If you don’t want to be left out, you have to adapt. Everyone is talking about the iPhone 5 and iOS 6 these days, and it’s definitely impacting app developers and marketers. Making your app look great on the brand new iPhone 5 can take various time depending on what it is and how it’s coded and it’s something you won’t be able to postpone too much. What is less talked about, at least in a thorough way, is how much the changes brought to iOS 6 affect App Store Optimization and what developers need to act on not to be left out.
There are more changes to the App Store in iOS 6 than meets the eyes. You definitely need to adapt so your app page is still optimized on the new store (see below), but the recent changes to the App Store search algorithm (attributed mostly to Chomp’s acquisition by Apple) have also been affecting developers. It first started in the US and since August 27th also Australia, the UK, Canada, Germany, France, Brasil and Italy. It’s probably safe to say that it’s going to end up affecting everyone.
Note: I you haven’t already, check out our App Developer’s App Store Optimization Cheat Sheet (we’ve just updated it with the latest info we have, as well as our other articles on App Store Optimization).
Because the post is awfully long, here is how we broke it down and direct access to these parts:
1. The New App Store
We’re big believers in video to understand an app, so let’s take a look at these changes.
A Coherent (New) Look Across Devices
Users will get a similar experience on iPhone, iPad and desktop App Stores. That, to us, can only be a good thing. Even if the discovery experience is better on the iPad, it’s great to see that there is coherence across platforms.
That new look (somewhat close to Amazon’s in certain aspect, and definitely close to Chomp too), amongst other things, gets rid of the list style for the Featured tab: apps do not appear in a list anymore, and users horizontally move the row of icons.
Search results display “Cards” for each apps, and that probalby means users will look at less apps when doing a search (it takes more time, and you have to wait for the cards to load – which can take a while even with Wifi), making it even more important to rank well.
No More Categories in Menu
That’s a pretty strong move, and gives a good idea of where Apple is heading. The categories haven’t disappeared though, they can be accessed from the top bar on the Featured and Top Charts screens.
According to Nielsen, 63% of users use search on the App Store and Android Market (for the Google Play Store, this is different from Flurry’s numbers) and with this change we can probably expect that number to go higher: even if users still take a look at the Featured and Top Charts tab, when they’re looking for something particular they will probably turn to the Search tab (when before they were encouraged to browse categories).
Some thoughts from Niren Hiro, CEO of SearchMan, on how developers (with apps ranks > #50 in a category) can measure the drop of discoverability after the hiding of “Categories”:
“Developers could try and measure loss of discoverability by simply looking at download & user rating velocity before & after iOS6, along with any search ranking change patterns they see, to ascertain the impact of “Categories” being hidden. [..] In general, this change in iOS6 is also HUGE, because so much of the mobile ad industry is focused on improving category rankings, that this change could disrupt both developers & mobile ad companies alike.”
Users are gonna have to trust Apple for their app discovery. It’s hard not to notice that Genius button in the middle of the menu! The question is: how does it work, and will it help your app to be discovered or not? Chances are, app developers will have very little control over this (will the algorithm use the keywords?).
An Apple engineer gave some insight on how Genius works for music, back in 2010 (answer got deleted from Quora, but GigaOM wrote about this – with links to more in-depth articles). We can expect something similar for Apps, hopefully with relevant results (like Neftlix?). The ‘Not Interested’ button should help on the long term.
Ratings Disappeared From Charts and Featured tab
Users won’t see the app ratings in “New” and “What’s Hot”, and they won’t see them in the Charts and within categories (on iPhone). It might be a good thing for new apps with few ratings, but it might not give as much as an advantage to apps with really good ratings. I don’t like it. In all cases, you have to do your best to improve your app ratings (see below).
Search Results with “Cards-like” Display
You’d better get your app screenshots right. And in particular the first screenshot, as it is the one displayed in search results along with your icon, app name and ratings. Don’t put your splash screen: put the more relevant screenshot (or a combination of screenshots) and don’t hesitate to add some explanations on it: users have to understand what your app does by looking at it. We’ve said it before, you also want your app icon to be coherent with your app design (and therefore screenshots).
That “Cards-like” display in search results means, as we said above, that users probably won’t look at as many apps as when it was a list display because many more swipes are needed and loading time could be an obstacle.
Here’s another thing Niren noticed:
“…in the dev version of iOS6 search, it seems that only the best rated apps (closer to 5 stars) appear up top. When this rolls out to consumers, the weaker apps will probably die a faster death than they would have under the iOS5 search paradigm.”
Redesigned Updates Screen
The new updates screen lets users directly see what’s new in the updates on iPad (and with a tap on iPhone). Even if it was already a good idea to make that update section user friendly (not just writing “bug fixing/improvement”) and it is now even more important. It’s additional space to promote your app and shows you’re constantly improving it.
Smart App Banners
Developers and companies can add a metatag to their website so users viewing it on their iOS device get notified that an app is available. A smart thing to add on your app website or landing page! Here is a blog post explaining you how to implement it.
Other App Store Modifications
A couple of other improvements/changes:
- App Store stays open when installing an app: users can keep browsing and downloading other apps
- A “New” banner is places on unopened apps icons
2. The New App Details Page
- Screenshots Above Description
Before, users had to scroll down your whole description before being able to take a look at your screenshots. Now they are the first thing to appear in the “Details” tab right under your icon, app name and ratings. Another good reason to put your best screenshot forward and choosing/making one that best represents your app. Users can now also look at your screenshots full size, getting a better feel of what your app is all about. Use it to your advantage by having a logical order and really show your app’s main features.
- Description with Preview
The first few lines of your app description can be found under the screenshots. That’s why you need to really think about your app pitch and get these lines right. Users can read your full description by tapping the “More” button. It doesn’t mean you don’t have to write a great description, but I do believe users will read them even less now. Although they will have taken a look at your screenshots already, so who knows.
- What’s New and Updates History
Just below the description is the What’s New section. It has almost the same importance as your app description now (AND there is a redesigned “Updates” tab in the App Store which makes it easier to see what’s new before updating), so write a good one: one that shows you’re making improvements to your app and convinces users to update/download it.
At the far bottom of the Details page, users can access the updates history where all the “what’s new” sections you’ve filled with each update will appear. Do I have to say again that you might want to think about that field for your next update?
Reviews are no longer hidden at the bottom, that’s good news. And there are other improvements:
- Users can Like your App Page on Facebook
Users that are signed in on Facebook can see who of their friends (and most likely how many people) “like” your app, and that can only help spread the word.
You might want to have your existing users and facebook community liking that page. If you don’t use Facebook much and don’t have a Fan page for your app, you still can add the Like button on your landing page or app website (and/or start using Facebook to promote your app).
The introduction of that FB Like button might also mean that social network aspects (Likes and the use of Open Graph?) will be taken into account in the search algorithm.
- Review Recap by Ratings
Remember when that annoying occasional bad review was the first thing users were seeing? Well, now there is a “recap” that shows the proportion of users per rating (1-5 stars). The bad review will still be there, but users will know it’s one amongst many other good ones before reading it.
- App Support Button
Users now have and “App Support” button, next to the “Write a review” one. The app store reviews might be getting more fair to developers! That’s great news: unhappy users are encouraged to contact you directly instead of complaining straight away (sometimes with good reasons). This button brings the user to the website you specified for support, so make sure you do have one and that they won’t be lost when getting there.
You can then listen to them, and fix (or not) their problem.
Other Modifications to the App Details Page
- Developer’s page: at the bottom of the details page, users can find a button to a developer’s page: if they like one of your apps, it will give additional exposures to the other ones you developed.
- Sharing options: hopefully, the sharing button at the top right corner will be used and help your app being discovered.
- Related tab: users can see “More from you” and “Customers also bought” results. That might not help your download count much, but it’s a nice feature and hopefuly will give relevant results.
3. App Store Search Algorithm Changes
Like said at the beginning of the post (but you might have forgotten by now), there are more changes than what meets the eye. And those changes are related to the App Store search algorithm (the “Chomp” update). Let’s take a look at what the experts are saying.
- No bonus from whole phrases: don’t come up with multiple words keywords (“long tail”), just use the keywords directly.
- Plural forms are handled better: using single forms will give you similar results when users search for the plural form. Ex: use “tour” instead of “tours”.
- Category name is automatically used as a keyword, so no need to repeat it. Ex: don’t use “Travel” as a keyword for your tourism app (nor “game”,”center” or “free” when you’re using game center or have a free app).
- App keywords matter (almost?) as much as the app name. Might be better to have an app name that reads well (still with keywords though).
- In-app purchase names don’t help much
- Phrase mixes between in-app purchase and app name don’t work. Looks like phrases between developer’s name and app name still do.
SearchMan SEO Analysis
While SearchMan has somewhat a similar analysis (even if they don’t seem to agree on the “app name keywords matter as much as keywords” thing), I was really intrigued to see that they considered “External Review Sites” as having a Super high SEO impact.
Now, if Google hadn’t said the same thing about the Google Play Store back in June I might not have really bought it. I’ve reached out to Niren Hiro, SearchMan’s CEO, to get more details on that point. Here is (part of) his answer:
“Regarding Chomp, the underlying premise is that the directory structure, iTunes keywords, app names, and descriptions are either insufficient signals or inaccurate, and hence review sites (who care a lot about delivering accuracy to their readers), would serve as a good additional signal for whats relevant.”
And this is not coming from nowhere. It’s been said before about Chomp that it gathers information from blogs, social networking sites and other app stores to generate relevant results. Additionnally, on Chomp’s team was David Blei, PhD and expert on Topic Modeling. Now I don’t want to get too technical here, but I’ve went through the links Niren gave me and that topic modeling thing could be, if implemented in the new App Store Search Algorithm, a game changer.
SearchMan recently shared data with TechCrunch, revealing significant changes in search rankings for many apps.
As an app developer you should make sure you do your best to get press/blog coverage and implement the Smart App Banner thing in case that’s an element taken by Apple in its new algorithm (and because it can bring you new downloads…).
If it’s harder to be found through categories and through search (in case you don’t have many reviews), then having rich content on your app website could be a way of getting more people to download your app through Google SEO and maybe compensate.
MobileDevHQ Talk About the New App Store
Because we like to be fair, here is a video from MobileDevHQ dealing with how the new app store affects developers. Worth a watch.
That’s a lot of changes and impacts to consider (like if you didn’t have enough work with the development part, I know), for what could be the most important change in iOS apps discovery since the store creation. Good luck, and stay tuned for updates.
If you believe we forgot to cover anything or have interesting thoughts about the impacts of iOS 6, please leave us a comment.