Slickdeals is an app designed to help users find and share deals and coupons. With Black Friday approaching, the app’s optimization has been adjusted to target the shopping season. Seasonality requires updating several aspects, including the title, creatives and description. It’s especially important to write an app description tailored to the platform the app is on, including incorporating keywords and testing for conversion. With that in mind, Slickdeals is the subject of this week’s App Store Spotlight, where we see if it can compete in the biggest shopping season of the year.Continue reading
Choosing app store keywords for an app’s store listings has at times been viewed as the holy grail of app store optimization.
The thinking was that finding the magical combination of low competition, high traffic words would drive heaps of organic traffic to even the worst of mobile apps.
While keywords are a big part of ASO, Gummicube considers the initial selection of keywords as much less important than the building of a complete acquisition funnel, and the ongoing optimization of target keywords and phrases as they support the funnel.
The goal of app store optimization is not (only) greater visibility, but the organic acquisition of new users.
Aim for Relevant Coverage
By changing the key performance indicator of successful ASO from “rankings” to “high LTV users acquired”, the role keyword selection plays in the ASO process becomes clearer (and is often missed by app marketers).
We don’t want traffic, we want traffic that is likely to convert to downloads and users.
App marketers should aim for relevant coverage of keywords and phrases.
The app store algorithms are getting smarter. Low conversions relative to position in a search result signals to Apple and Google that users are not finding your app relevant for that specific search.
The fields that have the biggest impact on search rankings are limited – with character limits on the app name/title, the keywords field (Apple) and the short description (Google Play).
Why use that valuable space targeting keywords and phrases that are not ultra-relevant to your app and prospective user?
Use App Store Data
There is and has been a lack of transparency in the app store search algorithms. Reverse engineering the algorithms is made harder due to a complete lack of details on app store search data.
Neither Apple or Google share search traffic or download data by category, phrase or even daily volume.
To fill the void for marketers, several companies built ASO tools using Google web search data as a proxy for app store search data.
The thinking was “something is better than nothing”.
Many optimization efforts based on web data didn’t produce results.
Meanwhile, investments in collecting proprietary app store data and working with large clients and their global app portfolios started to show the differences between how users search the app stores vs how they search the web.
Don’t take my word for it – search for “malls” on the web and then again in Google Play. Both are using Google search, but one returns the local malls in a map, maybe a definition or items in the news, and the other returns mall-based games and shopping companions.
User intent is just different when searching the app stores. Using web search data to optimize an app store listing doesn’t make sense.
Investing in app store optimization is the foundation of mobile app marketing, and provides a measurable long-term ROI.
Partner with an app store intelligence service like Gummicube to identify how your target market is searching the app stores, and create a plan for an optimized listing.
In tracking the app stores for over 5 years, we have found 80% of app store searches are for multi-word, features-based phrases.
That’s “cheap flights” or “zombie rpg game” or “free photo editing”.
The phrases you identify as being used by your target market when searching the app stores are likely made up of several, recurring words.
Breaking these phrases into individual words, and removing duplicates – you are left with a sort of “keywords bucket”.
If there were no constraints on the app store listing fields that impact how an app is indexed, we would be done. Just dump all of those keywords into the name and keywords field or short description.
But there are constraints (which is a good thing!).
Character limits help Apple and Google determine what is most important or relevant to the app from the publisher’s perspective.
Working with roughly 100-180 characters to build the optimal mix of words of various lengths targeting phrases of varying relevance and value is complicated.
Software that incorporates app store data can help you pick the optimal mix of words based on target phrases, category and app store competition.
Speaking of which, what if the phrases we are targeting has 100’s of competitors also vying for ranking in search?
There are so many variables that determine the strength of the competition that the number (quantity) of competitors is almost meaningless.
Simply, not all competition is equal.
Relevance matters. Ratings, reviews, time since last update, downloads and conversion rates all impact how strong each competitor is for a specific search term.
The best approach given how hard it can be to evaluate competition in the app store is start with a keyword bucket that builds phrases extremely relevant to your app and its best or primary features. Adjust and optimize for those words and phrases that your app ranks well for and continue to build on your strengths.
App store optimization, and especially selecting app store keywords and phrases, requires an on-going investment in making small adjustments and improvements that grow to big results.
A word of caution:
Targeting keywords that are trademarked (Disney, MLB, Superman) will get your app rejected, removed from the store or at best have the keywords removed.
Similarly, including words in an app name/title, keywords field or description that is unrelated will also put your app at risk of rejection, removal or flagged for keyword spamming.
Learn more about selecting keywords and app store optimization.
Building, measuring and adjusting an app listing for the app stores is called app store optimization or ASO.
In this article we are going to introduce ASO for beginners, why ASO is important, the main topics and key considerations for an optimized mobile app.
Why ASO is important
App store search continues to be the largest channel for mobile app discovery and mobile app installs.
Despite Super Bowl spots, promotions in your Facebook feed or ads in other apps, mobile users respond that app store search is the channel used most often to find new apps.
Without an optimized app listing, you risk losing out on users searching for your app simply because they don’t see it.
How Apple and Google index apps
Both Google Play and Apple keep their indexing and search ranking algorithms private. By studying cause and effect, correlations and mining our own app store intelligence data – prominent indexing and ranking factors become clear.
Let’s start with Apple and their app store
An app listing in Apple’s App Store contains public elements like the icon, name, description and screenshots. Unique to Apple is a 100 character, “hidden” or private field for keywords – used to help Apple better understand what your app is, who it is for etc..
Apple uses the app’s name and keywords to determine which keywords and phrases are relevant to the app.
For example – consider the following fictional app:
App name: Hotel Finder – best hotels at the best rates
This app would likely be in the search results for “Hotel room deals”.
Notice a few things about how this works:
- the example search used keywords found in both the app name and keywords field
While keywords used in the app name are weighted more heavily than those used in the “keywords” field, the combination of keywords used across these elements creates a sort of keyword matrix.
- the formatting of the keywords field is keywords separated by commas and no spaces
Google Play app indexing
Where Apple provides 255 characters for the app name and 100 for the keywords field, Google limits the characters available and weighs constrained elements more heavily.
For example, an app title is limited to 30 characters, the short description to 80 and the full description 4,000.
It follows then that an app’s most important keywords/phrases be used in the title, next most important in the short description and then broad coverage for the full description.
Using the example Hotel Finder app above – the name we used for Apple’s app store is 44 characters – too long for Google Play.
If we really want to focus on “best rates” – the app title could be:
“Hotel Finder for best rates”
As you can see, 30 characters is not a lot to work with!
Determining which target keywords and phrases are most important have a huge impact on an app listing strategy – which brings us to creating the app listing.
How to create an app listing
To access organic app store traffic, identifying keywords and phrases is critical for discovery alone.
With the limited space allotted to the app listing elements, keywords and phrases must be:
- relevant to your target audience
- relevant to your app
- used by your audience when searching the app stores
- work together to create broad coverage of a specific target
In a sentence: because space is limited, we need to identify keywords and phrases that our target audience uses to find apps like ours, that provides coverage of all ultra-relevant searches.
With limited space in Apple’s keywords field, using precious characters for “free, fun, fast, social, new” etc… unless these modifiers support a more specific, ultra-relevant phrase just doesn’t make sense.
Instead, focus on the features of your app that are either essential, differentiating or both.
Competitive market research, focus groups, app store intelligence software and testing and adjusting should help you identify your best keyword targets.
Converting views into installs
A complete app store optimization strategy should also consider conversion.
The app name/title, keywords and descriptions all play a role, but conversion is largely affected by the icon, screenshots and ratings.
Creative elements should be tested with a focus group, polling or other means before being published as the difference between icon designs, screenshots designs, the order of the screenshots and even the features and calls to action on the screenshots have been shown to have a large impact on conversion rates.
Ratings and reviews are more complicated in that all of the other elements of an app listing are within your control as the publisher except for ratings.
Things to avoid in ASO
When evaluating the potential of organic app store user acquisition, it is clear an optimized app is an extremely valuable asset.
The “shortcuts” to building this asset have mostly been shut down, but here are some common “gotchas” for ASO beginners:
- Keyword Stuffing – creating an app name that makes no sense but uses every possible keyword in its name.
Apple provides 255 characters for the app name, but rarely approves those longer than 100 characters, and staying under 60 is even a safer bet.
Plus – who wants to download an app like “Cowboy Command – the fast, free, amazing, fun, cowboys and indians, horses, wild west, shootout, first person shooter, where you invite Facebook friends and create a clan to crush the competition“.
No one – that’s who.
- Paying for ratings and reviews – Apple and Google have done a good job stamping these out, and if they don’t, governments have even taken action for fraud against fake reviews.
- Using web data instead of app store data – not a hack or against the rules, just user intent is so different, keywords used in web search do not mirror or even proxy those used in app store search. Just do a search on Google then in Google Play and note the differences in results.
Building and optimizing your app listing to tap into the massive organic traffic searching the app stores daily takes the right app store optimization tools.
While this list is not in any particular order, a good place to start is with working with your target audience.
Screenshots, the app name, the icon, even the description all have a huge impact on how your target market perceives your app.
1 – test and receive feedback on a wider range of variations
Small changes to the color of an icon can have a big impact on conversions (from app listing views to installs), but focus groups allow you to test big differences – with one design direction failing to resonate while another shows great promise.
Mobile app publishers and designers can get an idea of what resonates with their audience by looking at competing apps, but outside of that guidance, there is no way to really know what will drive your target audience to install your app without asking them.
2 – feedback is quantitative and qualitative
As with most A/B testing platforms and in Google Play experiments, you will be able to see which design, description, screenshot order, icon etc.. converted best and whether the results were statistically significant, but you won’t know why.
Focus groups provide an opportunity to experiment boldly and then garner qualitative feedback from the test subjects.
Why did they pick icon design #2 over 1, 3 and 4? Why was the app name confusing or misleading? Which screenshots best explained the most important features of the app to them and why?
While focus groups are unique in the quality of potential feedback, running ads to a poll, or polling your existing lists (email or social media) are two other ways to test listing elements prior to publishing.
Ratings and Review SDK
Ratings and reviews have an impact on app store rankings in both Apple’s App Store and Google Play.
Even bad ratings seem to be better than no ratings – which appears to be some broken measure of engagement.
While there does not appear to be some magical minimum number of ratings required for top rankings, more ratings is generally accepted as better for app store positioning.
Rating apps is not easy for users. It takes multiple taps and leaving the app to rate or review an app – a tall order even if you (the user) love the app.
Because the best indicator of user satisfaction tends to be retention, engagement or lifetime value (or some mix of the 3), if it were not for the impact on rankings, many app publishers would not prioritize app store review prompts.
But alas, while ratings matter, publishers are encouraged to find ways to request ratings with the least impact on the user experience.
Publishers can set up ratings and review prompts with a custom implementation or use a proven model for customer support and ratings acquisition by partnering with services like that offered by Apptentive.
While ratings and reviews are important for app store rankings and app optimization, prompting for reviews should always account for the impact on the user experience to ensure you are not chasing ratings at the expense of revenue.
Similar to the above, review mining is actually a tool for competitive research.
What features or functions are your competitors’ app users complaining about, requesting or commenting on that your app does better?
Review mining helps guide app listing strategies from which keywords and phrases to target to which features to highlight in screenshots.
Consider a top ranked photo app that allows for adding text to user photos. The reviews complain that posting to Tumblr does not work well or at all. Your photo app works great with Tumblr.
You may have thought this was your 12th most exciting feature, but it could well be your app’s top differentiating feature and worth prioritizing in the app listing.
App Store Data / Intelligence
As the saying goes, “where there is mystery – there is margin” and there is a ton of mystery in the app stores.
App store data and intelligence services span topics from monetization models and estimated lifetime values of competitive apps, to which SDKs apps are using to estimates on what specific apps are paying for new users by geo.
It is hard to say how accurate many of these tools are, but many services are popping up to carve out a niche and provide just a little more insight to help their clients improve their results in the app stores.
When it comes to tools specifically for app store optimization, features publishers should look for include:
- mobile app store search terms – data on the keywords and phrases the market is using when searching the mobile app stores.
- evaluation of how the app name and keywords or description fields work together for broad coverage of relevant search terms (the “keyword matrix”).
- suggested keyword and phrase targets by category, trending, current traction and competition.
In previous posts, we have explained why app store data and web data are very different. It may not be obvious but several app store optimization tools use the free Google keyword planner built using web search as a proxy for app store search volume and related phrases.
If you would like to see how Gummicube approaches ASO and the proprietary tools we have built for optimizing app listing for organic app store search, you can request a demo here.
Working with our clients on writing optimized descriptions, we discovered another restriction for the Google Play description:
Your app description should avoid excessive detail and references to your other apps or products.
For example, you should not list all of the details of content included in the app or its various components, as shown in the example below.
Also, the description should not include any references to other apps that you’ve published. – support.google.com
Breaking this restriction into two parts:
Do not attempt to keyword stuff your description by detailing all of the content
Do not reference other apps in your portfolio
The focus of the recent changes in Google Play seems to be combatting “keyword stuffing” in app descriptions.
The back and forth between aggressive mobile app publishers and Google continues.
First, Google Play description guidelines were updated to reject descriptions that referred to other apps.
The idea being, if a publisher wanted to show up in Google Play search results for “Candy Crush” – the publisher would add:
If you liked Candy Crush – you will love this game!
Then publishers started “hiding” the references to other apps in reviews for the description:
“If you liked Candy Crush – you will love this game!” – Sally
Google was quick to address this and continues to find and restrict more of these types of hacky description writing.
The approach at Gummicube has always been to write descriptions that position your app for maximum discovery in the app stores, without being spammy or turning potential users away.
Take a look at how Gummicube can position your app portfolio for long term success or contact us at email@example.com.