Welcome to App Teardowns, a series where we analyze the strategies apps and games use to gain visibility and downloads on the App Store and Google Play, their performance, and competition.
iPhones come with a native notes app, which does a decent job at taking notes. If... you only have a note or two that you look at once in a while. For anything more demanding, you'll need something else.
I happen to be a heavy user of notes on my phone. I take notes in meetings, when I have ideas, to write articles (like this one), and most importantly, for my to-do lists.
In this teardown, I'm going to analyze the note app I use more than any other app on my phone: Bear.
Overall, Bear earns a C, and not because it's doing things wrong, but rather because it's not doing some things at all. That's an opportunity to learn.
- Good: Screenshots follow best practices and look good doing it!
- Not so good: Not using keywords in the name, using unpopular keywords in the subtitle,
In this Teardown
- Bear by the Numbers
- Up and Down
- Bear vs. the Competition
- How is Bear Found?
- Keyword Analysis - The Obvious Parts
- What's in the Keyword List?
- Screenshot & Video Analysis
- What Data is Bear Collecting?
- A Quick Look Under the Hood
- The Verdict: Low Hanging Fruit
- The Tools I Use
Bear by the Numbers
Here's how Bear is performing in the U.S. App Store, based on our App Intelligence:
- 📈 5.7K estimated downloads in the last 30 days.
- 💰 $6.3K estimated revenue in the last 30 days.
- #️⃣ 410 in the Productivity category.
- ⭐️ 100% of new ratings were positive in the last 30 days. Yup, a cool 100!
- 👋 Audience is young and leans male.
- 🏅 Competitors include Apple's native notes app, Evernote, Google Keep, and overall a lot of unknown names.
Up and Down
Bear won the coveted Apple Design Award back in 2017, which resulted in quite a few downloads.
We estimate that between 2017 and 2018, Bear was downloaded nearly 900K times on iPhones across the globe. Those were the good years. Since, meaning between 2019 and May of 2021, downloads totaled just 700K, based on our estimates.
There's a good and a bad here. The good is that there was a good amount of potential off of the free promotion by Apple. The bad, however, is that this free publicity wasn't leveraged to establish strong organic growth (aka. ASO), and when it ended, so did the downloads.
Tiny lesson: When you have an opportunity, don't just sit there and watch it run out. Use it to establish a better foundation so it lasts longer.
Bear vs. the Competition
Competing with a native app that comes pre-installed isn't easy, but Apple isn't the only big name Bear is up against.
Microsoft, Google, and Evernote all want to make note-taking easy. Bear's downloads won't get it into this top 5, but it's not too far off that it should not compete with them. That's pretty good news!
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How is Bear Found?
While Bear's name and subtitle aren't very optimized, as you'll see below, it has the advantage of having been around for quite a while, which means more opportunities to "teach" Apple's algorithm what the app is about.
That helps a lot, but... when you teach Apple incorrectly, it learns incorrectly. In the case of Bear, the app ranks in a bunch of keywords, but many of them aren't popular. I filtered out the unpopular ones (popularity under 10), so you can see what that means, and it's not many keywords.
That means two things:
- Metadata (which is industry speak for the app's name, subtitle, and keyword list) that isn't at all optimized, and
- No ongoing metadata changes, so the algorithm has very little to go on when trying to classify the app.
Let's dig in:
Keyword Analysis - The Obvious Parts
- Name: Bear
- Subtitle: Private Markdown Notes
Strictly based on these, here are the popular keywords the algorithm sees:
Hmm... something's missing here. I hope this one's obvious. Where are the keywords???
There are two big issues here that are hurting Bear's ability to get discovered and downloaded.
There are no keywords in the app's name, so the algorithm isn't associating it with any of the search terms you'd expect a note-taking app to appear in. I imagine the argument here is that the app's name should remain clean and only have the brand, which is a common argument I hear, especially from indie developers.
Here's the thing - if you came across an app by the name of "Bear" with an illustration of a bear for an icon, would you intuitively expect it to be a great note-taking app? Not really, unless you made it... That's how users who see the app feel, and Apple's algorithm.
Easy fix #1: Place relevant and popular keywords in your app's name. Leaving it "pure" deprives the algorithm, and users, of hints to understand how the app can help.
When thinking of keywords to use in the name, think simple and popular. For Bear, I'd go with something along the lines of
note taking, and
writing. If the team feels aggressive, I'd even play around with
to do listright in the name.
The subtitle has some keywords, but they aren't as popular as other choices. Another mistake I see far too often, again, more commonly by indie developers, is optimizing for keywords that "feel" right, or describe the app as the developer would like for it to be.
But... while those could be popular searches, they aren't necessarily, and if you optimize for those, you're really tying your success to keywords that not enough people are actually using when searching the App Store, diminishing your ability to get more downloads.
Easy fix #2: Start with keywords that you think are a good fit, but let the data guide which keywords you end up using. With easy tools like Competitor Keywords and Related Keywords, you can easily find and refine your keyword list.
The best words to use in the subtitle are words that combine well with the ones in the name and produce relevant and popular terms. In this case, words like
private, jump to mind as a natural extension.
The name and title combine to very few useful options, so there isn't much to analyze here, which is why I kept the unpopular keywords, those with a popularity score of 5, in the screenshot. That should further reinforce #2 above.
What's in the Keyword List?
Now, let's reverse-engineer the keyword list. The list isn't public, but we can attempt to uncover it by looking at all other keywords the app is ranked in. We believe it looks something like the following:
After looking at a not-very-optimized name and subtitle, I'm happy to say the keyword list has some useful hints. They only help discovery a bit because they don't really pair up with the name, which is what the algorithm listens to the most.
It's easy to highlight features, which is what we see most of here. For the most part, that's not a bad idea. With a strong name/subtitle, that's the right move for the keyword list. Features, use-cases, and benefits are all things you want to target in your keyword list.
But, there's something else to keep in mind.
Easy fix #3: When competing with popular apps, it's better to select a small(er) number of keywords and focus on those instead of spreading the 100 characters the App Stores gives us on a random variety.
Screenshot & Video Analysis
Bear doesn't utilize an App Preview, which, as a user of the app, I think is a missed opportunity. The UI is clean and makes writing very easy, and when you need options, they're there. I'd show that in a short video to create excitement.
On to the screenshots, the one area where Bear is excelling.
Colors, contrast, and relevant captions make these screenshots really "sell" the app. I really like them. If you're not sure what to do with your screenshots, check out our guide with best practices.
There's only one thing that can (and should) be improved here, and that's the number of screenshots. Bear uses 6 of its ten screenshots, which means it's wasting four opportunities to "sell" the app.
The reaction I get from most developers at this point is, "oh, I don't have anything else to say." That's rarely true, though.
The main reason I switched away from Apple's native Notes app is that it did a poor job syncing between devices. Although Bear's first screenshot insinuates it works well on all devices, there's no single screenshot that addresses my specific need.
Easy fix #4: Showcase more of what makes the app great in your screenshots and aim to use every possible opportunity (aka. screenshot) to give the user a reason to tap the get button.
What Data is Bear Collecting?
In this new(ish) section, we look at the privacy labels apps declare on the App Store. Bear is definitely collecting, but considering it's a free app, it's not too bad.
Data Not Linked to You:
Yup, that's really all Bear is collecting, according to its privacy labels on the App Store.
You'll notice that this group, Data Not Linked to You, is one we don't see often in this section of our Teardowns, and that's simply because most developers rely on tools that collect information at the individual level and not aggregated.
"Tracking" has become a negative term, but if you've read any of my Teardowns you know that it doesn't have to be. There are many benefits to understanding how your app is being used which can help you fine-tune it, to the benefit of its users.
That's why I don't necessarily see tracking as a red flag. Just something to keep in mind.
A Quick Look Under the Hood
Here are all the SDKs and APIs we see powering Bear:
3rd Party + Open Source Projects:
- Apple Watch Connectivity
- Core Spotlight
Not a single commercial SDK in that stack! That's not too common, but a good reminder that apps can run completely natively on Apple's platform, supported only by a few open-source projects.
Ultimately, this does not have a direct impact on ASO or organic discovery, but the less bloat and unnecessary network traffic an app has, the faster and more stable it'll be. And that's good for users, which is good for the bottom line.
The Verdict: Low Hanging Fruit
Bear is a great app that would benefit many if it showed up in more search results. I've outlined three fairly easy fixes that will take just a little bit of time to make and will have an immediate impact on visibility, and if done correctly, can lead to continuous growth. All, organically.
I hope the team behind Bear takes these suggestions and turns them into downloads, but these suggestions aren't really specific to Bear. The concepts will work for any app or game that needs to grow its visibility.
And remember, ASO is as much art as it is science, which really means both are needed to succeed.
The Tools I Use
I did this entire analysis with our ASO tools and App Intelligence, the same ones hundreds of thousands of app makers rely on to monitor and optimize their apps. Check out some of my hands-on sessions to see it live.