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App Store Optimization (ASO): Naming your mobile app the right way

Mar 10,2014 by Francis Bea

The Right Way to Name Your Mobile App AppFlood

Guest Post by Artyom Diogtev, Head of Branded Content at the ComboApp App Marketing Agency

One of the first things that developers face in their journey to developing a killer app is simple and complex: How to give their app a proper name. The latest incident that I’ll work off of was Facebook’s naming of its latest mobile app “Paper,” of which the press’ scrutiny since the day of the incident has seemingly waned.

But with millions of apps published to the market, naming is becoming trickier and trickier, not to mention that the last thing on their minds is the chance of a lawsuit landing on their desk for trademark infringement.

The Facebook “PAPER” App-cident

On January 29th, Facebook released a standalone app that separates Facebook mobile app named “Paper - stories from Facebook.”

If FiftyThree, (based in Seattle and New York) hadn’t already released a famous “Paper” drawing app, the story would have stop there and there would be no controversy/hard feelings/threats of litigation by Facebook.

However, after talking to a trademark expert like Gregory Owen, the legal ramifications are slightly less one-sided than one might initially believe them to be. It’s evident that Facebook was guilty of trademark infringement, to which Facebook has apologized for, but FiftyThree should be (and has yet to be) compensated, although Facebook will likely argue the opposite based on trademark distinctiveness practices.

The resulting question will be: Should the name “Paper” be fall into the descriptive or suggestive trademark bucket?

The Google brand name is a good example to use to illustrate the difference these two concepts. Obviously the name Google is so well known that it would be silly to think any other company in their right mind would not realize that trying to take this name would result in immediate litigation from Google, Inc.

“Paper” is a little different: Yes, it is the name of one really popular iOS app from 2012. Paper by FiftyThree was Apple’s App of the Year and featured on the home screen of iPad demo units in US Apple stores and 84 places on the iTunes Home page. But on the other hand - the name isn’t associated with “paper” as a notion which puts some limits on FiftyThree’s ability to claim rights on the name’s exclusivity. Under FiftyThree’s watch, at least until today, “Paper” has not become a verb (like “Google” did with “search”), which is an important criteria to keep in mind when thinking about who will eventually win the rights to the name.

Currently, the app is named “Paper by FiftyThree.” This is a smart way of keeping Paper in the app’s name while avoiding confusion. It also takes advantage of the surrounding Facebook controversy. In the iOS App Store when searching paper the following results are returned (as of February 28, 2014).

paper app on ios app store

Yes - the Facebook Paper app (full name “Paper - stories from Facebook”) at the top of the iPhone apps list. But, Paper by FiftyThree is number one among iPad apps -- and, since that app was developed specifically for the iPad it is reasonable to think that -really- neither Facebook nor FiftyThree have any real trademark infringement issue to pursue against the other.

This situation may or may not be resolved easily, but there’s a chance that similar situations moving forward will be similarly resolved without trials in court and tons of money and jangled nerves on both sides. This is completely avoidable however if app developers do their due diligence in researching a name as unique and well fitted to its’ functionality as the app itself is to the market.

Let’s take a look at the landscape of the iTunes app store to see what lessons there are to be learned from both the Facebook Paper case, and in general:

The App Name Landscape

As of last October, Apple announced that there were 1,000,000 apps in both the iPhone and iPad app stores, combined.

Staggering. It’s kind of hard to be precise, but the rough estimate is that there are somewhere around a million words in the English language. No, we are not suggesting that there are no more words in English left to give an app an appropriate name. We share this number only to give you a crystal clear idea of how difficult a task it is to come up with a unique and memorable name for your app.

But frankly, it’s an app’s icon that gives you the first clue to what the app is about, followed by the name, which (albeit being secondary) is vitally important to the overall success of your app. Here is what you need to consider when picking an app name:

Tips to Factor In

Psychology plays a significant role in the app naming process. Because all people are different, each app developer has a unique mindset and may come up with their own app naming strategy. However, we believe the following three factors should ALWAYS be considered in the naming:

Emotional reaction and instant purpose recognition

First and foremost, developers need to realize that there is no common approach for the app naming process that works across all categories. Naming a game is completely different story from naming a utility app. 75% of the iOS App Store is comprised of games; this has a solid reason given the current level of a stress we all live in, it’s pretty natural thing for people to desire mindless entertainment as a the way to mentally escape IRL issues.

Games are the kind of apps that invoke the biggest emotional reaction from consumers, and hence their name should be the first step to introducing people to its overall premise. Every game has a major character, place, or genre. All these things are part of creating a compelling, engaging name for a game. But if you were go through the major gaming hits (Angry Birds, Cut The Rope, Flappy Bird, Words With Friends) you’ll see a common denominator: They all invoke emotion and give you an idea and deliver on gamers’ expectations. This emotional reaction is what you need to replicate when naming a game - tell people what they may expect from playing and include an eye catching adjective or verb like “angry” or “cut” at the same time.

With other app categories, our suggestion is to focus distilling what the app does for its users into the name. Since you as a developer understand your app’s value proposition, do your best to include it directly into the app’s name. Think of it as answering the hypothetical question of a potential user “What’s in it for me if I download this app?”

Copyright concerns

The Facebook app-gaff illustrated earlier is a significant one, but it doesn’t mean that the only thing devs need to be concerned about (copyright-wise) is avoiding the brand names of big companies. An obvious first step is to check out the app store to see if a specific app name you’re considering is being used by an app already on the market. Second, you can browse whois.com to get a sense for domain names (and thereby app names) that have or haven’t been claimed.

You also should consider any apps that have names that closely resemble the name you’re considering. You never know how litigious the legal department of a company with a similar app is or how sensitive/protective they are about their app portfolio. Remember the “Candy” fiasco? Better safe than facing trademark infringement litigation, because regardless of who wins/loses those battles they are a classic, time sucking PITA for all involved.

App Store Optimization

It’s an established fact that the app discovery process is twofold:

The search algorithm of the App Store calculates the specific ranking of an app by keyword and total downloads over time (24-48 hours leading up to the keyword being searched). This means that the name, keywords, and number of downloads all factor into where your app is ranked among the hundreds of thousands of apps in your category.

Like it or not, App Search Optimization (ASO) a crucial part of naming an app, especially because each word of an app name counts as a keyword. It’s important to keep in mind that while you develop keyword sets, you don’t repeat keywords in the title. Keep the keywords diverse to give your app a good chance of pinging the algorithm over a broad selection of topics/specifics.

Conversely, you don’t want to overload your app name with keywords to the point of settling on a run-on sentence. We challenge you try to think of a popular app name that has more than three words in it. If you cannot, it’s because good apps don’t use excess verbiage in its names.

Examples of great mobile app names

Finally let’s look at the examples of apps whose owners did a great job giving them a great, impactful name.

Clash of Clans - even if you’ve never played the game, with words like clash and clans you get an instant mental picture of a fight between groups of tribal people. The whole point of the game is expressed in three simple words. (The alliteration is nice, too.)

Words with Friends - a popular game, which was brought to the App Store - and again - the name gives you a really clear message as to what the game is about and its social nature.

Private Downloader - any iOS device user is aware that file downloading isn’t presented in Apple’s operating system system-wide and there isn’t the OSX Finder equivalent for iOS. So trying to figure out how to let users manage file downloads has been really popular topic that iOS Utility apps developers have tackled. This app name gives you a clear definition for what the app offers you, giving Private Downloader a strong competitive advantage in a somewhat crowded category.

iFiles - yet another example of utility that effectively serves as a file manager on your iOS device. It takes advantage of Apple’s tradition of a lowercase i being attached to its products to allude to some sort of affiliation between the app and Apple. Since the name “iFiles” isn’t trademarked by Apple, the company that stands behind its development made a really smart move by picking up this unused, but catchy name. The other beautiful thing about its name is that it explains its function with a single word, attaching “i” to “Files” accomplished the same psychological trick as Apple achieved when they attached “i” to phone.

As a parting thought, let us impart to you one final reason why naming your app is a crucial part of your development process: App names have branding impact, so if you have to go back in and rename your app after it’s been on the market, it is likely you’ll have some severe brand recognition consequences to overcome before you can rebuild your app’s brand identity.

So before you settle on a name for your app, take a step back, do your research, and take a moment to reexamine your app’s name.

Artyom Dogtiev ComboAppArtyom Diogtev is the Head of Branded Content at the ComboApp App Marketing Agency. A happily married family man, Art began his career in the tech industry in 2001, gaining a reputation as an SEO specialist before joining ComboApp in 2010. He welcomed a beautiful daughter with his wife in 2005. 

AppFlood invites mobile industry insiders to offer their expert tips, musings, and opinions in the form of a guest post on AppFlood’s blog. If you would like to contribute, prepare a topic related to mobile monetization, marketing, or tips and pitch francis@papayamobile.com.

Francis Bea

Francis Bea is the Content Market Manager at PapayaMobile. Francis writes about the intricacies of the global mobile advertising industry and analyzes industry trends for AppFlood. He hails from the tech blogging world, where he got his start at Digital Trends, and contributed to TheNextWeb, PSFK, CNET Asia, among other tech blogs, and his reporting has been cited in numerous major publications. Francis holds B.A. in English and Art History from The University of Wisconsin-Madison.Google +