Keyword Teardown #4 - Age Isn't Just a Number...
Have you ever looked at search results in the App Store and wondered why they're ranked the way they are? Let's get to know the algorithm better.
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!
In this guide:
- How Does Apple's App Store Algorithm Work?
- Keyword #1: Bingo
- Keyword #2: Budget
- Keyword #3: Dictionary
- 3 Important Takeaways
- How to Turn This Wisdom into Downloads
- The Tools I Use for App Store Optimization
How Does Apple's App Store Algorithm Work?
App Store Optimization splits into two major parts: keyword optimization, which is how you'll get more people to find your app, and conversion optimization, which is how you'll be able to turn more of those views into downloads.
The former, keyword optimization, is what you should focus on first and involves selecting the right keywords and placing them into your app's name, subtitle, and keyword list/description in a way the algorithm will understand.
This article is a hands-on analysis of current keywords, but if you're interested in learning the strategies and techniques first, check out our ASO guides for keyword optimization.
Keyword #1: Bingo
We'll kick off this Keyword Teardown with a keyword that's somewhat related to games. In the last Keyword teardown, we looked at its close relative, Poker, so this should fit the same rules. But, does it?
At first glance, this set of results almost makes sense. The top app has almost the most downloads, the second and third follow, but then we come across #4, which has terrible performance and barely any ratings. Skip it quickly, and you'll land on the top app in the category. That's right. The most downloaded app is sitting 5th. Why?!?!?!?
We'll get there.
But let's start at the top. Bingo Blitz™ leads in downloads, ratings, but... it repeats the main keyword too often and devalues it entirely by placing it in the middle of its subtitle. Lucky for it however, its competitors follow the same terrible pattern, so its performance gives it the upper hand.
If Bingo! or Bingo Holiday remove the duplication, they should be able to eclipse it, even though they have far fewer downloads and nearly no ratings. That last one could be an issue, so if you're the developers behind either app, remove your duplication and aim to get your users to rate the app. You're welcome.
Now to the weirdness lower down in ranks 4 and 5. Bingo at Home, the #4 result, has so few downloads that our AI can't estimate them, and that's supported by only a single new rating in the last 30 days. Obviously, it's not getting much love. In #5, we have the category leader with 386K estimated downloads and 4K new ratings in the last 30 days.
How is it possible that the app with the most downloads and almost the most ratings isn't #1, or even #2, or 3 or 4? That has to do with one little tiny detail that's missing from the screenshot above (but is visible in Inspector), and that's its age. Bingo Clash is very young, just about a year old. Its competitors are much older, ranging from 3 to 9 years. That makes a difference.
So what do you do as a new entrant? Focus! We already know that focus beats performance, and if I had to optimize Bingo Clash, that's exactly what I'd do.
FYI - There might be something with Apple pushing apps that mention "cash" in their name down the ranks artificially. I can't prove it so I'm just putting it out there. If you're using the keyword or were considering adding it, I'd suggest against it.
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Keyword #2: Budget
Moving away from games to business apps, we have another fairly popular and very competitive keyword.
At first glance, the sorting here follows what we'd expect, for the most part. Are you starting to see the pattern here? First, second, and third place make sense. The rest, much less so. Well, this one's got another twist for you.
Mint, at #1, takes the lead by having the most downloads and ratings, even though it's using the keyword in a not-so-great way. I've talked a lot about placement and how it trumps performance, but that's when they're close. In this case, the number of new ratings is an order of magnitude lower when you go from first to second place.
Second, third, and fourth places use keywords fairly similarly, so the algorithm has to rely on ratings to sort them, and they're indeed sorted by ratings.
Pro tip: Ask your existing users to rate your app. There are many ways to do it, but the key is to do it.
Now on to the fifth place, which isn't an app! In #5 we have an app bundle, a rare sight on the App Store and in search results. Its icon isn't pretty, and it has no performance data, making it very hard to understand and analyze.
To keep things simple, look at the developer -- The Lampo Group -- the same developer of the #2 app, and that app is indeed the star of the bundle. While taking the #2 and #5 spots seems great, bundles aren't as attractive these days, where most apps are free, and the "bulk" discount aspect of bundles isn't really sexy.
We've yet to come across any other bundles, and that's over the last four Keyword Teardowns, so the answer to whether you should spend time on creating a bundle is probably no. But, keep an eye out for them.
Keyword #3: Dictionary
And to end this teardown, here's a keyword with the highest possible competitiveness score, which I didn't really expect. At all.
At first glance, I expected a bump in downloads, in what may otherwise seem like a pretty dull keyword, due to back to school. That seems to be the case, which is why this is the time to look at it, and where we see all of the patterns we've seen already return.
The category leader, Merriam-Webster, uses very few words in its name and subtitle, so all of the focus is put on the keyword. It also has the most downloads but not the most ratings. It also doesn't have a subtitle, which means all of the focus is on the name. That's a lot of weight on three words and why it's the #1 result for this search.
In #2, Dictionary.com has double the ratings, which we'd expect to give it a better rank, but it fumbles its keyword placement. It's incredibly hard to compete with Merriam-Webster's approach, so I'm not holding it against them. But you can see the impact of keyword focus very clearly with this one.
Oxford doesn't have enough ratings to get into the big kids' table, and Urban Dictionary, which follows Merriam-Webster's strategy, has even fewer ratings, so it's locked out as well.
Both of those can make minor tweaks and jump up.
At #5 we have a weird one. Again. Why is Dictionary., which gets more new ratings than Urban Dictionary, not ranking higher? It's focusing every ounce of keyword juice it gets on a single keyword. The keyword.
Well, it's not the right one... Appending a period to a keyword doesn't change its meaning if you're a human reading it. Algorithms consider it a whole different word, which includes the period...
Black hat tip (that you shouldn't use) - The algorithm ignores certain characters, so appending them to the name makes it unique enough to submit it through app review but focuses on the right keyword. One developer I've seen rely on this trick is Luni, which has quite a few apps and many of which are ranking very well. Apple has promised to end this quirk, but I don't think that happened yet. Still, don't do it. I've given you all the white-hat tricks you need.
3 Important Takeaways
Older apps get a bit more love from the algorithm. It's probably one of the smallest boosts an app can get, but it's still something. If your app is new, you can get ahead by focusing your keywords, even if you don't have the downloads.
No subtitle can really help with rank. Using fewer keywords makes it easier to focus on a single keyword, and the subtitle counts, so no subtitle = fewer keywords, and it's optional. Should you remove yours? Probably not, unless you're really trying to focus on a keyword.
Focus beats performance. As Apple's algorithm evolves, more and more weight is put on where and how your keywords fit into your apps' name, subtitle, and keyword list. While performance, meaning new downloads and ratings, is important, it's not the most important factor in ranks.
You can, and should, use that in your favor when competing over very tough keywords or when just starting in a new market.
How to Turn This Wisdom into Downloads
Now that you've seen how the algorithm works in the wild, you can use the insights to improve your keyword optimization by updating the name, subtitle, and keyword list of your mobile app or game.
Every category is a little bit different, and the best way to grow is by experimenting. Try what you've learned here today and [track the results] for a few weeks to see how it impacts page views and downloads. If it's helping, zoom in and refine. If it isn't, undo.
That's the best approach to grow your downloads organically.
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
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:
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.
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.
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.