How to Check if an App Store Icon is Any Good

I see on many times on Facebook groups people sending in App Icons for feedback from fellow app developers in a format that I consider suboptimal.

Example:

App Icon Evaluation - the wrong way

(Sorry to pick on you Steve Young 😉 )

So first off, its great to get feedback, so that’s fine.

The right way to check if the app icon “works” is to see the icon as it compares to its COMPETING apps in its natural setting, the App Store.

Personally, I get my designers to send in their App Icon previews on the Google Play Store search results for our target keyword.

For example:

Lets say we are creating a game where the target keyword is “Pharaoh Slots”.

So I will get the designer to send in a screenshot of the Google Play Search results for “Pharaoh Slots”, with their new icon placed on the search results.

They should NOT indicate which is their actual icon because I don’t want to be biased.

I want to look at the search results and the app icon which I think stands out the most SHOULD BE OURS.

google-play-search-pharaoh-slots-icons

Why Google Play?

Just because you can search it from the web so its easy and quick and in our specific case we publish games cross platform including Google Play so it makes sense to us.

You should do something similar for whatever your target outcome is.

In our case, we are looking for search rankings for specific keywords, so again the search results make sense for us.

If you are aiming for top charts in a specific category – then get your designers to put their preview on a screenshot of your specific top charts category from iTunes.

You get the idea.

The principle: 

Evaluate your app icon as it compares to your direct COMPETITORS.

The desired outcome:

Your icon should meet the following criteria:

  1. The most ATTRACTIVE on the page.
  2. STAND OUT the most on the page (in a good way!).
  3. The icon should match the theme of your app! (i.e. for a game about “Pharaoh” your icon should have related graphics).

There are some tools I’ll also add here in the postscript, which might help you (but again, for me it is best to take a manual snapshot of your competitors and evaluate against them directly):

App Icon Testing Tools

How To Monitor And Optimize Your iOS App Ad Revenue

Personally one of the ongoing struggles of the app business is maximizing revenues from the various ad networks.  First off I’ll just say that there is no one perfect solution and a big part of this is opacity on the part of the ad networks.

The question is, how do we decide which network is working best?  How do we know if we’re getting what we’re worth from the ad networks that we’re using?

eCPM is the generally accepted model for measuring the effectiveness of an ad campaign (whether as a publisher or as an advertiser).  The problem is that sometimes this fails, which is why I’ve invented a new parameter to measure, eCPI.

eCPI – The New eCPM

eCPI means Effective Cost per Install.  You can work this out by dividing total revenue by total installs. I believe this is an important new parameter to measure to make sure you are using the best performing ad network and optimizing your ad revenue.

The best thing to make my point is to give you an example.

revmob stats

Here are some stats from an app of ours on Revmob.  You can see in the second column from the right that the eCPMs are pretty good, right?  $4-5 eCPMs are pretty high at the moment across various ad networks and $16-17 revenue per day is not bad for just one ad network, so if we were just looking at these stats we’d be jumping for joy (or would we?).

The thing is though, how much are we actually getting per install?  Without a doubt most advertisers are paying using a CPI (Cost Per Install) model.  Chartboost also helpfully publishes stats on average industry CPIs around that world so you can easily get industry benchmarks.

Just so you know, here are the current stats for November 2013:

Chartboost network CPI iPhone:   $1.65

Chartboost network CPI iPad:  $2.06

iOS US CPI:  $2.12  (with the range from $0.88 to $2.82)

chartboost network CPI

So, if we crunch the numbers for what we’re getting on this app, we find out the eCPI is a shockingly low $0.43 (to get the eCPI divide the revenue by number of installs, in this case $16.60 / 39).   If we had been measuring eCPI alarm bells would have been ringing instantly that we are getting paid far below any acceptable industry benchmark.

How much should we have been getting?  If we take the network CPI for iPhones of $1.65 and multiply this by the installs we generated (39), we SHOULD have been generating revenues of $64.35 for that same game, which would work out to an eCPM of $17.79.

Impossible you say?

For comparison, on that same day on another ad network (Applovin) in the SAME APP we had an eCPM of $14.20 and generated revenue of $143.91.  I’d love to give you our eCPI figure here, but unfortunately Applovin doesn’t reveal the amount of installs generated.

(Note – this is not to say one ad network is better than the other.  Each network has its advantages and disadvantages).

So, the bottom line is that wherever possible you should be measuring your eCPI (effective cost per install) and comparing this to industry benchmarks to see if your ad network is doing you a good service or not.

CPM – Watch Out!

Another reason for taking CPM with a VERY BIG grain of salt is that this doesn’t take into account FILL RATE.  An ad network might show fantastic CPMs, but it might only be achieving 50% fill rate, meaning you are losing out on A LOT of impressions.

A better statistic is to look at rCPM (request CPM).  To understand this you need a bit of background about how ads are called.

Let’s say you have an ad placement on app open.  When the app opens, a REQUEST will be sent to the ad server telling the server “the app just got opened, please show me an ad!”  The server will then check if it has advertisers available, and if the answer is yes it will send an ad to be shown.  If not, then obviously no ad will be shown.

Why might an ad not be shown? Typically advertisers pay a lot of money to get users from the US, Australia, UK and other Western countries, since these users tend to spend more money in their apps and so are worth a lot more money to the advertisers.  For most ad networks, fill rates in these countries are pretty good, while in other countries fill rate can be non-existent or at least much lower since advertisers aren’t looking to get users from non-Western countries.

So by looking at request CPM (rCPM) this takes into account fill rate.  If the fill rate is 100%, then rCPM will equal CPM.  But if the fill rate is 50%, then rCPM will be 50% lower than CPM. This will give a much truer picture of an ad network’s performance, since fill rate is a critical revenue driving factor.

A Call For More Transparency From Ad Networks

Unfortunately us publishers are left way too much in the dark when it comes to statistics from our ad networks.  As you can see from what I’ve written above, ad networks can be pretty selective with what info they share with developers.  Chartboost leads the way by a long long way in terms of transparency, with publishers able to view even which ads are showing and detailed stats for each ad.

This should be the minimum:

  • Fill Rate
  • Impressions
  • Clicks
  • Click through rate (CTR)
  • eCPM
  • eCPI
  • Revenue

Of course, it would be great if we could see even more detailed information, such as stats for various advertisers in our apps, stats for various countries, etc., but the above is really the bare bones of what I would want to see.

[Note:  while writing this article we corresponded with Applovin and they already implemented display of Fill Rate to their dashboard, so kudos to them!]

What can you do about all this?

First off, you really should be monitoring your stats.  Unfortunately as I pointed out above, most ad networks are missing out on vital information for us to make informed decisions, but you should be monitoring whatever you can.

Where possible, I’d advise you to keep track of your eCPIs (this is what we are doing).

So, if you see that an ad network is offering non-competitive CPIs, simply switch off their SDK and try out another ad network.  Compare the results and keep the better one.  This simple exercise can yield a huge difference in revenue, as I showed you above.

Apart from monitoring the payment per install, you should also keep in mind the massive issue of fill rates – this can be a huge source of missing revenue.

Ideally I would love to use an ad mediator for interstitial ads, using the highest paying networks first and then if there is no fill, to default back to a network which might be lower paying but which will have fill.  Unfortunately, to the best of my knowledge no such ad mediator exists.

So, in practice what we do at the moment is we use two ad networks at placements such as app open and on app movement to foreground.  Chartboost in our experience has the highest fill rate, so we will always use this in addition to Applovin or Revmob or other ad networks.

If you do these two things, you should see a significant increase in revenue.

What do you think?  Should ad networks be more transparent with their reporting? Write your thoughts below!

 

App Store Optimization 201: Keyword Volume & Competition

In this article I’d like to address a few misconceptions and share from my experience dealing with App store Optimization.

The basic formula everyone already knows – target high volume, low competition keywords.  So this sentence means different things to different people.  What this does NOT mean is to randomly chuck in single word keywords hoping some of them will hit the mark.

This is one of my biggest peeves of training people in ASO and dealing with so-called ASO experts. So we’ll dive into some of this slightly more advanced theory.

What does a high volume keyword mean?  How do you determine this?

Also, we’ll look at competition.  How many competitors do you need to compete against?  Or do we need to look at other factors in order to judge competition? (Hint: The answer is YES).

A Closer Look At Keyword Volume

Unlike with Google based SEO, there is no one perfect tool such as the GKWT (Google Keyword Tool, now called the Keyword Planner) for ASO.  Therefore as a keyword researcher you need to take in all the objective data at your disposal to determine what type of volume a particular keyword has.

Here is a summary of the data points that you should consider when trying to estimate volume for a particular keyword:

1.       Ratings pattern. 

Number of ratings is probably one of the most reliable proxies for measuring number of downloads.

When looking at the ratings pattern, always look at the Current Reviews (not all time) and keep in mind the time since the last update.  The reason I recommend looking at Current Reviews with respect to time since last update is that some apps may have tens of thousands of all time reviews, but have very few downloads currently.  This would be the case in apps that were once popular in the early days of the apps store, but which since then have sunk into obscurity.

How many ratings are a lot of ratings?  This is individual for each country.  You can get a sense for how much is a lot by typing in something “Big” like the kw “games” into a tool like Senor Tower (my favorite ASO tool).

app store seo

You can see above that for the US app store, “a lot” of ratings is in the high hundreds to thousands of current reviews.

You can also see in the above diagram that ALL the top apps have “a lot” of ratings, which means that “games” is probably a very high volume term!

On the other hand, for the random kw phrase “boring games” look at the pattern below:

app store optimization

You can see a very different picture here.  Here the top 2 apps have only 10’s of current reviews and then all the results below that have only 1 or no reviews.  So “boring games” is probably NOT a high volume KW!

When looking at the ratings pattern you need to look at the whole PATTERN of the search results and use a bit of pattern recognition.  Even if the first result has thousands of ratings, but all the results below have very few ratings I would still class that as LOW VOLUME, since only the first result is getting any traffic.

2.       Category Rankings.

Look at the two examples above at the Category Rankings column.  This column displays if an app is ranked in the App Store Top Charts.

In the first example for “games”, you can see that every single one of the results also has a category ranking (and also that most of these rank in the Top 50).

On the other hand, for “boring games”, you can see that only 2 apps have a category rankings, so this also strengthens the fact that this is a low volume keyword.

Again, its important to look at the pattern of the top results.

3.        Sensor Tower Traffic Score.

This is pretty good for a quick estimation of traffic and to give a “score”.  The traffic store definitely gives a quick “snap shot” indication and is great to save time.

However, if you know how to look at the other parameters, it will allow you to “reality check” this score.  Also, for a lot of keywords a Traffic Score isn’t available, so knowing how to estimate traffic yourself is still important.

4.        Search Suggest.

If a term appears early in search suggest, this is an excellent indicator of high keyword volume.

Example: If I type in the letter “a” – all the results that appear here are VERY HIGH volume keywords.  Then when I type “ap”, the new terms that appear here are second tier, slightly lower volume keywords.  Typing “app” brings up third tier keywords, etc.  Also, the higher the term appears in the search suggest results, the greater the search volume.

I get my keyword researchers to categorize keywords they find using search suggest A to E.  “A” being if the term appears on typing one letter, “B” if the term appears on typing two letter, etc.

5.       Other.

There are other sources, such as GKWT that can provide an estimation of keyword volume and it is definitely a great proxy for app store search volume.

However, keep in mind that sometimes keywords that have high volume on Google might not have high volume on the App Store, since people search with different intent on these different platforms.

So, when considering if a keyword is this a high, low or medium volume keyword, you should take all of these elements into account.

A Closer Look At Keyword Competition

In iOS 6+, search results are displayed one at a time on the iPhone.  Therefore in order to hope to have any visibility, you must aim to be ranked in the Top 3 results for the keywords you are targeting.  Otherwise you are basically invisible.

That said, its much easier to optimize for the iPad, since there are 6 results displayed at any one time on the screen and scrolling is much easier, so even if you are ranked in the Top 6 results, you will have pretty good search visibility on the iPad.

(Interesting stat: Over 50% of our downloads across all our apps come from iPad users, even though iPads make up only about 20% of the total iOS devices – conclusion #1: ASO is FAR more effective on the iPad; conclusion #2 – if you’re not putting out universal apps, you are missing out on A LOT of traffic).

In general, to have any hope to rank in the Top 3 results, we need to take into account the following rules:

1) Keywords in Title have more strength than Keywords in Keyword Field.
2) The strength of keywords in the Title is determined by the following hierarchy:  Exact Title Match > Broad Title Match > Partial Title Match > No Title Match  (see point 4 under the Title section for more info).

As a quick aside, here is what I mean by title match…

Exact Match – all the KW in the KW phrase are present in the title in the exact same order.

Example:  For the KW phrase “Christmas Games”, exact match means that the words making up this keyword appear in exactly this order in the Title.   “Santa VS Elves – Christmas Games of Fun” and “Christmas Games of Santa VS Elves” are both examples of Exact Matches for the KW “Christmas Games”.

Broad Match – All KWs are present in the Title, but not in the exact same order.

For example:  “Santa VS Elves – Games of Christmas” or “Santa VS Elves Games – Great Christmas Fun” are both examples of broad match types.  Also, the higher the KW density, the higher the app will rate for that KW phrase (all other things being equal).

Partial Match – Only some of the words making up the KW are present in the title.

Example:  For the KW phrase “Christmas Games”, “Santa VS Elves – Christmas Fun” is a partial patch.

No Match – None of the KW appear in the Title (i.e. the keywords are only in the KW field).

Let’s look at the example of the term “Pinball HD Collection”, which is a popular pinball app (it is the 3rd results after we type “pinb” into search suggest).

aso

You can see above that there are 9 iphone apps total that appear for this phrase.

The top 2 results have an EXACT title match.  Have a look at Xmas Pinball, ranked #4.

The full title of the app is:

Xmas Pinball Retro Classic – Cool Christmas Arcade Game Collection For Kids HD FREE

It has a BROAD title match for the keyword phrase “Pinball Collection HD”.  If you wanted to prioritize this keyword phrase above others and increase the chances to rank in the top 3 for this term, we should include the keyword phrase “Pinball Collection HD” as an exact match in the title.

Example:

Xmas Pinball Retro Classic – Cool Christmas Arcade Pinball Collection HD FREE

Why is Xmas Pinball currently ranked #4, when the #3 result has NO TITLE MATCH?  The reason is that game #3 (Wild West Pinball) has more download volume.

You can see though that the reason Xmas Pinball is ranked #4 is because all the other results have either NO TITLE MATCH or only a PARTIAL TITLE MATCH.

So, in order to properly assess competition, you need to look at the Title Match of the top results.

All other things being equal, if for a particular keyword phrase:

The top 5 results have NO TITLE MATCH:  You need a PARTIAL TITLE MATCH in order to beat them and rank in the Top 3 results.

The top 5 results have PARTIAL TITLE MATCHES:  You need a BROAD TITLE MATCH in order to beat them and rank in the Top 3 results.

The top 5 results have BROAD TITLE MATCHES:  You need an EXACT TITLE MATCH in order to beat them and rank in the Top 3 results.

The top 5 results have EXACT TITLE MATCHES:  You will not be able to rank in the Top 3 results.

Understanding this is very important in order to know which keywords you can effectively compete for.

Note: some very high volume keywords, e.g. “racing games”, even though the top results don’t have an exact title match, due to the very high download volumes of these games, there is no chance to rank in the top 3 results.  For this sample term, you can see some exact match result further down the list (spots 12 onwards) and you can see how they don’t rank in the top 3.

Note:  Sensor Tower makes it easier to spot EXACT TITLE MATCHES by marking these results with a red triangle at the top right of entry.

sensor-tower

Also, in order to see the full app title, you can press on the Keyword Spy symbol at the right of the entry.

UPDATE (3rd December 2013):

I got some important feedback from readers of this blog, which I’d like to share here and was not made clear enough in the article.

One of the MAJOR factors in determining where you rank in the search results is the download volume / velocity and ratings.  Major publishers BUY a lot of traffic and this is a major factor in their high search rankings.

This article is aimed at indy developers, who typically DON’T have a budget of tens of thousands of dollars to spend on paid advertising campaigns.  The section on competition is given that all other factors (i.e. download volume, etc) are held constant.

Paying attention to proper placement of keywords (title vs keyword field and exact title match / high density title match) cost nothing and can result in a very high ROI, so it is definitely worth doing!

iPhone App Localization: How To Get 767% More Downloads By Localizing App Keywords

I’ve been obsessed by the field of App Store Optimization, as many of you know and recently I’ve been exploring the concept of app localization (and in particular keyword localization).  The opportunity of “free”, ongoing traffic is too attractive to ignore and that’s why I’ve been working constantly to improve my knowledge in the field…

Many of you may have heard about the theory of iPhone app localization.  Distimo, one of the ultimate publishers of app data and statistics, put out a publication in October 2012 title “The Implication of App Translations” (it’s publically available, you can download it here). To sum up their research, they found that, one week after adding a native language translation for an iPhone app, the following week downloads in that same country increased by 128% on average, with revenue increasing by 26%.  Interestingly, in the same study, they found almost zero effect on the iPad.

A thing to note about Distimo’s research results – this involved a very large sample size of 200 apps and so the data is highly significant.  What they didn’t include in their research: what does translation mean? Does it mean just localizing content within the app? Does it mean localizing the app name? What about keywords?

While the study leaves many questions unanswered, it definitely shed light on a potentially massive opportunity. Over 120% increase in downloads and over 20% increase in revenue PER country? Why not!

So, armed with this data, I set out to run my own little “experiment” on one of my apps.  Obviously this wasn’t carried out in lab conditions, but I think you will find the results quite interesting…

An Experiment In App Localization…

Here is the graph of the typical language distribution of a non-localized app of mine:

 

Non-Localized App

Data from “Harlem Shake Yourself

 

What you can see here, is that over 76% of all the traffic for this app comes from English-speaking countries (including UK English).  The next most common language is Spanish (8.9%) and after that all the other languages are quite insignificant.

You can see the user distribution represented nicely on the image below:

Non-Localized App Locales

The US in the image above is nicely lit up and pretty much the rest of the world is dark…

And then I localized one of my apps… You can see the stark contrast below:

Localized App Locales

Data from “Abe The Dragon” AFTER Keyword Localization

 

Suddenly, we can see that rest of the world is lit up! Apart from the US, we have other major loci of users, including France, Italy, Russia, Japan, China…   All of a sudden, we are getting traffic from all over the world and not just the US.

So is it worth it?  You bet!  Here is the pie chart, showing the language distribution:

Localized App Language Distribution

Here you can see that in the app with the localized keywords English only makes up 10% (!) of the overall downloads (compared to 76% previously)… For this particular app in question, we had overall approximately 23,000 downloads in one month – and based on the 10% figure above, only approximately 2,300 users came from English speaking countries.

Put simply, without localization, we would have had around 3,000 downloads for that month.  With localization we had 23,000 downloads. Localizing this app’s keywords helped increase downloads by 767%! Yes, that’s over 7x the downloads we would have otherwise achieved.

These results are pretty startling… So of course I went on to localize my other apps and time after time the results were the same.

Should you be localizing? Yes! Otherwise you are missing out on potentially A LOT of traffic.

Overview Of The Localization Process

So what was involved exactly?  When I say “localization”, what I have done most of the times is to localize the App Name and the Keywords, with perhaps the top line in the App Description have a translated sentence prompting users to download the app.  In an ideal world I would also localize all the screenshots, description and language strings within the app.  However, with time and resource being limited, I’ve decided to make the change to the areas which will have the most bang for the buck…

I am certainly not the first to “discover” this.  Experienced marketers / developers such as Trey Smith (Secret HQ Games) and Gui Schvartsman (now founder & CEO of Revmob) have clearly cottoned on to this a long time ago, with their apps often being plastered over the top search results for popular localized terms such as “best games” and “fun games”.  However, from what I have seen from performing extensive keyword research in other languages, there is still significant opportunity with relatively few developers really using the power of keyword localization.  It is time to wake up and realize that there is a large and hungry market outside of the US.

Some things that I’ve learnt

French, Spanish, Italian & Russian have done very (very) well.  These three languages stand out from all the other languages in terms of the traffic I’ve managed to generate, often each alone bringing as much traffic as English speaking countries.  This is because in English speaking countries it is already very difficult to target high volume keywords, yet these countries still have a lot of potential for optimization.  I was particularly surprised by how well localizing the Russian keywords has done.

Greek & Korean have done very poorly.  This could be because my translation wasn’t done well or could be a reflection on the overall traffic these countries have.  I’ve since stopped prioritizing translating these languages (for now).

Any Keywords Localized In Spanish Will Be Indexed In The US Store.  This was an interesting loophole I discovered.  When using the Spanish localization (not Mexican Spanish) any keywords you use in the App Name or Keyword section will automatically be indexed in the US App Store (but not any other country).  This is clearly done in order to cater for the Hispanic community.  One, perhaps cynical, use for this loophole would be to include here keywords that you couldn’t “fit” into the English localization.

Exact Match Keywords In Title Carry A Lot of Weight.   This was true a long time ago and the importance has increased and decrease with various algorithm updates.  At the moment it seems that including the EXACT MATCH keyword in the app title significantly increases your chance of ranking for a particular terms (depending on the competition).  What this means, if you are trying to rank for the keyword “Racing Games”, you want to make sure that you have “Racing” and “Games” adjacent to each other, in that same order, with no other words in between.

Caveat

While there is no doubt that localizing keywords for the App Store dramatically increases downloads, I haven’t analysed revenue data which is a bit more complicated, since revenue is generated not only through in-app purchases (IAP) but also through advertising over various ad networks (where I don’t have a country by country breakdown).  Ad networks typically pay out highest in the US.  But, without analysing, I have no doubt that localizing your keywords with significantly increase your “bottom line”.

Tools To Find High Volume Keywords In Other Languages

If  you know how to perform keyword research in general, you follow the pretty same process when optimizing keywords in other languages.  As a primer, you can read my comprehensive post on how to choose keywords for apps.

As a little warning, for me at least, performing keyword research, especially in other languages, takes a lot of work!  It takes me on average 2-3 hour per language.  The most basic set of languages I aim to do for each app is French, Italian, Spanish, Russian, German, Portuguese, Chinese (Simplified) and Japanese… so JUST to localize to these languages takes me around 24 hours of work time!  I’m in the process of training my awesome VA Maria to do this, so slowly hopefully this will take at least some of this workload off my shoulders. (If someone has some clever suggestions here on how to perform highly effective keyword research in less time, I’m all ears!)

These are my favourite tools:

Google Adwords Keyword Tool (GKWT)

This is a fantastic tool to start off your keyword research.  Due to time constraints, I usually don’t go too deep in my research, but instead I pop the translated keyword for games into the GKWT; i.e. in Spanish I would enter the keyword “juegos” and then examine the results.  Make sure to set the GKWT to “exact match”, “mobile devices with full internet browsers”, select the country in question but I usually leave the language to “all languages”.  The reason for that is that I want to see how people search in that country, according to Google.

Google Adwords Keyword Tool Results For Juegos

GKWT Search Results For “Juegos”

Google Trends

Another great keyword research tool is Google Trends.  Especially if you are optimizing for new, topical terms and trends, for example “gangnam style” or “harlem shake”, GKWT isn’t updated often enough.  In that case, Google Trends is a great alternative, since you can plug in your main keyword, select your country and then you’ll see how people are searching for that term in the local country.

Google Trends Results For France

Google Trends Results For “Harlem Shake” in France

 

App Store Search Suggest

This is probably one of the MOST important keyword research tools.  When you start typing a search query into the App Store search box, you’ll notice that users are shown “suggested” search queries.  For example, plugging in “games” into my iPad brings up suggested queries such as “games for free”, “games for girls”, “games for ipad” etc… While I don’t have any “proof”, from my own experience and from talking to other ASO experts, it seems quite clear that these results are sorted according to search term popularity.  There is NO better way to see how users are searching on the App Store than the search suggest terms, since while the Google tools are great they don’t reflect 100% the search patterns on the App Store.

To use this tool for app keyword localization, head over to iTunes, select the country in question and then type your seed keyword into the search box to bring up a list of related terms. Note: it is a compromise to use iTunes since results on devices are different – hopefully one of the ASO tool services will add this as a feature soon.

Also, on another note, some of the results returned are app names, some are “artist” names, while others are clearly terms that users are searching for.  The ones I look out for are the ones that are clearly search terms…

In order to help define the most popular queries overall in various countries, I asked my VA to go through the entire alphabet in each language and come up with a list of the most popular terms as defined by search suggest.  You can check out a sample of this keyword list here (If you want to receive updated keyword lists for all the various countries, leave a comment below or tweet me and if there is enough demand for this I will produce regular updates…)

Deciding Which Keywords To Target – Keyword Volume

So, the first stage was to find a list of keywords and search terms that users use in order to find apps.  Once you’ve come up with this basic research, you then need to define which of these you’ll want to target.  To do this, you will need to further define the keyword popularity / volume and the competition (do you have a chancing of ranking??).

There are several ways that I judge keyword popularity.

Google Adwords Keyword Tool – Monthly Search Volume

The volume on Google generally is well correlated with App Store search volume, but keep in mind that it is not 1 for 1.

AppStoreRankings.net – ASR Traffic Score

I’m still not sure how much weight to put on this, but ASR is proving to be one of the best tools on the market.  This stat is another figure I’ll take into account.

XYO Monthly Download Estimate

Xyo.net shows the monthly download estimate next to their search results for individual apps.  It gives a good ballpark figure, even though it’s not 100% accurate.  This is only relevant when you are targeting specific app names.

Top Charts Rankings

If lots of apps containing a certain keyword are in the Top Charts, this helps give weight to the importance of the particular keyword.  Luckily ASR shows this data (unfortunately this is limited to US only rankings at the moment.

Number of Ratings

This is probably the most important piece of data that I take into account.  If, for a certain keyword, the top apps returned in the search results all have lots of ratings, this probably means they are getting lots of downloads.

Deciding Which Keywords To Target – Competition

The main tool that I personally use when researching competition and keyword volume is ASR (mentioned above).  This is the BEST tool hands down for app keyword localization since they have an option to choose specific countries for keyword research.

The alternative to this is to use iTunes, however there are three disadvantages. One – iTunes does NOT always show the same results as shown on devices (ASR shows the results that are actually displayed on devices). Two – iTunes is slooooow. Three – ASR gives you handy stats at a glance, including the exact number of competitors for both iPhone and iPad, as well as scores for Keyword Difficulty and Traffic.

ASR Keyword Research Tool

For example, if I type the keyword “meilleurs jeux”, “best games” in French (at least as per Google Translate), these are the results ASR comes up with:

Meilleurs Jeux Search Results

You can instantly see how many competitors there are (91), how many reviews (all time and current version), when the app was last updated, whether the apps are free or paid and the US Category Rankings.  Pretty much all the information you need at the tip of your fingers!

There are some things I’d like you to note:

How many competitors are there?  This is one of the most important factors… When choosing keywords, you need to be pretty damned certain you will rank in approximately the top 3 results for iPhone apps (for iPad apps even if you ranked lower you will still have some visibility).  That means, mostly I aim to go for keywords that have, generally very (very) few competitors, unless I have some sort of special advantage, which I’ll go into in a minute…

Do the top competitors have exact or partial keywords matches in their titles?  As mentioned above, have an exact match in the title can give you a significant boost against competing apps.  In the example above, of “meilleurs jeux”, if the other competitors DO NOT have this as an exact match in the title and I do, I will actually have a really good chance to rank in the top (or even 1st) results… On the other hand, if lots of the competitors do have exact or partial matches, my chances to rank will be low.

Are the top apps appearing in the search results paid or free? Paid apps generally have a much harder time to rank highly, since the rankings ARE based somewhat on download volume.  That means if my app is FREE and the top competitors are paid, I may have a chance to overtake them…

 

A Final Note…

 

In the end, what you should be doing is collating a large spreadsheet for each language.  The columns should be something as follows:

  • Keyword (In Local Language)
  • Translation
  • KW Breakdown
  • Number Of Competitors
  • Number Of Ratings For #1 Ranked App
  • ASR Traffic Score
  • XYO Monthly Downloads
  • GKWT  Monthly Search Volume
  • Top Chart Rankings For Top Competitors?
  • Exact or Partial Match In Top Competitor App Names?
  • Top Competitors Free or Paid?
  • Overall Keyword Volume Estimate

For each keyword I will fill out the relevant information and this gives me the best tool to decide and compare between various keywords and ultimately to choose the best keyword combinations. If you are serious about getting more traffic to your apps, you should do the same!

There is no doubt, from my experience, that:

As always, if you have questions or comments, chuck them in below.

How To Choose Keywords For Apple App Store SEO

Learn The Exact Methods I Use To Get Apps To Rank & Get More Downloads

Ever since I’ve started out in the app business I’ve become obsessed by App Store Optimization (ASO or otherwise known as App Store SEO).  I have quite a bit of experience in the world of search engine optimization and I know the power of ranking highly within search results.  While it takes a lot of effort to reach the number one position, the results are well worth it, with a potentially ongoing stream of leads, customers and revenue.

My main marketing effort since launching the magazine and my other apps has been to improve their organic search rankings.  In my interview with Chad Mureta (in  Issue 2), I was astounded to learn that he did not expend any effort on external marketing but rather he focussed on internal marketing within the app ecosystem, including of course ASO.  Before investing time in outside marketing, I wanted to optimize my search rankings as much as possible.

So the first question you should ask yourself is “does ASO actually work?”  In an article I published on my blog, I revealed how a bug in the iTunesConnect system caused most of the keywords of my first app to be wiped out.  My partner and I debated whether to defer the actual launch of the paid app, but we decided to release it and test the market.  As expected the app was a total flop… The first day we got about 8 downloads and then it petered down to 2-3 downloads a day.  This was the pre-ASO state of our app.

Once we launched the updated version, with all our keywords in place, our downloads immediately and instantly shot up.  Did we do any external marketing or have any other reason for the increase in downloads? No.  This was purely related to traffic coming from search.

before and after app store optimization
The red dot shows where the updated keywords were entered. Note the marked increase in downloads purely from search.

You can see from the graph above how dramatic this change in downloads was:  from an average of about 4 downloads per day to an average of about 20 downloads per day, an increase of over 500%!  This change meant for us a change in revenue from $84 per month from this one app to over $400 per month, after Apple’s cut.

So, yes, ASO is real and it does work.  Using my own experience and research I went on to optimize the keywords for other apps.  For example, using careful keyword selection I managed to increase the app downloads for Guitar Skills Magazine  by 100% and using just one of my suggestions, Matt Clark (internet marketers turned app developer) also managed to more than double his downloads and rank his app Ab Workouts Express in the top 20 Medical apps in the US (previously being ranked 260 in Health & Fitness).  My good friend and fellow magazine publisher, Meron Bareket, using some of my ASO tips, managed to increase the downloads of Inspiring Innovation Magazine by over the astounding figure of 700%.

ab workouts express before and after app store seo
Ab Workouts Express shot up to the top 50 medical apps in the US straight after integrating basic ASO principles.
Guitar Skills App Store SEO
Guitar Skills Magazine managed to improve their rankings from an erratic #10-20 in the Movies & Music section of the Newsstand to a steady ranking of #2-3 by implementing my specific keyword suggestions (yellow dot).

So how did I manage to achieve these results?  The purpose of this article is to outline the lessons I’ve learnt and my own workflow to determine the best keywords.  By the end you should be able to achieve the same results.

5 Important Lessons In ASO Strategy

There are a few rules that I learned about ASO strategy that I’d like to share with you.  Firstly, ASO is not a “fire and forget” method.  If you are serious about getting traffic from search, you need to constantly monitor and optimize results.  What does this mean?  When you select keywords, you are making an educated guess.  Once the results are reflected in the App Store, that’s when you’ll know if your hypothesis was right or not.  For some keywords you might not rank highly or not rank at all.  You need to pick these up early and swap them out for keywords that have a chance of ranking, otherwise you are wasting precious space in your app name and keyword fields.

Another point to note is that you really need to use one of the great ASO tools that are out in the market.  I don’t get paid to promote these products, I just truly believe in them.  If you were to manually track your keywords you would need to spend a lot of time entering queries manually into iTunes.  This not only takes a lot of time, but can also be totally inaccurate.  iTunes search results can often be quite different to the results on devices and your device is usually locked on to a particular country’s App Store.  This means that if you want to track results in the US and your device showed up results from the Australian App Store you wouldn’t get a true reflection of your US search rankings.  Do yourself a favour and invest in one of these tools.  In this and previous issues we have presented the various tools available, including MobileDevHQ, AppStoreRankings, Searchman and Appcod.es.  My personal favourites are AppStoreRankings.net and AppCod.es and you can sign up for them for as little as $15 per month.

Moving on, when targeting keywords you need to choose your battles wisely.  Specifically, for your new app, you are going to need to target less competitive phrases when you start out.  Since where you appear within the search results is determined by factors such as total downloads, download velocity, number and quality of rankings (for further details read Ian Sefferman’s in-depth article in Issue 4), a new app has a lower chance of ranking highly.  To get that initial momentum, pick battles that you can win and as your downloads increase and you get positive reviews, you can start targeting “meatier” search terms.

Another lesson that I learnt is that not all apps are as easy to optimize.  While games and novelty apps can definitely benefit from optimization, they are much more of a challenge.  For games, people tend to search for a specific app they have heard of or they might search for very broad terms such as “fun games” or “games for children”, which are extremely competitive.  Optimizing productivity and utility type apps are much easier in terms of targeting long-tail specific functions that users are looking for.

Lastly, another element to be aware of is that paid apps are also more of a challenge to optimize.  This goes back to the point that rankings are based on downloads numbers and since paid apps are downloaded about 10 times less than free apps, paid apps have an uphill battle to rank highly in search.  Again, paid apps can definitely be optimized, although free apps are likely to see more of a significant change in downloads.

What I Learnt About Targeting Keywords

Most of what I learnt about targeting keywords came from a very important interview with Matthäus Krzykowski of Xyologic in Issue 2 of this magazine.  For those who aren’t aware, Xyo is a search engine for apps, similar in its concept to Chomp, which was bought out by Apple in 2012.  Since they are a consumer-facing search engine for app discovery, the Xyo team has some great insights into how people search for apps within the App Store.

Firstly, 80% of people type in “category” or “genre” type searches, such as “games”, “magazines”, etc.  The Holy Grail of ASO is to identify a type of genre search which is still not overly competitive.   In order to find these types of opportunities you normally need to spot trends early – for example optimizing your apps for terms such as “gangnam style games” or “London Olympics”.

Of all searches, only 5% or less are searches for specific app titles (such as “Angry Birds”).  Targeting specific app names is somewhat “black hat”, although it certainly is a valid tactic.  A point to note here is that Apple will often backlist certain terms, especially if they are concerned you may be violating existing trademarks or copyrights.  From my experience, if you try and optimize for a generic sounding name, such as “Angry Birds”, you will normally be fine.  However if you try a target a unique name such as “Kindle” you will find that your app simply won’t be indexed within the search results.  You can still try and target uniquely named apps if you believe that achieving search rankings will result in a lot of traffic, but be sure to monitor and quickly cut out the keyword if your app is not appearing in the results.

Continuing to dwell on Xyo’s data, 5-10% of searches are “inspirational searches”, such as “great apps” or “new apps”.  Adding on these types of adjectives such as “great”, “new”, etc is important in order to target this type of search query.  The great thing about these adjectives is that they can cause your app to rank for multiple keyword permutations.  You shouldn’t throw these adjectives in at random, but rather research the individual keywords you are targeting to make sure that you have a chance of ranking (see the next section below).

Lastly, 5% of searches are “transactional searches”, where searchers are looking for a particular app function, such as “crop photos” or “download videos”.  These types of phrases are great for optimizing utility and productivity type apps.  An obvious but important point is to make sure that your app actually delivers what the user was searching for.  Otherwise you might find that although you are ranking highly for a certain term, your conversion rate will be very low.

How I Find The Best Keywords

So now this is the section that will make you money.  I’m going to reveal my own workflow for finding the best performing keywords.  But first we need to ask ourselves, what actually is the ideal keyword?

The best type of keyword is obviously a word or phrase that a lot of people are searching for, yet that does not have too much competition.  So there are two variables that we need to know about regarding any keyword combination:  how popular is the search query and how many competitors are there?

Firstly, regarding competition, how do we know what is a reasonable level of competition?  For this, you need to keep in mind how search results are displayed on the App Store.  On the iPhone with the new iOS 6, results are displayed one at a time and therefore users are highly unlikely to scroll past the 10th result.  On the iPad, with 6 results displayed at any one time on the screen, users are unlikely to click on anything beyond the 30th result.  Obviously the higher up you are ranked, the more likely users are to click through on your app description and to download your app.  A study conducted by Optify regarding click-through rates (CTR) and position in search results on Google shows the importance of positioning:  sites ranked #1 in Google have an average CTR of 36.4%, #2 ranked sites have an average CTR of 12.5% and sites ranked #3 have an average CTR of 9.5%.  The CTRs deteriorate further with each drop in rank.

On the iPhone, my guess would be that the CTRs would be much higher for #1 ranked app and much lower for the subsequent apps when compare to the Google data, with the first result probably having a CTR of around 50-60% or more and sharply dropping off after that.  Remember, in Google, the top 10 results are all displayed on the first page at once, while on the iPhone users must scroll through the results one at a time, so intuitively this will results in a much, much lower CTR for all results beyond #1.

optify CTR curve
Optify study [December 2010] showing click through rates based on ranking in Google search results. Note the marked drop in CTR after the #1 ranked site.
The implication for this data is that in order to generate significant traffic from search, you pretty much have to be ranked within the top 3 results on the iPhone and within the top 6 results on the iPad.  Therefore I will generally only try and target terms where I think I can rank within these positions. This means selecting terms with very few competitors, or where most of the competitors are relatively “weak”.

The tool that I normally use to quickly check the number of competitors is AppCod.es.  You can even use this function of theirs for free. Go to http://www.appcod.es/ and click on “demo account” and on the next screen where it asks for your email you can just press “skip”.  In the search bar on the right, type in your search term, for example “guitar” and you will see the total competitor count displayed (in this example “110”, which essentially means there are more than 110 apps).  This tool also includes a useful stat, which is the “Max Chance” to rank within the top 16 results on the iPhone and can give you a quick indication if you have a chance of ranking in a meaningful position.  I will normally target terms where I have the maximum chance of ranking in the top results according to AppCodes (93%) and where the total number of competitors is under 10 (and preferably under 4).

How To Use AppCodes To Find Keywords For App Store SEO

Beyond just the total number of competitors, I also look at the strength of the competition.  To do this I peek at the number and quality of the app ratings and also whether the top results are paid or free apps.  If a lot of the top results have low ratings and also include paid apps, I might consider competing for this phrase even if there are more than 10 competitors because this can indicate that the competition is fairly weak.

While we need to target low competition phrases, we also need to make sure that lots of people are actually searching for this in the first place.  Appcodes again provides us with important data to make an educated decision. To get an indication of the search volume I will again look at the total number of ratings of the top apps, with the number of ratings being proportional to the download numbers.  AppCodes also pulls in data from Xyologic, displaying a download estimate on a monthly basis and overall.  For me, the more important piece of data is the previous month’s download estimate.  My “ideal” keyword will have very few competitors (under 4 as I mentioned before) and the top results will have hundreds of ratings, with previous month downloads in the 10’s of thousands, indicating high search volume. 

While I was just discussing using AppCodes here to research keywords, I also use  AppStoreRankings, which is also an amazing tool, however you will need to pay in order to access this function of theirs.

Now you know the exact workflow that I use to evaluate whether a keyword is worth targeting.  But how do we find potential keywords in the first place?

If you want to learn how to generate a list of awesome keywords to target in your App Store Optimization campaign, do yourself a favor and download MAKE APP Magazine to your iPad.  Read our two part series on ASO in Issue 4 & 5 in order to learn how to generate more app downloads, for free.

Click Here To Download on your iPad or search for “Make App Magazine” on the App Store.

 

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 AppCod.es, Alex Malafeev of AppStoreRankings.net, 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.

 

How To Create A Banner For iOS Apps On Your Website (Smart App Banners)

Apple recently released an awesome feature to allow developers to promote their apps from their websites.  It is extremely easy and quick to create the banners for your iOS apps on your website – it literally involves implementing one line of code and voila!  This feature is known as “smart app banners” and is part of the new feature offering of iOS 6.

Some caveats:  these banners appear only on iOS (not OS X) powered devices and only on Safari based web browsers.  So for browsers using the Chrome browser these smart app banners won’t display.  The banners are “smart” because they are linked into information from the App Store. For example if you have the app installed already, the button will say “Open” and if the app in not currently installed on your device the button will display the “view” an clicking on it will lead the user straight to your app’s entry in the App Store.  In other words the smart app banner is a kind of extension of the App Store itself, nicely promoting your app from your website.

You can see an example below of how the Smart App Banner appears on a website.

how smart app banners appear on websites

The smart banners also have a “close” button so that if the ad is annoying users they can easily dismiss it.  Once closed the ad won’t display again.

How To Create Smart App Banners For Your Website

In under 5 minutes you can have your smart app banner up and running.  This is the outline of the code that you will need to insert into the <head> section of your website.

<meta name="apple-itunes-app" content="app-id=myAppStoreID, affiliate-data=myAffiliateData, app-argument=myURL">

Simply replace the “myAppStoreID” with your App Store id.  If you don’t know how to get this, you can either go into iTunes Connect, click on “Manage Your Applications” and then click on the app in question.  In the top section under “Identifiers” you’ll see your App Store ID listed.   Alternatively, go to your iTunes listing on the web and grab the number that appears straight after “id” in the url.

If you have an affiliate ID number you can insert that instead of “myAffiliateData”.  The app argument section is a bit more advanced, that allows you to pass information to your app once it launches.

As an example, this is how the code appears on my own website:

<meta name="apple-itunes-app" content="app-id=548200639 affiliate-data=1720307">

That’s it!  In under 5 minutes you can have your smart app banner set up!

To see how the banner looks on this site, just open up makeappmag.com on your iOS device using Safari.

Comment below and let me know what you think of the smart app banners.

Should everyone use it?  Is there a case for NOT using it?