App Store Optimization Guide for iOS Apps. Part 1: Metadata Optimization

App Store Optimization Guide to text metadata. 7 tips on how to optimize and improve the wording of your iOS application on the App Store!

July 11, 2019

In ASO Guide Part 1, we provide an in-depth look at how to ace textual metadata of your mobile iOS app or game on the App Store by Apple. Learn all you need to know about the best, most effective App Store Optimization of the wording in your app's name, subtitle, promotional text, description, keywords, what's new, and seller name texts. (See ASO Guide Part 2 for the guidelines on how to optimize graphics, including images and videos, and ASO Guide Part 3 for the guidelines on how to leverage other resources and techniques.)

#1. App Name — Choose a Catchy Name for Your iOS App

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App name, or app title, natively plays a very important role in how users discover an iOS app or game on Apple’s App Store. Not only is it because the name is the first thing they usually see in the metadata, but also it is one of the strongest ranking factors over there. For instance, according to several practical studies on how people browse the App Store and find apps to install, keywords perform twice better in the app name compared to situations when they are included in the dedicated 'Keywords' field in the app metadata.

So from an ASO perspective, an efficient app name is critical to your app’s growth and success. That is why you should thoroughly consider adding the most important keywords in the name of your mobile apps and games published on the App Store.

Starting from iOS 11 released in 2017, the app name length must be no bigger than 30 characters including spaces. This is actually a huge decrease as this specification started at 255 characters in older versions, then reduced to 50, and now to 30. However, this strict limit on the available space is principally compensated by the 'Subtitle' section in the app metadata, in which you can provide the key descriptive part — your core messaging — as a brief description. We will talk more about the app subtitle and its role in the Apple App Store optimization below.

ASO tips and guidelines: app name

1. Choose an appealing app name which is not only consistent with what it is about (hinting at what it actually does) and relevant to your brand, but also short and concise, as well as simple to read, write, spell, pronounce and remember.

2. Make sure the app name is unique (or at least not too similar to already existing product names used by your competitors) and do not use generic terms. This will provide your app with an extra value in terms of being distinctive and recognizable.

3. Consider utilizing the most important and descriptive keywords. Do not abuse this practice, however, because the terms and descriptions that are not part of the real name of your mobile app may well be subject to closer moderation and even subsequent rejection of the app. The best solution is to actually include a keyword in how you call your app, though this can be tricky, we know.

4. Do not forget about localization. Translate your app name into each of the target languages for your product and double-check that it reads and sounds good — and means exactly what you need — in all the corresponding countries and cultures.

5. Be careful and remember that after your iOS app is submitted, you are not allowed to change the app name (app title) at your sole discretion at any time. However, you may change it when submitting a new version of your app.

App name specifications and requirements

  • App name character limit: Up to 30 characters long.
  • No keyword stuffing is allowed.
  • Never include trademarked terms, famous app or celebrity names, or any other phrases or words that are legally protected, unless you are explicitly authorized to their use in your app name and can provide proof. Using any content which is irrelevant to your app and its scope is strictly prohibited on the App Store as well.

Checklist for app name ASO

Make sure your iOS app name is:

  • compelling
  • relevant to your app
  • simple and concise
  • unique
  • optimal in terms of keyword use
  • lacking protected and other prohibited terms
  • localized
  • aligned with the iOS app name length limit

#2. Subtitle — Add an Engrossing Caption

Choose a Catchy Subtitle for Your iOS App

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App subtitle is a short description that appears just below the app name, providing an additional context. Introduced in iOS 11, it cannot exceed 30 characters lengthwise and is primarily designed to feature a quick summary of what (and why) a certain mobile app or game does. Users see app subtitles all over the App Store — not only on product pages, but also in the app search results and when an app is featured as an editorial pick in the corresponding tabs.

Experiments have proven that a subtitle is another major ranking factor on the Apple App Store, guaranteeing a higher indexing and therefore greater visibility for iOS apps and games that make good use of this section in metadata. It is a reason why app developers and publishers pay significant attention to this field within the framework of their App Store optimization work and include relevant keywords there as well.

In addition to its considerable influence on discoverability, the subtitle metadata also greatly impacts app install rates, i.e. conversion, due to its prominent position right next to the app name.

Apple recommends providing a description of the app's essence and value in the 'App subtitle' field rather than in the 'App name' field, because that is exactly why subtitles were introduced on the App Store simultaneously with the reduction of the allowed app title length to 30 characters max.

ASO tips and guidelines: subtitle

1. Use the subtitle metadata field to highlight the most outstanding and useful features of your iOS app or the most typical use case that should work best to engage users. As always with any descriptions and related texts, do your best to stay concise and easy to understand.

2. Be specific rather than generic. For example, calling your app simply the world's best is hardly a good idea unless it is commonly recognized and verifiable as such (which is an extremely rare occasion, you know). Instead, use this chance to differentiate from competitors and spark the interest of users in learning more about your app.

3. Always add the top, most beneficial and relevant keywords in the subtitle. Because this field is one of the top ranking factors on the App Store, in this way you will have the visibility of your mobile app boosted, raising its chances to be discovered by users more widely.

Attention: Some sources we've come across say that it is basically a good idea to repeat here the keywords already used in the app name. They consider this measure to improve your app's chances to rank higher in the App Store search results, claiming that keyword density matters on Apple’s App Store just like in Google Play.
However, our practice shows that such duplicates do not bring more weight to iOS apps as the App Store's algorithm simply ignores them. So we recommend you to refrain from repeating the keywords from the app name in the app subtitle: Although this can hardly harm your app ranking, this would be nothing more than a waste of precious space.

4. Translate your app subtitle into other languages to better engage users from your target local markets. Remember that proper localization should not be limited to straightforward translations, so make sure the subtitle is well-adapted for every specific culture, both semantically and emotionally.

5. Thoroughly check everything. As a matter of fact, you will be allowed to make alterations to your app subtitle, but changing it is prohibited unless you are submitting a new version of the app.

App subtitle specifications and requirements

  • App subtitle character limit: Up to 30 characters long
  • A subtitle cannot contain words or phrases irrelevant to what the corresponding app does.
  • Avoid including trademarked, private, or any other protected content unless directly authorized by the rights owner. Remember that you will have to prove that you have permission in case of suspicions or complaints.

Checklist for subtitle ASO

Make sure your iOS app subtitle is:

  • compelling
  • relevant to what your app does
  • concise and easy to understand
  • specific
  • provided with relevant keywords
  • without protected or otherwise prohibited words or phrases
  • localized
  • within the iOS app subtitle length limit

#3. Keywords — Set Up Optimal Search Keywords

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Keywords’ is the dedicated place in your app's metadata to add relevant keywords in a raw way. Invisible to users, this section is only used by the Apple App Store's search engine to determine what terms your mobile app or game should get ranked for. Consequently, it is useless in driving installs and conversion rates but essential as one of the determining factors of an iOS app's discoverability.

Repeating keywords across the indexed locations on the App Store makes no real sense, bringing no boost in terms of optimization. So this is the field to enter the words and phrases that do not appear in the app name, subtitle, and developer's name, but that you nevertheless find to be what your potential users are likely to think of and enter when searching for a game or app like yours.

Keywords are to be entered one by one, divided by commas without spaces. It is allowed to band single words into keyword phrases using spaces, which should be used sparingly because Apple's ranking algorithm is known to be able to nicely mix and match all the keywords submitted while the space in the ‘Keywords’ metadata field is restricted to no more than 100 characters in total.

ASO tips and guidelines: keywords

1. To start with, think about what words and phrases best describe the functionality and features of your mobile app and what your potential audience can use when searching for apps like yours. Spy on the competing apps, attempting to figure out what keywords they are using. Consider trying designated tools to enhance your keyword research and find more related keywords. Make sure you have not forgotten about any really popular and relevant synonyms. Then, remove the keywords already used in the app name, subtitle, and developer's name from your list. Finally, leave only the most relevant and potentially beneficial keywords.

2. Try to find a balance between more popular search terms (which drive a lot of traffic but are greatly competitive) and terms with lower search volumes (which drive less traffic but are also less competitive, allowing you to rank higher with greater ease).

3. Separate keywords by commas. Do not insert spaces after or before them as this is simply a waste of the character limit.

4. Although you can use spaces to separate words within keyword phrases, opt for using single-word keywords instead of keyword phrases. Apple's search ranking algorithm knows how to mix and match your keywords to rank your app for all possible combinations.

5. Do your best to maximize the number of keywords you've succeeded to squeeze into the character limit. To start with, try your hardest to use all the available 100 characters. Do not add plural forms of the keywords that are already included in the singular form as the search ranking algorithm is flexible in these terms. Avoid special characters (!, @, %, $, #, and so on) as they simply do not carry extra weight, if only their use is not part of your product or company identity.

6. There’s a known experiment proving emojis can be added to the ‘Keywords’ field and your iOS app can then be discovered by users searching for each corresponding emoji on the App Store; you decide whether or not that is worth it in terms of the volume of traffic your app is to get from that though.

7. Never use category names or words like 'app' as they are automatically ranked for by the algorithm; the same applies to the words 'iphone', 'ipad', and 'free' if naturally relevant. In addition, there is no need to repeat keywords from the other indexed locations such as your app name, subtitle, and developer's name — this is usually nothing more than a waste of valuable space as it will not help them weigh more in terms of relevance in the eye of the algorithm. The same can be applicable to term duplicates within the ‘Keywords’ section — these are also useless in terms of weight enhancement.

8. Avoid abusing ‘Keywords’ as it is a common reason why Apple might replace inappropriate ones at any time or even reject your app, including though not limited to listing terms that are irrelevant (to your app), trademarked words or mottos, celebrity names, competitor app (or company) names, and offensive words or statements.

9. Localize your keywords for each language — translate all that can be translated and make sure every word and phrase in each language mean exactly what you need and is in active contemporary use. If your app's functionality or specific features are different in different local versions, double check that keywords are appropriate for each local target market and there is no confusion.

10. Typos might slip in any texts when least expected. So you should always conduct a careful final spellcheck. Remember that you will not have the opportunity to modify the content of the ‘Keywords’ part of your app’s metadata until you submit an app update.

Keywords specifications and requirements

  • App keywords character limit: Up to 100 characters.
  • Keyword terms must be separated by commas with no spaces.
  • Spaces are only to be used to divide words within keyword phrases.
  • Only appropriate keywords are allowed, relevant to the app's purpose and user experience.
  • Apple restricts unauthorized use of protected words or phrases, including but not limited to celebrity names and trademarked terms, as well as including competitor names and offensive terms as keywords.

Checklist for keywords ASO

Make sure your iOS app’s keywords are:

  • relevant to your app and what it does
  • appropriate — not offensive, protected, or abusive in any other way
  • occupying the entire available space or as close to 100% of the maximum character length limit as possible
  • separated by commas with no spaces
  • containing spaces to separate words in a multi-word keyword phrase
  • used in the singular form, with no plural form used in addition
  • having no special characters (unless they are actually part of your identity) or terms that do not add weight
  • allowing for the effective mix-and-match by the App Store’s algorithm
  • calibrated against search term popularity and competition
  • having no duplicates
  • not repeating keywords from the app name, subtitle, and developer's name
  • localized for each language, territory, and culture you are targeting

#4. Promotional Text — Create an Engaging Promo Line

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Promotional text, or promo text, is another new element of the app product page layout introduced in iOS 11, like the ‘Subtitle’ section we’ve already discussed. Designed to be shown at the very top of the app's full description, it can be used to provide any additional information about your mobile app or game that you find necessary to post, but only in no more than 170 characters. Such a promotional text can be a quick, yet engaging message, promotion, the latest news, etc.

Promotional texts has no direct influence on an iOS app search ranking on the App Store. So here's a good news: You can entirely focus on formulating and honing your message and wording instead of trying to stuff this metadata field with keywords relevant to your application. This is important because a copy you add as a promotional text is located at the top of the description and therefore is greatly visible to users, being immensely important in the App Store optimization of iOS apps and games as a significant conversion factor.

Unlike with app names, subtitles, and most other metadata, Apple allows you to update the promotion text field whenever you want, not only when submitting a new version. This is a great advantage, opening the door to its use for limited-time special offers, events, and other time-sensitive announcements related to your mobile app.

ASO tips and guidelines: promotional text

1. Start with filling in the 'Promotional Text' field with an extra information or a summary you would like to show up on top of the app description. Try adding a dedicated marketing message explaining the main purpose of an app in more detail as compared to the app name and subtitle.

2. As always in texts, be creative to captivate the attention of your target audiences so they get inspired to learn more about your iOS app and give it a try. At the same time, keep your thoughts in the promotional text legible and concise.

3. Consider this section to be the best place on your product page on the App Store to promote your app’s latest news (elaborating on what might already be included in ‘What’s New’ or putting a spotlight on the number-one most important news), current (or even short-term) specials, upcoming updates with new or improved features, events, etc.

4. Don't hesitate to communicate with your app users by means of the promotional text field in the app’s metadata whenever needed and possible. They love being heard and listened to, and they hate ignorance (as you'd expect from any human, basically). Feel free to utilize it to respond to common complaints, hot questions, popular suggestions, requests worth considering, and so on.

5. Concentrate on the essence of your message instead of playing with keywords because the promotional text location is not indexed by the App Store search engine.

6. Return to considering updates to your app's promotional text on a regular basis. It is allowed to change it at absolutely any time with no restrictions, so why not make the most of it.

7. Do not forget to keep it localized to the full. Make sure all your general localizations are served with localized promotional texts at all times.

Promotional text specifications and requirements

  • Promotional text character limit: Up to 170 characters long.
  • Apple forbids to use any irrelevant content, which has little to no relation to what the app offers, in the promotional text just like across the entire metadata on the App Store.
  • No copyrighted or otherwise protected or prohibited content is tolerated.

Checklist for promotional text ASO

Make sure your app’s promotional text is:

  • compelling
  • meaningful and relevant to what your app does
  • short and simple to read and understand
  • specific rather than generic
  • up to date, leveraging the opportunity to change it at any time
  • not including any protected terms
  • localized
  • complying with the iOS app promotional text length limit

#5. Description — Write a Compelling Description

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App description is a big section on the product page, designed to provide a full, comprehensive information about the functionality, features, and benefits of a mobile app. Generously limited by Apple to no more than 4,000 characters lengthwise, it is the best place to give users of the App Store a complete explanation of what your app is all about along with a deeper understanding of its value and why they need to install it, going into as many details — and as much — as you find necessary to successfully communicate your messaging.

In iOS 10 and earlier, the description was visible within the first impression frame of the product page — truncated after three lines — and required an additional tap to expand it. With the introduction of the promotional text field in iOS 11, app descriptions are entirely hidden under the 'More' button, leaving room for promotional texts to show up before users decide to read more by opening the long description. However, the promotional text field is optional, and when none is added, it all works as in iOS 10.

It is worth noting that descriptions are not indexed for keywords by the Apple App Store's search engine at all. So the text here does not impact how your iOS app is ranked in the search results. This actually opens up the opportunity to wrap up your messaging in a truly creative, conspicuous form to convince users to install your app, instead of trying to stuff another metadata text field with as many keywords as possible.

Although the description section on the App Store is not relevant in terms of keywords, nor is it to be seen on the product page right away without extra taps when the promotional text is present, it’s certainly a major playing factor in conversion optimization. Users, who are interested in your mobile game or app and want to learn more about it, will expand the long description before making an informed decision whether or not to download it.

ASO tips and guidelines: description

1. Describe the main features and purpose of your iOS app, focusing on what makes it unique, why users should install it, what core value it brings to them, and what benefits they can expect to get from using the app on their devices, and finally — why they will love it.

2. Be creative. At the same time, stay consistent with your brand's tone of voice at all times, and adhere to the wording and terminology that your audience is used to, making sure the description is simple enough and easy to understand by your target audience.

3. Although there is a wide limit of 4,000 characters per description, avoid being too talkative. Instead, try to be concise wherever possible, in a way that does not hinder the explanatory value of such a text, of course.

4. Implement a clear structure. A good practice is, for example, to begin the description with about two to four sentences, then immediately proceed to a (bulleted) list of features, and summarize it all using a call-to-action messaging relevant to your mobile app.

5. Consider using emojis to intensify the emotion-based perception.

6. The first sentence is always the most important part of your iOS app description. If users are not impressed from the very beginning, then are likely to get tired of reading and can hardly begin to identify themselves with the product, which will result in losing them. If you do not have a promotional text, they will only see the first three lines and should get a desire to tap 'more' to expand the description and read more. If you have a promotional text and they have already expanded the full description, every word and even every character still count because that is how the common human mind is working, losing attention quite quickly as they have already gone so deep inside your app's product page.

7. If your mobile app — or you as its developer — already have any accolade like awards, honorable mentions in popular media, or excellent reviews from top influencers, do not hesitate to mention them in the description if you have not found a place to do so in your promotional text or . It is usually recommended to put that information at the end of the description to not distract users' attention when they are willing to learn about the details of what your app actually does.

8. Keep in mind that the App Store's search algorithm does not take into account the description section. So you should not add unnecessary keywords hoping for getting higher ranks in the search results on the App Store. However, some popular search engines like Google and Yandex are known to index iOS app descriptions. Consequently, we generally recommend using the most relevant and important keywords, but do it sparingly and still focus on communicating the messaging rather than get obsessed with the idea of keyword stuffing when it comes to the iOS app description field.

9. Avoid specifying prices. They might appear to be inaccurate or misleading for users in different regions and countries. Anyway, there is a special place for the details on your app pricing in the product page layout.

10. Be attentive and careful and double check your mobile app’s description before you submit it. You are only allowed to edit this field when you release a new version of the app. For time-sensitive updates, you should use the promotional text section.

11. Localize your app description for each of your target languages, territories, and cultures supported on the App Store. Intuitive understanding is everything.

App description specifications and requirements

  • App description length limit: Up to 4,000 characters.
  • Format: Plain text. No HTML.
  • Only content relevant to your app is allowed.
  • Unauthorized use of any protected words or phrases in app descriptions is prohibited, including but not limited to celebrity names and trademarked terms, as well as including competitor names and offensive terms.

Checklist for description ASO

Make sure your iOS app description is:

  • creative and exciting
  • informative, highlighting the core functionality and features
  • concise, easy to understand quickly and fully
  • clearly structured
  • provided with a striking beginning and a consistent call to action at the end
  • enhanced with information on awards and recognition
  • missing pricing or any time-sensitive information
  • not including unnecessary keywords
  • provided with no protected and other forbidden terms
  • localized to all possible target groups
  • fitting the iOS app description length limit.

#6. What’s New — Feature the App’s Latest News

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What's New’ is a dedicated section of the product page layout designed to inform users about the most recent changes you've pushed to your mobile app. Although the text added to this field is not indexed at all and therefore cannot be considered a search ranking factor directly, nor is it providing a major help in getting new users, it indeed can greatly impact retention and return rates known to have positive influence on how high an app appears in various tabs and charts throughout the App Store. The primary reason is where ‘What's New’ is shown.

Before iOS 11, it used to be displayed to all users below the app description. Nowadays, the location of the ‘What's New’ section is determined by who a user is to your app. First-timers — users who have never tried your iOS app before — see ‘What's New’ even further down the product page than before, under ‘Ratings & Reviews.’ This allows them to focus on general messaging, both in text and visuals, rather than news of an unknown app.

But if a certain user installed your app (or game) earlier — and even if it is already uninstalled on their device for the time being — they see ‘What's New’ at the very top of your app’s product page, i.e. as high as before previews and screenshots. It also appears in the dedicated ‘Updates’ tab (deprecated in iOS 13). As a result, the ‘What’s New’ content section is, on the one hand, a great tool to make your audience launch the app again, boosting app openings along with its active usage rates. On the other hand, ‘What's New’ becomes a unique remarketing tool that can drive reinstalls and in this way enhance conversion rates if used in ASO wisely.

ASO tips and guidelines: ‘What’s New’

1. Use the ‘What's New’ section every time you update your iOS app to communicate what has been changed. Specify new features, functionality improvements, performance boosts, security adjustments, as well as other improvements and bug fixes.

2. Prioritize a new release's updates within the notes according to their alleged significance for your app users. Remember that long texts will be truncated, so it can be recommended to keep them concise, doing your best put as much sense and attraction down to as few words as possible.

3. Let users know if an update or bug fix was inspired or triggered by their feedback. They love to get heard and listened to, let alone seeing a thing that used to disturb or irritate them is now fixed or a new feature they asked for is now delivered and available.

4. Consider implementing a call-to-action message to make your audience feel enthusiastic about what's new and eager to give it an immediate try. Making such a message more personal rather than simply general can also make sense to grab the best attention and ensure the most valuable reaction.

5. Focus on users who installed your iOS app, taking into account that there are two groups of them: existing users, i.e. those who have kept your app on their device(s), and potentially returning users, i.e. those who have already uninstalled it. Hone your messaging accordingly.

6. Do not aim to do your best to get the ‘What's New’ section filled with keywords. This is simply useless because the ‘What's New' notes are not indexed and therefore cannot boost your app's search rankings within the App Store. Instead of that, focus on the messaging itself so it excites users, encouraging them to open your app again or reinstall it.

7. As with nearly any texts on the App Store, do your best to avoid listing improvements and fixes in a plain, meager way. Instead, try telling a story about how even more awesomely cool (or coolly awesome — up to you) your iOS app has just become and why it should be checked out right away.

8. Keep in mind that getting updates on a regular basis adds value to your mobile app as an ever-evolving product whose developers truly care about its relevance and are dedicated to its progress. Also, take into account that the frequency of app updates itself is part of the Apple App Store's ranking algorithm. So consider rolling out updates in smaller bunches more often rather than releasing big ones less often. This may well be a robust contribution to your app's ranking and overall in-store performance.

9. Localize ‘What's New’ — just as you (hopefully) do with all the others text metadata on the App Store — depending on your target markets, languages and territories.

‘What’s New’ specifications and requirements

  • Apple requires clear, specific descriptions of what's new, saying that "simple bug fixes, security updates, and performance improvements may rely on a generic description, but more significant changes must be listed in the notes."

Checklist for ‘What’s New’ ASO

Make sure your iOS app’s ‘What’s New’ section is:

  • listing what’s added to your app in the latest release
  • describing the updates, clearly and specifically
  • featuring the most important notes at the top
  • making good use of the call-to-action messaging
  • showing users that you care about them, their feedback, and the app itself
  • focusing on existing users and uninstall base
  • exciting users, encouraging them to open or reinstall the app
  • properly localized

#7. Developer’s Name — Generate an Advantageous Seller Name

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Developer's name — also often referred to in various guidelines and publications as ‘developer name,’ ‘publisher name,’ or ‘seller name’ — is intended to show users the real name of a person or company that owns and is responsible for one particular mobile app listed on the App Store or another.

In iOS 10, it used to appear on product pages right under an app name. But in iOS 11 (and in later versions), this space is occupied by an app subtitle, whereas a developer's name itself can be found in the metadata between the ‘Promotional Text’ + ‘App Description’ part and the ‘Ratings & Reviews’ section. In all versions, it is clickable, taking users to the developer's profile listing all the available apps and games they've released so far — highlighted vertically in iOS 10 and in a carousel with up to three apps showcased per frame starting with iOS 11.

The location of a developer's name on product pages makes it hardly significant in terms of view-to-install conversions as users need to scroll all the way down a product page to see it. This is the case unless a user really cares about your historic record as a developer on the Apple App Store.

What makes a developer's name somewhat important is that it can appear in the search results. As a result, if it contains relevant keywords, it may contribute to your iOS app's discoverability around the App Store. However, Apple is obviously devoted to allowing real names only, discouraging the use of this field as another ASO tool to increase the search visibility for an app or game.

ASO tips and guidelines: developer’s name

1. Consider adding relevant keywords to your seller name if it is possible. These names are searchable on Apple’s App Store.

2. Think through and elaborate your developer's name in advance, before you enroll into the Apple Developer Program and ideally even before registering your legal entity. Apple consistently adheres to restricting this field from being used for the purpose of the App Store optimization, leaving it for real names only. Your developer's name shown on the App Store can be changed only when there is an objective reason and you provide sufficient proof of eligibility for such a change, in direct correspondence with Apple.

3. Do not try to play with the developer's name too much. Although previously there was more room for that, currently any attempts to cheat may well lead to delays in getting your apps published, rejections, etc. Instead, focus on optimizing the app title, subtitle, and keywords to boost your app's ranking and visibility on the App Store.

Developer’s name specifications and requirements

  • Personal legal names are required for individuals and sole proprietors.
  • Legal entity names are required for companies and organizations.
  • No change of developers' names is allowed unless there's an objective reason that can be properly proved for eligibility of such a change.

Checklist for developer’s name ASO

Make sure your developer name is:

  • thought out in good time beforehand
  • provided with your correct personal name or legal entity name at all times starting with enrollment into the Apple Developer Program
  • featuring a keyword or several if possible seamlessly

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