#22 - To Subtitle or Not to Subtitle?

Ariel Ariel
3 minute read 9/28/21

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.


#22 - To Subtitle or Not to Subtitle?

The algorithm reads your app's name, subtitle, and keyword list. It cares most about what comes first and least about what's last. That opens the door for an interesting optimization that can help you against tough competition.

Apple's and Google's search algorithms are black boxes and completely undocumented, but when you look at enough data, patterns start to emerge. I actively analyze search results to reverse engineer how the stores decide which apps to rank and how to rank them, and share what I find, including tips, tricks, and secrets, here for you to learn from.

Keyword: Dictionary

59 moderate 100 very high 15.5K high

And to end this teardown, here's a keyword with the highest possible competitiveness score, which I didn't really expect. At all.

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

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.


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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.

What You Need to Know

No subtitle can really help with rank. BUt... 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.

Are You Putting My Tips to Good Use?

App Store Optimization is part art and part science. I say it a lot, and I mean it. The art part is what I've been talking about in this Keyword Teardown and in my App Teardowns. The science part is where our simple and intuitive ASO tools come into play. See where your apps are ranked, track trends, snoop on competitors, get suggestions, here.


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