How to design paywall to pass review for the App Store

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Paywall remains to be the key component during the process of onboarding. 80% of purchases are made via the first paywall, and users usually make up their mind within 5 minutes: that’s why A/B testing for paywalls is quite helpful in finding a working business model for a subscription-based app as fast as possible. However, paywalls are deeply regulated by Apple, and often intuitively right versions don’t make it past the moderation process.

Why does that keep happening? In the subscription model, the user makes a decision only once, but money would keep writing off until the very moment he would make another active decision of canceling through a specific series of actions. That’s why Apple requires maximum transparency on a  paywall to avoid cases where an insufficiently attentive customer inadvertently agrees to a series of charges.

Apple’s recommendations, specified in Human Interface Guidelines section, could be divided into two types:

  1. Preferred practices, referring to general principles of respect for user experience
  2. Instructions on the transparency of the proposal. In other words, how to make the “correct” paywall.

In this article, we will focus on the paywall.

Paywall recommendations

The second block of guidelines directly concerns the paywall screen. Apple underlines that developers should formulate clearly and informatively. Every rule should be coherent with one key principle: the paywall interface should be built so logically and understandably that the user, by their actions, explicitly consents to the subscription. Hence the prohibitions, templates, and strict requirements.

Paywall can be divided into seven elements:

Paywall in details

Media element. It can be a picture (inside text or background), or it can be a video. Some applications avoid paywall media altogether, including business media, whose audiences expect specific informational and educational benefits.

Soft or hard paywall. In other words, do you or do you not give partial access to the functions of your app before the first payment. Refers to a business decision of developers rather than App Store guidelines, but the adoption of which may also be based on A/B testing. Also, some developers immediately offer a second paywall screen right after the user closes the standard one, with more favourable conditions or an extended trial period.

Title and description of the subscription benefits. You can provide references for a sense of social approval, or use numbers instead of bullets. Consider experimenting with the title and text of the paragraphs, or removing this text from the paywall altogether, leaving it only during onboarding.

Subscription options. You must indicate the duration and full price of the subscription. Depicting the price for a time unit remains up to you, but then the full price must be underlined more vividly in case you opt for this option. Auto-renewal cannot occur more often than once a week and less often than once a year. The currency must be localised. If an introductory price offer or a trial is used, then you also need to specify the standard price applied after the end of the offer. All subscription options must be available on one screen. You can change the layout, order, shape of badges, make the switch between options using swipe, etc.

You can experiment with price and subscription periods. Apple allows you to use a week, a month, two months, three months, six months, and a year.

<img src=“spacer.gif” alt=“”>
Different approaches to designing subscription options

Badges. There is relative freedom: the design of badges is not regulated in any way. You can use words like Best Value, Most Popular, etc. This affects conversions.

Links to Privacy Policy and Terms of Use should be included in the paywall, but there is little to no room to experiment with those.

“Continue” button. Also known as "Subscribe" or CTA-button, it provides a lot of flexibility: color, wording (Subscribe Now / Subscribe for $9.99 / Start with 3-day trial), shape, and so on. The subscription can be activated either by clicking on this button or by clicking on the offer itself.

In addition to the usual paywall, you can also test non-standard options. You can experiment with the same elements in introductory offers, promotional offers, and upsell paywalls, which offer the user a more premium plan.

Things to avoid

No need to mention automatic renewal

Part that isn't required by Apple on paywalls starting June 2019

Not long ago, the App Store demanded additional information on paywall screen: among others, an indication that the subscription is automatically renewed if auto-renewal is not disabled within 24 hours before the end of the period, or that the subscription can be canceled in the account settings. Now, this isn’t necessary, but many developers have kept these small-sized paragraphs “just in case”.

Don't put misleading info

For example, you sell an annual plan while showing only the daily price. We would not advise doing that. You should sell the subscription that the users see on their screens.

example of misleading subscription option
Don't do that

Besides, you can cross out the old price and show a new one, but your user still has to purchase the exact subscription option you have offered.

Don't be unclear with your CTA-button

You can't put a text like 'Start your trial' if you sell a subscription with a free trial introductory offer. However, you can use Continue, Activate, or Buy.

What happens if I fail to follow Apple guides?

If a mistake was found during the review process, your app just wouldn't make it to the App Store.

If you have adjusted your paywall remotely and broken the rules bypassing the moderation process, the ramifications could be the following:

  1. Your app won't be able to sell anything until you correct the changes.
  2. Your app can be deleted from the App Store.
  3. Your account can be blocked without possibility to be restored.

How can the changes be noticed after the review? Users can tell Apple themselves, or a random inspection could occur.

Anyway, adjusting paywalls is OK. Just don't break the rules.

On average, Apple's guidelines receive major updates every six months. You can follow them on the Apple Developer site under Human Interface Guidelines (interface requirements), and the Subscriptions page (general guidelines for subscription mechanics). However, App Store guides are not always relevant, and it’s more reliable to track more actively updated documents, such as the Paid Application Agreement, available in the developer's iTunes Connect, and the App Store Review Guidelines.

App Store focused on the subscription model back in 2017. Since then, the review policy has changed dramatically, hitting hard on the number of transactions that the user makes by accident, but this achievement has a downside, including the highly regulated mechanics of offering subscriptions. Nevertheless, in the current state, Apple leaves a lot of flexibility for applying engaging solutions, leaving developers the opportunity to stand out, including the paywall screen – and such opportunity, of course, should be utilised properly.

A/B testing is essential in pursuit of the best possible paywall. With Adapty, you can configure different prices, trial periods, promo offers without app releases. With a 7-day free trial, it's worth checking out.

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December 23, 2020
Mstislav Grivachev

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