolding and asterisks help. Unicode symbols – like arrows, stars, checkmarks and hearts – can help, too. Use as sparingly (or plentifully) as your audience requires; what’s good for a financial app is not good for an app for preteen girls, and vice versa.
Here’s what I did for Bluefin Software’s “Ease Into 5K” intro text:
Because I’m sure a few of you are squinting at the above copy and thinking, “That’s crap! It’s too salesy. I want to be like Angry Birds.”
So you head on over and check out the Angry Birds intro text, and here’s what you find:
…That copy doesn’t follow any of my rules!
Am I a total bonehead? Am I just making this crap up as I go?
I can’t really speak to the first question, so let’s focus on the second one.
No, I’m not making this up. Angry Birds can get away with being creative in their copy because they’ve already won. They’re huge. They’re a household name. Best Buy sells stuffed Angry Birds in their checkout!
Big brands can get away with making their own rules up. Apple can be clever. Microsoft can be clever. Google can. Ford can. NBC can. Coke can. (haha… “Coke can”.)
But the only way to get to the point of being one of those big brands is to sell. Without sales (or free downloads), you’ve got nothing, right? Right.
So start with my tips. Get lots o’ downloads. And then write whatever cutesy copy you want to.
~Close the Sale/Download in the Description
You shouldn’t think of your description as a “description”.
If you think of your app pages as descriptions, you miss out on the chance to sell. These are sales pages.
- They draw the reader in with a compelling intro
- They use only the most meaningful images (i.e., app screenshots)
- They attempt to overcome as many objections as possible
- They use proof points and testimonials to boost believability
If you’ve got a story to tell, you could consider writing in a narrative style a la The Reluctant Hero (as discussed in this ebook). I haven’t done that in the App Store, and I’m not sure if your page would get approved if it felt ‘salesy’ like that… but, because stories are emotional and emotion sells, it’s something to think about.
Of course, you’ve only got 4000 characters to tell your story in.
Now, when it comes to objections, think both about the usual objections — cost, is it right for me — as well as contextual objections:
- What’s the size of the download? No one wants to fill their memory with your app, so, if you’re under 10MB, say so!
- If it’s not free, what should kids and teens do? How can they sell their parents on buying this for them?
- If it’s also available on iPad
- What other cool stuff you can unlock inside the app (e.g., “Mighty Eagle”)
From a formatting perspective, I find it helpful to use asterisks, ALL-CAPS (where critical), and other standard symbols (e.g., ~, >>>, | ) and unicode symbols to draw attention to words and phrases as needed or to make headlines/crossheads stand out. Without going crazy.
And to fill in the body copy – around the objections – you can use a lot of the same types of content that you used in the intro.
Plus your best screenshots. And elements like links to YouTube demos, links to your website, and interesting, useful info about your company (such as how to contact you).
Now… how long does your body have to be?
As long as it needs to be. As long as you feel comfortable with. And as long as Apple lets you make it (i.e., 4000 characters).
But don’t make the mistake of assuming that, because your app is free, you don’t have to sell it. You do.
Here are some descriptions (from iTunes on PC) to reverse-engineer as you write your App Store copy:
POCKET PLANES – Free Game
WORLD OF GOO – $2.99 Game
LITTLE STAR – $2.99 Ebook
Naturally, the remaining question is around how copy that presents well online or in your PC iTunes will appear on the devices it’s intended for.
And, naturally, that means testing your copy on your PC/Mac and your iPhone, Touch or iPad to ensure it performs as well on the small screen – in the context of its competition – as it does on the large one.
Happy copy hacking,