Keyword Teardown #10 - That Old Trick Still Works!
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.
Apple's and Google's algorithms may be black boxes and completely undocumented, but patterns start to emerge if you look at enough sets of results. I actively research 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.
In this guide:
- Keyword #1: Dating
- Keyword #2: Photo Editor
- Keyword #3: Solitaire
- The Takeaways
- How Does Apple's App Store Algorithm Work?
- Get My App Store Optimization Tools
Keyword #1: Dating
I've been waiting to tackle this keyword for a long time. Dating apps have become the way for many couples to meet, or, at least for many wishful thinkers, to try. It's popular. It's competitive. And it follows all the rules. Almost too well.
Before we get into this one, I have to say that this one gets a bit technical right at the top and shows the importance of focus. When the most successful apps in a category all use pretty much the same template for their name and subtitle, the algorithm has to get technical. This is precisely the case here because all five seem to have copied and pasted their ASO strategy, changing only a word or two.
In the top spot, we have Hinge, which uses the keyword in its name right after its own. That's the 8th character. This will be important in a minute. At 11.3K new ratings, it's very much in the same ballpark as second place Bumble and Tinder, which also use the keyword right after their brand name. Both of their names are one character longer, and they both use a space and a dash, so the keyword starts in character 10.
They also rock a similar number of new ratings. 15.4K and 13.2K, respectively. With larger numbers, the algorithm gets less specific, so 11K is pretty much the same as 15K as is 13K. If all else is identical, the number matters more, but that isn't the case here.
So, why is Hinge at the top? It's using the keyword first + has fewer words in its name and subtitle, which puts more focus on the keyword. It took a while to understand this, but it makes sense. We see a similar technical side to optimization with terms like "food delivery".
In 4th place, we have Plenty of Fish. It's got more new ratings, but not that many more, and even though it also subscribes to the copy and paste school of ASO, its name is longer, so the term starts at character 16. Waaaay after the rest. If it didn't have so many new ratings, it'd be much lower. It also seems to try to differentiate itself by being in a different category. Why? Probably to rank higher in the category. That's kind of an old trick that I've always seen as a mistake.
Last for this set is Badoo, another user of the template. It does everything right (in that sense) but doesn't have enough new ratings to go any higher than the generosity of the algorithm has already taken it.
FYI - There are a bunch more competitors that also use the template but didn't make it into the top 5. They have decent ratings and even downloads but don't make the cut for a variety of technical reasons. If you want me to analyze below 5th place in the future, let me know.
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Keyword #2: Photo Editor
Apps that enhance photos and videos are all the rage these days. With phone cameras continuing to improve and social media continuing to simplify into just visuals, the need for simple photo editing tools is high. Looking at the numbers confirms this.
Let's dive right in because the only thing I can see when looking at the first result, Photo Editor- is a broken hack and a fortune mistake. I wonder if they realize what they've done.
So first, the hack. See that dash at the end of the name? That's not a typo. Apple requires names to be unique, and the dash helps because this isn't the first app to choose such a good name. But the algorithm drops the dash before it indexes, so it's like the app's name is the keyword.
Neat, right? Well, it's a hack, so I'll let you choose. But the mistake here is that by repeating it in the subtitle, all the good algo juice devalues instantly. We're not done, however, because the small number of words and repetition still put a lot of weight on the keyword.
So, it can still tower above rivals with more downloads and ratings.
This was a very complicated one. The rest are much more straightforward.
At #2, we have the leader in downloads and revenue (which I did an App Teardown of a while back). Picsart uses the keyword properly in the name and doesn't repeat it in the subtitle. It only manages to snag second place, even though it has the most new ratings because there's less focus.
Facetune, in third, also targets the keyword directly but splits the term across its name and subtitle. This is a very competitive keyword, but Facetune has enough new ratings to eclipse other competitors. That's why it can sit pretty at #3.
Instasize, the fourth result, uses the keyword right in its name. That allows it to climb into the top 5 even though it has substantially fewer ratings. By a whole order of magnitude.
The last result in this set shows us what could have happened to Facetune if it didn't have as many new ratings as it has. Magic Eraser splits the term in two and doesn't have enough new ratings to climb higher. But it still manages to squeeze into the top 5. I tried to think of ways to rework the name to include the full search term, but given what the app does, it's somewhat impossible (easily). It might also be somewhat misleading.
Either way, moving it into the name fully should spring it up at least one spot.
Keyword #3: Solitaire
And we'll round up this teardown by switching to games. This teardown has been of very popular keywords, and this one's no different. Solitaire has a special place in the hearts of many and looking at the numbers, it's in very high demand.
Games are notorious for finding and (ab)using every trick possible to get the algorithm to rank them higher. That's exactly what we see in this super competitive keyword. If you're not sure what I'm talking about, it's the strange symbols you see next to the names of three of the top five results.
Before we jump into analyzing the results, I'll say that I don't encourage using tricks like this one. Apple also hinted at how they'll stop working in the near future, but that was years ago, and as you've already seen, they still work.
At #1 we have an app by the name Solitaire. Nothing else. It should come as no surprise that it leads. If you've read any of my previous Teardowns, you'd know it's because the algorithm puts all of the weight it has on this single word. But with the most new ratings of the bunch, it's holding firmly to this spot and unlikely to move in the foreseeable future.
Competing with a single word is hard, but both 2nd and 3rd places use a character in their name that allows the name to be unique but the algorithm filters before indexing. It's a trick I used to see a lot more often 5+ years ago, but still works, and I've seen a few apps (not games) use it successfully as well.
By focusing all of the weight the algorithm has on a single word, the #3 result, which barely gets any new ratings, manages to snag such a high rank.
Update: A few readers noticed that what I thought was duplication in #4 was actually an intentional misspelling, so I've updated the analysis.
At #4 we have one that isn't using the symbol hack but is using another old-school one. Solitaire Classic has the main keyword up front, which alone isn't enough to snag this spot with the couple hundred ratings it has. But, it duplicates a bunch of keywords from the name into the subtitle which drastically cuts down on total words and gives the main keyword more weight.
It's one of those times where duplication is helping because it isn't the main term. I still don't recommend it because it looks werid.
The "hack" it's using is misspelling the keyword in the subtitle to target users who type it incorrectly. This was very useful a few years ago because the algorithm didn't understand misspellings. These days it does, and because the only difference here is a missing "i" the algorithm can detect it fairly well so it isn't too helpful. With the addition of auto correction in search a few years ago, this is much less useful.
But, this keyword is so old school that it's still useful. I looked up the popularity of
solitare (missing "i") and right now it's sitting at 52, which means auto correct isn't doing its thing.
Should you optimize for misspellings in 2021? I'd say it's worth inspecting misspellings. If you come across a popular one you should try optimizing for it, starting with the keyword list and slowly going into the subtitle.
Slipping into #5, we're back to basic hacks. The little triangle there does pretty much what the garden variety of circles do for those other games. With nearly no ratings, this one still manages to rank because of it.
But this app can go a spot higher fairly easily. Can you spot the error here? Duplication! By repeating the keyword in the subtitle, the value it gained by only having it in the name nearly disappears. It's still good, but not great.
- Focus is still the name of the game. It's even more important when the competition uses a very similar strategy. Count every characters and make sure you help the algorithm understand what's most important to your app.
- Splitting a popular keyword between the name and subtitle isn't a great idea. The closer multi-word keywords are together the more the algorithms will want to rank your app higher in search results.
- Repetition is (almost) always evil. When you repeat an important keyword in the app's name and subtitle you tell the algorithm it's not as important and it gives it less weight. it's as simple as that, so don't do it.
- Some characters help give your app's name uniqueness and are ignored by the algorithm. This one's a hack which I can't recommend so there's no more on this. But, it's still a thing you need to be aware of.
- Optimizing for misspelled words still works. Optimizing for misspelled variations of your main keywords may be worth the characters. Check for keyword popularity first and experiment with if high.
How Does Apple's App Store Algorithm Work?
App Store Optimization splits into two major parts: keyword optimization, which is how you'll get more people to find your app, and conversion optimization, which is how you'll be able to turn more of those views into downloads.
The former, keyword optimization, is what you should focus on first and involves selecting the right keywords and placing them into your app's name, subtitle, and keyword list/description in a way the algorithm will understand.
This article is a hands-on analysis of current keywords, but if you're interested in learning the strategies and techniques first, check out our ASO guides for keyword optimization.
Get My App Store Optimization Tools
App Store Optimization is part art and part science. The art part is what I've been talking about in this keyword teardown. The science part is where our ASO tools come in. See where your apps are ranked, track trends, snoop on competitors, get suggestions, and much more with Appfigures. Get started
What Do Popularity, Competitiveness, and Results Mean?
Scores help to identify opportunities. They're not the only thing you should use, but they make analyzing a bunch quicker and easier. In case you were looking at the scores in this article and wasn't sure what they mean, here are the details:
Popularity - This is a measure of how many searches the keyword receives on a monthly basis but normalized to a scale of 5 - 100, where the most searches get 100, and none/barely any get a 5. Because it's normalized, the actual values sit on an exponential curve, which means a 10 isn't half of 20 but actually less.
This is best used in the context of relevant keywords to aim high but shouldn't be used to compare to irrelevant keywords. Higher is better, but not a requirement.
Competitiveness - This is a measure of how strong the apps that are currently at the top 10 results are, on a scale of 1 - 100, where 1 means not at all and 100 means extremely tough. The algorithm we created looks at the same performance metrics as Apple's and Google's algorithms do. Smaller is better here, but much like the popularity score, you should only look at it in the context of keywords that are relevant to your app or game.
Results - This isn't exactly a score but rather the number of apps the algorithm will return for the keyword. Most users wouldn't look past the first five or ten, but when optimizing, we can use this number to gauge the difficulty of ranking. Less is good in this case.