App Store Optimization (optimisation) close

Mark McDermott
19th May 2011
App Store Optimization (optimisation)

People are buying Apps for phones, tablets and computers all over the world. There is big money in it and it is not just going to Apple. For example, Gartner predicts that by 2015 Android will account for 49% of smartphones.

The best way to source Apps is through App Stores. Apple, Google, Nokia, Blackberry and even Amazon have them, plus there are many spin offs proliferating the web.

App Stores provide a consolidated location for developers to upload their products and gain instant visibility and traffic from millions of users. However, these stores are quickly getting crowded and competition is intensifying as we strive to build awareness and recognition. Step forward App Store Optimization (ASO).

Optimizing for App Stores

The App Store search algorithm works quite differently to Google. Relevance is driven by downloads, ratings and keywords so, once optimised, popularity is very important. As free apps are downloaded far more than paid ones it supports the theory that a free or “lite” version is advisable. This, in turn, promotes your paid-for upgrade. It’s no coincidence that the same app will often occupy the top spot on both the free and paid charts.

Unlike traditional search engines App Store rankings are not built up over time. Baptiste Benezet of faberNovel came to the conclusion that "The formula for App rankings only accounts for your last 4 days of sales." The formula is 8 times the sales of the current day + 5 times the sales on the 2 proceeding days + 2 times the sales on initial date.

App Store Rankings
Source: ReadWriteWeb

It would seem that short, sharp campaign bursts are the best way to achieve high rankings, break into the category charts and great a self-perpetuating cycle of high download figures.

However more recently Google and now Apple are including user activity as a factor. Daily or Monthly Active Users are logged and those Apps that are used more frequently will also rank highly. The Android Marketplace takes note of the percentage of users that keep the app installed on their device as space is generally more of a premium with users removing Apps that don’t cut it far more frequently than those using Apple devices.

The Apple App Store search is exact-match only. Your app will only show up if there is an exact match against the app or company name or keywords you have specified. Apple does NOT search against your description, which means that text should be purely around convincing the user reading it to hit install/buy. However, the iTunes Web Preview page is often indexed high on traditional search engines and the first three lines of your description can be indexed so it is still worth optimising the start of your description text. Other App Stores such as Android Marketplace do include description in their search criteria though.

Keyword optimisation is therefore pretty crucial. You should follow similar techniques to standard SEO. Prioritise the words and try and think of what keywords or phrases a user would think of to find your type of app. This could also include popular competitors or major platforms you have integrated with, as their names are popular search terms. A word of warning though. You do risk being rejected by Apple if you blatantly hang on the coat tails of a competitor so you try and be a bit subtle.

That brings us onto the name. Unfortunately a buzzy sounding app name will rank poorly against a does-what-it-says-on-the-tin title. You should also consider starting with a number or early letter in the alphabet for when the user orders their result by name. Including popular search words such as “fun”, “easy”, “exciting” and “free” would do you no harm either.

For example on our new Learn Chinese App we have used the title "Learn Chinese Lite - Mandarin Phrasebook for Travel in China" to capture as much keyword traffic as we can. We have substituted "Lite" with "Pro" for the paid version and also linked to it heavily in the free app to prompt upgrades.

Design & Build

The icon that represents your App is hugely important. It should be eye catching and well designed to give a solid first impression and communicate that this wasn’t cobbled together by a talentless nerd playing with a bit of code. Check out this superb guide on good app icon design.

Whilst your icon design might gain you a view, your screenshots are likely to tip the balance. They should be well chosen examples that flatter the app, demonstrate it’s usefulness and grab the user’s attention. 

Additionally the filesize of your app can affect its popularity. An app under 10MB in size can be downloaded over a 3G network whereas anything over that requires a wifi connection or it has to be downloaded via a computer associated to the device. If you can’t access the app the moment you find it, you may never come back.

Building Downloads

A well-optimised app will still not rank well until it proves to be popular. In order to maximise your potential download figures you should get listed in app directories.

Reaching out to bloggers can be very powerful. We noticed this after we launched Learn Thai and it was picked up by a prominent blog within a few days, skyrocketing downloads. Don’t be afraid to contact bloggers, they need fresh content to write about! Just keep it short, friendly and relevant.

Be social! It is easy to integrate Twitter or facebook connect into the app and encourage users to share their scores, activities or even that they like the app on those platforms with their own audience.

It is also worthwhile asking your more active users to rate the app. If a user has had the app for a while and has used it quite frequently it is worth popping up a simple message asking for a rating or review. If this is done in an unobtrusive manner it should not harm your app at all.

There is quite a lot of information to take in there but I hope I have communicated just how vital it is to plan, research and test your search and marketing tactics to avoid your masterpiece lying unused in the murky vaults of an App Store server.