Preparing iOS App for Success: A short guide to App Store submission and optimization

Nestor Józefowicz
May 9, 2018 · 8 min read

There are approximately 1,000 new iOS mobile applications submitted to the App Store every day. Most of them are well designed, written by experienced software developers and published by senior publishers. Out of these ~1,000, a few may go viral. If they do, they suddenly may become a goldmine for their respective developers.

The rewards are bountiful, but the odds are often overwhelming.

Luckily, there are some patterns and so-called best practices that when followed will make the odds better, even if just a tiny bit. I will focus on a very specific and narrow milestone on your path to success, namely, submission guidelines to the App Store.

Make sure that the app is finished

If you want you may call it a pre-app store stage, and a pretty obvious one. Thoroughly test your application. Check out all possible edge cases and possible performance issues. Take all use cases into consideration. Just make sure that your app is really ready to be released. Sounds obvious? Well, yes. But at the same time, there are some methodologies that basically force you to release an unfinished product.

Of course, I’m speaking about MVP approach which, in theory, is completely fine, especially when we talk about very innovative stuff that still needs experimentation and field research. However, many users, myself included, prefer to get a ready product. Apple also thinks that users prefer complete content. If you’re still planning to release an MVP at least make sure that it will be more ready than not or App Store will become a nightmare for you.

When you think your app is finished and bulletproof it’s time for App Store review.

Think About App Review

Before your app becomes a part of huge App Store collection it has to go through a review and, believe it or not, even experienced developers with numerous app releases in their career sometimes have problems with the review process.

The easiest and most logical thing to do is to always take App Store app review guidelines into consideration whenever you’re building an iOS app and it’s portfolio. Depending on the context things like violence, sex and religion are mostly off limits. Yet, there are other common reasons for mobile apps rejection.

A bad user interface or one that stands out too much from Apple’s Human Interface Guidelines, incomplete or badly communicated information, inaccurate description or misleading content are some of such reasons. Among other popular reasons for rejections placeholder content and apps that have to little value (remember what I metioned about MVP!). App Store just doesn’t like to be served an undercooked dish.

Keywords and App Store Optimization

Keywords are these little fellows that can make your app a flourishing success or just one of many. Of course, you need to actually create the mobile app great, to begin with, but keywords make it possible for users to find your app among hundreds of thousands of apps.

Keywords are limited to 100 characters in total, so think hard about what you are going to use. One of the more popular approaches is to use terms that are specific to your target group. On what you shouldn’t do — don’t put plurals of your keywords, because it’s basically a waste of very precious space. Moreover, don’t put names of your biggest competitors or irrelevant, broad phrases. It’s very likely that your app submission will be refused during the review step because of that.

Also, you may want to consider adding a keyword that is a part of your app name. According to Kissmetrics’ research on App Store Optimization, apps that have one of the keywords 10%. App Store Optimization (ASO in short) is a specialized branch of app marketing that focuses on creating perfect descriptions/names/keywords for your product page, from both mechanical and PR perspectives. If you happen to have problems with creating and optimizing your product page you may want to ask one of the many expert marketers that specialize in this particular field. This way, you can focus solely on building a great, innovative product.

Naming, description and promotional text

App Store policy in regard to app naming is rather straightforward. In maximum 30 characters convey the characteristics and value to your potential user. Think about something original and powerful. Also, its inadvisable to change the name of your app later on, especially when it starts to rank higher and higher. Any changes can also negatively impact keywords and ASO processes.

Now let’s talk about the biggest piece of text on the whole product page. The description is that one place where you can dump all the information in a coherent and straightforward matter. I don’t mean to say that you shouldn’t think of it as a part of app marketing. On the contrary, it is the place to convey what you really offer, what differentiate your app from any other mobile app on the App Store. Focus on functionalities, focus on the use case. Tell your potential user what problems your app solves.

From a more technical perspective, app description can be updated with each release of a new version of the app. That is why so many developers decide to put some info about what’s new in every version. On the other hand, you may want to not include specific information like pricing or timed discounts. For this purpose, you have so-called promotional text. It is a 170-characters long piece located at the top of your product description and it can be updated at any given time. That’s why it’s the best place for any limited special offers or upcoming features that you just decided on.

Screenshots — your main selling point

You wouldn’t believe how much difference good app screenshots can make. Even though there is a ton of information, most users will “buy” your app in the very first few seconds at your app page, especially when we talk about random “App Store journey”.

When it comes to numbers: a minimum 1 and maximum 10 screenshots may be uploaded. The format may be either portrait or landscape. If you want to go for minimalism, you have to present a set of screenshot per device type, meaning the smallest version would be a 5,5-inch display iPhone screenshots and iPad’s 12.9-inch. As for the content, you may approach this issue in multiple ways.

First of all, you could go for simple use case examples of your app features that would inform about app’s core usability. You will just show how your application looks like in this format and what the user can expect. It is a good strategy when your mobile application is a “companion app”, a part of a bigger product or service. Take for example Netflix and it’s iOS app.

Netflix App on App Store

They don’t really need to fight for your attention. The chances are, you wanted to find this app proactively — you are already a Netflix user so all you need to know is how the mobile version looks like.

Of course in case you’re the app is a standalone, still unknown app you may want to add advertising slogans describing both use cases and the app’s merits or even go fully into a feeling-oriented context where you show images of happy users and outdoor use cases. However, it’s easy to make your app feel chaotic and forceful so tread carefully.

Another popular approach is more feature-oriented, where you find main selling points of your mobile app and present them together with their respective features. Many developers also decide to place the screenshots in iPhone/iPad frames. Add a one-liner built upon selling point to each screenshot and it’s ready. It’s strong. It’s stylish. It’s effective. An example? HBO GO App Store page.

HBO GO mobile app

The third option is to treat all screenshot as one canvas and approach it as a work of art. You create a long horizontal banner but cut it into chunks of respective displays sizes. The trick is to make them still viable and understandable as single screenshots. Also, take into consideration that the first two/three (depends on your device display size) screenshots will be displayed directly in the App Store listening, so if you may want to pick the best, most representative elements. A good example may be Tinder app page.

Tinder app with its canvas composition

Not enough? Ok. Take the canvas approach and add a bit of suggestive narration and elements of storytelling and you practically bought many other users, including me. One of the apps that have all these things in its gallery is Strava. Be sure to check it out. Of course, you also get hybrids of the methods described, for example McDonald’s presents in a feature-oriented framed screenshots way but in the background they attack us with huge, tasty-looking burger shots and fries.

A side note — if you prefer to present your app in a motion picture format you can do it. No problems there. It is especially popular when it comes to mobile games.

Remember to always check the official specifications regarding asset sizes, because they change from time to time. You can find full, very detailed list of requirements in the Apple’s screenshot specification.

This is just the beginning

I hope some of you find the things mentioned here helpful. Unfortunately, there is no one proper way of doing things with App Store. Each product and the target group is different, however, some of the rules stay the same for any given iOS mobile app.

Have any stories about App Store submissions to share? Feel free to share them with everyone in the comment section.

Stay tuned for more articles on iOS development, mobile app business, and marketing.


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Nestor Józefowicz

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We're a company focused on mobile development and startups