App Store Optimization Part 2: Ranking Factors

Published: 10/04/2012, Last Updated: 10/04/2012

In the first article of this series, we went over the basics of what app store optimization means. In this second article, we'll go over the more practical parts of ASO. There are several major factors that impact how your app is ranked within all the app stores. For the purposes of this article, we’re going to briefly go over the basics just to get our feet wet.

Ranking factor #1: App name

If I asked a random person on the street about Angry Birds, chances are they would know exactly what I was talking about. The name of an app is an incredibly important ranking factor in app store optimization, similar to the importance of a title tag when optimizing a website. App names should be targeted to what the app is about, avoiding the use of vague descriptions. It should give the app instant recognition as to what it is about; i.e., Angry Birds tells you that you’re going to be getting some birds with anger issues. In addition, if your app is meant to be used with another app (like a Pandora enhancement), then put that in the name. Every time someone searches for Pandora, your app will also come up, creating more chances for a download.

Ranking factor #2: Keyword research

Keyword research is an essential part of optimizing your site or app. It’s smart to find more targeted keywords that speak to exactly what your app is about, rather than vague, generalized keywords that while might be relevant would be extremely difficult to rank highly for. For example, perhaps your app is about art. Instead of trying to rank for the very vague “art”, it would be much easier to compete using the words “van Gogh”, “Picasso”, or even “art for kids”. These kind of keywords and keyword phrases are called “long tail keywords”; they are descriptive, specific keywords that are much easier to rank more highly for within app stores, and they make it much easier for customers to find your app.

There are several free tools to help you figure out what keywords to target for relevance and ranking - Google Keywords remains one of the most popular (free) tools on the Web for this task. This informative tool gives you a list of actual search user keywords related to your original search query, search volume, competition, and trends. You can also use this free keyword search tool to estimate potential Web traffic, filter keywords based on a number of different combinations, and display ideas that are specifically tailored to your website or app. In addition to the Google Keywords tool, MobileDevHQ offers this app store keyword research tool that while relatively new looks to be something that offers some very useful data.

Ranking factor #3: keyword implementation

Once you’ve got your keywords selected, you have to figure out where to put them. All app stores offer a description field in which you can put a brief overview of what your app is all about, in addition to common keywords that your app can be found for. Just like with the name of your app, it’s best to make these keywords as specific as possible (“art for kids” instead of just plain old “art”). Stuffing extraneous keywords – whether related to your app or not – within the description or tag field is considered spammy, and will greatly impact your rankings and visitor goodwill.

In addition, never repeat your keywords or app name in the tag or keywords field. Once is more than enough. You also don’t need to use different iterations of your keywords (car, cars); all app store internal search engines will know what you mean without including the plural forms. A general rule of thumb with the app keywords field is to keep it short and simple – in other words, use the words that are most relevant, don’t repeat yourself, and stay on target.

The app description field is another very important target. Focus here on making the reading convinced that this app is worth a download. In the first three lines (or less, if you can manage it) of your app description, make sure you use your targeted keywords and concepts that will pull the reader in, a “hook”, if you will. Include proof here of other people who have downloaded and approved of the app – this could mean positive reviews, press coverage, or user experiences. Give a rundown of the most pertinent features in a bulleted list so users can instantly see what they might be able to take advantage of.  As in search engine optimization, be natural about how you words in any copy that goes along with your app. Read your descriptions and any other copy out loud. Does it flow? Or does it sound a little forced? If it’s the latter, revise your content so it’s more organic.

Icons and screenshots  are one of the most effective ways to create a new user in app stores. Basic app icon design includes a few simple principles. First, be innovative. Take a look at the icons that are trending on the front page of any app store. They all have great design that is fun and interesting, with easily understandable purposes. Icons should also be consistent with your overall design; in other words, if you have a website or other branding vehicles that you’re using to promote your app, make sure that the same design elements are present in both. 

Screenshots also are a great way to get your message across. Be sure to include alt image tags for these screenshots that take full advantage of your stable of relevant key phrases, and provide short descriptions for each one.

Ranking factor #4: Visitor conversion

You’ve come up with a great app, a snappy name, a fantastic supply of relevant and targeted keywords, and an optimized keyword field and description. Now it’s time to make that final reach across the aisle, which is converting casual views into downloads. We’ve gone over several different things you can do to encourage conversions, including (but not limited to):

  • App description, keyword field, tagging, and title
  • App store detail page
  • App store reviews
  • Description copy
  • App icon
  • App screenshots
  • Video of app in action
  • Availability date
  • Social networking
  • Vertical niche networking/optimization

There are many things you can do with each of these to make sure your app reaches the top of the heap, which we’ll deal with in future articles for better depth of coverage.

App store optimization: it’s a journey, not a destination

Just as in search engine optimization, app store optimization is a series of small, thoughtfully planned actions that when put all together can make a huge difference in how highly an app is ranked in app stores, search engines, and in front of customers in general. Stay tuned for future articles that will go more into the mechanics of how app store optimization works, and how you can use it to make sure your app gets in front of your target market.  






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