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App Store ranking: create your own app part 6.2

Once you’ve created your own iOS app, it makes sense to pay attention to your App Store marketing to ensure that users find your app and download it. In part 6.2, we’ll apply the same approach to Apple’s App Store and examine marketing for iOS apps, looking at how the ranking factors differ between the Apple and Google app stores.

This article is the last in our 7-part series on how to develop and market your own app. Now that you’ve discovered how to create an iOS application and get it onto the App Store, we’ll take you through the basics for app store optimization on the Apple App Store, highlighting the key factors for ranking that you need to be aware of.

How do you run successful app store marketing for iOS apps?

Marketing of iOS applications on the Apple App Store basically boils down to one very simple thing: The details page of the application. This is the key page for optimizing the app store ranking of your iOS app. In addition to the app download function, the App Store page for the application contains a description of the app’s content, example images and screenshots to demonstrate the visual presentation of content on the app, user ratings, and more.

Some areas of the app details page have a direct influence on the ranking of an application on the Apple App Store and so can be optimized in order to improve app store ranking. But even though some of the other factors aren’t directly related to how highly your app ranks on the store, they’re still valuable for boosting the reputation of your app and therefore can lead to higher download figures among App Store users.

The following examples explain the key factors that influence Apple’s App Store ranking for applications. Optimization of your iOS app details page is done from your account with iTunes Connect and begins as soon as you’ve uploaded your application.

Keywords

In Apple‘s App Store, optimization of app ranking is determined most of all by choosing the right keywords in the keyword field. Keywords generally play the most important role in iOS app rankings. If you rewrite the content of your application with appropriate keywords, the chances are that your app will rise in the search results on the App Store. Keyword optimization on the app details page is one of the onsite factors that you can directly control, so it’s important to make sure you do all you can to maximize this.

Choosing keywords for the keywords field

iTunes Connect offers a special segment for you to provide your app details page with keywords. This is the first big difference that separates it from the Google Play Store, where you can only include keywords in the name of the app and its description. By contrast, Apple’s App Store gives you up to 100 characters to add any keywords appropriate to your app in the ‘Keywords’ field – and you should make the most of this: The keywords listed in this section are decisive when it comes to determining your app’s ranking on the App Store. And if you’ve developed a multi-lingual application, you’ll need to adapt the keywords to each specific language.

Keywords added to the keyword field on iTunes Connect should be separated by a comma – but without spaces: spaces aren’t necessary for Apple to process your keywords, so by excluding them between keywords, you can be sure not to waste characters. If you have long-tail keywords that consist of two or more words, enter each one as a single keyword: So if your app offers a filter effect for photographers, for example, then you should type your keywords ‘photo,filter’ like so. By doing this, you also cover your app for multiple keyword combinations (upper/lower case spelling doesn’t affect keyword searches):

  • photo
  • filter
  • photo filter
  • filter photo

There’s also no need to pluralize words – singular versions of any keyword cover plural searches. It’s not necessary to include the word ‘app’ among your keywords either, nor the title of the app category for your chosen app – these keywords are automatically assigned to the app and so including them would just take up limited space unnecessarily. So, as an example, if your app is listed in the games section, then neither ‘game’ nor ‘app’ needs to be included as a keyword. A word of warning: Selecting the right category for your app is very important, because the available categories (3 for gaming apps; 2 for all other applications) also influence your keywords. So select your category carefully.

Keywords for the name of your iOS app

You have up to 50 characters to play with when it comes to naming your app. This limit was brought in by Apple in September 2016 in reaction to the number of ludicrously long app titles in the store (the previous limit was set at 255 characters – almost twice the length of a tweet!). Apple justified this step by highlighting that some app developers took advantage of the extra space to carry out ‘keyword stuffing’. This term refers to the act of overusing keywords in a sprawling manner, a technique designed purely to improve ranking for the app or page, but one which doesn’t offer any added value for the user whatsoever.

There was one other change along with the shortening of available character length for the app title: According to Apple, the app name may no longer include any descriptive terms for the content of the app. This measure was also taken to tackle keyword stuffing. The new guidelines mean that the app title field can’t really include any information about the app other than its actual name – slogans and similar appear to also be banned. Despite these new, stricter rules, it’s difficult to understand the extent of control that Apple is willing to take over app titles. So it’s likely that a keyword optimized app slogan that follows the name of the app in the title is surely still going to have a good chance of being included high up on the App Store ranking.

Despite allowing up to 50 characters, Apple does recommend that app designers stick to a maximum of 23 characters for app titles: if the name is longer, then there’s a risk that it will be cut off on devices with smaller display screens. This is important to bear in mind and adhere to, as it will look extremely unprofessional and damage your brand image if the name of your app doesn’t display properly on all devices.

Keywords in the app description

Officially speaking, Apple has stated that only keywords included in the official keywords field will have an influence on ranking – but it’s important that the description of your iOS application should also include important keywords. Even if Apple doesn’t take this into account, search engines like Google do, and the description of an app is used by Google as a key ranking factor (thus narrowing the gap between search engine optimization and app store optimization in this instance).

Embedding keywords into your description text shouldn’t be difficult, because explaining what the app is and does without using appropriate keywords is practically inconceivable – but you should take time to make sure you use the correct ones. The description section gives you a lot of room for keyword optimization too: You have a total of 4,000 characters to play with when explaining your app’s content. However, you should only reach this limit in exceptional circumstances – the more succinct and to the point that you can keep your description, the better it will resonate with users.

The opening sentences are the most important, because they’re immediately visible on the app page – App Store users have to click on the ‘More’ button in order to receive the rest of the description and other information. As a result, you should present all the most important information about your app in the first section of the description, so that it’s visible from the get-go.

Other factors that influence the App Store ranking for your iOS app

There are other ASO methods that can help to improve your application’s Apple App Store ranking besides keyword optimization. User reviews of the application on the App Store and the number of downloads are two indicators that have a big influence on your app’s position. These two work hand in hand, too: Many positive reviews increase the chances of your app being downloaded, and high download figures increase the preconception that your app is high quality, increasing the chances of positive reviews. But there are other App Store marketing measures that can have a positive influence on your ranking, like an appealing app icon, high-quality, clear screenshots, and a promotional video or tutorial. So here’s how to optimize these additional areas of your app details page.

App downloads and reviews

The total number of App Store downloads is a clear indicator of the popularity and success of an application. As a general rule, the more often an iOS app is downloaded, the more relevant it becomes for the Apple App Store. The same is true of app reviews: The sheer fact that an application has received a relatively high number of user ratings (regardless of whether they are positive or negative) can lead to an increased position in the app store ranking. In turn, the type of rating of course also plays an important role as a ranking factor: the more positive that user reviews are, the better the app will place. So the average user rating for an application is crucially important.

However, these ASO measurements are considered off-site ranking factors that can only be influenced indirectly. As an app developer, you can only affect these by ensuring you offer a high quality, user-friendly, and functionally sound app, and market it properly. Apps only experience real success when they offer users something that excites them and works in a way they like. iOS apps that have happy customers and good marketing will generally lead to good user reviews and download figures on the App Store.

One way to help you retrospectively boost the user rating for your app and to improve customer satisfaction is to offer comprehensive customer support. If your users experience difficulties with their app (either because of an app error or compatibility issues with their mobile device or operating system), then offering prompt, friendly, and accessible advice to solve the problem can help to stop bad ratings and reviews.

App icons, screenshots, and videos

Unlike with customer ratings and download figures, optimization of your app icon as well as the inclusion of promo videos and screenshots lies firmly in your hands. But unfortunately, they only have a passive effect on the Apple App Store ranking in comparison to downloads and reviews.

These App Store image options are basically there to give you the chance to present your app. But an appealing design for the app page does also have a positive effect on distribution and downloads. Many undecided App Store users can often be persuaded to download an app by attractive presentation of it on the app page. The very least you should offer to make a professional impression is an icon as well as some screenshots – an app video isn’t strictly an essential, but it does offer an added extra to convince users to download, especially if it’s high quality.

Here’s a quick summary of what to consider when designing your icon, screenshots, and promotional video:

  • App icon: the symbol for your application is displayed in the App Store (and other places too, including on Google’s SERPs) as well as on the mobile device of the user (in the form of a start button). This logo is particularly important for helping your app to be taken seriously on the App Store, so it’s important to make sure it looks professional and corresponds to your app. If a user has found your app through the search function on the App Store, then your app icon will be there first impression they get of your app – and in the app market, first impressions count for everything.
    The symbol should ideally be recognizably different from other app icons and should immediately catch the user’s eye (through a unique design or vivid colors that match the app’s content, for example). You should create the logo in 1024 x 1024 pixel size and upload it to iTunes Connect. Since the actual size of the symbol on the home screen of your user’s Apple device will be significantly smaller (i.e. 57 x 57 pixels for the iPhone), you should make sure to stick to a minimalistic logo design. Illustrations that are too detailed or feature text are likely to come across as messy, muddled, and illegible when displayed on the smaller screen.
  • Screenshots: you can upload up to 5 images to add to the app page of the App Store. These screenshots should act as an introduction to your app – so it’s important to make sure they leave a good impression. You should include screenshots of the user interface in as broad a way as possible. Even though Apple only requires you to upload a single screenshot, it’s recommended to include as many as you’re permitted.
    The more you reveal about the way your app appears, the more informed that your user will feel when making his/her decision to download the app (many users flick through the screenshots first, before reading the description text for the app, because it’s quicker and easier to get an instant feel for the app). Make sure that your images are informative, professionally designed, high resolution, and formatted to fit the corresponding display screens for Apple devices (iPhone, iPad).
  • Promo video: preparing a video isn’t a requirement from Apple, but it almost always registers positively with users. A promotional video can show a user how an app looks in action – meaning that dynamic content can be understood immediately by your target group. Videos should be between 15 and 30 seconds in length.
    Make sure you introduce the most important aspects of the application at the start and explain them clearly, so that even the most impatient viewers are able to understand what your app is all about. As with the screenshots, your video should be well produced with high standards of quality in mind and should also include all the essential information about your app.

Conclusion: good app store optimization leads to a good iOS app ranking

ASO can have just as positive an effect in Apple’s App Store as it does in the Google Play Store. The most important thing here is to use the right keywords. These should always fit the content and function of the app. Using the right keywords increases the chance that users will find your application on the App Store. This can also be achieved by choosing the right category for your app on iTunes Connect. After that, it’s down to your app page to convince users to download.

A healthy number of (good) user ratings and many downloads lead to a higher ranking and an increased reach for your app. You can’t affect these figures directly – they’re purely down to your customers. But your illustration options can have an indirect influence on the number of downloads you receive. An attractive and striking app symbol, coupled with an informative promo video and a number of high quality screenshots can help present your app in an appealing way. These tools are crucial for app store marketing – a positive first impression on your app page can see your download figures sky rocket.

All of these factors add up to a lot of variables for you to exploit and optimize in order to improve your app’s performance on the Apple App Store. But despite all this, you shouldn’t rely exclusively on app store optimization as a marketing tool for your application: successful marketing usually comes from exploiting several channels (whether you’re offering an app for iOS, Android, or for another mobile operating system altogether). Deciding which channels and strategies are the right ones for marketing your app depends on the content of the app and should be evaluated individually based on your product. The important thing to remember is that app store optimization should only ever make up a part of your entire marketing plan. If you’re able to convince your app users of the quality of what your product offers and you can market your app effectively, then there’s no reason why your iOS application can’t be the next big hitter on the Apple App Store.

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