How to Prepare for New Google Metadata Policy Changes
In April 2021, Google announced upcoming changes concerning “guidance to improve your app quality and discovery on Google Play” (Android Developers). In summary, there will be new guidelines and policies on the Play Store in the second half of 2021. As such, this preannouncement gives advance notice to Android developers and relevant stakeholders. What can we expect? Let’s look to answer the “what”, “how” and “why” these changes are being made.
The first part of the announcement relates to a policy change that will affect app metadata:
- Currently, the app name on the Play Store can be up to 50 characters. However, in the coming months, this will be shortened to only 30 characters (the same limit as for app titles on the App Store).
Additional changes include:
- The prohibition of keywords that suggest store performance (“top”, “best”, “#1”) from the title, icon, and developer name
- The elimination of graphic elements that may mislead users in the app icon
There are no further details (yet) on when these changes will be implemented, but “app title[s], icon[s] and developer name[s] that do not meet the upcoming policies will not be allowed on Google Play.” Several examples from Google show what elements should - and what should not - be incorporated in the app metadata. The keywords, “top”, #1”, “best”, “free”, “no ads” or “ad free” are all terms that will not be allowed in the app title, icon, or developer name.
In addition, further keywords that encourage users to take action, such as “update now” in the icon or “download now” in the app name, are frowned upon. Emojis/emoticons, repeated punctuation, or all caps are additional examples of don’ts that could lead to your app being rejected.
Impact of Google Play policy changes on ASO
Regarding App Store Optimization, what do these policy changes mean for your apps or games? The two main areas that will affect ASO on the Play Store will be the title length and choice of keywords.
Starting with the title, the following impacts on ASO can be expected:
- While these changes do reduce the available space for you to use keywords, everyone will be required to follow the same guidelines. This means that developers must choose the most relevant and valuable keywords for their app(s).
- Other future front-end or back-end changes may come into play, such as the increased use of Google Tags, new ways of featuring apps/games, etc.
- The title change will particularly affect languages that require more space to convey messages, such as French, German or Arabic. On the other hand, it will affect Japanese, Chinese, and Korean localization efforts slightly less.
The second area related to ASO is the prohibition of the use of specific keywords:
- Terms like “free”, “top”, “best”, and #1 will no longer be accepted - this means that ideally all apps/games could be indexed for these keywords, and including them will not give an extra advantage. This might seem like an unfortunate change if you currently have these words in your metadata, but it encourages the use of more relevant keywords, rather than words meant to play the algorithm for better ranking.
Should you change your app metadata right now?
The exact time that these changes will go into effect is not known, so there is no rush to make changes just yet. If you update an app infrequently, it could be worth looking at your store listing. It is unclear how the new policies will affect ASO, so for further guidance, we will await future announcements from Google.
Why is Google changing its policies?
Lately, both the App Store and the Play Store have received much attention and scrutiny for a number of practices, including fee collection or scam apps with high subscription costs. Google’s latest move likely reflects its intention to clean up the Play Store and allow higher-quality apps and games to shine. These new guidelines will make the Play Store more similar to the App Store, now with the same title length and similar positions on misleading keywords.
There are many dark patterns being utilized by apps that want to play the “gray area” in between the rule, with tactics such as including 5-stars in screenshots when the app rating is lower, false advertising, and targeting of irrelevant keywords. As a result, Google may be attempting to restrict the frequency of such practices.
Another theory relates to the fact that Google is currently working on Android 12. With the leaks of Google’s new “Whitechapel” chip, it’s possible that these Play Store changes could accompany a whole new look for the Play Store and Android in general.
Google’s recently announced policy changes for the Play Store metadata permissions include:
- Various prohibited keywords, such as “free”, “best” and “#1” that imply store performance, promotion in the icon, title, and developer name.
- Guidance for app icons and screenshots regarding misleading images and formatting.
- Shortened the title space limit to 30-characters from the current 50-character field.
We are looking forward to seeing the above changes take place as they will surely reshape the look and feel of the Google Play Store in the coming months.
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