At the time of writing, the number of apps in the iphone app store looks set to push through the 100k mark for the first time and it's inevitable that the million mark will be reached at some point in the next few years. This means that developers and publishers increasingly need to turn to Appstore SEO as a way of improving visibility and driving downloads. Agencies such as Apress and Third Screen Labs are already beginning to offer SEO for the iphone app store as a service, but there's some simple stuff you can do yourself to improve the visibility of your app.
At present, the iphone app store search system pretty unsophisticated, which means that some of the tricks that stopped working many years ago in the PC web can still be effective. However, the app store search algorithm is rapidly evolving and already some methods such as keyword stuffing no longer work so easily. That said, there's still a lot you can do so here's a guide to the top 12 things you can do to improve your ranking.
1. Do your keyword research
Just like conventional SEO iphone appstore search engine optimization depends on an understanding of the types of keywords that users are going to be searching for. Once you understand this, you can think about including those that are relevant into your app listing in order to drive search traffic. High traffic keywords on the app store include:
- Popular apps of the moment e.g. the top 100 charts
- All time popular apps - the all time most popular and big iphone app brands such as Ocarina
- Major PC-based online brands such as myspace, facebook, youtube and so on
- Generic keywords like "fun" or "sex"
- Iphone specific keywords such as "lite"
The guru of mobile internet SEO is Bryson Meurnior and he has put together a great list of iphone app store keywords based on mining of the app store search suggest feature.
The aim should be to find keywords that are related to, or relevant to your app. For example over at howtomakeiphoneapps they give the example of relevant keywords for a wine-related app such as “tasting note”, “wine journal”, “wine’ and so on.
Once you have a list of keywords you can include them in your app listing.
2. Optimize your keyword list
In July iphone developers were asked to submit a list of keywords for new and existing apps. This looks set to become the key source of meta data for the appstore, to some extent, replacing or reducing in importance the weighting of some of the other fields which have been used in the past, such as the description text.
You are limited to 255 characters for your appstore keywords and these can be changed whenever you submit a new app version.
3. Optimize your description text
update: It seems this no longer works at all for new listings (existing listings still get the benefit) - thanks to Aaron from The Appency Press for the info in the comments
Until recently it was easy to game the apple app store search algorithm by including a load of keywords in the description text. This lead to a lot of blatant keyword stuffing - for example developers would include a long list of un-related but popular applications. For example by using devices like "similar to ... " or "People who bought this also liked" or "If you like ... you'll like this app" or "Recommended for fans of" it was possible to insert the names of the most popular apps and then achieve a ranking when users searched for them.
Some developers are even using words which might lead to their app being listed in general itunes searches, e.g. when people are searching for music or video. For example Zaptap is listing words like "Miami vice" and "Madonna".
However, it appears that already some developers are getting their apps rejected from the store for overdoing keyword stuffing like this. Simiarly, until recently, digital chocoate was getting ranked for searches including the word EA (for Electronic Arts) as they included the abrieviation ea. for each. However, Digital Chocolate was forced to remove this from the description text and their games no longer rank for the keyword.
4. Use keywords in the app title and developer name
You can also incorporate keywords into other fields in the listing such as the app title and even developer name. This does still seem to be effective in achieving a ranking for certain keywords. For example, a user searching for "fun" sees a number of apps with "fun" in the title in the top search rankings.
Again, there's balance to be struck here - if you are planning to build a long-term brand in the appstore with lots of releases, then altering your app title or developer name just to pick up a bit of short-term search traffic probably isn't a great idea. However, whilst it is still possible to get traffic to your app in this way it's definitely still worth considering.
5. Use numbers or the letter A in the app title
Using a blank or listing your app with a number at the beginning of the name ensure that the app will feature near the top of the results in the "sort by name" view under a specific category. It will also rank the app above others with the same value, but less optimized title in the other views like "release date". For example, "1001 pick up lines" or "AAA Bubblewrap".
It is likely thtat Apple will pick up on this fairly quickly but for now there's still benefits in using this sort of naming convention in order to rank higher in alphabetical list views.
6. Encourage reviews
One element to the Apple app store search algorithm appears to be the number of reviews. However, users are not really prompted or encouraged to write a review, except when an app is being deleted. As a result only around 0.5% of users leave a review, and this is often negative, as many don't even know they can leave one until they try and delete the app.
One option is to write your own reviews, which is something some developers seem to be doing. Although this isn't a long-term viable strategy it is well worth encouraging friends, family and friendly contacts to review your app when it first hits the app store and has no reviews at all.
Alternatively you can encourage users to write a review within your app or wherever your app is promoted. For example, the appirater code for iphone apps prompts users who have a launched an app 15 or more times, and used it for 30 days (and hence likely to be satisfied users) to leave a review in the appstore, with an on-screen pop up.
There are also options emerging for buying reviews - for example Fuelmyapp has recently launched and enables developers to gain app store reviews in return for offering free downloads of premium applications to users. Ratemyapp from The Appency Press is another similar service.
7. Use price drops
Another way of moving up the charts can be to reduce the price of your app. Firstly, many of the review sites and directories such as 148 apps specifically track price drops, which can help get your app picked up by them. Secondly, reducing the price of your app will obviously increase sales, all other things being equal, which can lead to increasing returns if you can generate enough additional demand to push into the charts. For example, the Wall Street Jounral recently reported that one of the leading games publishers had some success using this tactic:
"PopCap Games Inc., maker of the popular Bejeweled puzzle game, experimented in June by cutting the price on its Peggle game to 99 cents from $4.99 for four days. Peggle, which had been ranked at around 60 in top paid apps, shot up to second place within 24 hours.Andrew Stein, PopCap's director of mobile business development, declined to provide revenue figures but said sales during the discount period increased 20 to 25 times the previous volume."
8. Make your icon active
A nifty visual trick some developers are using is to include calls to action or price drop information in their icons. For example, the use of a "sale" text is already pretty widely established. Visual hooks like this can be very powerful so it's worth thinking of what can be included in your own icon, even something as small as an arrow can potentially have an impact on the number of clicks you might get.
Image via the ieverythingcafe
The guys over at A Clever Twist have also written a great guide to improving your iphone app icon - which is well worth a read.
9. Buy downloads
The more downloads your app has the higher it will rank in the popularity filter of the app store. One way of moving up the download rankings is to buy traffic to your iphone app store page using an iphone-friendly mobile ad network like admob or by paying for premium listing on getjar. Admob will even let you use your own inventory as credits in their network via their iphone app exchange, which means you don't have to spend anything directly.
However, if you are looking to boost into the top 100 charts then it is going to cost you. According to a study by adwhirl it costs at least $1850 per day to deliver the 2500 + daily downloads to hit the charts.
10. Make the most of your screenshotsOnce a user has navigated to your app page on the app store the vast majority will not read the description, but will quickly scan the screenshots. You need to make sure these are as attractive as possible and draw people in to encourage downloads. For example, show the most important screens and demonstrate that key functionality.
11. Promote your app
An alternative to paying for downloads is to use other types of promotional methods. This includes conventional PR, social media (facebook, twitter, youtube), your own channels (e.g. your website) and submitting your app to the large numbers of iphone application review sites that are springing up such as apptism, appvee and appcraver. Ultimately, anything which drives buzz around your app can improve your appstore SEO, either directly via increased downloads (and rankings) or even through inclusion in Apple's own pick lists if you bring the app to the attention of an itunes recommended section manager/ editor.
12. Understand app store analytics
In order to optimize your app listing over time you need to be able to get information and analytics data. Appviz downloads all your iphone data on the fly and makes it easy for you to review it and see how your app is doing in terms of downloads. However, the native iphone app store analytics are pretty terrible. Distimo , Flurry and Pinch Media all offer different types of analytics and reporting solutions to help your optimize your app distribution.
Bonus Tip: List your app in directories
Finally, you should look to get your app listed in third party directories and aggregators. For example, you can list your app here at mjelly.com in our iphone applications directory. Each listing links to your iphone app store page from within a relevant category to help drive users, downloads and reviews.
update March 2010
Here's a new trick for getting more reviews - iphone appstore seo trick
That's it - as we say Appstore SEO is definitely changing fast so let us know what works for you in the comments.