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App Store optimisation: the importance of keywords

| By iGB Editorial Team
It doesn’t matter how good an app is if it doesn’t rank highly in App Store searches. Matthew Balch explains how the right keywords can boost your position.

It doesn’t matter how good an app is if it doesn’t rank highly in App Store searches. Matthew Balch explains how the right keywords can boost your position.

After a number of years of hearing ‘this is the year of mobile’, many operators have finally decided to make their businesses mobile first.

Going into 2017, most have built an app, integrated various product verticals and payment methods, and added a variety of ‘must-have’ software development kits to help them better understand what’s working and what’s not.

While their move to focus on mobile is entirely justified, for many operators their decision to drop six figures to develop an app only for it to languish below 100 (or worse) in their App Store category and only pick up 20 installs (only four of which convert) a day is a brutal reality.

Since 2013, the concept of App Store Optimisation (or ASO) has been a hot topic throughout the mobile industry. Many Tier 1 gambling operators were quick to realise its potential and have long been champions of what is widely regarded as a ‘black box’ marketing strategy.

However, if you’re not one of the ‘big boys’ and your business runs an app with a ranking too low to glean any organic installs through App Store chart browsing, ASO does indeed offer hope.  

The aim of this article is to focus specifically on keyword selection and how the use of single and combination keyword terms can help drive organic installs and attract the right type of customer.

Currently, Apple’s App Store algorithm measures keywords in three ways: brand name, keywords used in the app title, and keywords used in the app’s keyword field within iTunes Connect.

However, there are limitations in the number of characters an app’s title may contain (50, including spaces) and also the number of characters allowed within the keyword field in iTunes Connect (100).

The good news is that the brand name and any keywords within the app’s title already count, so there is no need to repeat them within your keyword field in iTunes Connect.

In selecting an app for this case study, I thought I’d go outside our industry and select an app from the similarly competitive UK travel industry.

Rather than choose a high profile app such as Trivago, Expedia or Hotels.com et al (all of which I know have spent significant ‘above the line’ marketing dollars in recent years), I have instead chosen another ‘all purpose’ app called HolidayPirates.

One reason I chose the app was that despite the fact I’d never heard of it, it ranks consistently in the top 50 of the ‘Free Travel’ category. So how does an ‘all rounder’ app, which competes with dozens of Tier 1 brands, manage to consistently rank in the top 50?

The first stage of my research took me to my keyword analysis tool, whereupon I did a simple search of the keyword terms HolidayPirates is currently being recognised for within App Store searches.

The table below shows the Top 20 most relevant terms the app is being recognised for with a top 10 ranking, the number of apps which are also ranking for each term, the search volume (a relative score out of 100), the amount of competition amongst all apps, not just travel (again, a relative score out of 100), and finally the keyword’s efficiency score, which is a score out of 100 that evaluates the overall suitability of the keyword in relation to all of these combined factors. 

Table 1. Source: AppTweak

While the number of relevant keyword terms HolidayPirates is being ranked for in the top 10 is indeed impressive, what is perhaps more interesting is the range of single and combination terms the app is achieving a high rank for and their potential likelihood to lead to direct sales.

However, when it comes to distilling your list of keywords into a restricted character allocation, there are a number of factors to consider such as:

  1. How relevant is the word to my app’s target audience?
  2. Is it likely to be used by a customer who is going to convert?
  3. Can it be used in combination with other words to create a ‘super’ keyword term?

A good example of this third point is the word ‘booking’. According to AppTweak, the app ranks at position 29 for the term. We know it’s questionable whether anyone browsing the App Store would scroll this far down a keyword search results page to download, let alone then proceed to buy, so why include it as a named keyword within iTunes Connect?

Well, by including it, we enable key search phrases to be formed and optimised within the App Store – in this case ‘hotel booking app’ (for which it ranks at number 4) and ‘flights booking app’ (20). 

Not only do both terms offer an impressive ranking, but they are key terms likely to be searched for by would-be customers likely to convert.

With all of the above in mind, here is my suggested app title and keyword field for HolidayPirates:

App Title: HolidayPirates – flights, hotels and package deals (50)

As you can see, it contains no less than five highly searched for and relevant keywords and uses the exact 50 character allocation. 

Interestingly, the app title does not contain any keywords, which is a missed opportunity for the developer.

Suggested iTunes Connect keyword field: airlines,budget,cruise,trips,travel,booking,vacation,tickets,rail,fare,cheap,beach,train,last,minute (100)

And sure enough, here are the actual keywords which are currently driving downloads: 

When it’s obvious that certain words are searched much more often than others, you may question the value of including words with lower search volumes, high competition and low efficiency scores. 

However, my advice would be that these are still worth including. 

Anytime your app is ranked in the top 10 for a keyword search term other than your own brand term, give yourself a ‘high five’.

It is far more advantageous to rank in a top position for a term with a lower efficiency rating than to rank below 25 for a term with higher search volume, as long as the word is relevant and likely to convert.

As any credible mobile marketer will tell you, “we don’t just want traffic, we want traffic that is likely to convert”. By changing the key performance indicator of any ASO strategy from ‘ranking’ to ‘acquiring high LTV users’ and ‘first time customers’, the role of keyword selection becomes clear. 

A quick glance at HolidayPirates’ UK travel category ranking chart (see red line below) suggests a strategy not of ‘paid for’ install buying to manipulate chart rank, rather one of careful keyword selection. 

The result is a consistently high search rank for keywords and phrases within the App Store (see Table 1), all of which has led to a level of organic download volume which has enabled the app to maintain a consistent chart position throughout 2016. Efficient, effective and FREE!

Table 2. 365 day chart ranking with a peak position of 18 on 9 January.  Source: App Annie

Top tips for keyword research

  • Use a keyword research tool. There are several out there in the market. AppTweak and Sensor Tower are worthy of a free trial
  • Make your potential keyword list as broad and as long as possible
  • Use your most relevant and most searched for keywords in the app’s title as they can result in a 10.3% boost to your keyword rank position, according to Mobile Dev HQ
  • Consider combination phrases as a way to supercharge words not performing in isolation
  • Ask yourself: ‘What would my customer search for’?

So what does this all mean for igaming businesses? If you’re an operator languishing any lower than a chart position of 40 within your app category, all is not lost.

The good news is that effective mobile acquisition is not all about burst marketing and install volume.

With a carefully crafted app title and keyword selection policy, combined with an effective description page and some attractive visuals, your brand can not only convert App Store browsers and searchers more effectively, it can attract the right kind of app installers who will generate revenue and LTV. 

Matthew Balch is a media consultant who works with igaming companies to develop mobile and app marketing strategies.


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