App Marketing • May 12, 2021

Google Play Policy Changes, impact on ASO (May 2021)

As of the second half of 2021, there will be new guidelines and policies on the Google Play Store. The focus is strongly shifting to in-app experience and on improving app quality and discovery on Google Play Store.

When Google Play launched back in 2008 with only a few hundred apps and games available, it was easy for developers to get noticed. Today, Google Play Store gives millions of apps and games visibility in over 190 countries.

But the crowded app stores make it challenging for users to find and download an app that brings value for them. Among millions of apps, there are many that on purpose mislead users. So it seems only good practice from Google to want to eliminate misleading, spam or clone apps from its store. In the following article, we’ll look at: 

  • Policy change for app metadata
  • New Google Play guidelines for store listing assets 

What changes in Google Play policy for app metadata?

Like every store owner, Google has the right to say what the rules are to be able to sell “goods” in its store. The upcoming policy changes, that are supposed to be enforced later this year, bring mainly updates for your app metadata and creatives and are thereby impacting your ASO efforts: 

  • Reducing the length of app title: 30 characters instead of 50 characters 
  • Refusing keywords that imply store performance, promotion in the icon, title and developer name
  • Removing graphic elements that may mislead users in the app icon

App title reduced from 50 to 30 characters

So far Google Play Store allowed up to 50 characters for the app title. The upcoming changes being made to the app metadata policies, will limit the app title listed in the Google Play Store to 30 characters. This aligns your Google app title with the character limit you have on the Apple App Store. 

When thinking of App Store Optimization, losing 20 characters from the title space is a big change because the keywords placed in the app title have the most important ranking weight. Therefore, with even less space for your app metadata, the importance of doing keyword research and choosing the most relevant keywords, has increased even more. In addition to your brand name, good app keywords are the ones that truly describe what your app is about. 

At the same time, it might seem like a tricky balancing act to come up with an engaging app title in 30 characters. But for a fully optimized app store listing, you’ll have to try to use all characters available. This will provide you with more chances for indexing by the Play Store algorithm. Rather than leaving the given characters unused and giving valuable space away.

Dive Deeper - Google Play App Store Optimization:
Creating optimized app icon, screenshots, feature graphic and video
Replying to Google Play reviews
Getting featured
Google Play Store Tags (2020)

Keywords about store performance and promotion are not allowed in app title

The app title doesn’t only lose in its character limit but there’s also a set of keywords that you’re not anymore allowed to use. Namely, your Google Play app title needs to be without any incentives around store performance. So keywords for performance such as “top” or “best” and keywords for deals such as “free” or “sale”.  The same applies to your app icon and developer name.

App Keywords Search Volume
Search volume for app keywords in USA and Brazil Google Play Stores that aren't allowed in app title anymore.

Note: It’s general best practice to not use superlatives and comparison through your store listing. Focus on what your app does well!

Also, make sure to NOT use in your app title:

  • Emojis
  • Capitalized letters (unless it is part of how your company utilizes its name)
  • Special characters sequences that are not relevant to the app, 
  • Call to Actions (don’t use  CTAs like “Download now”)

As marketers we love to include Call to Actions, trying to nudge users to download the app. But with the new changes, this will be ineligible. So make sure to follow the upcoming Google Play guidelines and don’t integrate any incentives to drive downloads.

App icon cannot have graphic elements that may mislead users

Your app icon is the first and most obvious thing a potential user sees when scrolling in the Play Store. Therefore it’s one of the most powerful creatives of your app store listing. That is why you as an app marketer or developer need to make sure store visitors understand from the icon that your app is what they are searching for. The new Google Play guidelines enforce showing the purpose of the app without any misleading graphic elements in the app icon.

Misleading elements could be any incentives to nudge the user to download. As mentioned above, make sure to not use any  graphic elements or text that display ranking, store performance or promotions. Text phrases such as “best”, “sale” or graphic elements reflecting this are unacceptable and will not be allowed.

Google Play Guidelines
Google Play Store policy changes that are enforced in second half of 2021.

New Google Play guidelines for store listing

In addition to the pre-announcement of the Google Play metadata policy changes, Google also recently announced new guidelines for feature graphics, screenshots, video and short descriptions. Google Play is thereby following some core principles on how to decide whether an app is promoted and recommended within the Play Store.

The assets need to focus on representing the app or game accurately, while providing the user enough information to help decide whether to install an app or not. Instead of using buzzwords like “free” or best”, the preview assets should showcase meaningful and unique aspects of the app or game. This works also in favor of reducing tactics like including 5-stars in screenshots when the app rating is lower, or advertising false functionality. 

Further, besides the enforced focus on the in-app or in-game experience, the topic of localization gets emphasized. App localization plays an inevitable part of any app growth journey, which gets now with the new guidelines for store listing preview assets even more highlighted. If you want your app to be promoted across the major Google Play surfaces, you need to have your store listing preview assets correctly localized and easy to read. Google Play announces to make use of these guidelines also in the second half of 2021.

App Localization Google Play
Example of TikTok's localized screenshots for English and German on Google Play Store.

Summary of Google Play Policy Changes in 2021

The new Google Play policies are trying to eliminate misleading, clone or spam apps and games. Make sure to review the new guidelines provided so you can implement them, ready for release in the next half of the year. 

If you are unsure about how to get started, do reach out to App Radar’s Team. Our experts are here to help you be prepared for the upcoming Google Play policy changes.

Elena Wibmer
Elena is an app marketing expert at App Radar. She’s intrigued by searching for new app store tricks to share with her clients all around the world, with special focus on organic user acquisition.
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