5 Myths About App Store Optimization

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Hang on to your brain. I’m going to throw some numbers at you.

Apps are a big business. Really big. App sales are a $25 billion industry, as reported by WSJ. This doesn’t account for the broader revenue generated by other industries that are part of the app economy. VisionMobile estimates that the global app economy will be soaring at $143 billion by 2016. With growth rates at or exceeding 30%, the app industry is one hot area right now.

Plus, it’s growing. App creation and purchasing is on the rise.

Graph from Moz.

With a billion smartphones in the world, people are buying apps.

That’s why app store optimization (ASO) is red hot for marketers and search optimization experts. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of mythologizing going on, and a lot of mythbusting that needs to happen. We’re dealing with a subject that is as serious as it gets; we can’t afford to screw it up.

In this article, I’m going to set a fuse to five inane myths about app store optimization, light the fuse, and blow them sky high. Along with each myth, I’m going to deliver a dosage of truth that will help you dominate the ASO game.

How Important is App Store Optimization?

First, let me drive one important point home: ASO is really important.

Why? It’s not only because apps are big biz, but because customers are searching for those apps. Apptentive reports that 63% (iOS) of app customers report browsing in the app store to discover new apps.

There are a variety of different ways that customers find new apps — media, websites, friends, etc. But far and away, customers are searching for apps. Nielsen’s data parallels that from Apptentive:

Graph from Parisoma.

According to the head of search and discovery for Google Play, Ankin Jain, a full 12% of all daily active users are looking for apps on a daily basis. And a whopping 50% of these DAUs (daily active users) search for apps at least once a week. Over the course of a month, Google Play processes six million unique search phrases.

We need to respond to ASO by getting better at it, and by getting rid of the following myths:

Myth #1: Change your title often to adapt to high-ranking searches.

Truth: Pick a title and stick with it

There’s no argument that the title is the most important single element of app store optimization. As Jain, the head of Google Play’s search, stated in the Inside Mobile Apps report, the title is the ‘most important’ piece of metadata.

In response, some ASOs took to switching up the title to better adapt to top searches. They would create different variations of the title on a daily basis, changing keywords, adding keywords and renaming their product. Doing so, however, does not help your ranking. In fact, it could hurt it. In our previous article on ASO, Robi Ganguly states:

“Changing your title often to include different keywords can be detrimental. As your app begins to rank higher and gain more reviews, news of your app will begin to spread by word of mouth. Changing the title can make it difficult for word to spread about your app.

Once you pick a title, that’s it. You’re done. So you better make it good. Here are four tips for doing just that.

1. Make it short — 25 characters.

A short title is one that users can read in a single screen. Lengthy titles will get cut off. For the single most important piece of search metadata in the app store, you don’t want it to get chopped.

The app below — Productivity Wizard — only has part of their title featured in the screen. They would be better off not producing such a lengthy title. Because I can’t see it from my app browse screen, I’m less likely to download it.

2. Make it creative.

Why creative? Jain explains that searchers are either categorical or navigational. A user who has heard of or seen your app will be conducting a navigational search to access it. If this title is creative, it is more likely to be remembered — and thus to be successfully searched for.

A navigational search is something like “Angry Birds” or “Evernote” as opposed to categorical queries such as “bird game” or “note taking app.”

3. Make it unique.

Unique is similar to creative, but with a twist. Creativity is something that will stand out to the user. You don’t want your app to get lost in the morass of bandwagon apps like Flappy Pig, Flappy Wings, Flappy Fall, Flappy Hero, Flappy Monster, Flappy Nyan, etc. ad nauseam. Bandwagon apps are rarely as successful as the titan they were following.

A navigational search for a “flappy” app produces 2,193 results. Lack of a unique titles means you’re going to get lost in the crowd.

4. Use a keyword, but don’t keyword stuff.

Keyword stuffing is as much as sin in SEO as it is in ASO. Apple reports that “Repetitive and/or irrelevant use of keywords in the app title, description or promotional description can create an unpleasant user experience and can result in an app suspension.

Remember, you only have 25 characters to play around with. A short title plus a short keyword is all you have room for.

Myth #2: Keywords aren’t that important.

Truth Keywords are important.

As the myth goes, keywords are for SEO, rankings are for ASO. Because ASO is such a different game from SEO, many optimizers dispensed with the importance of keywords in title creation and description writing.

The truth of the matter is that keywords matter…quite a bit. Keywords are important enough, to place in your title and in your description. Again, to reference my point above, don’t stuff it. But use keywords.

MobileDevHQ’s study of keywords in the title produced these results:

App titles that contained keywords had a 10.3% higher ranking than those without it. 10.3% doesn’t sound like a lot. However, if it’s as easy as popping a keyword in the title, why not?

Let’s go back to the data that I surveyed in the beginning. Remember how many users search for apps?

Graph from Apptamin.

App Store and Android Market have algorithms, and those algorithms use traditional methods of search — keywords. Don’t neglect keywords.

Myth #3: It’s all about the ratings.

Truth: Ratings are important, but not the end all.

There is no arguing with the fact that ratings are important. Judging by the amount of push notifications and near-begging from apps, you’d think that ratings were one of the most important features in the entire universe of app store optimization.

Ratings, as one of the lead listing features in apps, do have an impact upon a user’s likelihood to tap through or download an app:

The truth is, while app ratings are important, they aren’t as significant as most people think in affecting an app’s rankings.

To uncover the truth behind the impact of rating, Inside Mobile Apps conducted a study. They first examined a random sampling of the easy search terms (1-25 results), medium search terms (26-100 results), and competitive search terms (101+ results) to see how each app ranked based on the ratings.

Here is what they came up with for iOS rate/rank comparison:

Graph from insidemobileapps.com

The ratings on these apps takes a nosedive after position eight. Also interesting is that the rating doesn’t seem to have a huge impact on the first eight positions, fluctuating both upward and downward. In the “easy” search term, researchers discovered that a 10th-ranked app may have a rating as low as 1.09, which, frankly, sucks.

Here’s Google Play ranks the apps. Unlike iOS, there’s less fall off toward the end of the spectrum. Researchers suspect that “Google Play’s search algorithm seems to take a more meritocratic approach to app discovery and visibility, letting higher quality apps rise to the top.”

Graph from insidemobileapps.com

There’s more devastation to the myth of rating-is-everything. Even some of the highly competitive apps in the Top Charts aren’t backed up by high ratings. Look at some of the rating levels of iOS’s top charts. No one wants a rating between one and two stars, but that’s what’s going on, even with a Top Chart listing.

Graph from insidemobileapps.com

The takeaway is simple. Sure, ratings are good. Higher ratings are nice. And for users, that nice four or five star status makes a good impression. However, in terms of ranking, it matters less than we might think.

Myth #4: As long as it’s on the store people will find it.

Truth: It needs a lot of downloads to get recognized.

There are some ASOs who believe that an app, as long as it’s in the Google Play or App Store will get found, will get downloaded, and will get desired revenue.

Let me show you some stats.

Regardless of your niche, that’s a lot of apps. In order to successfully compete, you need more of a differentiation than just some smart keywords in your title and description.

We need to modify this borderline myth with a healthy dose of algorithmic reality.

You need downloads.

I showed you in the point above that ratings have a less-powerful impact than we might think. But the impact of downloads is usually underestimated.

It’s a tough deal, because in order to get more downloads, you need more downloads. Let the data speak.

Apps with more downloads simply rank higher. That’s all.

Download velocity depends a lot on how your app does from a marketing standpoint. As SEW reports, the high ranking apps have wildly differentiated velocity, depending on their path to popularity:

Image from Search Engine Watch.

In order to increase app downloads organically, it’s often best to go the route of traditional marketing — social media, content marketing, PPC, mailing lists, etc. Once you accrue a trickle of downloads, you should be able to increase your ranking, then gain more downloads, higher rankings, more downloads, etc., until you reach a tipping point.

Don’t go down the path of the scammers who artificially build up junk downloads simply to boost their rankings. The algorithms are programmed to identify automated methods of downloads, such as robotic or inorganic viral download spurts. Furthermore, it’s reported that the algorithms are even able to identify spammy methods of download upticks caused by emailing huge lists of potential customers.

Myth #5: Description is not very important.

Truth Description is very important.

I’ve heard of ASO attempts that fall short of awesome, because they failed on the description.

Here’s one report that claims to train you to become an ASO ninja:

Description doesn’t make a difference.

They qualify their carte blanche statement by saying:

From a pure ASO perspective, the description field does not have an impact on search rankings in the App Store. On the other hand, the Google Play algorithm takes into consideration the context in your app description for ranking.

From my study and research, description is important for both Google Play and App Store. Even if description quality and keyword inclusion had zero impact upon the ranking algorithm, it unarguably has the potential to compel users to download the app. Those download stats, in turn, have a powerful algorithmic impact upon rankings.

Search Engine Watch reports that the number two relevance factor for app store ranking is, “app description,” ranked directly after title as number one. Among their “tips to help you rank better in the App Store,” number one is “focus on natural incorporation of keywords in the title and description data.”

AppTweak, similarly, explains the principle of keyword inclusion in descriptions:

Keywords have a huge importance in ASO (App Store Optimization). Indeed, whether on your title and/or keywords field for iOS apps and on your title and/or description for Google Play apps, keywords have a strong impact in the App Store algorithm. Therefore, they need to be wisely chosen in order to give your app the maximum visibility and the chances of getting found.

Conclusion

Part of app store success is simply avoiding pitfalls, or in this case the myths about ASO. You may not be creating the world’s next Flappy Bird or a billion dollar Instagram. However, with sufficient effort and enough savvy, you can create an app that will get found, will get downloaded, and will make you successful.

What myths — or truths — have you discovered about ASO?

About the Author: is the Chief Evangelist of KISSmetrics and blogs at Quick Sprout.

Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, we will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, we only recommend products or services we believe will add value to our readers.

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