App Store Ranking Algorithm and Impact of App Name Length

After some limited volatility in the App Store in mid-July, there were lots of theories as to not only what happened, but if there were some longer-term implications to Apple’s App Store ranking algorithm.

The primary claims was that Apple was penalizing apps with long app titles.  Long app titles presumably meant spammy or keyword stuffed app titles – a bad hack for App Store rankings.

Quick note – Apple refers to app titles as “app names” but the terms are used interchangeably so we’ll use what the report used.

The app title is not only used by Apple to index an app, but is also viewable by potential users.  Therefore, we recommend creating app titles that highlight the app’s two most relevant, important or differentiating features, and limiting the title to 100 characters.

Keyword stuffed app titles look spammy and unprofessional, and Apple has even been known to reject apps that attempt to abuse this field.

That said, did Apple change their algorithm to penalize apps with long app titles?

In the initial reporting of a possible App Store algorithm change, a quick study on “Free Music” and “Music Streaming” did not support the conclusion that longer app titles were being penalized (they actually received a bump in rankings).

Let’s look at the top apps for “Free Music” and “Music Streaming” and track the App Store rankings for apps with app titles longer than 60 characters.

Free Music – In Top 10 with App Title > 60 Characters

Three apps appear in the top 10 with app titles longer than 60 characters.

 

Algorithm and Ranking 1Algorithm and Ranking 2

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All 3 showed an increase in App Store category and overall rankings.

Music Streaming – In Top 10 with App Title > 60 Characters

Musi (again) increased its App Store ranking.

Music Freedom actually changed their app title to a (slightly) longer app title on July 16th, which coincided with a climb up the charts.

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It looks like the claim that long app titles are being penalized is not only false, but exactly the opposite appears the be the case: Longer app titles appear to be helping App Store rankings.

Part of this exercise is to ensure claims we are reading about are backed by data so we can make good decisions with our time and investments.

So far, the claim fails.

Let’s try looking at how the ranking for individual keywords and phrases were impacted since July 1st.

Assuming there were long-term changes in how Apple is indexing and ranking apps – and the title is the specific cause – we should see a clear downward trend in rankings for specific keywords with apps with long titles.

App Title > 60 Characters, Keyword Ranking % Increase or Decrease Since July 1

Long-Title-Search-Ranking-Increases

The 4 apps we reviewed above (which all showed an increase in App Store rankings), all showed an increase in rankings for the keywords they ranked for.

If an app was not ranked for a keyword on August 18th, but was ranked on July 1st (or when the app was released after July 1st), that counted as a decrease.

None of the apps came in at under 85% of search coverage rankings increasing.

Not only did the rank of keywords not go down for apps with long tiles, but the rankings went up on at least 85% of the keywords.

While we advise our clients that keyword stuffing app titles is not part of resilient App Store optimization strategy – the claim that Apple is penalizing long App Store titles fails on further investigation.

Contact us here if you are interested in building an App Store optimization strategy around proven practices and App Store data that can withstand changes to Apple’s App Store ranking algorithm – real or imagined.

Relevant Search Term Coverage

Is it better to try and rank for 1 or 2 targeted keywords, or to rank for 100′s?

You might say it depends on the keywords.

If you could rank in the top ten for “Free Music” – surely that’s better than ranking in the top ten for 100 less frequently searched terms – right?

Because app store traffic data is not shared by Apple or Google, it is hard to know how big the “long tail” of app store search is.   On the web, long tail search accounts for more than 50% of total search queries.

To rephrase the question using our scenario – do the 100 less frequently searched terms around a theme add up to more than the top search terms for a specific theme?

How does relevant search coverage impact app store rankings?

And how could we test that?

If we take a look at the top apps for “free music“, and compare those results to overall and category rank, and # of keywords and phrases ranked for, we should be able to see if relevant coverage of keywords and phrases (the long tail) is related to overall rankings, or if being top ranked for “free music” means being ranked higher overall.

Does being ranked for “free music” beat being ranked for 100 search terms related to “free music“?

Let’s dig in.


Search Term:

Free Music - a very high volume search term

The #1 app is “Free Music – Mp3 Player and Streamer!”

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2nd is “Free Music Player – Mp3 Music Streamer and Playlist Manager.”

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Both appear to be by indie devs – published under their name rather than a publishing company.

Spotify is 4th, Pandora is 9th and iHeartRadio is 13th.


So far so good.  Let’s take a quick look at the top app charts and see where any of these guys are:

Pandora is 9th overall – free-us-all, Spotify 14th and iHeart 42nd.

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In the Music category, they are 1, 2, 4.

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The #1 app ranked app for “free music” – “Free Music – Mp3 Player and Streamer!” – is 230 overall, and not ranked  in the music category.

The #2 ranked app for “free music” is ranked 20th overall in the Music category free charts and outside of top 300 overall free.


Right away we see that “free music” – while a very-high volume search term, does not drive the top ranked apps into the top 200 overall free charts – well behind other popular apps.

So let’s keep digging….

A similar term “Music apps” – also shows very high search volume.

#1 and #2 are “Musi – Unlimited Free Music For YouTube” (11th in music and 170th overall), and Spotify.

Pandora is 8th and iHeart is 14th.

Combining the terms – “free music apps” - a high search volume search term:

Spotify is 3rd, iHeart is 4th Pandora is 6th.

The #1 and #2 from “free music” are not in top 25 for “free music apps”.

Side Note:

Who comes in at #20?  QuizUp - a very popular quiz game that has nothing to do with music, but is a popular free app.

Yikes – with these types of search results, people searching the app store either settle more something recognizable, or need to be very specific in their search.

And that’s exactly what our data shows – the vast majority (80%) of app store search is for multi word (2+) feature based phrases.

Is there correlation between overall or category rankings and number of phrases/keyword ranked and ranked in top 10?

Keyword Coverage and App Rank

The top apps in the Music category have broad keyword coverage, and if they don’t have 150+ (looking at you Pandora) – they rank in the top 10 for a wide variety or even majority of targeted phrases.

Spotify ranks in the top 10 for 181 search phrases.

Free Music – MP3 Player and Streamer! - ranks top in the top 200 for only 23 search terms, and in the top 10 for only 8.  Only 2 of the 8 have any significant competition.  An example is the app ranks #1 of 1 apps for the developer name.

Apps like Spotify, Pandora and iHeart may rank higher than other apps above because:

1) they have better keyword coverage

2) their brands drive downloads

And this is a good time to address that – yes – there are tons of variables when it comes to what could impact rankings in the app stores.

There is no doubt that having a known brand, and a web or off-line presence to drive traffic and installs to your mobile app impacts rankings – as downloads do impact where an app is ranked for a keyword.

But while Pandora may benefit from having a presence outside of the app store helping the app rank better for competitive search terms, both Spotify and iHeartRadio have significant search coverage and better rankings in a wide array of search terms, demonstrating a comprehensive search optimization strategy.

Targeting keywords by the number of relevant phrases they combine to make vs which individual words are estimated to drive the most traffic, your app creates an umbrella of coverage for relevant search.


So the obvious question is – what do mobile app publishers and marketers need to do to get comprehensive relevant search coverage for their apps?

Instead of thinking of ASO as targeting keywords or even phrases, think in terms of building a comprehensive keyword matrix – with the goal of building as many relevant 2 and 3 word phrases as possible.

Datacube software is designed specifically for using app store search data, and building an optimal keyword matrix for an app’s Apple and Google Play app store listing.

Relevant coverage of keywords and phrases drives visibility from relevant search traffic, which drives downloads.  This alone can be enough to drive your app to the top of your category charts and even top overall.

How to Build Your App Idea Even If you don't (1)

I have an app idea but no programming skills

Help!  I have an app idea but no programming skills!

If you read our post on mobile app ideas, you have taken the initial steps to validate and determine the feasibility your app idea.

You could continue to validate the idea (and reduce uncertainty and risk) by trying to measure interest in your proposed solution.

One fairly simple method is to create ads and measure click thru rates and signups for your hypothetical app.

This type of validation may not be a good indicator of interest for mobile apps.

Unlike other software products, like a SaaS application for example, people want mobile apps now. Signing up for a mobile app’s future release is not a great measure of existing demand.

Similarly, minimum viable products (or MVPs) for mobile apps can be difficult as the narrow focus of most apps is the MVP.

This article does a great job nailing down the challenge of the MVP for mobile, and where to focus.

how-to-build-a-minimum-viable-product
FastMonkeys.com

Rather than think in terms of an MVP for mobile apps, think in terms of essential and differentiating features.

What are the minimum features necessary to deliver your app idea to the market to test response and demand?

What are the essential features of your app idea?

Everyone, from developers to marketers to customers have a tendency to think more features is better, or that this next feature is the “killer feature” and will change everything.

It is normal to think or want to add everything, or at the very least, add much more than you need to test your assumptions about how your app idea solves a problem.

Here is the reality:

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David J Bland

Challenge yourself to identify and focus on the core features, benefits and audience of your app.

The very best way to start defining your app – what it does, how users interact and the essential features – is by creating a wireframe.

Wireframing

There are outstanding tools available, many free or under $10/mth.

Proto.io and Balsamiq are both easy to learn and use, and provide all that you may need for mobile app wireframing.

Proto.io
https://balsamiq.com/
Balsamiq

There are a few things which make these tools super valuable, especially for someone wireframing up their first mobile app:

1 – they come with all sorts of iOS and Android UI elements.  This means fast wireframing, and also provides a feel for how the app might actually look.

2 – support for links or navigation.  Huge.  It is amazing how much is discovered from the user experience (UX) perspective when you start navigating from screen to screen.

The devil is in the details, and wireframing your app idea has a way of surfacing the details you may have overlooked.

How your app works from the front-end is defined in the wireframe.

Does it take a user 2+ clicks to get to your app’s primary function or feature?

How will users access support?

What mechanics do you plan to add to keep users engaged?

How does the app make money?

Building a mobile app without programming skills requires investing time in defining how the app is supposed to work and helps developers or an agency better understand your vision.

The agency, developer or development team may request a product/software requirements doc, or they may build one for the project – but you should start with a wireframe.

Once you have built a wireframe that defines your app idea, take another look to eliminate (or add) features.

Be prepared to invest in marketing and launch

Locating a problem or opportunity, defining a solution and actually building the mobile app is only part of creating a successful mobile app.

In fact, there are more good mobile apps in the app stores than strong marketing efforts to support them.

Marketing is the scarce resource in the mobile app marketplace, not ideas or development.

As a non-technical contributor, you absolutely must have a plan for the sales and marketing of your app.

We are way, way past the days of “If you build it – they will come”.

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Ross Morel

Locating cost-effective user acquisition channels for mobile app installs and users is the biggest challenge of most mobile app publishers and marketers.

If you have a large audience already, and your mobile app idea serves this audience, you are in a good position.

Examples include a well read blog, large and engaged social media following or large email list.

Kim Kardashian Hollywood shows what 100m social followers can do.

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Fit Men Cook shows what 1m Instagram followers can do.

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Both activated their existing audience to install and engage with their mobile app.

If you don’t have a large audience to promote your app to, app store optimization (ASO) provides a potentially high ROI channel you can build from scratch.

Advertising is a potentially scalable option, but cost per install campaigns are running in excess of $2 per install.  If your app monetizes at better than $2 per install, mobile Facebook ads and other mobile ad networks can be a good option.

Companies like Twitter, Pinterest and SnapChat are working to provide the very best mobile ad platforms as most of their users are interacting with their apps from mobile devices.

Whether you have a rapport with an existing audience, or you plan to invest in ads, your mobile app marketing should start with an optimized app store listing – which is part of a comprehensive ASO plan.


Building your app idea without programming skills is very possible, but requires you to clearly define the idea with a wireframe, and lead the effort in defining a sales and marketing plan.

Why We Don't Forecast App Store Rank or

Why We Don’t Forecast App Store Rank or Install Volume

A common request from our mobile marketing, agency and app publishing clients is for a forecasted app store rank and/or expected install volume increase (or decrease) metric.

This desire for data is understandable and frequent enough that I felt a short post here could add some insight into how we view providing these types of metrics.

We have opted against forecasting the increase of rank or install volume inside our software.

There were several reasons for this decision, but the most important one was that this kind of representation is almost always disingenuous.  It caters to the desire of a marketer to be data driven but does so in a way that doesn’t reflect the way organic marketing really works.

We approach ASO by looking at the whole funnel.  The top of the funnel focuses on keyword ranking and visibility for the application.

We look at things like keyword volume, relevance and also phrase matching in this process with a goal of giving apps the biggest possible footprint within search.

Further down the funnel is conversion — once you have visibility, users have to choose to click your app vs. competitors who also appear in search results.

The conversion rate from app to app on a keyword is almost never the same.

Two different apps can have dramatically different results on the same keyword in similar positions.

We incorporate A/B testing and work on icons and screenshots in our ASO process because this helps improve conversion on your search visibility in a very data driven way.

In the world of SEO, which is a much more mature market, the top analytics software available also doesn’t provide this kind of projection for similar reasons.

To illustrate, this would be like forecasting the number of users who would convert on a website based on the traffic that the keyword planner indicates a particular keyword has.  It doesn’t take into account the actual conversion rate — which is different for every product.

As a philosophy, Gummicube always tries to provide accurate data and representations of how the process works.

We usually avoid pursuing features that in our best determination may misrepresent/mislead partners — even if they may provide short term satisfaction.

Mobile app ideas

I Have An Idea For An App – step by step for what to do next

“I have an idea for an app” – this statement can launch massive success stories or serve as party banter for wantrepreneurs.

If you identify more with the former than the latter – the following will help you navigate the path from idea to app.


I Have An Idea For An App

How do you take an idea for a mobile app and get it into the app store (and get users and make money and go viral and build a brand and sell the app and buy a yacht)?

Starting a new project is exciting, and can be even more so with a good roadmap.

Let’s remove some of the mystery of what to do with a mobile app idea, and set you on your road to app success, or to ditching the idea for another.

The process used here for mobile apps can apply to a wide variety of products and services, and the better you get at this process – the better you will be at evaluating future opportunities and ideas.

Additional resources for product and service idea development include Breakthrough Entrepreneurship, 4 Steps to an Epiphany, The $100 Startup, The 7-day Startup, and many others.

I selected these 4 because they share one common theme or emphasis:

Clearly define the idea and start testing it!

There are tons of stories about successful businesses that started as something else, and several directly related to mobile like Instagram.

Burbn
Instagram started as BURBN

 

Understanding idea evaluation and risks, and recognizing every release is an opportunity to test something (a feature for example) and improve your mobile app puts you and your app idea closer to finding that elusive market fit.

Ok – finally – let’s get going – what’s your idea?


Define Your Idea

Nothing set in stone here, just write it down.

What is the app?  What does it do?  What problem does it solve? Who is it for?

We will get to how it will make money (if at all), and how you plan to reach your target market later.

For now – let’s just get the basics down.

What it does, for whom, and why (the benefit to the whom)

Using this format – can you explain the mobile app idea clearly?

“DogSpot matches Dog-Owning Singles with each other for Dog-centered Dates”

DogSpot-320

Yikes – sounds like a crazy app, but hey – I am walking the dog anyways – might as well meet someone while I am out.

Regardless of the merit of my DogSpot app – that’s the idea.

Have more detail than just a watered-down value proposition?

Go for it!

Just remember – all of this is in pencil.  We need to see what the market is currently responding to.

Which takes us to…


Evaluate the Competition

One of the most common mistakes made by people unfamiliar with bringing new products to market is regarding existing solutions as a bad thing.

Somewhat counterintuitive – competition can be a (very) good thing.

If there is a successful or several successful mobile apps in the store, much of your market research has already been done.  There is market demand for your proposed solution.

Even better, the app stores have public ratings and reviews.

You can go right into potential competitors’ apps and see specifically what users are excited or complaining about.

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You may be able to deliver what users are looking for from other apps, or there may be a reason why no other publishers have been able to address the market’s needs – but the market is telling you what it wants.

What makes your app different?

While competition can be a good sign, unless you have a large marketing budget, huge email list, or 1 million+ Twitter followers – your app idea should have something that differentiates it from the rest of the options.

We can call this your Unique Selling Proposition (or USP), which basically answers the question:

With all of these choices – why download and use your mobile app?

Using the example above – let’s say all of the dog-based dating apps (there are none) have the same issue with not enough users.  Can we solve this problem and use the solution as our USP?

Could we integrate with Facebook and pull “friends of friends with dogs and single” as a way to show more available users?

Researching the competition

For our fictitious (?) dog-centered dates app “DogSpot” (working title), we would want to perform multiple searches in the app stores (focus on Google Play and Apple’s App Store) for related terms.

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Screen Shot 2015-08-04 at 9.11.42 AMLook at “suggested searches” for additional ideas at how the market is  searching for apps like yours.

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Create a list of apps that are similar and that appear across searches.

With this list we can get an idea of how, where and if our app idea is potentially viable.

The main things to look for are:

  • do any of the apps rank in the top 200 for their respective category?  I am looking for dog-related apps in the “social networking” category.

Go to the app store > categories > select the most relevant category > top free apps (or paid or grossing).

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  • how many ratings and reviews do the apps have?  None for latest version or very few overall is a bad sign. Look at the release date as the app could be brand new, explaining the low number of reviews.

Very rough rule of thumb – <1% of users will rate an app (closer to .1%).  So 10 reviews all time could mean 1,000 downloads – at most. 

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Highlight the apps that pass the initial tests of ranking in a category or with 100′s or 1,000′s of ratings.

We will look at the non-highlighted apps a bit later, for now we want to better understand the apps that the market is responding to.


Monetization

At this point, you are further along than many/most with “the next great app idea”.

Being a realist, you have put your idea to the test by defining your app idea and looking at both if there is a market for your app, and if there are some basic ways your app idea is unique or different.

The way you monetize and acquire users, and design can be enough of a differentiator to make a mark in the app store.

Researching and deconstructing how the top apps on your list are making money is important for helping to define your apps monetization strategy, and potential areas for providing a better experience to users.

The main things to look for include:

  • is the app free or paid?
  • does the app have in-app items?
  • dow the app shows ads and what type and how often?

Types of ads include banners, interstitials, native, video and more.

  • does the app sell products or service through a website with the app serving as a channel?
  • how does the overall monetization strategy affect the user experience from your perspective?

This is often where app ideas are met with their fiercest test – can the app make money based on current market expectations?

And if so, how do we reach this market?

There are 100′s of millions of apps downloaded daily, which is exciting.  But without users we won’t make any money… how do we plan to connect with our first thousand users?


Marketing Channels

How your app will make money is dependant on people actually finding, installing and using your app.

The primary channels for mobile user acquisition are:

Candy Crush Outdoor Ads

The cost of acquiring a user from paid advertising is over $2.00 (per install).

Until you have an app with proven market fit, a working monetization strategy and  an app optimized for app store search, paying for installs should be used only for acquiring an initial set of users for generating data.

If you currently have an organic pet food company, and your app idea is directly aligned (a recipe app with videos on how to make the recipes) or somewhat aligned (DogSpot Dating), you have an existing audience to market your app to.

If not, building an audience from scratch can be a significant additional challenge.

If your mobile app idea has passed the above “tests” – market demand, uniqueness, potential to monetize – you absolutely can build an audience and acquire users.

Just know this is a challenge that requires significant effort and will not “solve itself” upon submitting to the app stores.

A quick list before we move on to “building” your app – tools for building an audience include:

  • reaching out to the press, thought leaders, review sites
  • creating content (content marketing, from articles to videos to a podcast etc..)
  • social media marketing

A good resource for evaluating the best channels for acquiring users is the book Traction.

Our position is no matter what channel(s) you decide to target for user acquisition, an optimized app listing should be the first marketing activity as ASO and acquiring organic app store traffic generally drives the highest short and long-term ROI.


Validate with Ads

Lastly, since creating, designing, developing and marketing apps can be costly, limiting risk by being selective which app ideas we pursue has a big impact on the potential returns on our investments.

It may be prudent to invest $500 in Google or Facebook ads targeting relevant search terms (Google) or an ultra-relevant audience (Facebook) to determine interest in your app idea prior to any additional investment of resources.

This is as simple as creating a free, simple landing page describing your app.  Use the value proposition and USP to clearly define what problem the app solves, for who and how.

DogSpot

Offer a “Let me know when this app is available” call to action and collect emails.

Track both clicks on the ad and emails collected, as both show interest.

LaunchKit and Canva provide free and paid tools for creating a landing page and Facebook ads.


If you see “DogSpot – Dog-centered Dating” in the app stores, you will know the app went through the above process prior to any coding!

And if it doesn’t pass, I am now better equipped to find and evaluate other opportunities in the app store.

Less risk, more upside and a better potential for a significant ROI.

Check out our next post for those of you with app ideas but without programming skills!