#45 - You Can No Longer Get This One Wrong

Ariel Ariel
4 minute read Feb. 1

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.


#45 - You Can No Longer Get This One Wrong

The keyword list in App Store Connect is an afterthought for many developers and marketers, even though it's the longest string Apple gives you to optimize. For years the algorithm didn't care about it too much, so it didn't matter. It does now. And a lot more than most think.

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 analyze thousands of search results to reverse engineer how the stores decide which apps to rank and how to rank them. I share what I learn for you to learn from and get more visibility.

Keyword: Cookbook

30 low 74 high 2K moderate 64.2K very high

It's not often that we come across keywords with decent popularity that aren't being optimized for directly, but they do exist. Those are opportunities, and how your app can get ahead. Cookbook is one such keyword. Here's why.

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

Look at our first result - the least performing app in the group, and probably in the top 10. Yet, it's the top result in a fairly popular keyword. Nice!

Cookbook is the top result for the keyword cookbook because, well, it's the first keyword in its name. That was obvious and very easy. Remember, when focusing on a keyword, use it in the name and as early as possible. The algorithm reads from left to right, and it's the name first and then the subtitle.

But there's a small caveat - An app with no new ratings wouldn't be able to rank so well if it had competitors that use the same keyword. In this case, it doesn't. That's what I call an opportunity.

Want to see how I find opportunities like this one? Join my live stream (or watch the recording if you're reading this after Wednesday) here.


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Moving on, you can see the algorithm will struggle here a bit because none of the next few apps use the keyword in their visible metadata. In the past, Apple's algorithm put most emphasis on the name and subtitle, so in cases like these, we'd see mixed results.

Since iOS 15, however, the algorithm is now a lot more respectful of the hidden keyword list, and it uses it in the absence of keywords in the name or subtitle, which makes it pretty important!

If you've been ignoring optimizing it and leaving it to the last minute just before publishing, you're most likely hurting your discovery these days. It wasn't like that before, but it is now.

8 Ways to groom your Keyword List so it's super optimized

Back to the apps!

In second place we have RecipeBox. I'm going to skip this one for a minute and I'll get back to it at the end. It'll make sense. I promise.

Third place Tasty, fourth place Epicurious, and fifth place Recipe Keeper are exactly what happens when the algorithm has little to go on. They all use the term in their keyword list which is why the algorithm wants them here, and the only way it can sort them is by their ratings.

That's exactly what we see here. Simple sorting by new ratings. Important - new, not total.

With those out of the way, let's get back to Recipe Keeper, the second result that has fewer ratings than the third result.

The invisible keyword list is actually the longest piece of metadata you have to optimize, at 100 characters and not 30 + 30, and in my experience, the one that's the least optimized. And I've seen the keyword lists of many (many) really popular apps.

2nd place wins here by having a more optimized keyword list that has this keyword right in the beginning, and I imagine that if we take a closer look at it we won't find any of the issues I list in the guide I linked a few sentences ago.

So, in 2022, it's very important that you optimize your keyword list if you want to get discovered.

What You Need to Know

The keyword list has become a very important component of App Store Optimization. It wasn't always the case, and many developers got away with poorly optimized keyword lists without any penalty to discovery, but that's no longer the case.

So, please (please) optimize your keyword list. At the least, make sure you don't make any of the basic mistakes (like removing spaces) by running it through our free keyword list optimization tool.

And that's all I have for you today. Subscribe to the newsletter for a new Keyword Teardown next week. If you have any questions or comments, you can find me on Twitter.

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, learn from competitors, get smart suggestions, and more, here.

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