My App Store SEO Experience

Many people often ask me why I publish a magazine about app development and marketing.  After all, by training, I’m a medical doctor so the world of apps is as far removed from my training as… well I couldn’t think of a good metaphor.  Obviously I’m passionate about the subject, it’s an industry that is still in its infancy and for me at least it is exciting.  But for me publishing the magazine is an educational process, a means to learn from the experts.  But what good is learning though, without doing?  That of course is the ultimate aim.

So recently I launched my first application and of course the question was how to market it.  I was really interested to learn about App Store Optimization (ASO), since I already have a good grasp of regular SEO and I knew the potential benefits.  For one, ASO is relatively easy and time efficient.  As opposed to reaching out to press, knocking on peoples’ doors, choosing the right keywords can lead to a passive and hopefully steady stream of traffic.  Of course this traffic is also free, which is another great bonus.

Initially I scoured the internet for resources – one of note was Tomasz Kolinko’s SlideShare series, which helped give a good foundation of the basics.  I used a combination of sources to create my keyword list, including the Google Adwords Keyword Tool, Xyologic and Apptrace (detailed explanations about how to use these can be found in Issue 2).

Interestingly during the submission process to Apple, a “bug” caused most of the carefully handpicked keywords that I chose to be deleted.  We debated whether to release the application or not, but my partner and I decided to go ahead and release it, even in these far from optimal conditions because our whole aim with this app was just to get it “out there” and learn.

When we released the app initially, with most of the keywords missing, we were getting a massive 3 downloads per day.  At $0.99 a pop, it would take us a long time to recoup our initial investment.  In the meantime we were busy preparing an update, fixing some bugs that we found in the app as well as updating the keywords.  After releasing the new version of the app, with all the keywords carefully selected and in place, our downloads shot up to a peak of 30 downloads per day – an increase of around 1000%!  (Since then the keyword rankings have changed and the average is a lower, although still much higher than the baseline…)

Effect of App Store SEO
The red dot indicates the app update. Dramatic change in app downloads after update due only to ASO.

While we are very happy with the results, the app that we initially released was in a challenging area to optimize as well.  From hearing the experience of others and also personally consulting for other app developers, I have seen repeated success from careful keyword selection and optimization.  A friend and fellow magazine publisher, Meron Bareket of Inspiring Innovation Magazine also experience a similar increase of over 700% in downloads.  Matt Clark, a successful internet marketer who has started publishing apps, managed to double his downloads using just one tweak that I suggested.  There is no doubt in my mind that ASO works and should be an important part of any app marketing campaign.

In fact, to strengthen the importance of ASO in your mind, recently Nielsen release a poll showing that 57% of people downloaded apps by “searching” the App Store, which was the highest driver of app downloads along with suggestions from friends or family.  However, this should be taken with a grain of salt, since Nielsen means by “search” both browsing as well as actually searching using the search box.  Matthaus Krzykowski of Xyologic estimates that around 50% of downloads are driven through search and the other 50% by browsing the featured section or app charts.  Apple is also placing increasing importance on search, having bought App Store search engine Chomp as well as placing search more prominently in the latest iOS 6 update.

Search is important and is going to become more sophisticated and prominent in app discovery.  There is no doubt about that.  In the meantime you should start learning about App Store SEO.  There are a couple of common mistakes that you can take action on and fix straight away.

For one, PLEASE make sure that you aren’t repeating keywords.  Taking a step back, just to be clear, keywords are words that appear both in the app name and in the keyword field in the app meta data.  So if you have a keyword in your app name, there is no need to repeat this again in the keyword field, which is limited to only 100 characters (or bytes).

This brings me on to the next critical point, which is to make the most of the limited space in the keyword field.  There is no need to input whole phrases, such as “learn to play the banjo” and “banjo lessons“.  Instead, if you were targeting these same phrases, you should enter the keyword each as separate words:  learn,to,play,the,banjo,lessons.  Apple will automatically mix and match between the words to make up whole phrases.  These are probably the two most basic and critical mistakes I’ve seen.

So, what’s in Issue 4?  Issue 4 is part 1 of 2 in a series on App Store Optimization.  It was a pleasure to work with the leading experts in the field of ASO, including Tomasz Kolinko of, Alex Malafeev of, Ian Sefferman of MobileDevHQ and Gabriel Machuret, author of the book ASO Ninja.  Plus, there’s much more install…

make app magazine issue 4 cover

If you haven’t checked it out yet, then make sure to download MAKE APP Magazine on the App Store.


Author: David Janner

David Janner is a former M.D. and the Editor-in-Chief of MAKE APP Magazine. His passion is app development and app marketing. You should follow him on Twitter and Facebook and Google+ in order to get the most important industry related news, hot off the press. If you would like to arrange a 15 minute app marketing session to discuss your App Store Optimization strategy, contact him here.

3 thoughts on “My App Store SEO Experience”

  1. Thank you!
    This is precisely the type of post on keywords that I have been looking for.
    Would you say Google keyword tool to be not much of use for apps or could I use it to get a general idea as to what type of keywords to use?

    1. Hey Ben,

      Ideally what would be great if Apple would release a keyword tool similar to Google’s… but that’s probably not going to happen 🙂

      In the meantime, the Google Keyword Tool (GKT) is one of the better tools we have to understand common search patterns. That said, you need to take it with a grain of salt and use common sense. Some terms clearly are not relevant for the app store, while others can be quite relevant.

      I definitely DO used the GKT when planning my app seo. Let’s take my magazine as an example. If I want to target the concept of “app marketing” but I’m not sure whether “app marketing” or “app promotion” or perhaps another term is more commonly searched for, I’d plug “app marketing” into the GKT (making sure it is set to “mobile devices with full browsers” and exact match) and see the results it pulls up. Like that I’d know what the most common search phrases are for this genre and the best phrases to target.

      Beyond keywords, it can also help you with planning your app concept. For example, should you create a pinterest or instagram related app? Plug these into the GKT and see which has a higher search volume.

      None of the tools are perfect, but each piece of information gives you an extra and important data set.

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