Keyword Teardown #3 - Keyword Placement is the Name of the Game!

Ariel Ariel
8 minute read Aug. 24

Have you ever looked at search results in the App Store and wondered why they're ranked the way they are? In this series of Keyword Teardowns we analyze how the algorithm works and highlight tips and tricks to help you rank higher.

Keyword Teardown #3 - Keyword Placement is the Name of the Game!

Apple's and Google's algorithms may be black boxes and completely undocumented, but if you look at enough sets of results, patterns start to emerge. Today we'll look at several sets of results and explain why they are the way they are, using real keywords, real results, and lots of tips you can use to improve your ranks!

How Does Apple's App Store Algorithm Work?

Before we jump into the analysis, it's necessary to cover the basics of how the algorithms used to rank apps work, what they look at, and how they use that information to decide who to show and where.

FYI - This one's all about the App Store. In a future article, we'll do just the same for Google Play, so stay tuned.

At its core, Apple's App Store algorithm has one goal, and that's to find the most relevant apps and games to respond to every search query a user can make. To do that, it looks in three specific places:

  1. The app's name
  2. The app's subtitle
  3. The keyword list in App Store Connect.

It reads all of the words in those three pieces of text and extracts what your app is all about. In pro-speak, this process is called "indexing".

That's why ASO is important. It tells Apple's algorithm what your app is about. Users, too, of course. Now you have a (very) basic idea of how the algorithm works.

If you want to learn more about how to use keywords properly, check out the following in-depth guides:

Now, let's analyze!

Keyword #1: Whiteboard

52 moderate 74 high 1.2K moderate

We'll get this teardown started by looking at a keyword I didn't expect to be that popular but is—Whiteboard. I'm not too surprised though. I find myself wanting to draw examples in many of the virtual meetings I do these days.

Search results for "whiteboard" in the U.S App Store

At first glance, I see results that are almost sorted by downloads, but it's not just downloads but rather keyword placement and weight.

Microsoft leads the pack here with a healthy amount of downloads, about twice those of the rest of the top 5 (except for #4), it's also getting a healthy number of ratings for this group. The total is pretty low, but the entire segment looks like that, so it works.

Its secret weapon, however, isn't downloads but rather keyword weight. The app's name is very short, just two words. That indicates to the algorithm that this app is all about those two keywords.

Need more convincing that keyword placement is important? The 3rd result gets more downloads and ratings than #2, but look where #3 has the keyword: in the middle of its subtitle, where #2 has it as the first work in its name.

And if you haven't read the previous teardowns, the reason I said #3 has it in its subtitle even though it also has it in its name is because the algorithm skips duplicates.

#4 is peculiar because it has more downloads than the rest and doesn't commit any duplication sins, so we'd expect it to be higher. A couple of things could cause this: 1. this is the youngest app of the bunch. Age isn't a critically strong signal but does have an impact. 2. The way the algorithm handles the : has been a bit weird lately. I don't have enough evidence to support any suggestion here, but I know something's iffy.

At #5 we have another bad use of duplication and an overly long name/subtitle, which together devalue the keyword even more.

Note: It seems like Apple's algorithm has become much more sensitive to keyword placement and density lately. I'm not entirely sure when that started, but if you've gone through previous Teardowns, you know it's a pretty consistent pattern.

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Keyword #2: Weather

72 high 100 very high 18.5K high

Next up is a much more competitive keyword both by score and by the sheer number of results. Between storms, fires, and other natural disasters, it's no surprise its popularity is so high.

Search results for "weather" in the U.S App Store

At first glance, I'm coming into this category expecting weirdness. Apple's own app sits at the top and its data source second, which means competing here is not going to be easy. I've analyzed The Weather Channel before and can tell it's doing a great job at ASO.

I'm going to skip Apple's app for obvious reasons and skip right to #2, which has the most downloads and ratings of the top 5 apps and also has the keyword in the name. Twice, but that's probably a calculated move since the app's name includes the keyword.

With the way the algorithm is now, I suspect removing the duplication won't hurt ranks. If it ain't broke...

#3 and #4 could look confusing if you skip a tiny detail. Like the last keyword, we have a pair where the one on top has fewer keywords and ratings. Accuweather does do a better job with keyword density, but what helps it beyond that is its age. Again, it's not a critical factor, but it can be helpful.

And lastly, in #5 we have Weather Underground, which has the fewest downloads and ratings and is almost the youngest. It does do a good job with its name, but with such a high competitiveness and popularity scores, and so many search results, it needs more ratings to start inching up.

Keyword #3: Poker

64 high 83 high 8.5K moderate

Last for this teardown is a game, which we skipped in the last teardown.

Search results for "poker" in the U.S App Store

At first glance, I see results that, again, are almost sorted by downloads. But not exactly. Can you guess what's going to tip the scales?

At #1 we have World Series of Poker, which leads in downloads and ratings. It duplicates the keyword, which isn't great, but with so many downloads and ratings, and so many results for this search, it manages to pull ahead.

Right behind it is Zynga Poker, which also duplicates the term and devalues it... At roughly half the downloads, a small change to the game's name could easily pop it above. If anyone from Zynga is reading, this is a really easy win.

#3, Texas Hold'em is a peculiar one. No mention of keyword in the name + it's competitive enough that just having it in the keyword list wouldn't be enough. Ohhhh, it's made by Apple. I can't say I knew Apple had a Poker game in the store, but it's there so, skip!

Much like previous keywords we've analyzed, the #4 and #5 spots reminder us why keyword density is critical. #5, Poker Heat has more downloads and ratings than the app above it, but its name and subtitle are both longer, and (for some reason) it repeats its keyword three times... #4 is a bit more conservative with its repetition as it is with the length of its name and subtitle, which puts more weight on the keyword and give it the better rank.

3 Important Takeaways

If it's not abundantly clear already, keyword placement and keyword density are amazingly important for ASO, and it's true for both apps and games.

Placement - The more important a keyword is, the closer to the beginning of the app's name (or subtitle) it should be. The name gets more weight than the subtitle, so very important words should (only) go in the name.

Duplication - Keyword repetition is ignored, and the algorithm ignores all instances of the keyword except for the last one. Combine this with the tip above, and you should have your strategy.

Density - The more words you have in your name and subtitle, the less each is worth. How many words to include is a not-so-easy balancing act between keyword coverage (which you want more of) and keyword focus.

Ultimately, it comes down to the competition. If the competition is very heavily focused, go with the fewest words possible. If the competition isn't, keep focus, but sprinkle more words. I'm oversimplifying here, but you get the idea.

The Tools I Use for App Store Optimization

App Store Optimization is part art and part science. The art part is what I've been talking about in this keyword teardown. The science part is where our ASO tools come in. See where your apps are ranked, track trends, snoop on competitors, get suggestions, and much more with Appfigures. Get started

What Do Popularity, Competitiveness, and Results Mean?

Scores help to identify opportunities. They're not the only thing you should use, but they make analyzing a bunch quicker and easier. In case you were looking at the scores in this article and wasn't sure what they mean, here are the details:

  • Popularity - This is a measure of how many searches the keyword receives on a monthly basis but normalized to a scale of 5 - 100, where the most searches get 100, and none/barely any get a 5. Because it's normalized, the actual values sit on an exponential curve, which means a 10 isn't half of 20 but actually less.

    This is best used in the context of relevant keywords to aim high but shouldn't be used to compare to irrelevant keywords. Higher is better, but not a requirement.

  • Competitiveness - This is a measure of how strong the apps that are currently at the top 10 results are, on a scale of 1 - 100, where 1 means not at all and 100 means extremely tough. The algorithm we created looks at the same performance metrics as Apple's and Google's algorithms do. Smaller is better here, but much like the popularity score, you should only look at it in the context of keywords that are relevant to your app or game.

  • Results - This isn't exactly a score but rather the number of apps the algorithm will return for the keyword. Most users wouldn't look past the first five or ten, but when optimizing, we can use this number to gauge the difficulty of ranking. Less is good in this case.

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