This is The Most Important Signal for App Store Optimization!

Ariel Ariel
3 minute read 10/9/21

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.

This is The Most Important Signal for App Store Optimization!

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Keyword: Notes

68 high 100 very high 15.8K high

If you've been reading my teardowns, you know I take a lot of notes and that I don't like the native Notes app from Apple. (Bear's my choice).

At first glance, I see a great example of a few of the secrets we've uncovered throughout this series, including placement, ratings, and placement again.

Apple's native app is the #1 result. While it might be the most popular app to download from the store (even though the app comes built-in...) I suspect it earns its top spot not by following the rules but by belonging to Apple, so, I'm going to skip it.

In "second first" place, we have Microsoft's OneNote. Although it only uses the keyword in its subtitle, it wins in a very important area: ratings. That allows it to rank high without even having the keyword in the name. And in case you're curious, the algorithm isn't splitting "OneNote" into "one" and "note" as a human might. So the only instance it can see is the one towards the end of the subtitle.

Google's app comes in 3rd, and earns its place not because it has a good number of ratings, but rather it has some ratings and the keyword in its name. It repeats it into the subtitle, which loses a lot of value... and opens the door for #4 to challenge it.

Here's how - n+otes, the 4th result, has more ratings than Google, by an order of magnitude, but only mentions the keyword in the subtitle. That's not enough to get rank, obviously, so the "fix" here is to include the keyword in the name. It might get tricky with the app's name being "notes" but with a + shoved in the middle, but I'm sure it's possible.

In #5 we have a bundle. I know! We've only seen one bundle rank in 7 keyword teardowns, so to say they're not common would be an understatement. Bundles follow some of the rules we've looked at before. In this case, the bundle is from Microsoft and includes OneNote (#2) as well as other popular apps, so it makes sense that they'd have good enough performance to make the list.

By the way, Inspector now highlights bundles.

I'm not sure if the algorithm decides when to include bundles or if it's more of an editorial choice, but according to Explorer, there are only 208 app bundles in the Productivity category, which might have something to do with that decision.

If I see more bundles in search results, I'll do some more digging.

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Fun fact: One of the apps I was expecting to see in the top 5 is Evernote. It isn't, but comes in at #9 even though it has the keyword in the name and without any duplication. Weird right? Well, it doesn't have all that new ratings, and those ratings aren't very positive, which is, in my opinion, the reason for the lackluster performance.

What You Need to Know

The algorithm uses a cascading set of rules to decide how to sort search results. While keyword placement is (usually) the main signal it considers, ratings play a very important role in the way results are sorted. We've seen it week after week, and if you think about it, it also makes sense.

How much weight is derived from the ratings vs. keyword placement and focus depends a lot on the competition.

Where apps aren't all optimized the same way, the order is a result of both. "Notes" is a good example of that. When all apps are optimized the same, more or less, the ratings become the main signal the algorithm has. A good example of that is "Chess".

So, you need more ratings. Regardless of how big your user base is, your first optimization should be to ask that user base.

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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