This article about App Store Optimization (also known as ASO or App Store SEO) will teach you everything you need to know about rules, tools and techniques that will help you succeed in 2015’s mobile app industry.
I’ve been asked the same question by many indie developers over and over again:
How do I master ASO?
Many of you noticed that there are various articles on Apple’s Search Engine Optimization but most of them are just some vague pieces of content with general advices and no real value whatsoever.
So… let’s change that.
Why You Should Be Doing App Store Optimization?
First, an average Cost per Install (CPI) for apps on iOS platform at the end of 2014 was between $1-$2, depending on country, traffic source or targeting and is still rising in 2015.
Below you can see a Fiksu CPI Index chart – an average price for acquired mobile user in October 2014 was $1,50. However, keep in mind that this is a worldwide average and marketing costs in competitive markets as USA, UK or Germany are much higher.
For games it’s even higher – according to Chartboost Insights current CPIs are up to $3.0 in tier1 countries. Majority of developers are not able to put such money into ad campaigns.
Second, App Store search is the most viable traffic source you can imagine. Research firm Forrester says that 63% of all new mobile app installs originate from search results, followed by word of mouth.
People are searching App Store with various patterns and one really needs to understand their behaviour to succeed.
Should I Be Outsourcing ASO?
Quick answer is no. Most companies out there offer one-time service which includes analysis of your app, suggestions for keywords change and few more things. But that’s basically all.
App Store SEO is a long-term and continuous process. You need to change, track and evaluate things constantly.
My advice for an indie developer would be to spend the money for a tool or professional App Store Optimization course. In a long run, it’s much better value than some consulting company and it will definitely pay itself off. I’ll talk about ASO tools later.
What Are The Key Factors In App Store SEO?
If you have ever worked with a web search optimization you may heard about terms on page SEO and off page SEO, each of them having a unique role in the web search algorithm.
Basically, on page factors are variables that you are able to control and improve by yourself – such as headlines or keywords.
On the other hand, off page factors are something you have no full control over – for example external links pointing to your site or your page rank in eyes of Google.
In App Store enviroment, there are similar factors that help you rank higher in search results. You can directly control your app name, app keywords and developer name and they have direct impact on your search rankings for a particular search phrase – we can compare them to on page factors.
App Store search algorithm also takes into consideration user ratings, reviews and number of downloads for a particular app. You are able to somehow influence these things but at the end of the day they are out of your jurisdiction. They are like off page factors.
The Role Of The App Name In ASO
App name is your brand. Good and catchy app title is able to help you spread the word of mouth but at the same time it should be as descriptive as possible. Your app name in iTunes Connect can be up to 255 characters long but remember that on iPhone, user will only see up to 35 characters.
Guys from MobileDevHQ says that apps with keywords in their tittle ranks on average 10% higher than apps without keywords in their title.
That could be a really huge boost particularly if you are just behind your competition and both of you have no keywords in app title. However, you should hurry up. Almost 50% of apps now contain some sort of keyword in their title.
Concerned about your brand? Don’t be. Look at apps like Gmail – email from Google, Spotify Music or Game of War – Fire age. They all use this pattern.
All of them use their main keywords in app title without any hurt to their brand. In fact, I would say those keywords are actually helping them to look more relevant in the eyes of a potential customer.
You want to avoid using special characters and symbols in your app title because it will be used on many places that do not support such characters, for example your app’s URL address.
Last but not least, if your app has a specific geo functionality, do not hesitate to localize the name itself.
Below you can see the guys from Sygic navigation doing even more advanced strategy and publishing multiple apps, titles and icons focused on different geo markets.
Another popular strategy is to combine the core functionality of the app with another word that describes what the app does – for example TweetDeck or Photo Editor.[sc:insubscribe ]
And please, don’t try to game the App Store. There are actually people “stealing” names from other popular apps which at the end of the day leads only to confused customers and possible removal of the app by Apple because of a copyright infringement.
Understanding Keywords In The App Store Optimization
It’s pretty obvious – if you want to find the right audience for your app you need to know what people are looking for. You literally need to get in their heads and understand how do they search the App Store in your particular niche. A working keyword strategy is always based on data and tests.
Apple App Store considers as keyword not only any word from your keyword list, but also the app title (as I mentioned above) and the developer name. Basically each word in your app title and dev name counts as an unique keyword.
Be aware that the content of a description field does not count into keywords so just focus on convincing the reader here and forget about the search algorithm.
Apple limits the keywords field up to 100 characters so you need to be as exact as possible. Separate your keywords by commas but do not use spaces – you should use “keyword1,keyword2” instead of “keyword1, keyword2”.
I highly recommend to use single words instead of phrases since Apple’s search algorithm can combine various keywords into one search query. For example, it’s much better to use “weather,radar” than “weather radar”.
Apple also struggle with a plural recognition therefore if you have any space left I suggest you to include plural forms of the most important keywords. In addition, don’t forget to add usual misspellings as “adress” or “tower,defence”.
AppsFire made a great list of over-used keywords such as HD, Lite or Free. Personally, I would recommend you to avoid these keywords since the competition is really high. Remember, you don’t need to include “free” as a keyword if your app is free.
Keep in mind that category names and in-app purchase titles are not considered as keywords anymore. Only use your category as a keyword if there is a small competition or your app is really popular within such category.
Some of your keywords can be removed by Apple team so always be sure to double-check your keyword list and search results after the approval process. Do not use offensive words or trademarked names.
How To Brainstorm Keyword Ideas For Your Mobile App?
There are various ways to play around with keywords and understand how people behave in their searches. The core basic is to find the most popular search phrases relevant to your niche and then test particular keywords to see what’s performing best.
Basically, there are two steps in the process of finding the perfect keyword set for your mobile app.
First, you need understand a human search behaviour – what is an average person looking for? How do he or she works with keywords?
Second, you can spy on your competition to see what keywords are bringing a relevant traffic for them and take an advantage from that knowledge.
My two personal favourite tools for understanding a human behaviour on the internet are both from Google and are completely free. They have nothing to do with the App Store itself, however they are still capable of providing the most valuable marketing information in terms of search behaviour. Google is processing billions of search queries every day and believe me, people are acting very similar on different platforms.
Google Keyword Planner
First of them is the Google Keyword Planner. Its main functionality is to provide information for Google AdWords users. In the last update they removed an option to filter mobile traffic sources, however it’s still viable for basic research purposes. In addition, Google said they will be adding device search filter soon.
For example, below you can see a very simple search estimate for the phrase “ios weather app” with suggested relevant keywords and their search volume in the US.
Just play around with it for a while and you will soon understand how beneficial can Google Keyword Planner be for your app business.
Second tool is called Google Trends and it’s made for tracking changes in search volumes for particular keywords all over the world. It will say you what’s hot and trending in every niche you could possible imagine. You can even filter your results based on different countries which is incredibly helpful if you are building an app for a very specific region.
Below you can see a search trend for the phrase ” weather app”. For example, South Africa looks very interesting since you can clearly see that people over there are much more curious about the weather than folks in Europe.
Whether you want to catch a next big trend or just to decide in which part of the world you should soft-launch your app, Google Trends is the right tool for you.
App Store Tracking Tools
After you did some initial research on the general search behaviour it’s time to step further and spy on your competitors a bit, test various keywords and finally track your ranking progress. There are some high quality tools for this.
My personal favourites are MobileDevHQ, SensorTower and SearchMan. They are very similar in some aspects and yet provide a different core functionality.
Below you can see a screenshot from MobileDevHQ with detailed keyword analysis of the game Top Eleven.
MobileDevHQ offers also a very neat tool called Sonar which tells you if there were any big changes in search rankings recently. If your app suddenly dropped in the ranking there could be a change in the App Store search algorithm which caused it. Learn more about Sonar here.
SensorTower offers spectacular dashboards for tracking your rankings, keywords or reviews. Definitely worth trying.
Ratings And Downloads In The App Store Optimization
MobileDevHQ ran another test to examine the influence of app ratings in the ASO. The results are clear – higher rating means higher ranking in search results especially when we are talking about high volume and competitive keywords – see the chart by Apptentive below.
Very similar results come out when we consider the number of downloads and ranking position. Apps that are being downloaded more often are ranking much higher.
However, there is some kind of freshness period for each app on the App Store. An outdated app with a huge amount of initial downloads can be easily outranked by newer one with smaller traction.
If you are a small fish be sure to aim for category rankings. Relevant niche categories can bring you high quality traffic and you won’t waste your precious time by trying to rank in overall charts.
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