Columnist Craig Weinberg discusses the ins and outs of selecting the right keywords for app store optimization.

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Remember the good old days of simply optimizing your site for the search engines? According to Apple, 65 percent of all iOS app discovery takes place via organic in-store (iTunes) search.

If app discovery is a big part of your business model, you need to invest as much nuance and creativity as possible to organically grow your app in the app stores (iTunes and Google Play) through app store optimization (ASO).

Jason Falls phone screenThis is mobile. There are no shortcuts. There is no passing go and collecting $200. You must earn your users’ attention the old-fashioned way: by making a great product and optimizing all of your channels, including ASO.

Yes, Apple is releasing search ads in iTunes this fall, but you won’t be able to buy your way into a comprehensive, successful app discovery strategy.

So, okay. By now we all know that ASO is pivotal for marketers. And yes, relevancy upon being discovered is and has been essential to conversion.

But this much hasn’t changed (yet): Keywords are at the root of it all. They’re how your app ranks, and success in optimizing for them requires both technical acumen and a specific mobile lens.

At 3Q, my employer, our app store keyword strategy hinges on two core pillars:

  1. Discoverability: How clearly are potential users able to find your app when searching both broadly and with specific intent?
  2. Conversion: How can you optimize your app store assets — keywords, description, screen shots, preview video — to capture a user’s fleeting mobile attention?

As for the process itself, we break it into four discrete steps:

1. Do your app store BI (business intelligence) research

First, we utilize App Store intelligence reports, store analytics, and performance history to understand how your app and your competitors perform against the elements that matter to the App Store ranking and search algorithms. These elements include lifetime downloads, download velocity, average rating and update frequency.

2. Conduct a keyword and app title audit

Keywords are the driver of discoverability. Again, keeping the idea that “65 percent of apps downloaded are downloaded through search,” you have to take the 100 characters Apple allots you for keywords very seriously. In this vein…

  1. Title: We research titles of competition, and then we audit search queries containing those keywords for popularity and difficulty to rank. Usually, your final title should be keyword-rich for keyword phrases important to the app. Strive to explain key selling points to someone reading the title.
  2. Keyword research: To analyze keywords, we use competitive tools such as Keyword Spy in Sensor Tower, and we audit your current keyword set in iTunes Connect for popularity and difficulty.
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3. Try it out on the app store

After we’ve done our research to know your keywords, your competition’s keywords, their popularity, and ranking/search difficulty, we test! We test in the app store to gauge the top five to 10 results for each. “Difficulty” is relative, so you need to do this research to determine which you have a shot at ranking for.

aso examples

These apps optimized well for the “real estate” keyword.

As a recent example, a large mCommerce client saw its app rank against real estate instead of in shopping or lifestyle because of its particular name. It didn’t surface for any “related or competitive keywords,” which resulted in a low-volume organic install yield.

Originally, the client did not use more obvious keywords because of their ranking difficulty. Now, we are testing more obvious ones and using the learnings to course-correct the app name itself.

4. Bring it all together

As a general rule, the most important keywords you want to rank for should be included in your title. And the keywords you select within your precious 100 characters should fall into one of the following categories:

  1. High-popularity, highly relevant keywords (If you have a hard time ranking for these, add descriptive keywords that are more unique to you that you have a better chance of ranking for)
  2. Low- to medium-popularity long-tail keywords that you have a better shot at ranking for
  3. Competitor keywords

At the least, let this be a good primer for what will be commonplace by this fall: app store search ads. In a move to muster app store feature parity with Google, there’s good and bad coming for developers from Apple’s move.

The good? Potential new opportunity to rank for previously out-of-reach competitive keywords, plus visibility into converting keywords. The bad? Your keyword efforts toward organic search result rank can potentially be overshadowed by a competitor buying an ad.

Either way, the only way to learn is to get in there and experiment. Good luck, and check back in October!

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