Choosing App Store Keywords

February 16th, 2016

Choosing App Store Keywords
David Bell

by David Bell

CEO at Gummicube, Inc.

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.

Build Phrases

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.

Competing Apps

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.

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