THE ASO BOOK (2018)

05. Increasing Visibility

Introduction 

“How do I get more people to be aware of and download my app?” 

As the starting place for ASO, improving your app’s visibility in the app store is of paramount importance and can occur from several specific activities. In this chapter we describe all the ways you can get in front of a potential customer from within the app store. 

Following the ASO stack, in the first two subchapters we will talk about how to increase visibility on Search through keyword optimization and how you can leverage more Feature-traffic by pitching Apple & Google. Following that, in the third subchapter, we will discuss more briefly what other levers you can pull to increase other casual Browse traffic.  The last subchapter tackles Store Ads, which while not an organic ASO topic definitely has to do with optimizing your paid visibility within the app stores.

visibility

Increasing Search Visibility Through Keyword Optimization 

“How do I find and implement the right keywords for my app?” 

Introduction to Keyword Optimization 

Just about every app can benefit from Keyword Optimization! It’s just a matter of finding the right keywords. To get there, however, it’s important to understand first of all what words people would use to search for your app if they didn’t know it existed. 

Asking the following questions can help with this assessment: 

  • Does your app solve a certain need? (e.g. “flashlight app” or “baking recipes”)  
  • Is the market for this app already so well defined? Do people already know how to search for it? For example,  “period tracker” is a well-known use case and keyword search term, so period tracker apps will benefit from tapping into this awareness. Whereas for a niche use case like “plumber invoice scheduling,” people would  probably have to be educated first of all that there actually is a reason (i.e. an app) to search for plumber invoice scheduling; this involves educating users by tapping into similar, but more general keywords like  “invoice.” 
  •  For games: does your game belong to a certain category of games that people know to search for? (e.g. “puzzle  games”)  

If the answer to all of these questions is no, keyword optimization can still help your app leverage search traffic to some extent. That said, building awareness for your app’s use case in this scenario will also require supplemental external/ inorganic sources of traffic in order to achieve rank on similar, but more general (and thus more competitive) organic keyword downloads. 

To recap, while nearly all apps may benefit from keyword optimization, it’s important for expectation-setting purposes to understand that apps which solve specific, well-known needs will see the most significant visibility benefits from keyword optimization. This is because the nature of keyword searches in the App Store are “shorter tail” (e.g. invoice)  and less likely to be web keyword searches to be “longer tail” (e.g. plumber invoice scheduling”).

Babbel will see a bigger benefit from keyword optimization
Babbel will see a bigger benefit from keyword optimization
while Snappii’s app (right) will see benefit less from keyword optimization.
While Snappii’s app (right) will see benefit less from keyword optimization.

Understanding the Search Algorithm 

Understanding the inner-workings of the App Store ranking algoriothms is the million dollar topic, and one that puts the ASO industry at constant odds against Apple and Google, in order to capture clues, tips and tricks. 

There are three things to consider when looking at the question of how the algorithm ranking algorithms work, and  whether your app will rank for a keyword, and if so how well: 

 

  1.  Are you eligible to rank for a certain keyword?  
    1. Often this requires specifying the keyword in your app listing’s metadata. 
  2. How relevant is given the keyword to your app?  
    1. While influenced by “secret sauce” factors, this is mostly defined by the location where the keyword sits in your metadata. 
  3. How much ranking strength does your app have for the keyword? 
    1. Strength is defined by factors outside of your metadata, such as Install conversion rate and keyword retention.  

KEYWORD RANKING ELIGIBILITY AND RELEVANCE 

Now, imagine if App Stores were to suddenly start with a clean slate by losing all of their historical data; how would they decide on how to list the results for a keyword search query of, say “photo editor”?  

The first step Apple and Google take in determining search results is to identify which apps are eligible to show for the keyword, based on the metadata all apps provide. That is, whether or not the keywords “photo” and “editor” are contained within an app’s metadata.  

The next step would be to decide how much relevance your application has for the specific keyword. To unpack this second step, the algorithms primarily look at the location of a specific word in an app’s metadata in order to determine the relevance. As a rule of thumb the algorithms look at: 

  1. How visible the metadata is (e.g. app title has a higher visibility than the keywords field).
  2. How many characters a piece of metadata allows (e.g. the app store title only allows 30 characters). 
  3.  How often those keywords appear throughout your metadata (Google-only). 

Pro tip: Keywords mentioned frequently, earlier in the full description on Google Play have been found to be considered more relevant, and thus earn a better rank than those found in later lines in the description. For example mentioning the word “restaurants,” five times in the first few sentences of your long description would assign your app a better relevance weight in the Google Play Store algorithm for restaurant, than mentioning the keyword the same number of times, but throughout the entire long description. 

The following factors are commonly accepted as keyword ranking signals throughout the ASO industry: 

 

Keyword Eligibility and Relevance
Keyword Eligibility and Relevance
Keyword Eligibility and Relevance
Keyword Eligibility and Relevance

When it comes to the relevance of your metadata for a keyword phrase such as “photo editor” (and this holds true specifically for Google Play metadata and for Apple title/subtitles), the algorithm also assigns more relevance weight if your metadata contains an exact match.  

*1. Per above, Mobile Action published a blog post on the fact that keywords in your short description have a higher impact than your long description. 

*2. While we don’t have evidence for reviews being indexed in the App Store, there have been instances in which black hat ASO keyword stuffed reviews appeared in the App Store, preceding an increase in keyword ranking (thanks to Luca Giacomel). 

*3. The idea being that Google might be able to recognize text in the assets that you upload and then indexes you for these, has been disproven. 

*4. A test was run to name files from IMG0001.png to new-keywords-to-rank-for.png and test if Google would pick this up, yet the test failed to produce an improvement in keyword rank. 

Pro tip: As you can see in the screenshot below, Apple returns all apps in a category if searching for one of the words in the category name. Make sure to count that in when deciding on your category. 

Screenshot of AppTweak showing ± 158.000 results for all search terms with “Travel” in them, meaning all the apps in the “Travel” category rank for this  keyword, plus those that specify it. 
Screenshot of AppTweak showing ± 158.000 results for all search terms with “Travel” in them, meaning all the apps in the “Travel” category rank for this keyword, plus those that specify it.

 

Now then; you may come across a situation where you didn’t specify a keyword but are nonetheless still ranking for it. 

Google’s algorithm employs machine learning, including embedding neural network models like skip grams in order to determine relevance associations for keywords beyond metadata (e.g. synonyms, similar context, misspellings/slang,  etc.). The algorithm matches similar words and then the search engine ‘guesses’ the intention behind a search. This means that if a search keyword is algorithmically linked to another keyword found in the app’s metadata, it can cause your app to rank for that linked search keyword, even if that keyword itself is not found in your app’s metadata. 

Apple has a much simpler algorithm, but also provides several keywords that you didn’t specify in your app’s metadata to rank. 

“FREE” RANKING KEYWORDS IN THE APPLE APP STORE 

We’ve found the following keywords to index your app without you needing to specify it:

Free app store keywords

Free app store keywords

*1. Luca Giacomel correctly pointed out that not in all cases you will rank for keyword + <”free match” keyword>‘app.’  Luca comments “it’s a difficult topic actually. First, these free matches might vanish if the other term accompanying  (for which alone you rank) them are not highly relevant to your app. Second, if you look for the results of a generic  search and the same generic search with app added, you will notice that Apple roughly shows only 50% of the results  overlapping between the two searches, so clearly the match cannot be always automatic.” 

HOW  TO FIND OUT WHETHER APPLE MATCHES MY KEYWORDS IN PLURAL /  COMPOUND? 

While Apple is getting better at matching plurals, Apple’s understanding is certainly still far from fully-baked, especially when it comes to non-English searches. Therefore, for best results it is important to test, rather than assuming. 

The first test to perform is analyzing both singular and plural variants of the root word (e.g. fox, foxes) versions of your keywords, as well as compound words (e.g. audio books, audiobooks), using your favorite ASO tool. 

Screenshot of AppTweak showing singular/plural and compound word rankings 
Screenshot of AppTweak showing singular/plural and compound word rankings

For this research, it’s most important to look at the sheer number of results. In our experience, if a set of one type of variation (e.g. compound words) closely matches the rank of the root word (i.e. the discrepancy is less than 15%), then it’s highly likely that they are matched by Apple and that you will rank for both by just specifying one. You can see this being the case for audiobook & audio books (compound) and podcast & podcasts (plural). The reason for which these variants never match up entirely is because there are likely other matching rules at play. For example, an app may have a very high conversion rate for podcast, but not as high for podcasts

Yet for the plural/singular forms of mice & mouse for instance, we see a huge discrepancy: only about 50% of the number of apps ranking for mouse also rank for mice. It’s therefore highly unlikely that Apple is matching plurals between the search keywords mice & mous, so to rank well for both terms, you will have to add both variants in your metadata. 

Beware: From our experience an exact match weighs more than the matching rules that Apple offers. If  a keyword is one of your primary keywords, and both bring in substantial volume (ie. podcast = 62 and  podcasts = 53), we suggest that you target both the plural and singular forms in your metadata for best  results. Over the course of metadata iterations, you can test to find out whether you’re safe to remove  plurals, but the safest default mode in this scenario is to add both. 

THE 7-DAY KEYWORD BOOST ON THE APP STORE

 iOS:  the 7-day boost is relevant for iOS apps only. 

The first 7 days of your app’s launch are not only a testing time for its credibility and ability to flop or fly, but also are the only time when Apple artificially boosts your app’s visibility, and during which your marketing efforts will produce more fruit. 

For Apple, it is a guessing game of how good a new app is, as well as how relevant it is to the keywords in its metadata.  In order for the algorithm to gauge metrics like retention and conversion rates from search terms, in the first 7 days,  your app is placed artificially high in the results for keywords you provided. 

Example of a graph supplied by ASO Expert Ido Schoonen, of Lab Cave Games. On the graph you see the initial boost in keyword rank in the first 7 days after launch, after which the average keyword ranking drops.
Example of a graph supplied by ASO Expert Ido Schoonen, of Lab Cave Games. On the graph you see the initial boost in keyword rank in the first 7 days after launch, after which the average keyword ranking drops.
In this graph you see the impact that the first 7 days after launch had on App Unit volume, filtered for App Store Search. 
In this graph you see the impact that the first 7 days after launch had on App Unit volume, filtered for App Store Search.

To take full advantage of this boost, you could either target vaguely relevant, but super high volume keywords in the pursuit of capturing more downloads, or make sure that you cover the most relevant keywords from the start, so that your performance history on those keywords is high, and your app has a better chance of retaining your high rank for those keywords beyond the 7 days keyword boost. 

KEYWORD RANKING STRENGTH 

Earlier, we discussed a theoretical situation in which the app stores began with a clean slate and no ranking history.  Lacking historical data to improve the search results, the stores would have to rank apps purely off of their metadata. 

But what makes up that historical performance data that Google and Apple do have, and do use to serve better quality search results to their searchers? 

Here are the factors that the ASO industry has identified as the major ones in Apple’s and Google’s keyword ranking  algorithms, along with a note to indicate which stores utilize the signal: 

Primary Ranking Signals

Stores: Apple + Google 

App downloads are the strongest ranking signal, specifically downloads of that app that were sourced from the keyword in question. Moreover, download velocity is a major attribute of overall app downloads. The concept of download velocity will be illustrated in further detail in the subchapter on top chart ranks.  

Downloads are especially important for Apple. If a high-volume music app publisher were to decide to insert  “Audiobooks” into their title, they would likely pick up a decent rank for that term, just by virtue of having a lot of downloads of the app overall. Because the stores tend to rank high-volume apps for high-volume keywords, Indie developers should begin by focusing on long tail or otherwise lower volume, but lower competition keywords. 

Another factor of significant influence in the ranking algorithms is having a high star rating and a high velocity of reviews & ratings. These signals indicate that users are fond enough of an app to take the time to rate it or write a  review, and that effort requried is what makes this factor a bigger one. Both Google and Apple have officially commented that star ratings, user reviews, and the number of ratings are factors that their algorithms consider when ranking apps.

Conversion Rate for a Keyword Search Term 

Stores: Apple + Google 

One of the leading indicators of whether your app will rank well for a certain keyword is how well your app has historically converted searches into Installs, for that keyword, as a percentage of total changes (i.e. impressions). Apple and Google want to show apps which have a higher likelihood of being downloaded, so that users are satisfied with the store experience, and thus are likely to return to search for and download apps in the future. 

Retention Rate for a Keyword Search Term 

Stores: Google (Apple for retention rate overall) 

Over time, Google’s keyword ranking algorithm has gradually moved away from leaning so heavily on downloads and download velocity to calculate an app’s keyword ranking strength. This came to a head with a Google Android team blog post and algorithm update in late 2016/early 2017, wherein the retention rate of users was officially announced to be a much more important signal for keyword ranking. 

While download velocity can still cause initial swings in keyword ranks, the retention of users that download after searching a keyword is the most important long-term signal for keyword ranks in the Play Store. In fact, if your app is unable to retain users, then driving more downloads can be a detrimental signal, causing your app to rank progressively lower for a keyword, as your app proves with more and more data that it is not worthy of being placed in front of future people searching a keyword, because those users will not use the app for long, as compared to other apps downloaded. 

While not officially confirmed, most ASOs assume that Apple also employs user retention rate (or at least uninstall rates) as a factor in its keyword ranking algorithm. 

App performance 

Store: Google 

Announcements by Google indicate that its algorithm also factors for app performance (e.g. crashes/stability or consumption rate of the phone battery), considering it as a potential negative signal, and ranking poor performing apps lower than others. 

Additional, unconfirmed algorithm factors put forward by the industry: 

  • User engagement with app indexing (Apple and Google) – iOS apps can be indexed in Apple’s spotlight mobile search user experience, and Android apps (as well as iOS apps) can be indexed in Google.com. This data offers an off-page signal for determining the quality and popularity of apps, and thus is within the realm of possibility for factoring into in-store ranking, especially for SEO keywords that occur in-store. Additionally,  as Apple and Google want to ensure that apps are adopting the latest technology, it may be a positive signal simply to set app indexing up. 
  • Does the app have a video (Apple and Google) – for quality productions, preview videos are able to provide users with a better understanding of an app than screenshots, and are recommended in best practices by Apple and Google; thus the presence of a video could sensibly be used as a favorable ranking signal for keyword ranking, especially with the release of iOS 11 autoplay videos. 
  • Is the app localized: (Apple and Google) – it would make sense from a user experience standpoint to rank localized apps before non-localized apps for a keyword search, though this behavior has not been confirmed. 
  •  Size of app (Apple and Google) – size can be a subjective measure to use when considering which apps to rank for a keyword, however when considering the fact that users often have limited bandwidth and storage space, it’s possible to imagine that size can play a role in determining keyword ranks.
  • App ARPU (Average revenue per user) (Apple and Google) – In a similar vein of thinking to AdWords and  Apple Search Ads (i.e. ads from apps with higher bids are shown more than ads from apps with lower bids),  Apple and Google earn revenue from paid downloads and In-App Purchases, and thus could reasonably be inferred to favor apps in keyword rankings which earn a higher revenue per user. Indeed, this sentiment is shared by many across the industry. 
  •  Average app session duration or number of launches (Apple and Google) – as a more in-depth user engagement factor to the less complex (and less telling) number of launches data point, the total time spent in an app or the bumber of launches could sensibly factor into keyword rankings. 

Beware: downloads from one country will not affect keyword (or top chart ranks) in another country.  That is, even if an app has 1 million installs from the keyword “chat” in the United Kingdom, an app will not automatically earn a higher rank for “chat” in the United States or Canada. However, the keyword field of some localizations can affect an app’s relevance for keyword rankings in other countries (see chapter 8 on localization for more details).

The Keyword Optimization Cycle 

For those apps and games that do stand to benefit from keyword optimization, we’ll now go through how to set up a solid keyword optimization strategy based on the framework “The Keyword Optimization Cycle” (KWO Cycle) by  Pablo Penny, Consultant at Phiture. 

Pablo Penny is consultant and ASO lead at the mobile growth consultancy Phiture. He has conducted ASO for large clients such as Skyscanner, Axel Springer, Headspace and Idagio and focuses on developing more analytical methods and frameworks for App Store Optimization. He holds a Ph.D. in innovation management from the University of Westminster where he researched startups and lectured on entrepreneurship. Pablo has experience in tech and strategy consulting and is passionate about growing mobile apps through mobile strategy, data analytics and ASO. 

The keyword optimization cycle
In the KWO cycle, the four different stages essential to keyword optimization are displayed. The repeat symbol is shown in the middle, as the process of keyword optimization is iterative and continuously tweaking an app’s metadata is essential to success. 

The four stages have been defined for both app stores, although some steps are only relevant for one of the two (e.g.  keywords field for the App Store). 

The four steps of the KWO Cycle include: 

  1.  Research all keywords and place the most relevant keywords into a backlog. 
  2. Prioritize the backlog based on volume, relevancy etc. 
  3. Target keywords by inserting them into your app’s metadata. 
  4. Measure keyword performance, calculating organic uplifting.

KWO Step 1: Keyword Research 

kwo step 1 keyword research

Before you can start drawing people to your App Store and Google Play store listing by targeting high volume, relevant  and low competition search terms, you will need to create a large list of keyword search terms, which after searching  people could reasonably expect to find your app. 

The initial step in this process is to create a fresh keyword search term backlog. The backlog can be just one column,  but you can also expand on this with another column mentioning the source from which the keyword originated. That  source might be for example “Brainstorming session,” “Google Keyword Planner Tool,” or “Competitor.” Tagging the source of your keywords helps you keep track of what methods you have already tried, and where you sourced the most useful keywords from. 

search term backlog

Next, we’ll cover various ways of finding new search terms for your backlog: 

  •  Brainstorming. 
  •  Ranked Keywords. 
  • Competitor Keywords. 
  • App Store Auto-Fill.
  • Google Keyword Planner Tool. 
  • Other ways such as surveys, thesaurus, related searches and reviews. 

BRAINSTORMING 

Before diving into tools, try creating your initial keyword search terms list based on some common sense. How would you search for your own app? 

Here are a couple of pointers to get started: 

  • Check your existing non-optimized metadata. In other words: what keywords are found within your description? 
  •  Check your website for keywords. 
  •  Get your colleagues into the room and ask them to name some keywords they would search. 

Once you have a base seed keywords in your backlog, you can move onto more scalable keyword search term discovery methods. 

Pro Tip: We have found that a team brainstorm works really well when everyone must independently come up with as many keyword search terms as they can within 5 minutes, physically and individually written down on post-its or paper. Then collect and group each post-it by themes. Apart from the fact that you will find that the important search terms stick out because everyone jotted them down, the grouping will also help find distinct topics and ways how people would discover your app that are useful in your efforts to increase conversion. 

COMPETITOR KEYWORDS 

Of course you want to make sure that you’re ahead of (or at least not behind) the competition when it comes to ASO.  Start by analyzing their descriptions, long and short description, especially their titles and subtitles, in order to get  a grip on what keywords might be relevant for your app, too: 

Screenshot showing AppTweak competitor title comparison 
Screenshot showing AppTweak competitor title comparison

While in the Google Play Store you can see exactly what your competitor inputs into their metadata, for the App Store  it’s a bit trickier. Because iTunes Connect hides the 100 character keywords field, it’s a guessing game as to what keywords other apps have used.

Pro tip: an easy way to test whether an iOS app ranks for a keyword is by searching the app’s brand name (or other individual word that they you are certain they rank for), plus the word you want to test.  For example, searching “Spotify streaming” will decrypt whether Spotify has the word “streaming” in its metadata. 

This is where ASO tools come to the rescue. As ASO tools are often tracking millions of search terms throughout the  App Store, they tend to know what terms are used by which apps. By faking a real search request for a term (ie. “photo editor”) and listing who ranks on what position, they infer that an app which is ranking for “Photo editor” but doesn’t have that in their title, is actively targeting both “Photo” and “Editor” in the keywords field. 

Screenshot showing the keyword spy feature from Sensortower 
Screenshot showing the keyword spy feature from Sensortower

Another method for analyzing competitor keywords is to use an ASO tool, in order to “spy” on what keywords they may be using, such as in the above screenshot. Yet, as mentioned in the prior pages, this overview is not complete, as sometimes you also rank for certain keywords that you didn’t specify in your title or keywords field in the App Store  (e.g. misspellings, category names, synonyms in the Play Store, etc.). Still, it’s helpful to get a good handle on your competitors’ strategy and see which keywords they target. 

AUTO-FILL 

One of the best ways to find search terms that aren’t only relevant, but are also high-volume is to look at auto-fill keyword suggestions in the App Store or Play Store. 

While you can find auto-suggestions in the App Store or Play Store on your iOS or Android device, you can also check out play.google.com from your computer, or accessing iTunes from your computer; but beware that the keyword trends can sometimes differ between the mobile and computer stores.

Screenshot showing a Google Play website keyword search 
Screenshot showing a Google Play website keyword search

Additionally, some ASO tools like Appkeywords.net and Appkeywords.io also offer auto-suggest data:

Screenshot of app keywords.ne and Screenshot of appkeywords.io 
Screenshot of app keywords.ne and Screenshot of appkeywords.io

GOOGLE KEYWORD PLANNER TOOL 

The Google Keyword Planner Tool provides web keyword ideas and traffic estimates and is actually intended to help you build an AdWords campaign. While the traffic estimates are web-based and therefore not super relevant for ASO  prioritization, the tool can nonetheless provide some generally helpful keyword ideas based on your seed list. 

As the Google Keyword Planner Tool is part of AdWords, you will need to sign up for AdWords first. Once in the keyword  tool you can search for keywords based on: 

A description of your product / service 

If you enter “food delivery app” you will get the following (701) results, many of which will be relevant to your app, and which you thus should add to your keyword backlog.

Screenshot of the Google Keyword Planner Tool 
Screenshot of the Google Keyword Planner Tool

Your website 

The Google keyword tool will pull in keyword ideas directly from your website content. 

A specific product category 

The Google keyword tool can also create keyword ideas based around product categories. 

Pro tip: For those who don’t have access to an Adwords account, “Google Trends” is available without the need to log in to AdWords or even have a Google account. Google Trends is covered in chapter 11. 

OTHER SOURCES FOR KEYWORDS – SURVEYS 

The risk of the purely finding search terms within the team or by yourself is that you represent only one slice or a few slices of your target customer. Additionally, you and your team may be so tied up in your own product that you may  be susceptible to perspective bias, and identify search terms which are not entirely representative of how users will  behave “in the wild.” 

Surveying existing users or potential users on how they would search for an app like yours can often give you refreshing insight into how people search for an app that solves their need/urge.

 

Take for example a VPN app. A developer might think that users that who are actually in need of your app, search technical terms, such as “VPN”, “virtual private network”, “change IP”, etc. While these will indeed be your most qualified searches, the concept of VPN and IP are known to just a fraction of your total would-be users. Running a survey could,  for instance, uncover that a lot of people would actually search for terms like “unblock netflix” before stumbling across  a VPN. 

Pro Tip: Ideally, you’ll want to run this survey by a slice of your target audience that isn’t familiar with your app yet. Try the following: 

  1. Set up a survey via UserTesting ($$$) or Mechanical Turk ($). 
  2. Describe a couple of scenarios in which the user might actually need/want your app. For example, if you have a VPN app, describe the following problem statements. 

“You want to be able to surf the web without anyone knowing about this” 

 

  • Try to avoid naming the issue with a common term, such as “anonymous” as this will prime your respondents and interfere with their suggestions. 

 

“You can’t access television from some European countries as they restrict this.” 

 

  • In the case of a game, you can also show screenshots or a video. 

 

  1. Ask your respondents how they would search for an app that would solve the stated problem. 
  2. Categorize and quantify the respondents’ answers. That is, do a lot of people answer with “Unblock  netflix” or “Unblock youtube” or are they going straight in with search terms like “VPN?” 

When it comes to running the survey, you can basically ask anyone on the street, or even better, if your company does user tests on a regular basis, try to squeeze it in during one of the surveys you ask your beta testers. 

If you want to run your survey via Mechanical Turk – or in Europe: Clickworkers – follow Jay Van Buiten’s step plan. 

OTHER SOURCES FOR KEYWORDS – THESAURUS 

If you want to search for groups of synonyms and related concepts, you can also use a thesaurus. Onelook.com and WordGrabBag.com have thesaurus functionality that you can use to find synonyms:

Screenshot: onelook.com
Screenshot: onelook.com
Screenshot: WordGrabBag.com
Screenshot: WordGrabBag.com

OTHER SOURCES FOR KEYWORDS -REVIEWS 

If you don’t want to go through the hassle of surveying potential users, see how existing users describe your app or a  competitor’s app in their reviews. 

For example, you might find that if you own a travel app like SkyScanner or KAYAK, reviewers might use the phrases  “multi-city trips” in their reviews. This might very well be a keyword search term that could need to be added to your  search term backlog if it’s relevant to you: 

Some ASO tools like SensorTower, Mobile Action, as well as the Google Play Console provide reports on the density of certain popular words in reviews. Tools that try to understand the semantic level of words, such as AppBot, provide even stronger insight into what your users might be looking for in your app. 

LATENT SEMANTIC INDEXING 

Latent semantic indexing (LSI) is used by Google and other search engines. LSI keywords are semantically similar.  This doesn’t mean they are the same, synonyms or even that they are similar in meaning. The idea is that the search terms are nevertheless related at some core, relevant level. You can use LSIgraph.com to find these related concepts.

Screenshot: LSIgraph.com 
Screenshot: LSIgraph.com

While the Google search algorithm is extremely involved when it comes to latent semantic indexing (they are after all a  search engine), so far the App Store is still lagging far behind (June 2017).

Screenshot depicting Google’s ability to return relevant search results for search terms the apps themselves haven’t specified in their metadata. 
Screenshot depicting Google’s ability to return relevant search results for search terms the apps themselves haven’t specified in their metadata.

KWO Step 2: Prioritize

KWO Step 2: Prioritize

In the previous step we described how to compile a large backlog of potentially relevant keyword search terms. In this chapter we’ll discuss how to grade those search terms and generate a prioritized list of keywords, based on metrics such as volume, competition and relevancy. 

SEARCH ADS CONVERSION DATA (APP STORE) 

It seems a bit counter-intuitive, but Search Ads have brought a lot of good for data-driven ASO. Sure, in terms of organics you may be feeling the pain of Apple adding the search ad slot front and center in the search results, and you are not alone. But the data that Apple started returning with the introduction of Search Ads, can really give you a competitive edge. This includes the higher-level search popularity scores that Search Ads has brought, as well as one level deeper by providing what we call “Search Ads conversion” data: your ability to convert a search query to a  (paying) user. This was first reported by Thomas Petit just days after the launch of Apple Search Ads. 

Take for example a fitness app. You may see that “fitness app” brings in more search volume than “weight loss tracker”. 

However, with a bit of Search Ads budget and data from a mobile measurement partner (MMP), you may see that  “weight loss tracker” actually brings in higher LTV users than “fitness app”. You may therefore want to prioritize this search term in your ASO strategy, rather than the higher volume and likely more competitive “fitness app” search term.  

An over-simplified example of what your MMP might return, illustrating the outcome (prioritizing search terms as keywords, based on their value to  your marketing strategy). 
An over-simplified example of what your MMP might return, illustrating the outcome (prioritizing search terms as keywords, based on their value to  your marketing strategy).

Without an MMP you can still look at the metrics that Apple provides out of the box. The metrics Tap-Through-Rate  (TTR) and Conversion Rate (CR) on a search term level can be a good indicator for relevancy of a certain search term. 

Beware: Apple reports on downloads, which are not the same as first-opens. This will cause a  discrepancy between conversions recorded by Apple (whether via the Search Ads UI or via the attribution  API) and Installs or first-opens recorded by your MMP. Thomas Petit from 8fit estimates the discrepancy somewhere between 25-50%, and Incipia pegs this discrepancy at ~56%. Also, Apple’s conversion click-through attribution window is 30 days, meaning that a keyword which has displayed an ad, say no later than on June 1st, can still record a conversion on June 28th. 

SEARCH VOLUME DATA

Whether or not you should include a search term in your ASO keyword strategy depends first and foremost on whether people are actually searching for that term in the app store. While for web, approximate search volumes have been provided by Google to help advertisers spend more on search ads, the Google Play Store and the Apple App Store have been a black box for a long time. 

For this reason, in the early days of ASO, experts used data from the Google Keyword Planner tool to estimate search term volume. As we’ll see, even up until today in the world of search popularity, some ASO tools still use web-based data, at least partially in their traffic scores. While this may seem sensible at first, search behavior on a small screen with onscreen keyboard will by definition be different from desktop searches. To cope with this you can filter web data for mobile web rather than computer-based web. Yet even then, people still search entirely differently in mobile web than in the app stores. On the web, one might search for a “Smoked Salmon Pasta Recipe” and indeed, the Google  Keyword Planner Tool shows thousands of monthly web searches. But hardly anyone would search like that in the app store. An app store-type search would look more like “recipe,” or perhaps a bit more specific, such as a “pasta recipe app”.

Pro Tip: One useful tactic that you can use to make the Google Keyword Planer more relevant for app traffic, is to add “+ app” to web keywords. People don’t search in the app store for a “Plumber,” but they do on the web. Using web search volume data could mislead you into thinking that there are a  lot of users search for “plumber” in the app store; but by adding the word “+app,” you will get more directionally accurate data. Don’t use this data for looking at the absolute searches, but do use it to make relative scoring decisions for your backlog keywords. 

Fortunately for ASOs, Apple offers valuable insights into App Store search behavior, using the following two metrics: 

Priority – while search popularity has been the talk of the town, the priority data point has been available for years, and is a hidden gem, hardely discovered by ASO experts.

Search Popularity – introduced with Search Ads, and the most popular method for prioritizing App Store keywords. We’ll discuss these two metrics first and then show you what most tools are using for their own search volume scores. 

APPLE PRIORITY INDEX 

Let’s start with the Priority index, which comes from a call to the iTunes Search API. It’s been around since at least 2014  and it offers insights in the order in which auto-suggestions are displayed. All appearances in these auto-suggestions get a ‘priority’ score from Apple. These correlate strongly with Search Popularity, but not 100%, partially that is also because not all search terms are displayed. 

Sample call: 

Sample response:

Screenshot depicting a sample return from the iTunes search results API uncovering the priority index 
Screenshot depicting a sample return from the iTunes search results API uncovering the priority index

If you want to switch the store front, you have to use corresponding Storefront IDs and add them into the call with parameter ?s=143455 (Canada).

country codes
While some ASO tools are believed to use this Priority score in their traffic scores, one of the few tools that actually  display the priority score along with the popularity score is the fairly new tool AppBI.com: 

Screenshot: AppBi.com 
Screenshot: AppBi.com

Ido Schoonen points out another tool, DeepASO.com, which returns the top 10 auto-suggestions of a keyword with a  “weight” volume that corresponds to the Priority score from Apple. 

SEARCH POPULARITY 

With the launch of Apple Search Ads in October 2016, Apple began publishing a set of indexed search scores for the popularity of any keyword search term. 

Screenshot showing the search popularity numbers in the Search Ads interface, using a Chrome extension released by the team behind TheTool 
Screenshot showing the search popularity numbers in the Search Ads interface, using a Chrome extension released by the team behind TheTool

Apart from the fact that this data is not available for Google Play, there are three other caveats to Apple Search Ads  “Search Popularity,” making the search popularity scores a little less useful than they appear on first sight: 

  1. Search Popularity return relatives numbers — Whereas Google Adwords offers insight into absolute average monthly searches on a specific term, Apple Search Ads only offers an index popularity score from 5 to 100. 
  2. These numbers are only available in select English speaking markets — At the moment search volumes are only  available in the U.S., UK, AU, and NZ. 
  3. These numbers only return a real search score for keywords that have a SP of 6 and higher — Likely to encourage advertisers to bid on low volume keywords to increase ad inventory fill rates, Apple does not show the difference between a keyword that literally receives 0 searches per month, and a keyword with low, but still some volume.  Therefore it’s incredibly hard to know if a long-tail keyword should just be ignored or whether there is something to be gained by targeting that keyword.

Signnow

In this screenshot from AppTweak, we pull United States App Store Volume Data, which corresponds 1:1 with Search Popularity scores from Search Ads. 
In this screenshot from AppTweak, we pull United States App Store Volume Data, which corresponds 1:1 with Search Popularity scores from Search Ads.

OTHER TRAFFIC ESTIMATIONS 

Because of the fully black box environment of Google Play as well as the continued issue that Apple doesn’t have  Search Popularity scores for most App Store Territories, ASO tools have been trying to fill this gap with their own volume estimation data for a long time. 

In order to make a judgment on whose data you trust most, you need to know a little bit more about how these tools are providing their estimates. We asked the following tools how they calculate their search volume score, and here are  their responses: 

Volume estimates by the tools 
Volume estimates by the tools
Volume estimates by the tools 
Volume estimates by the tools
Volume estimates by the tools 
Volume estimates by the tools

*6. Aykut Karaalioglu from Mobile Action wrote on Quora: “Search Score: It is a logarithmic estimation of how many times this keyword is searched for. It ranges from 0 – 100, 100 being the top score. A higher score (e.g. above 40 for single words) means your app can reach more people if you rank well for that keyword. Only a few very popular keywords like  “Facebook” have a score of over 90. We pull data from a number of sources, like frequency of word usage in common  crawl data, trending searches, length of terms, traffic estimates from the web, autosuggestions when typing in the  store, etc. and refine it to find a very good estimate.” 

*7 SensorTower writes in their help center: “Traffic score is calculated from a number of sources, like auto suggestions  when typing in the store, frequency of word usage in common crawl data, length of terms, difficulty of typing on the  iPhone keyboard, traffic estimates from the web, etc.“ 

WHAT VOLUME ESTIMATIONS SHOULD YOU USE? 

While all of the various estimation methods could potentially be used to base your keyword prioritization on, we recommend using Apple’s 1st party data, whether search popularity or priority, which has the highest level of integrity available to ASOs. 

volume estimations
Pro Tip: For Google Play, it’s important to confirm these auto-suggestions manually because Android users do from time-to-time search slightly differently than iOS users. Reasons for this might for example be different platform features, differences in purchasing power, lower-end Android devices with limited space or connectivity, and also the fact that Google Play offers a more thorough search functionality that helps users find a type of app quicker. 

Screenshots depicting how search results may differ in the App Store vs Google Play 
Screenshots depicting how search results may differ in the App Store vs Google Play

CURRENT KEYWORD RANKS 

From the start of the KWO cycle, you will likely have picked up at least a handful of high volume keyword search terms,  which may or may not be the most relevant keywords for your app. As you go through the keyword optimization process, however, you will want to make sure that you don’t throw out those high volume search terms. 

With an ASO tool you can not only check the volume of those search terms, but also your current ranking.  

Pro Tip: As a rule of thumb: while painful to acknowledge, keywords for which your app ranks in positions worse than position 10 (i.e. 11 or worse) will most likely not get you any meaningful amount of traffic. 

With the above in mind, when reviewing your list for high volume keywords make sure to flag those high volume search terms for which you rank 10 or better. This will help you to remain vigilant and not make changes that affect these high volume, high rank keywords when making changes to your metadata.

Screenshot from ASO tool TUNE, which offers great insights into for how many keywords you rank. 
Screenshot from ASO tool TUNE, which offers great insights into for how many keywords you rank.

KEYWORD RELEVANCY 

It may seem great at first if you are able to rank for a high-volume keyword search term like “movies,” but if you have a real estate app you won’t get any meaningful impact from ranking this term as it’s highly irrelevant, and your poor conversion rate due to low relevance will likely drag your keyword rank back down at any rate. You, therefore, need to make sure that you target relevant search terms

Relevancy is ultimately be decided by whether or not your app addresses the intent of the searcher, as measured by their downloads. Ideally, you should put a relevance number on every search term found to bring in any meaningful amount of search volume. And that’s exactly what we do in our attempt to filter out the best search terms for use in our keyword strategy. 

Screenshot: ASODesk 
Screenshot: ASODesk

A Case Study in: Determining Keyword Relevance 

Let’s take the app “Zillow Real Estate – Homes for Sale & for Rent” as an example in determining relevance. If we were  to grade the relevancy for a set of keyword search terms, it would be something like: 

  •  “Houses for sale”: starred; extremely relevant and high volume (5/5) 
  • “Home”: low relevance (1/5) 
  • “Real Estate”: extremely relevant (5/5) 
  •  “House”: irrelevant (0/5) 
  • “Property management”: irrelevant (0/5) 

As you will see, the more long tail and specific the search term, the easier it is to grade it for relevancy. It’s with short head search terms like “Home” and “House” where it’s harder to really understand the intent of the searchers’ behavior. In the case of “House” we aren’t able to discern whether the user is looking for a house simulation game, an interior design app, or an app to find houses for sale.

Now that we have put a relevant number on this, we can start playing with what we call Search term score: a search term like “Home” that has lower relevancy (i.e. 2), with a high search volume (e.g. 50) will also have a score of 100. A  search term like “Real Estate” on the other hand, that has less volume (e.g. 40) but is extremely relevant (i.e. 3) will get a score of 120. 

Filtering relevant high volume search termsAs you can see, we can now sort our search terms accordingly which helps us focus on those that bring in a lot of meaningful search traffic. 

Starred search terms 

A good keyword strategy targets as many search terms as possible. You will want to target and track at least 100+ search terms for your app, and monitor them from time to time. However, when you have 100s or even 1000s of search terms that you track, it can become quite daunting to monitor or optimize these terms. 

For the reason of focus it’s good to star about 10 search terms that are your “rock stars”. You know that these select few high-volume, super relevant search terms can convert a lot of app store searches in to downloads, if you rank well for them. Selecting just a few will help you focus in reporting and also with visual word recognition optimization, covered later on. 

Retrospective relevancy 

Ultimately, you are not the one deciding whether a search term is relevant or not: the app store algorithm will do that for you based on how many people searched that term and converted into a (retained) user. 

One method of keyword optimization is to try adding a keyword, then seeing whether your rank trends higher or lower over a period of a couple weeks. If you trend up (and especially if you hit the top 10), then it’s a high relevance keyword. A stable ranking indicates medium relevancy, and a decline suggests the search term isn’t relevant enough for your app. 

KEYWORD COMPETITION 

The more apps that compete in a store for the same keyword search terms, the harder it will become to acquire a top rank for that keyword search term. 

To decide how fierce the competition is on a certain search term and whether you want to compete on that term  depends on three questions: 

  • How many apps target the search term? 
  • How relevant are the top 10 apps to the search term?
  • How strong is the top 10 competition? 

The question “how many apps target a certain search term?” is relatively easy to answer for the Apple App Store due to the nature of how keywords work in the App Store. If an app is targeting a certain search term, it will show up in the results, independently of whether it ranks #99840 or #11 (except in case of brand names, in which case Apple may block certain apps from ranking). Most ASO tools out there show you the absolute number of results, which can be a good indicator for the App Store as to how many want to take a piece in the search pie.  

Google Play, by contrast,only returns the top 250 results. Most common search terms will therefore just return “250”  making it a less useful number. If there are less than 250 results this can indicate an opportunity, whereas if there are more than 250 results, it’s still possible to target it. 

The question then becomes: how difficult it is to achieve a meaningful rank. We have already established how you can decide whether a search term is relevant to your app. If it’s extremely relevant, chances are that you can get and maintain a decent conversion rate on that search term and thus have shot at slowly, but surely outranking the competition (if your app is more-so relevant and appealing as the competition, that is).  

Therefore, it makes sense to look at the top 10 results to see how relevant those apps are and of what quality they are.  This can be a bit of a manual operation as ASO tools do not create a “relevance score” but for your top opportunity keywords, this exercise will be extremely useful in prioritizing them for prime spots of your high-value visibility and visual word recognition tactics. 

Screenshot: AppTweak showing the actual apps that show up for a keyword search. The app “SignNow” can compete for the keyword “doc sign” as many of the results aren’t entirely relevant (ie. “Trulia Real Estate”).
Screenshot: AppTweak showing the actual apps that show up for a keyword search. The app “SignNow” can compete for the keyword “doc sign” as many of the results aren’t entirely relevant (ie. “Trulia Real Estate”).

Finally, you want to know how strong the competition is quantitatively. If the competition brings in a lot of downloads,  it will be harder to knock them off their throne, as the algorithms take overall downloads in account too. 

Most ASO tools aim to help you to solve this question under the banner of different names (e.g. “Chance”, “Difficulty”,  “Competition” score, etc.).  

ASO tools can also estimate the size of the apps that are competing with you based on their rankings, and can deduce from that how hard it might be to compete on that search term. Different tool providers have different approaches to calculating this number. Priori Data, for example also looks at the weekly average of newcomer apps that entered the top 10 for a keyword. One thing that is standard, is that all tools consider only the top 10 ranks for these scores, and try to predict how much opportunity your app will have breaking into the top 10 ranks. 

PrioriData uses their download estimates for the broader app economy also for their difficulty metric. 
PrioriData uses their download estimates for the broader app economy also for their difficulty metric.

You can also calculate your own difficulty score. Here’s how: 

When doing research on the competition for a keyword, you can look at two factors to quantitatively determine the  app’s difficulty score: 

  1. The top chart rankings of the top 10 apps that return for a keyword. Average the top chart rank of the top 10 apps to get an overall competitor top chart strength reading for each keyword. Be sure to compare country and category separately. How far away from the average rank of those keywords is your app’s top chart rank? 
  2. Determine the volatility of each top 10 rank sport for a keyword. This means determining how many rank spots each of the top 10 apps has moved for that keyword over the last 1-12 weeks. If the top 10 apps have moved less frequently, then it can indicate that the competitors will be hard to usurp; if the apps have high volatility in ranking spots, it can mean that there is more of a chance to bump competitors, yet it may also indicate high competition, given that many apps are shifting into different positions for the keyword. 

VALUE ESTIMATIONS OF SEARCH TERMS / KEYWORDS IN YOUR BACKLOG 

Before moving to the targeting phase, there’s one last step that you may want to consider for prioritizing individual  keywords and search terms, which is to calculate a search term value score: 

Search Term Value = Volume score x Relevancy score x (Competition score / Maximum Competition 

Take for example the following calculations for this search term value score:

example movie editing
We see from calculating the score that “Movie” scores worse than “Movie maker” despite a higher volume, because of lower relevancy and higher competition. 

As for a lot of the metadata that you can target, you’re restricted heavily by character length. You will want to make sure that you target as many keyword combinations with as few characters as possible. A character optimization formula  like the following might help you with this process: 

Word Value = SUM(word appearances in total keyword phrases) / KEYWORD LENGTH 

example movie

As you can see here, even though ‘Editing’ has a higher combined value as it appears in ‘Movie editing,’ the 7 precious characters that it costs make it worth less in character optimizaton terms than the keyword ‘maker’. 

KWO Step 3: Target

KWO step 3 target

In this subchapter, we’ll be discussing in the order of importance: Title, Keywords set (iOS), Short description, Long description, Developer Name, In-App Purchase and Package names. We’ll also cover useful tips & tricks and the important topic of visual word recognition

TITLE 

Both the search algorithm from Google Play as well as the App Store search algorithm treat the title as the mosty heavily weighted metadata element. That means that any search term that you pack in there gives you the highest chance of ranking meaningfully for it. 

Did you know that the title in the App Store used to have a limit of 255 characters? 
Did you know that the title in the App Store used to have a limit of 255 characters?

While with iOS 11, the app name is now a maximum of 30 characters, as touched on in the iOS 11 chapter, Google started allowing for 50 characters from June 2017 onwards (previously 30 characters) in the Google Play title. Yet, app marketing agency Yellowhead reported in their blog that there is no indication that keywords are ranking past the 30th character point. 

As this is such a precious space, there are some developers that go so far in the name of maximizing title characters as removing their app name from the title in order to increase their space for keywords. Generally this is not a great idea for apps with good branded goodwill as they not only could lose brand recognition for visual word recognition, but also because they might actually lose the #1 spot on that brand search, if trademark protections don’t prevent other apps from using the brand name in their titles/subtitles. 

Other ways to save space including targeting only root words (e.g. run vs running), omitting commas and other less  crucial grammatical technicalities such as using a colon (:) rather than the traditional dash (–) to separate an app name  and tagline or an ampersan (&) in place of the word “and.” 

In addition to being a boon for visibility, adding keywords into your title is also by and large a positive tactic for  CRO, too. That said, while a keyword-containing phrase can help you communicate your value proposition better, a  keyword-stuffed title may decrease conversion rate and therefore also decrease keyword ranks. A good example of placing a few relevant keywords into the title is the Waze app below, where the keywords help make it clear to app store  browsers what the app has to offer: 

Screenshot Waze App Store product page showing some well-placed keywords in the title 
Screenshot Waze App Store product page showing some well-placed keywords in the title

Beware: Apple’s guidelines urge developers not to “include terms or descriptions that are not the name of the app” in the app title. Strictly speaking an app name like “Google Maps – Navigation & Transit”  would not be allowed. That said, the tactic is still widely practiced. 

Screenshot: Section 2.3.7 of the App Store Guidelines 
Screenshot: Section 2.3.7 of the App Store Guidelines

In the previous chapter we touched on the idea of ‘starring’ search terms that are high volume and have very high relevancy. It’s likely that one well-placed such search term or a combination of these search terms can help you significantly increase your visibility. Try to use exact keyword placements, as these can help with search term conversion as well as helping rank your app better in the search results.

Screenshot from ASOdesk showing that for Google Maps, the keyword “traffic alerts” might bring more search volume than “offline maps;” but if  Google Maps is relevant for “offline maps,” that’s the keyword they should favor. 
Screenshot from ASOdesk showing that for Google Maps, the keyword “traffic alerts” might bring more search volume than “offline maps;” but if  Google Maps is relevant for “offline maps,” that’s the keyword they should favor.

Even a strong brand like STARZ with a lot of brand-awareness should realize that not all app store browsers know the  brand, let alone the value proposition of the app. Changing the title or subtitle to something like “STARZ – Movies & TV  Shows” might not only help with increasing visibility, it might also help with conversion. 

Screenshot: Starz App Store product page showing no keywords in the title 
Screenshot: Starz App Store product page showing no keywords in the title

The character limit can oftentimes be very restrictive and result in titles with fewer descriptive words in them due to a  longer brand name, such as TripAdvisor below. Often times, even the somewhat clunkier/fewer keywords title can still help the user identify what the app is about and serve the purpose of keyword optimization too. 

Screenshot: TripAdvisor Google Play app search result listing showing a clunky title, where the brand name leaves room for only two additional words  with no punctuation 
Screenshot: TripAdvisor Google Play app search result listing showing a clunky title, where the brand name leaves room for only two additional words  with no punctuation

“Brand-swap” (Google Play) 

Really big apps with a lot of download velocity and a high conversion have the benefit of showing up in Google Play searches as an icon-containing app-result before the search is finished. For example, if you type in “De…” , you will  already see an app result for “Deezer: Music & Song Streaming.”

Screenshot: Google Play keyword search for “de” showing Deezer ranking first with a visual result 
Screenshot: Google Play keyword search for “de” showing Deezer ranking first with a visual result

Needless to say, this is a great experience for such apps, and also a moat that helps prevent other apps from siphoning visibility away from the app. Some apps game this by putting their brand at the end of their title, making sure they show  up with a generic search query such as “Cheap flights”: 

Screenshot: Google Play keyword search for “cheap fli” showing Momondo ranking first with a visual result 
Screenshot: Google Play keyword search for “cheap fli” showing Momondo ranking first with a visual result

SUBTITLES (APP STORE) 

For iOS 11 Apple added a 30 character subtitle. This metadata element shows up everywhere across the app store under the App Store Title. 

In accordance with the rule “the more visible the metadata, the more it weighs” the subtitle seems to be weighing more than the keywords field but less than title.

 Screenshots depicting the app name and subtitle character limits; Waze search engine result 
Screenshots depicting the app name and subtitle character limits; Waze search engine result

Two tips to take into account about the subtitle include: 

  •  if you set the Subtitle and a title, be aware that anything post-30 characters in your title will be ignored. 
  • Don’t repeat words in your subtitle that are in your title. 

KEYWORDS FIELD (APP STORE) 

In iTunes Connect you can provide a list of “keywords” (often referred to as the “Keyword field”) for each localization that you select. 

Screenshot: the keywords field in iTunes Connect 
Screenshot: the keywords field in iTunes Connect

The best practices of the keywords field include: 

  • Separate keywords by commas; do not add spaces. 
  •  Do not duplicate keywords within the keywords field. Repeating keywords does not improve rank and is a  waste of space. 
  • Do not repeat keywords that are in your title. You won’t give extra weight to a keyword by adding it in both your keywords field and your title/subtitle. 
  • Order does not matter. A keyword at the end of your keywords field is just as important as the one in the beginning. 
  •  Targeting exact phrases does not help. ie. “Photo,filter” will have the same rank influence as “filter,photo” for the search term “Photo filter”. 
  •  Plurals/Singular: you often get the plural or singular for free, but may rank lower for it. Is it one of your starred search terms? Does Apple not rank the plural/singular variants per the earlier subchapter? If yes and no, then add it in. 
  • Free words. Stop-words (e.g. “the/a/by” etc.) or words that can be derived from your category (e.g. “Health &  Fitness”) or the word “app” don’t have to be added to be eligible to rank on those terms, but adding them can help improve your ranking. 
  • Less = less. Not using the 100 characters in order to give more weight to those keywords that are being used is a bad idea. You won’t go up in ranking for certain keywords if you remove the rest of the keywords. 

Now that you have the basics covered, return to your keyword backlog. You can move past any keywords you’ve to the title/subtitle and start adding the next highest words into your keywords field. 

What’s most important to understand in the process of selecting words from your search term backlog for use in your keywords field is keyword combinations. If you have a language learning app with 30 languages, you won’t be able to fit all those languages (say ~ 10 characters each) in the keywords field. You must pick and choose and see what keywords can make the most combination of search terms. You might need to cover your top 5 languages  (“spanish,english,german,etc.”) and the search terms that result in the most combinations with these. If you have broken this down already with a formula like we suggested in the end of the previous chapter, placing the keywords becomes fairly easy. 

SHORT & LONG DESCRIPTION (PLAY STORE) 

In this subchapter we refer only to the two types of descriptions that the Play Store hosts. While the App Store also has a long description, this isn’t indexed by the App Store algorithm. That said, as we’ll see in the subchapter on App  Packs you will want to still apply some keyword optimizations logic to your App Store description too as it’s indexed  by Google.com 

For Google Play, the short description ranks after the Title and perhaps on par with the Developer name in terms of keyword weight. 

Unlike in iOS, repeating words from your title in your short description, has been found to provide a positive impact.

Screenshot showing the short and long description entries in the Google Play Console 
Screenshot showing the short and long description entries in the Google Play Console

Pro Tip: The long description can hold up to 4,000 characters and is indexed by Google Play. That might seem great at first, but filling up the entire 4,000 characters does not necessarily give you an edge in ranking. What’s more important than the number of times you’re repeating a keyword is the density weight that you’re giving to a keyword. If you repeat “music” 100 times in a 4.000 character length description, offers less weight than repeating “music” it 5 times in a 300 character length description. 

To find the right balance you can use follow this YouTube tutorial that makes use of our Google Play spreadsheet: 

spreadsheet

Other Metadata 

DEVELOPER NAME 

The developer name (Google Play) or seller name (Apple) have been found to be indexed on both platforms and is  especially used in Google Play used to target keywords, such as Booking.com here:

Screenshot: Booking.com Google Play app search result listing 
Screenshot: Booking.com Google Play app search result listing
Screenshot: Developer name editing view in Google Play 
Screenshot: Developer name editing view in Google Play

But with Apple it’s a tougher process to change the developer name as it’s tied to a D-U-N-S number, so be sure to pick the right name at developer enrollment

IN-APP PURCHASE NAMES (APPLE) 

Up until iOS 11 In-App Purchase (IAP) names would rank only for the exact match search, meaning your app would show up in search for keywords in your IAP, but only if someone typed in the exact name of your IAP’s name. Some  ASO’s used this to their advantage, but since it had to be a full exact match the benefits were fairly small (e.g. an IAP  called “maps” would only match “maps” and not “offline maps”). 

Screenshot depicting that, pre-IOS 11, only exact matches would return an app 
Screenshot depicting that, pre-IOS 11, only exact matches would return an app

In iOS 11 Apple has begun indexing In-App Purchases in search results for partial matches. As discussed in the introduction, this was big news for the App Store and represents a paradigm change in the app discovery model through organic search.

Screenshot depicting that in iOS 11, broader keyword matches show both the app and In-App Purchases in search results 
Screenshot depicting that in iOS 11, broader keyword matches show both the app and In-App Purchases in search results

The exact details of how In-App Purchases affect search results are yet unknown and will be studied in detail after the launch of iOS 11. Stay tuned to the Phiture and Incipia blogs for more details on IAP-based visibility optimizations. 

PACKAGE NAME (GOOGLE) 

First off, the Bundle ID for Apple is not something you can rank for. But in Google Play you can actually rank for the unique package name that you’ve chosen for your app. 

It is growing belief that the impact on the package name can’t be overstated on Google Play. While there hasn’t been researched published on the impact so far, it is without a doubt Google Play does index the package name. 

Daniel Peris from TheTool wrote a blog post on a discovery he made regarding “Super Mario Run”. A search for “Zara”  yielded Super Mario Run as #11th result on Google Play, whereas Nintendo hadn’t mentioned Zara anywhere in their  metadata:

Screenshot: Google Play keyword search for Zara showing Super Mario Run 
Screenshot: Google Play keyword search for Zara showing Super Mario Run

It then turned out that Nintendo had used Zara in their package name: 

Screenshot: Google Play URL for Super Mario Run showing zara in the package name 
Screenshot: Google Play URL for Super Mario Run showing zara in the package name

With regards to the impact, there is anecdotal evidence that the field is quite important and treated as an exact domain match in SEO. Big titles with tons of traffic and extremely high relevancy and converting assets often seem to have a hard time to compete for a search term if they don’t have it in their package name. For example: out of the #10  games ranking for the search term “bubble shooter”, 7 apps have it in their package name. Even games by publisher titans (King’s “Bubble Witch 3 Saga” and Rovio’s “Angry Birds POP Bubble Shooter”) only earn positions #9 and #10,  respectively. While King’s app does not have bubble shooter in its title, Rovio’s game does, and both apps do not have bubble shooter in their package names.

Screenshot: Priori Data keyword search showing Google Play results for bubble shooter. 
Screenshot: Priori Data keyword search showing Google Play results for bubble shooter.

Developer Candy Bubble Studio (rank #34) might have realized that this field might indeed have some impact, and named their package “bubble.shooter.shooting.shoot.game” 

Screenshot: Google Play URL for Candy Bubble Studio’s app 
Screenshot: Google Play URL for Candy Bubble Studio’s app

Now, these results might also be skewed because of other tactics such as an exact match in the title or because of black hat ASO tactics. 

Pro Tip: While you can change the “manifest package name” in AndroidManifest.xml, Google Play will treat your app as a new listing and you will lose your entire history (reviews / downloads). It’s therefore recommended that you think carefully about the keywords you want to target ahead of launching the app. A solid naming convention would be com.brand.title.keyword1.keyword2. 

Visual Word Recognition

Visual word recognition refers to the app of users to recognize visual words in your app listing elements, such as the  title or screenshot captions. In other words, if a user searches for “learn spanish” they are more likely to convert if they  see that the app has to offer what they’re searching for: 

Google Play web search showing that, apart from Duolingo, 4 out of 5 top results start with the “Learn Spanish” in their title and have a Spanish flag in  their icon. 
Google Play web search showing that, apart from Duolingo, 4 out of 5 top results start with the “Learn Spanish” in their title and have a Spanish flag in  their icon.

Both Google and Apple look at a keyword-level to determine how well you are able to convince a user into clicking through to your app store product page and/or downloading the app. It seems that the App Store primarily only looks at CTR and install rates, whereas Google Play appears to look at retention and engagement on a search term level. 

If your app isn’t able to convert impressions from a particular keyword search into users, then your app’s rank score for that keyword will decline. While your app’s overall conversion rate can represent the overall health of your conversion rate in aggregate across search terms (especially when using Apple’s app store search data source), it does not always accurately represent the story at the individual search term-level, and can obscure what is a wasted opportunity for better performance.

Screenshots depicting how apps optimize for visual word recognition 
Screenshots depicting how apps optimize for visual word recognition

The arrows above point to examples that increase relevancy (and with that, CTR) to the search term. 

Two challenges to visual word recognition optimization include the lack of search term-level organic attribution data,  as well as the fact that your app must present the same listing to each keyword search term, without customization.  Your optimizations, therefore, must be done using the data you have on-hand (such as keyword rank and search popularity) and without negatively impacting conversion rate from other searches, or keyword-agnostic impressions,  such as those from ads or top charts. 

The most effective current approach is to sort by the keywords that are most important (remember our “starred”  keywords?) and then manually review the search results page for each search term and assess your app listing’s relative appeal for people searching that keyword, compared to the competition. 

Pro tip: just like when optimizing your app’s keyword mix, when prioritizing search terms, focus on search terms that are most important, based on your KPI. For example, using Apple Search Ads data,  you can determine which keyword search terms yield the most subscriptions, and focus on raising your visual word recognition for that keyword and other high sub-converting keywords.

Optimizing your app listing for search terms can be applied for any of your elements (e.g. screenshots, icon, description,  etc.), but is done via some of the following tactics: 

  •  Directly mention the search term in your listing elements. During a study that we did on the top 10 iOS apps ranking for 7 different keywords in the health and fitness category, we found that apps which included the target keyword in an app’s screenshot captions saw a 2.4x better average rank than apps that did not do so. 
  •  Speak to the user’s intent behind the search term. The more latent approach to directly mentioning the  keyword, which requires more creativity, such as speaking to the idea of losing weight or using imagery that  relates to dieting for the keyword “diet.” 
  • Out-position the competition for that search term. This is a similar approach to general CRO, but with a more specific competition set. Figure out what messaging or visual design would make your app more appealing more to users searching that keyword, such as using a different screenshot style if the competition all uses the same screenshot-style. But again – be careful not to over-optimize for one particular search term at the expense of losing conversions from other sources. 

 

  •  Make sure your important keywords are not truncated in your title or subtitle. 

 

More Keyword Optimization Tips and Tricks 

Before moving into how to measure the impact of your targeted keywords, we still want to call out a couple of tips and tricks on how to target even more keywords and drive more searches to your app. 

CATEGORY NAMES ON IOS 

Select your primary category should be done with careful consideration and needs to be the right fit for your app. The secondary category, however is not something that impacts your visibility in the store from a browsing perspective, and can be picked with adding keyword visibility in mind. 

We’ve checked all the category keywords for volume in the US and listed them in descending order: 

category

keywords categoryTARGET COMPETITORS THAT HAVEN’T DEVELOPED APP FOR IOS OR ANDROID 

Targeting competitors could generally be a good idea, however as the search intent of the searcher is really to download your competitor’s brand, you will likely have little chance of converting these searches to downloads even if you come in 2nd in the results.  

That’s entirely different, however, for competitors or other apps that have a brand name, but have yet to develop an  Android or an iOS app. You will find that targeting those names can help driving substantial search traffic. 

GOOGLE PLAY INDEXES LISTING EXPERIMENTS 

First publicly reported by Lukas Ballé in the ASO Stack Slack community, is the fact that A/B tests are also indexed. This is surprising. What’s more surprising is that members of the Slack community pointed out that while Google detects brand infringements in title, short & long description, this doesn’t seem to be the case in the A/B test variants. 

What makes it even more of a breeding ground for Black Hat ASO is that you can run the A/B test on a 0.1% audience.  That means that virtually no-one needs to see the keyword heavy description.

Screenshot depicting a black hat A/B test purposed for keyword stuffing. Only 1 in 1.000 Store Listing Visitors would see the keyword stuffed variant. 
Screenshot depicting a black hat A/B test purposed for keyword stuffing. Only 1 in 1.000 Store Listing Visitors would see the keyword-stuffed variant.

KWO Step 4: Measure

KWO step 4: measure

After all of your hard work researching, brainstorming and implementing for your ASO strategy, it’s time to measure the fruits of your labors and analyze your impact. While the most common and direct goal of an ASO strategy is to increase the number of organic Installs that your app is earning, there are myriad metrics that will be useful in tracking your ASO  progress. Each of these play a unique role in ensuring that you are on the right track; and when you aren’t, they can help raise warning flags and point your attention to the right places or troubleshooting. 

TRACKING 

Tracking involves using an ASO tool to track the rank of your keywords throughout your visibility optimizations. ASO  tools track hundreds of thousands or even millions of keyword search terms across the different app stores. While many tools will also offer historical data for these search terms, it’s a good exercise to track your keywords prior to changing your metadata, so that you know which keywords to focus on and don’t need to waste time in reporting.  Tracking keywords also helps you to determine the impact of the changes you made in not just high-level app store analytics data, but in the more granular specifics of keyword ranks.

Keyword tracking in AppFollow.io 
Keyword tracking in AppFollow.io

KEYWORD MONITORING 

Once you have selected your tracking tool, you can monitor the rankings of your app for the keyword. 

When a new iOS app version is approved and becomes live in the App Store, the latest keyword rankings will update  same-day. Any keywords which are no longer included in the metadata will immediately lose ranking. For Google Play,  the algorithm can take a little longer to index your keywords. 

A keyword picking up rank immediately after the release of a new update (Screenshot: AppTweak) 
A keyword picking up rank immediately after the release of a new update (Screenshot: AppTweak)

Pro Tip: In measuring the success of visibility optimizations, it’s useful to think about the difference between metrics and KPIs. Metrics are data points that help focus your attention by calling out areas that have a lot of activity (e.g. App Store Impressions); but metrics are typically not the most important data point for measuring success. KPIs are the data points that are most important to your goals or objectives, which you should use to measure success (e.g. Installs).

KPI: Keyword ranks: When measuring performance from visibility optimizations, report on keyword ranks for a direct analysis before and after your visibility changes. Specifically, look for keywords that attain a top 10 rank. Ranking outside of the top 10 results generally does not receive a material amount of visibility. 

Unlike the App Store, updating your app’s keyword metadata mix in the Google Play Store may not always cause an immediate or significant change in keyword ranking. Sometimes, Google may even continue ranking keyword phrases after the phrase is removed from an app listing! This is because Google’s algorithm is more advanced than Apple’s algorithm, and factors for signals such as the skip gram analysis and others mentioned in the prior pages. 

And, while in the App Store your keyword ranks will update instantly after releasing a new app version, it’s important to note that your keyword ranks will continue to fluctuate over time, and will likely not remain at the rank that they earn initially for long. Watch to see where your keyword rankings shake out for the week following an update and then adjust your keyword mix as appropriate after giving your new keyword ranks sufficient time to fully adjust. 

Apart from looking at individual keywords, you can also look at your aggregate keyword ranking graph, which is a  feature some tools such as App Tweak, Mobile Action or Tune provide. 

Screenshot: Tune’s “Rankscape” feature 
Screenshot: Tune’s “Rankscape” feature
Screenshot: Mobile Action showing keyword ranks. 
Screenshot: Mobile Action showing keyword ranks.

VISIBILITY MONITORING 

While an uptick for some search terms might seem great, it can also be caused by switching around a keyword from your keyword set to a keyword in the title. It’s to be expected that search terms with the keyword in the title will rise in rank, while those relgated to the keyword set will fall. By looking at visibility you can you be sure that the net is still positive. 

Metric: Impressions (App Store only) are a great initial metric for measuring whether your visibility changes are causing an effect. That is, did your changes cause your app to rank for significantly more or fewer keywords, in significantly better or worse positions? 

Impressions are defined by Apple as: “The number of times your app was viewed on the App Store for more than one second. This includes search results, Featured, Explore, Top Charts and app Product Page Views. Apps listed in Updates  in the App Store app are not included.” 

Be aware that each product page view in the App Store counts as a new impression, meaning that someone clicking through to your Product Page from a search result will count towards impressions twice. You can select ‘Unique App  Store Impressions’ to avoid the numbers being skewed.

Screenshot of iTunes Connect App Analytics Dashboard depicting a bump in impressions after a visibility optimization 
Screenshot of iTunes Connect App Analytics Dashboard depicting a bump in impressions after a visibility optimization

Measuring changes to a Google Play app’s impressions can be more nuanced to understand, due to the fact that Google reports on Store Listing Visitors (i.e. product page views in iOS terms), rather than search impressions. That means you do not get the full view of how many people actually saw your app appear in the search, just how many people tapped on your listing. 

Screenshot: Google Play Developer Console, which will let you see Store Listing Visitors but not impressions of your App Icon. To get a better grip on  visibility in Google Play, you can look at your keyword rankings and ASO tool visibility. 
Screenshot: Google Play Developer Console, which will let you see Store Listing Visitors but not impressions of your App Icon. To get a better grip on  visibility in Google Play, you can look at your keyword rankings and ASO tool visibility.

Pro Tip: Consider impression velocity (impressions / time period), product page view velocity (PPV  / time period) and download velocity (downloads / time period) to measure the impact of visibility optimization in a more forecast-friendly manner. 

Metric: Product Page Views (Apple) or Store Listing Visitors (Google) are the secondary visibility metric after impressions, and another important intermediary (or the only intermediary in Google’s case) to measure between the first view of a user, and acquiring that user’s download.  

  • Product Page Views are defined by Apple as: “The number of times your app’s App Store page has been  viewed on a device using iOS 8 and tvOS 9 or later” 
  • Store Listing Visitors are defined by Google as: “Unique users who visited your app’s store listing on Google  Play, but haven’t installed your app previously.” 

Beyond simply knowing that your optimization produced more visibility, it’s important to determine whether that visibility was a positive change or not. This is easier to gauge in the App Store than on the Play Store. For example,  say that you switch out a relevant but low-volume keyword such as “plumber” with a high-volume keyword such as  “movies” but your Plumber-app has nothing to do with movies. You might get an initial peak in App Impressions via source type App Store Search. While this looks great at first, you will find that just very few of the people that see your app in searches related to Movies, will download or click-through to your app page.  

By looking at how the ratio of Product Page Views / Impressions (Search), you can spot for example in the below example, that the keyword update has lowered that ratio a lot.

Screenshot of iTunes Connect App Analytics Dashboard depicting a decline in TTR after an optimization. 
Screenshot of iTunes Connect App Analytics Dashboard depicting a decline in TTR after an optimization.

While the changes indicate a clear drop in relevancy at May 29, as identified by the TTR (Tap-Through-Rate) metric,  ultimately what matters (KPI) is your organic uplift from the change (Installs).  

ORGANIC UPLIFT 

While visibility is a lead indicator for ASOs to quickly get a grip on their keyword optimization efforts, ultimately what matters is the organic uplift that the keyword optimizations caused. Installs might be the easiest KPI to measure, but  are definitely not the only one: 

KPI: Installs. The classic KPI for measuring the impact of an ASO strategy, Installs are a middle-of-funnel KPI that falls in-between a visitor seeing your app page, and your ranks improving by acquiring more Installs. Yet, not all App Units or even Installations will translate into active users. 

When it comes to measuring organic uplift from inorganic downloads, you can do this one of a couple ways: 

  1.  Manually, by subtracting the known inorganic downloads from all downloads and subtracting the benchmark number of organic downloads. For example, if out of 2,000 downloads on one Thursday there were 500  inorganic downloads, and the moving average of the prior four Thursdays’ organic downloads was 1,000, then the organic uplift would be 500, or 1 new organic download for every 1 inorganic download. 
  2.  Alternatively, several ASO tools offer estimations of organic uplift. 

KPI: Active users. While Installs are the most classic ASO KPI, active users have become de facto ASO KPI, as the store ranking algorithms have become more attuned to engaged users, rather than Installs which turn out to be non-active.  A combination of Installs, unInstalls and user retention rate, active users recently replaced current Installs in the Google  Play Console, and are now the most important metric for measuring the impact of an ASO strategy.

Pro tip: you can determine active users, uninstalls and retention rate at a keyword level by running an app install campaign with exact match keywords for either Apple Search Ads (iOS) or Adwords (though  Google will be replacing keyword search app install campaigns with UAC-only campaigns in November  2017). While an Adwords Android search campaign will show ads to searchers on Google.com, it will also show a percentage of ads to searchers in the Play Store. You can also use this advertising strategy to determine which keywords are producing Installs and other post-install conversions and would make good KWO candidates, as well as figure out which keywords should be added to your app metadata for better relevance and thus ad impression share. 

Beware: when optimizing, recall the ASO tenet of being careful not disturb the placement of high volume, relevant keywords that are earning top 10 ranks. 

Other KPIs useful for measuring the impact of visibility: 

 

  • In-App Purchases and revenue 
  • Ratings and reviews
  •  Retention rate

 

While these metrics are less directly affected by your ASO strategy, they are still important to measure for several reasons: 

These metrics matter more than ever not just for the business model of an app, but also as ranking algorithms factor  for engagement of users, meaning that your strategy will fail if these metrics decline. 

REPORTING  

Once you’ve gathered all the data, it’s time for the final step: draft a report.  

While ASO tools track keywords, using a template customized to your needs for tracking keyword ranks can provide more insight for managing your KWO. The following template image is one example of a keyword rank template, that includes the following data points, which are useful for sorting keywords and comparing performance via snapshot  (i.e. the latest rank) as well as trending view, so that you are able to understand and react to macro as well as micro ranking shifts.

 

  • Count of your keywords earning top 10 ranks. 

 

  •  Average rank of all keywords you’re tracking, per platform. 
  •  Keyword search score, per platform (in-line with each keyword for comparing keywords across both platforms;  but iOS and Android can be separated for a more compact view, or you can use only Apple’s search popularity score for both platforms). 
  •  Rank of each keyword per week, per platform. 
  •  All-time minimum keyword rank with comparison vs the latest week, per platform
  •  Change in keyword rank vs the prior week, per platform. 

keywords
Pro tip: you can increase the utility of this template by adding retention rate, sales or other applicable  KPIs per keyword, based on Apple Search Ads exact match keywords for iOS and Adwords search exact match keywords for iOS/Android. This will allow you to analyze which keywords offer the best opportunity for growth in your KPI based on their trends, rather than just rank alone. 

keyword table aso

When building reports, leverage Apple’s new sources data, and include the metrics/KPIs that are most important to your goals. 

keywords asoWhen building reports, it’s also a good idea to create a summary or dashboard view that condenses the report down into only your KPIs, which can make performance reviews more focused, easier and less confusing for stakeholders.

aso report template

Going Into the Next Cycle

kwo repeatThe practice of putting all of these strategies and tactics into play is an ongoing and iterative activity. Your initial keyword mix is informed by research from the tactics listed in prior chapters. Your analysis is centered around the aforementioned metrics and KPIs. Lastly, your optimizations are based on the trends revealed in your analysis and the marketplace reaction. 

Due to the amount of work involved in managing ASO, you may ask yourself why it needs to be an iterative process,  rather than a one or two-time activity. The following are several reasons that may help explain why continuous  improvement is necessary for ASO: 

  •  Searcher trends – new keywords are popping up every day (e.g. words like “meme” or new apps which people begin searching for), which naturally requires tweaks to your keyword mix to remain relevant. Even without the impact of changes in searcher vocabulary, the relative popularity (think of trends in seasons or big events like elections or the World Cup). 
  •  Related keywords (iOS) and autofill changes – as searcher keyword patterns and what they click on change,  so too will keywords shift in and out of the related keywords field and auto fill keywords, which can cause changes in the priority of keywords in your keyword mix. 
  • Competitor changes – other apps change their own keywords mixes, rise and fall in popularity, and as new competitors enter the rankings, your own performance on keywords will change. This requires adjustments,  such as giving up on keywords that become too competitive or moving in on an opportunity left by an app struggling to maintain downloads or a high rating. 
  • Algorithm updates – occasionally, the ranking algorithms on which KWO are predicated will shift, causing shifts in relevance, ranking strength and even eligibility in general. 
  •  Changes to the App Store and Play Store UX – yet another reason to update your keyword mix may occur as and when the UX of the store apps themselves changes, as they change the way that app discovery occurs. Two major examples of this include the release of iOS 11 and the expansion of the Google Play title to 50 characters. 

The best way to optimize through change agents such as those above is to let the data guide you. By knowing your metrics and KPIs and using regular reports to check on your app’s performance against those data points, you can identify issues or opportunities, and adjust your keyword mix as appropriate. 

When it comes to analyzing and optimizing keyword ranks, it’s also important to not only consider the snapshot data points (e.g. single day’s rank or the current day’s visibility score), but apply a trend-based approach. In KWO and ASO  in general, keywords and apps can experience regular fluctuations in rank on a very wide scale from fleeting to years long. If you base a key decision on one of the more ephemeral fluctuations, you run the risk of using bad data to inform your decision and lose performance because of it. Tips for optimizing by trends include: 

  •  Analyze keyword trends over time and calculate a trailing week, month and 3-month average. These longer data points can help you determine trends that are easy to miss when using snapshot data, and identify which keywords are consistent in either good or bad performance. 
  • Analyze data points using an industry benchmark OR use a prior time period when industry data is not available, by comparing the previous day/week/month/year to the prior week’s day/week/month/year. 
  • Be aware of changes in the search popularity of keywords. ASO tools now show changes in search popularity over time, and can help you ensure that your top keywords have not lost popularity due to changing trends,  auto-fill adjustments or other reasons. For example, searches for “tennis” may peak around big events such as  Wimbledon, but decline between large events. 

And remember that successful ASO requires time devoted to conversion rate optimization in order to yield the best fruit from KWO. 

Other Keyword Tactics: App Bundle Keyword Optimization (App  Store) 

In addition to the presence of a paid apps top chart, another benefit of offering paid apps is that it allows for bundles. App bundles are a great way to improve the amount of real estate that your apps capture across keyword ranks. Yet,  bundles can also be used to manipulate Apple’s keyword ranking algorithm, as covered in the black hat chapter. 

By offering a bundle, your apps are able to rank multiple times for keyword searches that they are already ranking on via each individual app. Apple determines which keywords your bundle is eligible to rank for based on the metadata from each app. This is means that your bundle automatically captures keywords your apps are using, and that you also have a chance to optimize for new keywords using your bundle’s title. 

With bundles, the order of the bundled apps matters for both the icon and screenshots. The icon of a bundle is by default a combination of the first four apps bundled, unless the bundle is given a custom icon. The screenshots of the bundle will include the first screenshot from each of the bundled apps.  

Your bundle is also allowed to have a custom description, which should explain to users the details of the bundled offer and what special value users are receiving.  

Bundles also have their own rating and reviews, yet a bundle’s star rating only shows in the bundle’s product page. 

Apple also shows the price of the apps if purchased individually, meaning that users can easily see whether a bundle is a good deal or not.  

Lastly on the topic, bundles are also a channel to link users to a developer’s total portfolio, making them a great tactic for cross-selling not just the bundled apps, but any app in your portfolio. 

Screenshot: bundle of paid apps in the App Store from developer Surf City 
Screenshot: bundle of paid apps in the App Store from developer Surf City

History of Known Algorithm Updates 

Ranking algorithm updates happen periodically, and when they do, they can cause massive disruptions in ranking for huge swaths of apps, including popular and top-charters like Facebook, Google and Apple’s Best of the App Store 2016  honoree, Prisma. The main purposes of algorithm updates is to: 

  1. Create a better app discovery experience for users. 
  2. Rebalance the order of legitimate apps. 
  3. Prevent spamming and other efforts to game the ranking algorithms (both in the top charts and keyword results). 

Below is a timeline of some of the algorithm updates according to both industry reports and official releases from  Apple and Google. Please note that this is not an all-encompassing history of ranking algorithm updates: 

APP STORE ALGORITHM UPDATES 

February 2012 – Apple acquires Chomp, an App Store discovery platform. Reports surface throughout 2012 of various changes in apps returned for keyword searches.2 

August 2013 – Reports of Apple testing top chart algorithm change to favor ratings and user engagement. 

July 2015 – Reports indicate Apple updates keyword algorithm specifically to crack down on keyword stuffing in app titles. 

November 2015 – Reports of Apple keyword algorithm update to factor partial keyword phrases, contextual keywords  and competitor app names. 

September 2016 – Apple reduces title character limit to 50 characters. Keywords beginning beyond of the 50th  character cease ranking, though keywords spanning 50 characters continue to rank. 

Screenshot of App Annie, depicting Prisma’s loss of ranking from keywords located past the 50th character 
Screenshot of App Annie, depicting Prisma’s loss of ranking from keywords located past the 50th character

January 2017 – Reports of Apple updating its keyword ranking algorithm to change the way apps rank for competitor terms. 

February 2017 – Apple adjusts top grossing algorithm to rebalance paid apps vs subscription-monetized apps. May 2017 – Apple begins proactively ranking apps for more competitor app names. 

June 2017 – Apple begins indexing apps with subtitles set. 

July 2017 – Apple update hits the store causing large keyword fluctuations; hypotheses center on Apple rejiggering its ranking based on an updated understanding of relevance of similar groups of keywords for apps. 

GOOGLE PLAY STORE ALGORITHM UPDATES 

March 2015 – Google begins manually reviewing apps submitted and occasionally rejecting apps with “repetitive,  excessive, or irrelevant keywords.” 

November 2016 – Google Research Blog post explains that keyword ranking algorithm uses machine learning to identify relationships between keywords and provide most relevant app results for keyword searches. While no algorithm updates are reported this month, this provides insight into how Google is constantly iterating on its keyword ranking algorithm. 

December 2016 – Reports of keyword and top chart algorithm update as Google replaces current Installs (app is currently installed) with active Installs (opened app within last 30 days) in Google Play console dashboard data. 

February 2017 – Google Android blog announces significant update to game app ranking algorithm, now considering additional factors beyond download, such as user engagement and star rating. Reports of algorithm update affecting keyword rankings for all apps. 

2017 – Several sources cite Google comments on its algorithm now considering stability of apps as a ranking signal,  punishing apps with excessive crashing, slow rendering or poor battery management.  

Increasing Visibility Through Getting Featured 

“I’ve got a great app. What strategy can I implement to increase the chances of getting my app featured?” 

peter appagent

Linkedin: Peter Fodor, AppAgent

Apart from increasing visibility via keyword searches and top chart placements, you can also naturally increase visibility in the app store by getting featured. 

Having an app promoted by Apple or Google on 1.5 billion devices can generate millions of downloads in just a few days. From an icon in a “Hot this week” section to getting an Editorial Choice promoted with a large banner, being featured is the dream of many developers. 

As touched on in the introduction, tapping into the massive amount of visibility reserved for featured apps is now both more important and also more in the hands of the App Store feature managers in iOS 11 than ever before. 

No matter whether you’re launching a new product or just releasing a major update, you should actively pursue platform representatives to increase your chances. This chapter is a detailed guideline and will give you the tools you need to boost your chances of securing an app feature. 

Basic types of featuring 

  •  Editorial Choice 
  •  Big Banner 
  • Small banner 
  • Hot this week (section in the App Store) or Games we play (Google Play) 
  • New apps/games we love or New and updated games (GP) 
  •  Collections (e.g. Fast-Reaction Games, Mind-bending puzzlers, Stay focused) 
  • Social media posts on Twitter/Facebook 
  •  iOS 11 news: Behind the scenes, Meet the developer, The Daily List, World Premiere, How to, App/Game of the  day 

This chapter covers the tactics and techniques on how I secured featuring for 8 apps and games at my previous studio and recently for AppAgent’s clients. Even though we’ve been promoted in the App Store, Play Store, Mac App Store,  Amazon App Store and even Windows Phone Store, I will focus on the first two which rule mobile app space in terms of downloads and revenue. 

Octagon made it to the editorial collection 2 months after its release. We were confident to hustle Apple with amazing user reviews as it had a 4.8 stars  rating and high engagement metrics. 
Octagon made it to the editorial collection 2 months after its release. We were confident to hustle Apple with amazing user reviews as it had a 4.8 stars rating and high engagement metrics.

The Massive Impact of iOS 11 on Featuring

Before delving into the details surrounding getting featured, let’s discuss more about how iOS 11 has affected featuring. 

Apple’s services business generated $26 billion in sales in 2016 and a Credit Suisse projection sees it growing to $52  billion by 2020. Phil Schiller, the Senior Vice President of Worldwide Marketing at Apple Inc. is the man behind the App  Store and its $1 billion growth in 2016. He leads efforts to keep the revenue on a positive trajectory and to do so, Apple wants to transform the App Store into a place everyone wants to visit daily. 

The reason behind this is obvious: a comScore study in the US from June 2016 shows 49% of users haven’t installed any app in the past 3 months. The same trend is visible across all Tier 1 countries where the interest in apps has reached its peak. AppAnnie claims in a study from Q1 2017 that the average US mobile user opens about 10 apps per day. This is clear proof people are happy with their existing selection of apps on the home screen. 

AN APP DISCOVERY ISSUE 

Besides ever-lasting search issues in the app store, the hyper competition of nearly 2.2 million apps is causing “app sickness.” If you opened the App Store on your iPhone 6 before iOS 11, you instantly became overwhelmed with 14 apps  and dozens of others if you dared to explore the page more. 

The golden rule is that the more choices you have, the less likely you are to pick one and this was something that led  Phil Schiller and his team to completely change, and so the biggest digital store in the world got a “facelift.” After all,  the store re-design is a low hanging fruit compared to the complexity of fixing the app search engine. 

Since early 2009, Apple has had experience with editorial content. The human factor became a greater weight and the iOS 11 revamp simply crowns Apple’s efforts for full control over the apps that users discover in the store. 

Facebook, Twitter, App Store? 

The ambition of creating a daily habit is rather exaggerated as we can’t imagine that the App Store will replace the popular Facebook feed or procrastination on Twitter. Yet the new App Store landing page called “Today” is designed as a news source combining new releases, interviews, guides and other sources. All-in-one scrollable pages and immersive content matches the design of the Apple Music store and fundamentally changes the look & feel of the store compared to a hand-picked news stream. 

Who will win? 

For users, this whittling of choices to download will be quite beneficial. A more immersive presentation of the very best apps, games, new types of content covering most popular products and daily news is easier to digest. 

For most of developers, we dare to say the change is a disaster. The gap between top tier publishers and “the rest of the world” will broaden even more. 4 out of 5 tabs are mostly curated now (editorial content will now show even in the search tan), with the last remaining tab being Updates. In a direct comparison, the iOS 10 landing page gives apps a  bigger chance of being featured, as there are 11 different editor-picked categories an app can be featured. After the iOS 11 update, only a few selected apps remain on the landing page making the battle for visibility even more fierce. 

The trend of Apple gaining control over content distribution (think of Apple Music) is not surprising, but terrible if developers haven’t got good relationships with their reps. Those who do will benefit from the visibility even more than before because the average downloads per featuring slot are for sure going up thanks to fewer spots and more prominent placements. 

3 TIPS ON HOW TO GET FEATURED IN THE POST-IOS 10 ERA 

Today, the only certain thing is change. Developers and marketers simply must learn to adapt. Here are my two cents  on how to increase your chances of getting into the spotlight, specifically in the new App Store:

 1. STRONG POSITIONING 

It’s already been 35 years since Al Ries and Jack Trout published a book called “Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind”.  In essence, you as a company and your product need to stick to a unique and very coherent statement about who you are and what you offer to people. Look at ustwo or State of Play in the indie game dev scene, or Kabam and  Wooga in the big publisher scene. These names automatically trigger a specific “image” in people’s mind; triggers can conjure things like “visual images, hand-made games, big IPs and casual games for women” in peoples’ minds. The same applies to products. 

Having such clear positioning is critical when competing against the mass-market of apps, as editors in Cupertino will focus on publishers and games which have stuck in their minds. Human beings have limited “mind slots” available, so do whatever you must do to be recognizable and consistent both in your production and communication. 

 2. STORYTELLING 

The Today tab in the new App Store becomes more a place for news than a store. My expectation is that being able to tell a story in your pitch and even offer top-notch content such as Behind the Scenes material in the form of a video or a visually appealing How-to-Play guideline could increase your chances for being featured. Basically, we’re going back to the old PR days where the main goal – in the pure form of a PR – is to offer a great story in an attractive package to media which is creating leverage by reaching the desired audience. 

I can imagine that new businesses will evolve around this opportunity and modern creators will bring ideas on how to present the developer and the app through content. If we count on people’s laziness and ubiquitous time pressure,  having one go-to place where such content is published regularly will be a massive help for an editorial team. 

3. NURTURING RELATIONSHIPS 

Having a good relationship with a dev relations manager or a store manager is even more vital in iOS 11 than before. The simple advice here is to treat Apple representatives as your most valuable business partners: with respect and have their welfare in mind. Offer testing of your product in advance, collect feedback (listen and don’t defend), suggest exclusive content, ask for their recommendations on the best use of the new Apple technology… Last but not least,  work hard to convert the best suggestions into reality, and follow up to inform your reps that you took their suggestions to heart. 

Most developers are by nature introverts, but take any opportunity to meet your app store counterparts in person and ask them what YOU can do for them as well as where they see new opportunities. But do be prepared to be rejected or ignored as maybe you don’t have something truly fantastic or they are just busy at the moment. And always deliver the best you can; that’s how you build trust. 

Why is Featuring a Big Deal Even for Rovio 

Hitting the jackpot, winning in a lottery, making it to the big time… That’s how developers speak about getting featured by Apple or Google. By no means is it an exaggeration because getting over 1 million downloads in a single week is a big deal even for companies such as Rovio. With the Finnish giant as an example, the editorial “love” can save Rovio around  $675,000 in acquisition costs in the first week after a launch with an average CPI of $0.82 on iOS and $0.53 on Android  (Source: Chartboost Index covering games, end of April). That’s a big pile of money even for Finns! 

Featuring can save millions of dollars on the user-acquisition and help build the brand. 

The App Store started back in July 2008, followed by the Android Market three months later. The beginnings were about automatic promotions of new releases.  

Industry “veterans” will probably still remember the New Games category where my first game “Power of Logic”  appeared, though it had some serious crash-causing bugs, so I should be considered quite a lucky guy. All of that was back in 2011. 

Sometime in 2015, the approach shifted to more editorial curation and nowadays handpicked content occupies almost all of the promotional slots. The importance of an active approach to platform owners became a must. With 430 new apps a day (stats by Pocketgamer.biz), 99.99% of developers wouldn’t have been as lucky as I was 6 years ago. That’s why you have to make your own way when it comes to luck.  

6 Factors You Need to Have a Chance of Getting Featured 

Luckily, getting featured today isn’t like gambling in a Las Vegas casino. Consider these six factors which affect your  chances of getting featured: 

  1.  Build a great product  
  2.  Achieve strong metrics 
  3.  Use the latest technologies 
  4.  Establish a great app store presence 
  5.  Communicate with store managers 
  6. . Find the right timing

getting featured1) A GREAT PRODUCT. 

Even if you date Tim Cook or Sundar Pichai, their affection won’t secure you featuring with a crappy product. 80% of featuring is the app or game originality and a perfect execution. Everything else in the list above has only a marginal effect. A great app should be comparable with top products in two areas: 

  1. Idea 
  2.  Execution 

I often see a misunderstanding of developers who consider themselves as “indies” in the world of gaming or “local players” among apps. They believe Apple and Google should evaluate their apps differently, with a less strict criteria.  But the fact is no one cares, not even the store managers, nor the customers! People just want to use the greatest apps  and it’s up to the developer to find their own way when creating a top notch app or game when compared with the best. Look at the top of the charts, spend your Thursdays regularly reviewing all of the new featured apps, and create something amazing! 

Here are some examples of what was unique about apps and games that I have helped to secure featuring: 

  • Dead Effect 2: A mobile FPS with console quality graphics and a 22 hour long single player campaign,  which is comparable to AAA desktop games. 

 

  •  Tiny Miners: A top down “runner” combining casual core gameplay with mid-core metagame around  looting, crafting and trading equipment. 
  •  Tradewise: Market news for stock investors with a unique algorithm personalizing the content based on your stock portfolio and the watchlist. 
  • Galaxy Trucker (update release feature): An award winning adaptation of the hit tabletop board game with a rating of 4.8 stars. A massive update included 15 linear connected missions, daily online multiplayer missions and much more. 
Dead Effect 2 on the third slot on Google Play. The game generated over 0.5M downloads in 10 days on Google Play with a big banner in several Tier 1  countries. 
Dead Effect 2 on the third slot on Google Play. The game generated over 0.5M downloads in 10 days on Google Play with a big banner in several Tier 1  countries.

2) STRONG METRICS 

No matter if you’re launching a new product or pushing a major update, you should always provide platform owners with proof of the quality of your app or game. 

In the case of an update you can rely on historical data, accumulated ratings and even reviews or mentions by influencers. If you’re launching a new product, you should do a soft launch first to establish basic KPIs to help build a  case to be featured. 

A soft launch is launching an app or game in selected territories in order to test and optimize the product and the marketing strategy prior to the global launch. As a developer, you should increase your retention rate, paying user conversion rates, average revenue per user and other KPIs. As a marketer, your task is to fine tune the product selling  proposition, store listing and traffic channels to increase the install rate. 

Knowing numbers is all about risk reduction both for you as well as Apple & Google. By providing them key  metrics, you show: 

  1. Performance of the product. 
  2. Your understanding of the mobile business.
  3. Confidence in your creation. 

With a limited number of promotional slots and only a handful of the big banners, store managers want to be sure they’re showcasing the very best apps and games. If you’re aiming high at the Editorial Choice, which is for new apps and games only, having very strong soft launch numbers is an absolute must. 

Pro Tip: Here’s the list of basic metrics I always share when reaching out to Apple and Google: 

 

  • D1, D7, D14 and ideally D30 retention numbers 
  • Average Revenue Per User (ARPU) and Average Revenue Per Daily Active User (ARPDAU) 
  • Average rating and number of ratings (global or market specific if you’re targeting a certain  region) 

 

If you want to learn more about soft launching, check my App Promotion Summit slide deck at http://bit.ly/ APStalkSoftlaunch. 

3) USING THE LATEST TECHNOLOGIES 

Using the latest Apple & Google technologies significantly increases your chances for featuring. Why? Because both  platform owners want to showcase their newest stuff to customers and you as a developer are the middle-man.  

When there’s a new major iOS or Android release or new hardware, many developers feel anxiety that they have to update the code or consider, for example, new screen sizes when designing apps. The fact is, it’s always a huge opportunity to become an early adopter supported by platform owners who love to present hot stuff in the store. Below are some of the technological opportunities. 

APPLE – WWDC 2017 ANNOUNCEMENTS: 

  •  SiriKit: extension that communicates with Siri, even when your app isn’t running. 
  • ARKit: positional tracking and scene understanding so you can create immersive augmented reality apps. 
  •  Drag and Drop: Multi-Touch technology allowing quick and easy way to move text, images, and files from one app to another. 

GOOGLE – GOOGLE I/O 2017 ANNOUNCEMENTS:

  •  Vulkan: new 3D graphics engine in Android 7 Nougat suitable for high-end games. 
  •  Multi-window support: allowing users to run two apps side-by-side or one-above-the-other in split-screen mode. 
  • Enhanced notifications: customisation of messages, using direct reply. 
  • Data Saver: limiting foreground and background data usage if enabled by the user. 

If you use the latest tech and provide information to store managers, they will think of suitable promotional sections in the store which will highly increase your chances. Tradewise, an app in AppAgent’s portfolio, was initially featured in the Finance category in the section “Stocks & Investments”. Three months later, the app appeared on the US home page in the “Enhanced for 3D Touch” section where it remained for 12 weeks. This additional featuring generated  18,000 downloads worth tens of thousands of dollars, all thanks to one tech feature which we intentionally integrated to increase our chances for a promotion. 

Tradewise among some pretty good companies in the collection “Enhanced for 3D Touch” 
Tradewise among some pretty good companies in the collection “Enhanced for 3D Touch”

4) GREAT APP STORE PRESENCE 

Two years ago I met Matt, the 3rd employee of the App Store editorial team. He started in February 2009 and being the youngest, most passionate person about the games, he quickly became responsible for this huge category.  Matt revealed that the editorial team filters out all of the apps with a poor icon or screenshots and those with a misleading name or description with grammar mistakes. Only those which pass the filter mimicking a user’s behavior are observed in more detail, installed and tested. 

What does this mean for you? No matter how great a product you have, the “packaging” must be great too! Don’t try to save money on a hiring professional designer for the icon, preparing top-notch screenshots or spend a bunch of time writing a description. If you’re running low on the budget, skip the app preview video which can waste lots of resources if done right. Besides featuring, think of the importance of the store conversion which is highly affected by the app presentation. 

Part of this is A/B testing assets because once you get featured, the percent of converted users plays a big role (see chapter on Conversion Rate Optimization). When Angry Birds 2 launched, the game got more than 20 million downloads during the first week. A/B tests can be credited for at least 2.5 million downloads. For a game like that it is  a huge cost reduction (Source: Splitmetrics).

For Ocean Blast which was featured in the App Store, Play Store and Amazon App Store, we ran 18 A/B tests of store listing elements to improve the  conversion by 18%. 
For Ocean Blast which was featured in the App Store, Play Store and Amazon App Store, we ran 18 A/B tests of store listing elements to improve the conversion by 18%.

5) COMMUNICATION WITH STORE MANAGERS 

Being proactive in pursuing featuring is the key. Although dev relations managers actively search for new apps and games both online and offline, for example, at conferences, it should be you who starts the communication. Later,  you will learn how to find your point of contact. Therefore, let’s assume at this stage you know ‘someone’ at Apple or  Google. 

My tips for pitching are in the following chapter. Here I will just mention that building a relationship, treating managers with respect and thinking from their perspective is essential. Remember, featuring is about humans today, not algorithms!

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