App Store Optimization is a Numbers Games

Ariel Ariel
3 minute read 8/24/21

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.


App Store Optimization is a Numbers Games

What if I told you that the decision of where your app will appear in search results is based on something you can count? Aaaaaand, what if I told you that thing isn't downloads?

Keyword: Karaoke

54 moderate 88 high 1.9K moderate

Do you like to sing? I sure do, and judging by this keyword's popularity and competitiveness scores, I'm definitely not the only one. Let's see what you need to do to rank here.

At first glance, I see what looks like a flipped top, but it's really all about the ratings.

Starting at the top, we see that first place result, from Yokee, is beating the more popular one from Smule. Yokee has fewer downloads but more new ratings than Smule, and its rating average is higher. It commits the sin of duplication, but that's not hurting it because after it's removed, the name + subtitle have fewer words, and thus, more weight is given to the keyword.

If Smule wanted to claim the top place, a shorter subtitle, and even better, name, would make that happen.

In third place we have The Voice, which doesn't have the downloads but beats the rest on ratings. Apparently, that's enough here.

You'll notice the downloads trend cuts off mid-way. That's a result of Apple limiting ranks charts starting 9/1, which limits our ability to generate estimates for apps with a rank lower than 200. It's not great, and we're looking for workarounds, but for now, that's all we have.


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Gismart, at #4, has quite a few downloads. Why is it not up higher? No ratings... And the ones it does get aren't great (a 2.51 average). The algorithm is very sensitive to ratings, as we've seen time and time again. The other thing that isn't going for Gismart is that the keyword, while first in the name, drowns in a very long name and subtitle.

Side note: Using as many characters in the name and subtitle is a best practice, but that really depends on the keyword(s) you're targeting. As we've seen before, focus trumps breadth, especially for high-popularity keywords.

In 5th place, we have Karafun, which doesn't have the downloads or ratings to challenge any of the apps that rank above it. It duplicates the keyword, and its new rating average is pretty low, which isn't helping.

In case I wasn't clear here -- Ask for ratings. Thanks!

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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