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As the mobile app market continues to explode, inbound marketers are more and more likely to need to understand at least a little about App Store SEO because that is where the customers will be. Although App Store SEO (also known as App Store Optimization or ASO) is not as complex as web SEO, that can be an advantage.
Since you have a smaller set of factors to worry about, you can concentrate on what will have the biggest impact on your downloads. ASO is only a part of app marketing, which should also include inbound marketing, but if you are specifically looking to improve the organic search visibility of an app on the Apple App Store, then this post is for you.
There are several aspects of ASO, including optimizing screenshots, optimizing your app icon and filtering negative reviews. But this post will concentrate only on the keyword selection process because it is the most measurable. Some apps have seen as much as a 300% increase in their downloads just from keyword optimization, so this process can have a huge impact on the number of times that your app is downloaded.
When we look at the keywords that app publishers are using in their keyword lists, there is still a lot of confusion as to how to select the right keywords. So if the organic search component of your app marketing plan is not working as well as you would like, we will take an in-depth look at some App Store specific ways to find quality keyword ideas and how to determine which ones will actually help you.
Once you are ranking well for your current keyword list, then we will show you how to take your search visibility to the next level and target higher traffic keywords and a much larger audience.
Where to Find the Right Keywords
Before we get into the actual selection process, let’s take a look at some of the places that you can find keywords ideas. The first place that you will probably think to look is the Google Keyword Planner Tool. While you might be able to find some good keywords there, the ideas may be to broad to be useful.
We want to narrow the search and use App Store specific data. There are three good starting places to look for keywords that are actually being used on the App Store. You are just brainstorming at this point, so create a spreadsheet to keep track of all of your keyword ideas.
Instead of reinventing the wheel, you can just look at what other apps in your niche are doing. This means spying on the keywords of your competitors. No hacking involved.
Most App Store Optimization tools allow you to look at your competitor’s keywords. Here is an example of what the popular game Clash of Clans uses for their keywords.
Of course, not all of the keywords you discover through this process will be applicable to your app, but it will give you very targeted ideas and can shave hours off your research time.
Keyword Suggestion Sites
Next, you can use a keyword suggestion tool that is similar to the Google Keyword Planner Tool, but for App Store search. Based on the keywords that you currently have in your list, the suggestion tool will provide some good keyword candidates.
You can also do some Review Mining, where you search for keywords in the reviews of your app or the reviews of competitors. You should start with the 5-star reviews because those reviews will be more likely to contain positive keywords that people might use to search for apps like yours.
This can be done manually in iTunes for free. Simply open iTunes, find an app that you want to investigate, then select “All Reviews.” Now sort the ratings by “Most Favorable,” then start scrolling. When you see a keyword or keyword phrase that looks interesting, just add it to your keyword idea list.
But that is a very tedious process, so we recommend using a Review Analysis Tool that can help you filter through the thousands of reviews out there and float the best ideas to the top. The way that the tool works is by parsing through all of the keywords in the reviews and finds words or phrases that appear more often in the reviews of this app than in the reviews of all other apps on the App Store. These keywords are more likely to be app or category specific and are worth further investigation.
The tool also averages all of ratings for the reviews that each keyword appears in, so you will get an idea of the sentiment that is associated with every keyword. Keywords with a positive rating bias are more likely to be searched for than negatively biased keywords.
Your results with Review Mining will really vary depending on the type of app you have and your category, so you should explore the methods mentioned above first. But if you feel like you are stuck when it comes to finding new keywords, this can be a good place to get some fresh ideas.
Finally, another good place to discover keywords outside of the App Store is to just ask people what they would search for if they wanted to download your app or a similar competing app. Asking people from your target demographic is usually best, but asking people outside of that demographic can also yield some good keywords that you might not have otherwise considered. So get out there and engage people in person or in online forums.
How to Select Keywords
Now that you have a list of keyword ideas on your spreadsheet, let’s break down how to evaluate each one and decide which ones to use in your keyword list. Here is how to prioritize the three elements of keyword optimization.
Just like with web SEO, your first priority should be to target keywords that are highly relevant. It doesn’t matter if you rank #1 for the keyword “dog grooming,” if you have a horse racing game.
Unlike the Hummingbird update, the Apple App Store search algorithm is still very literal and has a long way to go when it comes to understanding synonyms and context. So making sure that your keywords are highly relevant to your app is the best way to not only be discovered, but to get your app downloaded.
A common misconception in ASO is to prioritize traffic over difficulty, but it should really be the other way around. In the SEO world, this would be like trying to rank #1 for a keyword with a PR 1 page that you created yesterday, when you are up against a wall of PR 5 to 7 pages.
It’s just not going to happen.
Therefore, the trick is to start by figuring out ASO keywords that you can rank in the top 10 for first. This is like targeting long-tail keywords in SEO.
If you are just getting started, you will need to begin tracking your existing list of keywords and find the keywords that you rank in the top 10 for. Take the average Difficulty Score for those keywords and write down that number.
Now you have guideline by which to filter your new keywords. You should target keywords that have a Difficulty Score that is equal to that average or less.
Your ability to rank for keywords is going to depend largely on the number of times that your app has been downloaded, but it is almost impossible to know how many downloads will get you ranked for each keyword. Averaging your Difficulty Score will give you a quantifiable number that you can use to choose your keywords.
If your app does not currently rank in the top 10 for any of its keywords, then look for keywords that have a Difficulty Score of 1.5 or less. This is generally a good place to start.
If you are trying to decide between two or more keywords with similar relevance and Difficulty Scores, then choose the keywords with the highest traffic. As we mentioned in the previous section, since your ability to rank will primarily be based on the number of times that your app has been downloaded, you will need to build up the number of times that your app is downloaded before you can go after the higher traffic keywords. Start with low difficulty keywords to build your download base.
Optimize the Keyword Field
After you choose your keywords based on the criteria above, a really easy win in terms of keyword optimization, is to check your iOS App Store keywords to see if you are violating some basic ASO keyword field rules. When adding keywords in iTunes, be sure to remember the following:
- Use as many of the 100 allotted characters as possible. You are looking for every possible advantage, so even one or two more additional keywords can add to your organic search downloads.
- Remove all of the spaces between your keywords and add commas between every single word. The Apple search algorithm will automatically group keyword phrases, so you want to focus on getting as many keywords into the keyword field as possible.
- The name of your app and your company are already included in your keyword list by default, so you do not have to explicitly declare them in your keyword list.
- Only use the plural or singular version of a word, whichever is better, based on the criteria outlined in the previous section.
- Remove longer words and test shorter words. The reason is that one or more additional shorter keywords will give you better search visibility than one longer keyword.
- Then of course, check for duplicate keywords. This may seem obvious, but it can be a common oversight, especially if you are new to ASO.
Add Keywords To Your App Title
Remember to add your most descriptive keywords to your app title. Not only will this clarify to people what your app is about, it should also help you a lot when it comes to ranking for those keywords. You do not have to worry about keyword optimization in your app description at this point, as we have not seen it make a difference in search results, but that may change in the future.
Raising The Bar
Once you rank in the top 10 for all of your keywords, your job does not stop there. Now you can start going after those higher traffic keywords. Start testing new keywords by replacing your least relevant and/or lowest traffic keyword with a keyword on your spreadsheet that has a higher Traffic Score. Be sure to track how this change affects your downloads.
Another way to take your downloads to the next level is to internationalize your app. In the next section, we will show you how to get started quickly and test other markets without investing a lot of time and money in translating your entire app.
Now that you know how to choose the most effective keywords for ASO, how can we leverage this knowledge and go after a larger market? The answer is to internationalize your app.
Internationalization is the process of setting up the infrastructure of your app to support translated (localized) assets such as screens, audio, messages, etc. The same rules for choosing keywords apply when optimizing for international markets.
A Simple Localization Test
But isn’t translating your entire app a huge task? Yes, it can be, and all that effort may not pay off. However, you can easily conduct a market study and get a feel for how well your app will do in a foreign market, without translating your whole app.
All you have to do is translate the keywords and description of your app and make it available in the foreign App Store that you want to expand into. If you are so inclined, you can also translate your screenshots and app title.
That’s it! Then track how many people download your app in that App Store. If the response is good, then you can feel more confident in translating your whole app. If you barely get any downloads, then you did not waste too much time and money.
The trade off for doing this quickly and dirty test is that your app will probably get some negative reviews. Even if you mention in the description that the app itself is in English, most users probably won’t read the entire app description.
Some of our customers have expressed some anxiety when it comes to localization testing because negative reviews can hurt their brand reputation. This is a very valid concern.
If negative reviews also make you nervous, then consider the following points. Your test period will most likely be much shorter than the lifetime of your app, so later (presumably positive) reviews will offset the negative reviews during your test period.
In addition, reviews are tallied by individual App Store country, so the negative reviews you get in the China App Store will not carry over to the US App Store.
Finally, the rating that displays in the App Store search results for your app resets with every version update, so your negative reviews during the test period will not affect your current version’s average rating, only your overall rating, which can only be seen if someone digs down into the ratings and reviews.
So the question then becomes: Does the small number of negative reviews that you will get from this test period offset the time and money that you save by not localizing your whole app. Only you can answer that question.
Optimizing An Existing Localized Keyword List
If you have already localized for other countries, we have a quick tip for you. Around the middle of last year, Apple changed the keyword list limit of non-English languages from 100 bytes to 100 characters. That is huge if you are localizing for certain languages.
For example, one character in Korean or Japanese might take up three or four bytes. If you optimized before this change and maxed out the number of bytes, your will now have a lot more room for additional keywords, if you localized for keywords that have multiple bytes per character.
Before we finally get off the topic of internationalization, be sure to work with a translator or someone who is fluent in your target language. Relying on Google Translate can lead to some embarrassing mix-ups and incorrect testing results.
Success Lies In Continuous Optimization
This information will help you optimize your organic search traffic, but the key to success comes down to continually tracking how your app ranks for the keywords that you have chosen and balancing relevance, difficulty and traffic. Just because ASO is simpler than SEO, it doesn’t mean that you can just set it and forget it. The App Store is a dynamic ecosystem, and keyword opportunities constantly open and close.
There are other aspects of ASO, such as graphics optimization, description tuning and more. But optimizing your keywords will provide the biggest wins by far, and should be where you start when it comes to App Store Optimization.
Unlike SEO, which can take some time to begin seeing significant results, the effects of keyword optimization can be immediate, with some publishers seeing an increase in downloads as soon as the day after they do a keyword update. Individual results will vary, but just like with SEO, if you do not have a big budget to spend on ads, ASO is a great place to start when it comes to marketing your app and should be part of any app marketing plan.