App Store SEO: The Inbound Marketer’s Guide to Mobile – Moz
As the app ecosystem grows, many marketers are turning their sights towards mobile app marketing. Today’s post provides a high-level view of App Store Optimization, and gives tips on how to break into the rapidly expanding world of apps.
How to Optimize for App Store Search Engines
Let’s dive into search in the app stores, and how the search engines differ based on platform.
First things first; remember I mentioned that the app ecosystem reminds me of the web in the mid-to-late 90’s? Keep that picture in your head when you think of search. App store search hasn’t been “figured out” in the same way that Google “figured out” search on the web. Simply put, we’re still in AltaVista mode in the app ecosystem: something better than Yahoo’s directory provided, but not incredibly sophisticated like Google would become in a few more years.
Just like the web has on-page and off-page SEO, apps have on-metadata and off-metadata ASO. On-metadata ASO include factors totally within your control and are often things dealing with your app store presence. Off-metadata ASO include factors that might not be entirely in your control, but which you can still influence. Here are a few of the most important knobs and levers that you as a marketer can turn to affect your search performance, and some quick tips on how to optimize them.
An app’s title is the single most important metadata factor for rank in ASO. It’s equivalent to the <title> tag in your HTML, and is a great signal to the app stores as to what your app is about. On the web, you want your title to include both a description of what you do (including keywords) as well as some branding; both elements should also exist in the app store. Be sure to include the keywords, but don’t be spammy. Make sure it parses well and makes sense. Example: “Strava Run – GPS Running, Training and Cycling Workout Tracker”
Patrick Haig, our VP of Customer Success, likes to break descriptions down into two sections: above the fold and below the fold (sound familiar?). He says, “Above the fold language should be 1-2 sentences describing the app and its primary use case, and below the fold should have a clear and engaging feature set and social proof.” We’ll dig into some of the differences about the description field across platforms below.
The Keyword Field in iOS is a 100 character field which you can use to tell iTunes search for which keywords you should show up. Since you only get 100 characters, you must use them wisely. A few tips:
- When choosing your keywords, just like on the web, focus on relevancy, search volume, and difficulty.
- Don’t use multiple word phrases; break out to individual words (Apple can combine them for you).
- Don’t repeat keywords that are already in your title (and put the most important ones in your title, leaving the keyword field for your secondary keywords).
- Separate keywords with commas, and don’t use spaces anywhere.
Consumers are finicky. They want apps which are beautiful, elegant, and simple to understand. Your icon is often their first interaction with your app, so ensure that it does a great job conveying your brand, and the elegance and usefulness of your app. Remember, in search results, an icon is one of the only ways you can convey your brand and usefulness. Think of it as part of the meta description tag you’d create in SEO. For example, SoundCloud does a great job with their icon and branding.
The most important rule to remember when creating your screenshots is that they should not be screenshots. They are, instead, promotional graphics. That means you can include text or other graphics to tell your app’s story in an interesting, visual way.
Especially in iOS, where the card layout shows your first screenshot, it is incredibly helpful when an app displays a graphic which explains the app right up front, increasing conversions from search results to viewing the app page and, ultimately, installing the app.
The best app marketers also use their
screenshotspromotional graphics together to create a flow that carries the user through the story. Each graphic can build off the previous graphic, giving the user a reason to continue scrolling and learning about your app.
Here’s a great example of using the screenshots effectively by our friends at Haiku Deck.
Outside of your direct control, you’ll also want to focus on a few things to ensure the best performance in ASO.
Every app has a rating. Your job as a marketer is to ensure that your app gets a great overall rating. Rating is directly tied to performance in app store search, which leads us to believe that rating is a factor in app store search rankings.
Similar to ratings, you want to ensure that the reviews your users write about your app are positive. These reviews will help increase your conversion rate from app page views to downloads.
For a great product to help you increase your rating and reviews, check out Apptentive.
This is discussed further below, but suffice it to say, link building to your app’s page in the app store matters for Google Play apps. Given you all are SEOs, you know all about how to rock this!
How Do iOS and Google Play Differ In App Store Search?
The differences in the platforms mean that there are different levers to pull depending on the platform. Google Play and iOS act completely independently, and often, quite differently. The differences are wide-ranging, but what are a couple of the main differences?
In general, the way to think about the differences is that Google is Google and Apple is Apple. Duh, right? Google has the built the infrastructure and technology to learn from the web and use many different data points to make a decision. Apple, on the other hand, doesn’t have indexes of the web, and comes from a background in media. When in doubt, imagine what you’d do if you were each of them and had the history each of them has.
Here are a couple concrete examples.
Description versus Keywords
In iOS, there’s a keywords field. It’s easy to see where this came from, especially when you think of iTunes’ background in music: a song has a title (app title), musician (developer name), and then needs a few keywords to describe the song (“motown,” “reggae,” etc.). When Apple launched their app store, they used the same technology that was already built for music, which meant that the app title, developer name, and keywords were the only fields used to understand search for an app. Note that description isn’t taken into account in iOS (but I expect this to change soon).
On the other hand, there is no keyword field in Google Play; there is only a description field. Thus, while iOS doesn’t take the description into account, in Google Play the description is all you have, so be sure to do exactly the same as you do on the web: cater your content towards your keywords, without being spammy.
Leveraging PageRank in Google Play
Another big difference in iOS and Google Play is that Google has access to PageRank and the link graph of the web, while Apple does not. Thus, Google will take into account the inbound links to your app’s detail page (for example, https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.symantec.mobilesecurity) as a factor in Google Play search, while Apple has no such factor.
How To Measure Success In App Marketing
It’s very difficult to measure success in app marketing in the same way you can measure success in web marketing. This is especially true when you’re working with inbound channels. It’s still early, but it’s continuously getting better, with more tools and services coming out all the time to help marketers understand success. Here are some of the ways I recommend measuring success in the app store today:
Just like on the web, a great way to measure your success in app store search is to track your ranking for specific search terms you care about over time and versus your competition. Rank tracking is incredibly valuable for ASOs to understand their progress.
Top Charts, especially Top Charts within a particular category, do a great job of allowing you to understand your success in relation to the rest of the apps in your category.
Ratings and Reviews
Just as ratings and reviews will help your ASO, they are also great metrics to track over time for how you’re doing with your app marketing. Keep track of what users are saying, how they’re saying it (pro tip: listening to their language is a great way to do keyword research!), and what they’re rating your app.
Taking it one step further, correlating your search rankings to downloads will allow you to understand the effect your increased ASO is having on your app performance. One way we do this is to integrate with iTunes Connect and overlay your search rankings with your downloads so you can visually see how closely related any one keyword is with your downloads. It’s not perfect, but it helps!
Conversion and Revenue
At the end of the day, revenue is the most important metric you should be understanding. Of course, you should be tracking your revenue and doing the same correlation with search performance. In addition, you should watch your conversion rate over time; we often see apps whose conversion rate soars with an increase in ASO because the users are so much more engaged with the app.
Tools And Resources To Use To Help With App Marketing
To conclude this post, I want to quickly talk about some tools and resources to use to help your app marketing process.
Sylvain has written some great content and has some incredible insights into app marketing and ASO on his company’s (Apptamin) blog.
I mentioned Apptentive above, and they really are the best way I know to impact your ratings and reviews, and get great feedback from customers in the process.
In addition to having a great, free, in-app analytics product (Flurry Analytics), as well as an interesting paid advertising product (AppCircle), Flurry also posts some of the most interesting data about the app ecosystem on their blog.
If you’re looking to obtain some amount of attribution for your paid advertising (inbound can’t be split out, sorry!), MobileAppTracking is where it’s at. It allows you to understand which paid channels are performing best for you based on the metric of your choosing. Best of all, you only pay for what you use.
This is, of course, a shameless promotion. That said, our product is a great way to understand your performance in app store search, help you do keyword research, and give you competitive intelligence. We offer a free (forever!) tool for Indie developers and scale all the way up to the largest Enterprise customers.
Now It’s Your Turn–> Visit the link below to get the full list to help guide you along your optimization way!