This is a guest post by Laurie Galazzo, Inbound Marketing Manager at AppTweak.
Your app is live and available on the App Store. It is unique and looks great. You really believe in your app’s added value and can’t wait for users to discover it…
There’s just one problem: your app is invisible. It is lost in the App Store amongst other apps, which are stealing potential users away from you.
The competition is impressive. Today, there are over 2 million apps in the Apple App Store.
Did you know that the App Store is the first place where people come to download apps? Actually, over 65% of apps are discovered from a search on the App Store directly (this includes brand searches).
Given the amount of available apps and the importance of app discoverability, it is more than ever time to have a strong App Store Optimization (ASO) strategy.
ASO is like SEO but for mobile apps. It is the process of improving an app’s visibility in the app store through the optimization of a set of factors. By making your app more visible and appear at the top of the search results, you will naturally increase the number of your app users.
We will start by looking at the two most important components for an app’s discoverability: app name, and app keywords.
Find below everything you need to know to define your app name and keywords on the Apple App Store effectively (go here for Google Play Store tips).
This post will not only give you the best practices of keywords optimization, it will also illustrate concretely the positive effects of ASO on various apps and brands through data driven case studies.
Make sure to keep in mind that ASO and keywords optimization are not a one shot but rather an ongoing process. Your app keywords should be monitored and updated regularly for positive results.
1. The importance of the iOS app name
The App Store is a crowded marketplace, which makes it difficult for users to find what they’re looking for and challenging for app developers to get their apps discovered.
Image: The Mobile Growth Stack 2017
Keyword research is probably the most crucial part of ASO. The algorithm employed by the Apple App Store uses primarily keywords coming from the app title in order to rank apps for specific search queries.
The algorithm also takes keywords from the iTunes Connect Keyword Field (100 character keyword set) to index apps.
Image: iTunes Connect Keyword Field
Then, other elements (such as installs, conversion rates, reviews & ratings, etc.) are taken into account by the algorithm to make a proper ranking on apps targeting the same app store keywords.
In terms of keywords, the app name has the biggest weight. Your app name is also the first thing your potential users will see after your app icon. You therefore want to make it count!
Keep your app name under 50 characters
Since September 1, 2016, Apple has limited the app name to 50 characters, instead of 255 before.
While it is still technically possible to use over 50 characters, app store keywords past that limit don’t rank anymore, as shown in this study. Even worse, longer app names are now most of the time rejected.
The whole idea behind this limitation is to avoid keyword stuffing and, therefore, improve discoverability and the overall App Store experience. Through its App Store Review Guidelines, Apple clearly illustrates its will to reinforce the quality and the efficiency of its App Store search.
Although relevant keyword stuffing had shown some ranking benefits at some point, more and more apps started to use that technique, which made the competitive edge less impactful.
Plus, some publishers used irrelevant but yet very popular keywords in order to trick the algorithm and get more impressions. These techniques have now been proven to be totally ineffective, given the reinforced guidelines and since conversion rate is today a powerful ranking indicator for the algorithm.
The impact of this new guideline is almost insignificant on popular brands and known apps, as people still search for them by app name.
For less popular apps, one should strike the right balance between branding and relevant keywords.
App Store Keywords from App Titles weighs the most
Although it was already proven that keywords from the app name had more impact on the algorithm than the ones in the keyword field, the reduced amount of keywords allowed in the app title makes them even more impactful.
Gabe from Incipia found from practice that keywords in the title rank 2x better than the keyword field. Plus, there is also a benefit for app store keywords mixed into the title and keywords space, than those found simply in the keyword field alone.
This doubled the overall number of keywords they were ranking for. Plus, the effect of adjusting the title and keywords (the prior title held no keywords, just the brand name) led to an average improvement of 67% for category and caused the app to capture a top country rank where it had never done so before.
Ekaterina Petrakova from Rocket Internet also shared with us some interesting results on the matter. One of the company’s venture saw an increase of 40% in conversion rate simply by moving one keyword from the keyword field to the app title.
The change was made in two different countries: Singapore, where the app saw an increase in ranking for that specific keyword from #165 to #64; and in Indonesia, where the ranking increased from the 10th position to the 1st for that keyword.
In addition, the app saw a drastic boost of ranking in its category, increasing from #149 to #52 in one country and from #65 to #57 in the other.
These examples confirm that app store keywords placed in the app title have more weight than the ones in the keyword field, so make sure to keep this in mind while placing your keywords.
How to build the optimal app name
Your app name should be easy to understand and unique. The point is to communicate your app’s main purpose along with your app’s icon and your first 2 screenshots (displayed in the search results).
Make sure to always benchmark your competitors in order to stand out, or on the opposite to strike back by using the same keywords.
With the reduced amount of characters allowed, you have no choice but to use the strongest and most relevant keywords in your title. We’ll show you below how you can find these keywords.
It’s also very important to avoid using special characters (such as the trademark or copyright symbol for instance) since your app name is used in your iTunes’ webpage URL. If it’s not properly recognized, your app ID will be used instead and this is definitely not a good SEO practice. Read more about that here.
Keyword position in the app name
Some theories claim that keywords placed at the very beginning of the app title have more weight than the ones located at the end. Although there is no real evidence supporting this theory, nothing could disprove it either.
What Gabe fairly points out is that we know that keywords from the first half of the app name are displayed for users and don’t truncate. Those could therefore possibly rank higher as users download those apps more, which could be the reason behind the ranking phenomenon, rather than the character location of the keywords themselves.
In other words, you have nothing much to lose in terms of rankings here by re-positioning your keywords in a descending order of importance in your app name. It’s up to you to make a few tests and see what works best for you.
It has also been seen that using an exact title match for the search keyword produces better rankings (+109% average improvement). Keep that in mind while creating your app title.
2. How the iTunes Connect Keyword Field works
The other most important app indexing keywords component is the iTunes Connect Keyword Field allowing you to include a set of 100 character keywords.
Here again, the given space is quite reduced so you need to make sure to choose your keywords wisely. Don’t repeat any keywords that are already used in your app name or in your publisher name: it’s a waste of space since they will be taken into account only once.
AppTweak provides a handy tool for counting the number of characters in your keyword list. Make to sure to use as many characters as possible and to try reaching 100 characters if possible. AppTweak tool sorts your tracked keywords by length so it makes it easier for you to find one last additional keyword that fits your list perfectly.
Although it is crucial to focus on long tail keywords (read more about this below) rather than single keywords, the algorithm will only rank your app on the exact combination if you have used a space.
However, if you use a comma to separate single terms, the App Store’s algorithm automatically combines all the keywords together in order to create more combined opportunities. It will also rank your app on the single words alone.
Here’s a concrete example. If you want to be indexed on “fitness coach”, don’t include “fitness coach” in your keyword field but rather “fitness,coach”. This will allow you not only to rank on “fitness”, “coach” but also on “fitness coach” and “coach fitness”.
Since you can get about 10-12 keywords in your keyword field, imagine how many combinations you can target. Don’t miss these opportunities: avoid using spaces.
Here again, avoid using trademarks that you don’t own or you will risk most likely being rejected. Also, favor using singular rather than plurals. Apple now seems to be handling singular/plural associations pretty well.
Finally, Apple gives some “free” matches on some specific keywords like the keyword “app” or common misspelling of your brand name. Check out the list of 19 free matching keywords that you don’t need to include in your keywords selection.
3. How to find the right App Store Keywords?
Keywords research is challenging. Luckily, there is a range of App Store Optimization tools that can help you find the right keywords for your keyword list and your app name.
AppTweak is one of the best ones out there. It helps you to audit, optimize and monitor your keywords performance. AppTweak features can help you figure out some of your competitor’s keywords, find new ones and get insights on keywords rankings over time.
To get a complete list of app marketing tools click here.
You can also have a look at what’s happening on the web, using tools like Google Keyword Planner or Google Trends (those can actually help with market research as well). These tools can give you other valuable keyword ideas.
4. What is a Good Keyword?
It’s now time for advice on how to determine the right keywords for your app title and keyword field.
We usually recommend starting from a long list of keywords that would be closely (or less closely) related to the app’s purpose. The aim is to try finding as many keywords as possible and to analyze their performance. This list will then be reduced until creating the ultimate final keywords selection.
One of the biggest mistakes that people new to ASO make is to choose keywords based on how many searches the keyword gets (Search Popularity or Volume).
Although Search Popularity is an important indicator, it should not be the first element to look at.
There are many different keyword selection strategies. Here are the characteristics we recommend that you should prioritize to find the best keywords.
Of course, the first and most important characteristic is keyword relevancy. It is crucial to choose keywords that describe the app’s main purpose and core functionality.
Conversion rate has a big weight in keywords rankings. The algorithm will boost your keyword rankings if your have a good conversion rate. On the other hand, Apple will lower your rankings on keywords for which you’re not converting. In other words, make sure that if a user searches for a specific keyword that you’re targeting, they will be likely to download your app.
It’s also important to try aiming for relevant long tail keywords. Not only will they drive more quality downloads (because they are more specific), they will also be less competitive. You will therefore have more chances to rank high for them.
2. Rankings / Competition
The second element to take into account in keywords research is the keywords rankings, which goes along with the competition indicator.
First of all, aim for high rankings (top 10) for any keyword targeted. Indeed, users are less likely to download an app that is ranking below the first 10 results, as they would not scroll that far.
It is of course always better to aim for keywords with the lowest competition possible in order to maximize your chances of high rankings.
Always monitor your rankings over time. Stick to keywords for which you have high rankings, except if they don’t bring you any traffic (too low Volume). Replace keywords for which you are not ranking at all or not ranking high enough, as they are useless.
Looking at similar apps’ rankings (competitors), you might want to adopt a defensive or an offensive strategy. The defensive strategy is where you target all keywords you are already ranking for in order to maintain top position on these keywords. The offensive way is trying to outrank your competitors’ keywords rankings by targeting the same keywords. We recommend trying to find the right balance between these two strategies.
3. Search Popularity / Volume
Finally, look at the keywords’ popularity to make your final selection. If you’re hesitating between multiple synonyms or similar keywords with about the same relevance and competition, choose the one with the highest volume of searches.
With Apple Search Ads, Apple now provides the exact Search Popularity for English (US) keywords. While most of the ASO tools provide their own Volume estimations, we hope that Apple will offer the exact volume for more languages in the future.
Remember that it is always better to be in the top 10 results for an average-searched keyword than having a low ranking on a highly popular keyword.
In other words, it’s better to rank #5 on “fitness exercise tracker” than ranking #345 on “fitness”. This is why we highly encourage to target long-tail keywords.
Gabe from Incipia has an interesting approach on the matter. He usually starts with high volume terms to see whether he can get a good rank. For the keywords on which the app won’t rank, he would shift gradually to longer-tail until he gets a satisfactory rank. Over time, he would return to the high volume terms as the app’s visibility would grow overall.
Each ASO tool has its own metrics for measuring competition and searches. A good way to find the right balance between the Competition and the Volume of specific keywords (or long-tail keywords) is to look at the Keyword Efficiency Index (KEI) provided by AppTweak, along with the Volume and the Competition indicators separately.
Choosing Keywords according to their ARPU (Average Revenue per Users)
Thomas states that keywords with too high of a Volume in verticals that are too competitive are useless to target.
Thomas shared his secret ingredient with us. He targets keywords with a high ARPU (Average Revenue per Users) rather than looking for high Volume and low Competition keywords.
The ARPU is calculated by the amount of mobile revenue generated in a specific time period divided by the number of users actively engaging with your app in that period.
Thomas uses Google Adwords and Search Ads to get the ARPU per query and targets all keywords with high ARPU, even if their volume is limited.
This is the reason why he chose not to use “fitness” or “nutrition” in his app title. They both have a very high Volume but a low ARPU because the intent is too generic.
Thomas groups multiple keywords by concept (“workout”, “workout app”, “workouts”, “work out” and “work out at home”) and then chose the ones with the highest ARPU.
In this case, “workouts” has a very high ARPU and was therefore targeted for the 8fit app title.
According to Thomas, the Volume must still be taken into account in order to balance the keyword selection final choice, but he thinks that people are too focused on it.
This gives him some edge, especially since he’s able to get a pretty accurate ARPU while most app marketers don’t even think about relying on costs and revenue. And if they do, they do it instinctively or base their acquisition on the ROI.
Thomas claims that this comes from the fact that the average app marketer doesn’t have enough data nor the tools required to link revenue and keywords.
Relying on ARPU for your keywords selection could therefore be an interesting lead for you, feel free to let us know your thoughts in the comments below!
Keyword Ranking Optimization using “Search Boost” Campaign
Steve Young from App Masters also believes that higher rankings on less popular keywords are more useful than lower rankings on popular keywords.
Here’s an interesting case he shared with us. By doing keyword optimization, Steve was actually doubling impressions for one of his clients but could not manage to increase downloads. He had increased rankings from #11 to #6 on popular keywords but this was not moving the needle.
At that point, Steve thought that bringing the app to the Top 3 search results for the specific keywords would probably increase its downloads.
For this matter, he ran a new strategy called a “Search Boost” campaign. A pool of users would search for a keyword and download the app in question. Since the algorithm gives a lot of importance on relevancy and conversion, it will give a natural boost to the app for that keyword ranking.
By doing so, Steve actually got his client to be #1 for the keyword that they wanted to rank for. Using that same technique, Steve boosted another client’s rankings from #166 to #2 for about 5-6 days on a specific keyword.
However, this technique is considered as a Black Hat ASO technique, which we don’t recommend to use on the App Store, as you risk having your app rejected from the App Store. On the other hand, asking your own community (friends, family, colleagues) to download your app on a specific keyword could give your app a nice little boost in the keywords rankings. As long as it’s a reasonable amount of users, it should not alarm the algorithm.
Increase your Keywords Space with Localization
As we’ve seen, both the app title and keyword field are quite limited in terms of characters. It is therefore a real challenge to select the right keywords.
A great trick to increase your number of available keywords in the App Store is to use localization. Apple allows you to submit keywords in various languages per country (in addition to English) in order to make a proper localization strategy.
Localization is actually a great way to drive more downloads. Let’s take the example of for-sale.co.uk, a website allowing people to buy and sell second-hand goods.
After a soft launch of their app in France, the company’s founders noticed some major interest in the U.K. Based on this, they decided to build an effective localization strategy in order to take advantage of this opportunity and leverage their potential in the U.K.
The numbers speak for themselves: the app saw a 33 percent increase in app installs, a 16 percent increase in the number of sessions and a 14 percent increase in active devices.
Apple’s localization additional Keyword Fields can also be used in another way.
Moritz Daan from Phiture made a study and found a few interesting facts on the matter. In the United States, you will rank for Spanish (Mexico) and English (United States). The two fields however don’t combine but if your app isn’t localized for the Spanish speaking market, you can use the available space to store extra English keywords.
For other countries (except Canada), apps rank for keywords in English (United Kingdom) and English (Australia) in addition to their applicable localization. Here, keywords are combined across the different keyword fields.
For instance, if you’re targeting “Hotel” in your French keyword set and “booking” in your English (U.K.) keywords, you will rank for “Hotel booking”.
Another interesting fact is that all apps rank for English (Australia), which is probably a mistake in the algorithm. On November 24th 2016, Thomas from 8fit added the keyword “fitness” in his Australian app title.
As you can see on the graph below, there is a huge increase in rankings on this date for this keyword. Plus, we notice a long-term positive evolution, which probably translates into a great conversion rate on this keyword.
5. Keywords Update and Monitoring
Once you’ve made a new release with your new app title and keywords set, you’ll need to carefully monitor the effect of your new keywords on your app’s rankings and performance.
It does take about 2 weeks for the algorithm to index all your keywords properly. Also, Apple gives a 7-day boost to all new apps or new releases so don’t take the first keywords rankings increase for granted as they can fade over time.
The app’s freshness is a determinant factor in the App Store – from both a marketing and an algorithmic view. It is recommended to make an ASO release every 4 – 6 weeks. Of course, use these updates to improve your app at the same time by adding new features or by fixing bugs.
Additionally, reviews and ratings are reset after each update. And, according to Gabe, the number of current ratings seems to be 7 times more important than the number of all-time ratings the app has. Make sure to get back to 25+ ratings and 5-10 reviews as soon as possible after releasing an update.
Here again, ASO tools like AppTweak can provide you with powerful monitoring features that will save you a lot of time.
Keyword optimization is not a one-time thing. It’s an ongoing process that you need to continually test and optimize.
ASO can bring great results but it needs to be carefully handled. Try keywords for a few weeks and analyze the effects they have on your downloads and new users.
Remember that the App Store is very dynamic and constantly changing so you need to keep up and adapt your strategy according to the new trends.
Keep experimenting and you will continue to stay relevant in organic search.
About the Author
Laurie is Inbound Marketing Manager at AppTweak. Passionate about new technologies and apps, she loves finding new ideas to spread valuable content on App Store Optimization and App Marketing. She’s in charge of the company’s blog, crafting articles helping users to increase their app downloads and rankings. She’s also at the head of the ASO University, teaching App Store Optimization basics through video tutorials, all available for free on the AppTweak blog.
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