App Store Optimization, Pt. 1: App Discoverability
Here’s an important fact: There are more than two million apps in both the Google and Apple app stores, with over a thousand new apps submitted every day.
Here’s another fact: More than 65% of app downloads come from organic searches in an app store.
That means that a well-developed app store optimization (ASO) strategy is essential to your app’s overall success, and consider how increasingly crowded the app stores are, it’s no longer enough to merely choose the right keywords.
Most app downloads come through search
Frankly, there are some deeper aspects of ASO that Apple and Google guard carefully — they’re corporate secrets. Just like SEO, in order to avoid scams, these companies don’t reveal the exact algorithms they use to determine where and how an app appears in their stores.
But there are a number of time-tested, proven fundamentals you can start using today that will have a clear and direct positive impact on your rankings and get your app in front of more potential users more efficiently and at a lower cost.
Let’s get into those fundamentals now, beginning with improving your discoverability and then increasing the number of users who download your app once they do find it.
Since app store algorithms assess your title, description and keywords to determine if you’re included in relevant user search results, choose your words carefully. But with millions of apps available in the top app stores, choosing keywords that will move the needle for your business is no easy feat.
Your keyword strategy should neither exist in a vacuum or be static — it must be fluid and continuous, taking into account competitor and cultural changes plus its impact on your app’s ranking, downloads and revenue.
First, make sure your app name is under 50 characters, per new iOS App Store rules aimed at preventing companies from stuffing keywords into their app names. With Google Play, the restriction is 30 characters. A longer name on either platform will not increase your chances of discovery by new users and may even appear less credible, so aim for short and impactful.
Before the 50-character limit:
• Prisma: Art Photo Editor with Free Picture Effects & Cool Image Filters for Instagram Pics and Selfies
• Groupon: Deals, Coupons & Shopping: Discounts on Local Restaurants, Events, Hotels, Yoga & Spas
As you can see in the cases of Prisma and Groupon above, you can still include keywords as part of your name, you just need be highly selective about the keywords you choose.
So how do you choose those strong keywords?
Brainstorm Relevant Keywords
The first step in your app store keyword optimization journey is good old-fashioned, human powered common sense. No one knows your app and your space better than you, so what words come to mind? What are the most common terms customers in your industry use? Get a team together and brainstorm a list of keywords.
As a general rule, aim for specificity over generality — what exact features or value does your app have that sets it apart?
For example, if you’re launching a travel app, it will be hard to break into the top results for “travel.” But if your app has a great feature to help travelers find discounted tickets, you could explore a keyword like “flight deals.”
Research Keywords Based on Search Volume and Difficulty
Don’t rely on guessing and trial and error to determine what terms are less advantageous in terms of top search results. Instead, be sure you’re accurately measuring both keyword search volume - how frequently that term is searched for - and how difficult it is to compete for that search term.
The ideal search term has very high volume and very low difficulty, but that’s rare. Realistically, you’re looking for a term that gives you a good shot with a reasonably high volume.
Just don’t force a keyword that doesn’t really apply to your app, regardless of how enticing it might look from a volume and difficulty standpoint. Ultimately, that just wastes valuable character space on a word that isn't relevant to users who will actually find your app valuable.
Pay Attention to Competitors
Finding the best keywords also means closely tracking and monitoring competitors. By analyzing how a competitor ranks for a specific keyword, or determining which other apps rank for your app’s keyword, you can get a sense of your space’s most common keywords and where there might be a strategic opening.
Don’t Forget Your Description
For Google Play, while using strong keywords in the description field on your page does not affect discoverability as much as using keywords in your app’s name, it can still have an impact on organic search results.
While the App Store doesn’t scan your description for keywords, a good description can still be a deciding factor in convincing someone to download your app once they’ve discovered it. Regardless, every word matters, so don’t take your description lightly.
Leverage User Reviews
One of the best ways to describe your app is to use language from user reviews — their words may resonate better with prospective users than the ones you had in mind. Pay attention to how users reference your app’s features and its benefits.
To return to our previous example, if you notice users consistently talking about how they love finding great deals on flights with you app, that’s a strong indication you should use keywords like “flight deals.” That keyword change will help more people looking for flight deals find your app, and when they do they’ll love the relevant and effective feature, rate it highly and further influence your search positioning.
Having a keyword strategy is, of course, important for ASO, but it may be better to view keywords as just one tool among many. Choosing a different category can also impact your discoverability.
Every app publisher is responsible for choosing how to categorize their own app, and it’s one of the ways you’ll be ranked in the app stores: by category and overall. Your category strategy should take into account where you’ll be most competitive as well as where you can organically attract the most relevant users.
A few questions to ask when considering a category:
- Where does your app naturally fit?
- How will users search for your app?
- How are competitors and similar apps categorizing themselves?
To improve discoverability, some publishers recategorize their apps to move into less-cluttered territory and increase their positioning in the top charts.
In 2016, Twitter chose to re-categorize its app, moving from Social Media to News. Twitter was betting that a higher placement in News would prove more beneficial than fighting for position against giants like Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp and others in the crowded Social Media category, and it worked. Shortly after its move, Twitter became the #1 app in the News category.
On the iOS App Store, you can choose a primary and a secondary category (and three categories for games). The primary is most important — it’s where your app will show up in search results and charts. However, your app will be listed under both categories in the Explore tab.
For Google Play, publishers can only choose one category for their app, so it is even more critical to choose carefully.
There’s a wealth of additional factors that may also play a part in ASO, but if you tackle these fundamentals in the beginning, you’ll be in good shape for launch. Then you can take advantage of more in-depth tools and guidance when you’re ready.
And with that in mind, let's review some key strategies to capture user interest and downloads once they've found your app.
In the next lesson, we'll examine best practices for app store conversion including optimizing your app icon, screenshots, video and more.