This is a guest post on ASO by Laurie Galazzo, CMO at AppTweak ASO Tool.
UPDATE: July 8, 2021
Your app is live and available on the Apple App Store. It is unique and looks great. One problem: your app is invisible in the search results, lost amongst other apps stealing away potential users from you.
Today, the competition is more impressive than ever before. There are about 2 million apps in the App Store. We can fairly say that there exists “an app for everything and everyone”.
If the total number of apps in the App Store has declined over the past couple of years (due to new requirements and OS compatibility standards), the quality of apps in the store has gone up drastically, which makes it even harder to stand out.
Yet, if your app offers something new and disruptive or solves a problem in a clear and meaningful way, you’re probably on the right path to success.
What matters now is to build a strong app marketing strategy and put together relevant promotional initiatives.
Did you know that the App Store remains the first place where people come to download apps? Actually, about 70% of app store visitors use search to find new apps and over 65% of apps are downloaded directly after a search in the store (this includes brand search).
If you’re reading this post, you probably have heard about App Store Optimization (ASO) and the benefits of keyword optimization.
ASO is like SEO but for mobile apps. It is the process of improving an app’s visibility in the app stores through the optimization of a set of various factors influencing the store ranking algorithm.
Given the high level of competition and the importance of app discoverability, ASO should have a prominent focus in your mobile growth stack, as part of your acquisition and conversion tools.
By making your app more visible and appear at the top of the search results (top 10 at least), you will naturally increase the number of your app users and grow your users base in a cost-effective way.
We will start by looking at the three most important components for an app’s discoverability in the Apple App Store: app name, app subtitle and app keywords.
Keep reading to discover everything you need to know in order to create your app name and select your keywords in the 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 the positive effects of ASO on various apps and brands through data–driven case studies.
Keep in mind that ASO and keyword optimization are not a one-shot but rather an ongoing process. Your app keywords should be monitored and iterated regularly for the best results.
1. The importance of choosing the right 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.
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 and subtitle in order to rank apps for specific search queries.
The algorithm also takes keywords from the App Store Connect Keyword Field (100-character keyword set) to index apps.
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!
2. Keep your app name under 30 characters
In September 1, 2016, Apple had limited the app name to 50 characters, instead of 255 before. With the introduction of iOS 11 a year later, Apple reduced the app name length to 30 characters. The same limit applies for iOS 12.
While it was still technically possible to use over 30 characters a year ago, the limit is today strict and fixed.
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 in the past, 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. Yet, we found out that most top 10 apps use generic keywords in addition to their brand names in their app title.
For less popular apps, one should strike the right balance between branding and relevant keywords which can create long tail keywords and niche combinations.
3. App Store Keywords from App Title weigh 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.
4. 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 3 screenshots or your app preview (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 small number of characters allowed, it is important to pick 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.
5. 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 from Incipia 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 repositioning 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.
6. Write a perfect app subtitle
In September 2017, Apple had announced a series of changes in the Apple App Store. A few of these changes have impacted ASO drastically, forcing app developers and marketers to rethink their app’s metadata strategy.
One of the most significant changes was the reduction of the app name length to 30 characters, along with the introduction of the app subtitle.
Indeed, Apple allows app developers and marketers to use an additional short phrase under their app name which can be seen as a complement of the app name in terms of marketing message but also in terms of keywords.
Since the app subtitle is 30 characters, this makes a total of 60 customizable characters (instead of 50 with the previous app name on its own). App developers have therefore a little more space since that update (still the case for iOS 12).
The best way to optimize your app subtitle is to use very strong and descriptive keywords that will match relevant search queries. Don’t repeat keywords already used in your app name or app keyword field, as they will only be taken into account once.
Note: Apple also allows to add a Promotional Text, which is a 170 characters text field appearing at the top of the app description. Its main purpose is to let users know about the latest app news and features. This text is not indexed by the algorithm but it is still interesting to use relevant keywords for SEO purposes. Read more in this article.
7. How to optimize your App Store keyword field – Best Practices
The other very important app indexing keywords component is the App Store Connect Keyword Field allowing you to include a set of 100-character keywords.
The given space is quite reduced so you need to make sure to choose your keywords wisely. Here again, don’t repeat any keywords that are already used in your app name, in your subtitle 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 counting the number of characters in your keyword list. Make sure to use as many characters as possible and try reaching 100 characters if possible. AppTweak tool sorts your tracked keywords by length so it makes it easier 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” (no space before/after the comma). 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, do not use trademarks that you don’t own or you will risk being rejected. Also, favor using singular rather than plural. 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.
8. How to choose the right keywords for your app title, subtitle and keyword field
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, your app name and your app subtitle.
AppTweak is one of the best ones out there. Driven by Data Science, AppTweak ASO tool helps you 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. These tools can give you other valuable keyword ideas (those can actually help with market research as well).
What is a good keyword?
It’s now time for advice on how to determine the right keywords for your app title, subtitle and keyword field.
We usually recommend starting from a long list of about 200 keywords — the semantic dictionary — 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 only (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.
1. Keyword Relevancy
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 strong 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. Keyword Difficulty / Chance
The second element to take into account in keyword research is the keyword difficulty (competition), which goes along with keyword rankings.
The golden rule in ASO is indeed to 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.
We’ve actually seen that the top 3 search results grab over 75% of the total organic downloads on a branded search and nearly 50% for searches using generic terms.
Plus, with the stories and the ads that now appear in the search results, organic results are getting a little less room so it is even more important to aim for the highest rankings possible. You can use AppTweak’s Real Phone Experience to check how many scrolls users have to make to find apps.
Of course, it is always better to target keywords with the lowest competition possible in order to maximize your chances of high rankings.
It is important to always monitor your keyword rankings over time, as they can change pretty quickly. 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 (they are useless as they won’t bring you any downloads).
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.
The “Chance” indicator
AppTweak provides a handy indicator called “Chance” (number between 1-100) which tells how likely your app will rank in the top 10 for a given keyword.
The Chance score is based on your app power (overall ranking strength based on the total number of downloads) and the keyword’s competition (based on the top 10 app powers in the results and keyword volatility).
Additionally, AppTweak Live Search History allows you to check how the Top 10 for any keyword changes over time.
3. Keyword Volume (Search Popularity)
Last but not least, look at keyword 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 term with the highest volume of searches.
With Apple Search Ads, Apple now provides the exact Search Popularity for keywords in 59 countries. When choosing an ASO tool, make sure that the Search Popularity provided comes from Apple and that it is updated daily.
On top of Apple’s daily Search Popularity, AppTweak provides a powerful estimate of the total number of organic downloads a given keyword drives to an app on a monthly basis (read more on our Monthly Installs per keyword). This can help you gauge the potential of a keyword in a concrete and measurable way.
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. Make sure to check their exact sources and methodology, as those KPIs are crucial for your success.
A good way to find the right balance between the Chance and the Volume of specific keywords (or long tail keywords) is to look at the Keyword Efficiency Index (KEI) provided by AppTweak. High KEIs highlight keywords with both high chance and high volume.
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 chooses 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!
5. Additional keyword research sources
As mentioned, keyword research can be quite challenging. However, there are many tricks and sources of suggestions you can use for help.
We will see how seasonality should affect your ASO, how Search Ads can be a great source of keywords and how Apple’s stories can help you better understand the algorithm and find new keywords.
Consumer needs constantly evolve according to trends, timing, countries, traditions, celebrations or local events. A key element that is often overlooked by app marketers is the influence of seasonality on searches behaviors.
It is however important to evaluate your users habits and behaviors over the course of the year in order to adapt your app marketing and ASO strategy. By doing so, you will unlock powerful opportunities which could increase your reach and total downloads in the store.
You can easily identify specific search trends according to seasonality using Google Trends, Apple’s Search Popularity History or by looking at your own data.
During one of our ASO Breakfasts in Paris, Simon from Deezer shared with us some key takeaways on the implementation of seasonality in their mobile growth strategy.
First, they have observed that the number of Deezer’s downloads increases during the weekend, as users have more time to listen to music. They therefore increase their marketing efforts on the weekends to maximize growth.
Simon also highlights the efficiency of combining seasonal marketing initiatives with ASO. As an example, Deezer partnered with Tinder on Valentine’s Day in 2017 to promote music streaming. Deezer’s storefront creatives were aligned to contribute to ad recall and to match their marketing efforts on V-day.
Last December, Deezer ran a seasonal campaign along with French artists to create a playlist including the most famous Christmas songs.
They pushed the marketing campaign through TV and Cinema commercials and also updated their store creatives with the same Christmas spirit as the one used in their ads.
The campaign was overall a big success: their app downloads increased considerably and reached more than 300 daily installs for 2 weeks straight.
Apple Search Ads
Apple allows app developers and marketers to promote their apps via Search Ads in 59 storefronts and it’s just a matter of time for more countries to be made available.
This means that Apple’s keyword Search Popularity is available for an extensive number of geos, making keyword research more accurate in terms of traffic. Once again, it is crucial to rely on the most up-to-date Search Volume data to make your keyword selection.
A great way to benefit from Apple Search Ads in your ASO is to look at Apple’s Recommended and Related keywords for your app (and your competitors). Those are keywords that Apple recommends developers to bid on and therefore this unlocks terms the algorithm considers relevant to their apps.
Overall, understanding your competitors’ Search Ads strategy will inevitably give you keywords ideas for your ASO as it will help you gauge their semantic strategy. You can use AppTweak Search Ads Intelligence to spy on your competitors bidding strategy.
Another great source of inspiration for keyword research comes from Apple’s Stories. As you probably know, the App Store has today a strong focus on rich content and provides users with editorial Stories to promote apps.
Those stories appear in various spots on the store. Most of them are displayed in the “Today” tab.
Apple also features Stories in the search results, where they mix with search ads and organic results. Interestingly enough, we found out that Apple was pushing Stories on keywords that are closely related to the app showcased in the story. Even more interesting, those keywords are not necessarily targeted by the app!
Just like Search Ads Recommended and Related keywords, all keywords automatically computed and suggested by Apple constitute a real source of inspiration as they provide insights on how the algorithm sees the app’s semantic.
Here again, AppTweak can help detect those keywords for both your app and your competitors, as we fetch the stories in which any app was featured and keep all the story keywords in our database.
6. Increase your keywords space with localization
As we’ve seen, the app title, subtitle 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 localized 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), a well-known glitch in the algorithm.
Thomas from 8fit added the keyword “fitness” in his Australian app title. As you can see on the graph below, there had been a huge increase in rankings for this keyword. Plus, Thomas noticed a long-term positive evolution, which probably translates into a great conversion rate on this keyword.
7. Continue to monitor and update your app keywords
Once you’ve published your new release with your new app title, subtitle and keyword set, you’ll need to carefully monitor the effect of your new keywords on your app’s rankings and performance over time.
It takes about 3 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 update 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.
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 iterate.
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 impressions and downloads. To measure this, you can do a pre-post analysis (before/after) by using App Store Connect Analytics data.
Remember that the App Store is very dynamic and constantly changing so you need to keep up to date 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 CMO at AppTweak, ASO Tool pioneer. Passionate about new technologies and apps, she loves finding new ideas to spread valuable content on App Store Optimization and App Marketing since 2014.