Digital Publishing Guest Columns
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New Google Play guidance will force publisher apps to rethink app store optimization (ASO)

Over 385,000 Android apps available on Google Play are at risk of having their titles condensed, according to an analysis by the Zurich-based app intelligence company 42matters.

This is the result of new guidance, first announced by Google in April of last year, that includes a policy change for app metadata intended to encourage the use of unique, recognizable app titles by limiting their length to 30 characters. If an app does not adhere to this limit, Google will automatically shorten its title.

Google’s objective is a reasonable one. They want to improve the discovery process on their app store. However, the new guidance will require many mobile app and game publishers to rethink how they brand and market their apps on Google Play.

Why does this matter?

App titles are a big deal for app developers. They’re the single most important factor for app discovery, making them a central focus of mobile app marketing techniques like app store optimization (ASO).

A well-crafted title — complete with carefully selected keywords — can drastically improve an app’s organic search traffic on app stores like Google Play and the Apple App Store. In turn, this helps developers reach their target audiences, encourage more conversions (i.e. downloads), nurture their user bases, and, most importantly, generate revenue.

By limiting app titles to just 30 characters, 20 fewer than the original limit of 50, Google is telling app publishers to trim the fat. They want less ‘keyword stuffing’ and fewer extraneous buzz words, like ‘free’ or ‘best.’ But app publishers employ these keyword techniques for a reason. They work!

So, the user experience improvements Google is seeking will require thousands of app publishers to go back to the drawing board. Marketing teams will need to rethink their keyword selection as well as how they deploy them in their apps’ store listings.

Who will be impacted?

According to our research, the new Google Play guidance will impact approximately 11% of the 3.5 million apps currently available on Google Play. This includes a near-equal share of non-gaming apps (11.19%) and mobile games (10.39%).

Of course, more well-known apps won’t have much of a problem. Realistically, the only keywords TikTok, YouTube, and Instagram need are their names. But this will be a serious problem for other apps that rely on maximizing any character Google can spare. In other words, the new guidance will have the unfortunate side-effect of dulling an important competitive edge for lesser-known apps and games.

How will publishers adapt to these changes?

To get an idea of how app publishers will adapt, one need look no further than Google’s biggest rival. Indeed, Apple has had a 30-character app title limit for quite some time. They’re also far stingier with a number of other important fields. For instance, while Apple limits subtitles to 30 characters, Google provides a luxurious 80 characters for their equivalent field, the ‘short description.’

These distinctions mean marketers tend to take different approaches for each store. Google Play best practices say publishers should repeat their most important keywords across all fields and that they should be used between three and five times. With Apple, publishers need to be more judicious. They should avoid repeating keywords and use as many as they can across each of the fields.

With Google coming down to Apple’s level, however, it’s probably safe to expect that publishers will now retrofit aspects of their iOS ASO strategies for Google Play.

Greater investment into ASO solutions

Moreover, since app publishers will have fewer characters to work with, they’ll need to make the most of what they have. Going forward, there will be a greater emphasis on identifying high-value, relevant keywords. As such, it’s reasonable to expect that more app publishers will invest in tools and solutions for identifying these keywords.

In any case, while 385,000+ apps are set to be impacted, there’s a good chance that these apps are already optimizing with carefully chosen keywords. That is to say, their publishers are likely aware of Google’s coming changes and will adjust accordingly once they’re enforced in earnest.

Alex Braelow
Senior Mobile Insights Analyst, 42matters

42matters is a leading provider of mobile app data and analytics. Based in Zurich, Switzerland, they help leading companies around the world make better business and development decisions by providing actionable app market intelligence.

42matters’ solutions offer insight into 17+ million published and unpublished apps across each of the leading mobile and connected TV (CTV) app stores. This includes Google Play, the Apple App Store, Amazon Appstore, Tencent MyApp, Roku Channel Store, Apple TV tvOS App Store, Amazon Fire TV, Google TV, Samsung Smart TV Apps, LG Content Store, and Vizio SmartCast Apps.