#91 - Did You Know the App Store's Algorithm Remembers Everything?

Ariel Ariel
6 minute read 1/23/23

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.

#91 - Did You Know the App Store's Algorithm Remembers Everything?

AI came into the mainstream a month or so ago with the introduction of OpenAI's ChatGPT. It's so impressive that even though the service doesn't have an app, a whole bunch sprang up pushing the keyword "ChatGPT" to a popularity score of 72. That's higher than maps, video editor, and even bible.

In this teardown we'll look into the top search results on the App Store right now and why the algorithm picked those specific apps.

Keyword: ChatGPT

72 high 75 high 166 very low

It's pretty common for popularity scores of keywords to rise and fall, but it's pretty rare to see a brand keyword spring up and rise in popularity so quickly.

Do the rules of App Store Optimization change in such a case? Let's have a look, and for more context, I've expanded the screenshot below to include the release date column. It isn't really relevant for ASO, which is why I don't normally include it, but it's important in this case because all of the top results are no more than a month old.

There's something else interesting I noticed that's important for those of you curious about using trademarks in app names.

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

In first place we have Genie, an app that makes it seem like it's the ChatGPT app but without actually using the term in the name or subtitle.

Genie uses gpt in the app's name and chatgpt in the app's keyword list, very early on (first word is my guess), in addition to a few related keywords that combine very well.

Pretty good on keyword strategy! What also helps Genie secure the top spot is the high ratings count, which outpaces every other competitor in this list.

And if you're curious how such a new app got more than 13K ratings the answer is, in part, Apple Search Ads. Genie advertises in hundreds of relevant keywords, and optimized its experience to get a rating early.

If you're spending any money on ads and haven't optimized how you ask for a rating you're really burning money. Please stop, optimize, and proceed.

FYI - I've been saying our Apple Search Ads Intelligence is coming soon. I don't mean to tease, it really is!

Monitor. Optimize. Grow

Get actionable insights in minutes!

In second place we have a trickster. Chat AI secures the second spot without having gpt in its name or subtitle + is getting not-that-many new ratings.

So, how???

In an App Teardown I did a loooong time ago I shared how the algorithm remembers the keywords you use over time, and that's exactly what's happening here.

Chat AI used to be called ChatGPT - GPT 3. Obviously, a gross trademark infringement, but Apple didn't notice for quite a while! Really, until a bunch of people complained on Twitter, including bigs like John Gruber.

So even though the words aren't visible and are only in the keyword list, the algorithm remembers those and it's still ranked.

"Remembered" keywords aren't as strong as active keywords, which is why it's not ranking first. But second is still pretty good.

There's a bigger debate about why Apple allowed a trademarked word as the name of an app not owned by the trademark owner. I think it's too new for many reviewers to know and that's how it slipped in. That's what happens when a trademark is so new.

But Apple does seem to react very quickly, which is why the name was changed. There's still an app that uses it in its subtitle, which shouldn't be okay but is right now.

There's a way to target this keyword without infringing on a trademark. The next app down does that:

In third place, yes, we're only down to third, we have a no-brand name app that also abused the trademark and taught the algorithm something that's no longer there now.

This is what the name was last week. It's been changed since, but this is what the algorithm remembers:

  • Name: Write For Me GPT AI Assistant
  • Subtitle: Open Chat GTP GP GPD GTB GPI

Two important things to see here:

  1. Chat and GPT are both here separated by a space. In some cases, the algorithm will combine them and give you a free way to target the keyword. I've used this in several cases for the Appfigures app and it works pretty well. This is a good strategy if you have no other way to target the keyword.
  2. GPT is repeated here. That hurts.
  3. The subtitle is targeting "misspellings" because most people won't necessarily remember the acronym. It's not too intuitive. This is probably working right now but is super wasteful and won't work long term. I don't love these sort of "hacks" even if they may have some short-term benefits.

Although this isn't relevant right now because the name is now different, the algorithm's "memory" is an important tool you can (and should) use.

Moving down to fourth we have the one that got away. I think. This one's another no-brand app that stuffs the name and subtitle with keywords, but somehow managed to keep both ChatGPT and GPT in its subtitle.

It's probably just a matter of time until Apple pulls it, or tells the developer to change it or else, but it's there now and that helps it make its way into the top results even though it only has 6 new ratings. I'd guess none of those came from real users, but that's not really important.

And in last place Wiz which gets quite a few ratings, more than second and fourth place (combined) but didn't do as good a job as the others with its keywords so the algorithm isn't showing it any more love than it has to.

Tip: This is a rather ugly side of the algorithm. While it isn't supposed to reward bad actors, in this case, it does. It's not an easy fix and I don't think Apple will be able to patch it against copyright infringement easily, so if you have a trademark it's really up to you to protect it and report infringing apps to Apple.

Explorer is the best tool for monitoring trademark infringement.

What Did We Learn Today?

  1. Apple's App Store algorithm remembers the metadata apps use over time and uses it when choosing which apps to rank. Knowing this you should feel more comfortable iterating and trying new things.
  2. Proper keyword placement is very important for ranking well. The name matters the most, subtitle second, and then the keyword list.
  3. Apple won't always catch all trademark infringements during app review, so it's important that you protect your own, if you have a trademark.
  4. Oh, and the most important one for your pocket - if you're running paid ads, be it Apple Search Ads or elsewhere, you must ensure your app is optimized to encourage users to rate it. Otherwise, you're just burning money.

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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