You’ve developed an awesome app for the iPhone. You even navigated the mysterious journey through Apple’s approval process and your app is now live! Congratulations! It’s time to get back to work…
Just because you made the BEST APP EVER doesn’t necessarily mean anybody will be downloading it. Sure, you’ll probably get a nice boost of downloads from the initial launch, but what about three weeks later? Three months?
The App Store houses over 250,000 apps. Even if users know exactly what they’re searching for, it can be difficult to find a certain app. Nothing is more frustrating than designing something like an awesome RSS reader for the iPhone only to end up buried on the fourth page of the search results for “rss readers.”
Apple’s App Store algorithm operates much differently than Google. It turns out it isn’t really algorithm-driven as much as it is user-driven. Relevance is determined by downloads and keywords, which are both entirely powered by users.
Another important thing to note about search in the App Store is that it is exact match only. Your app will only show up in results if the keywords entered match one of the following: app name, company name or keywords. This means a search for “piano” returns different results than a search for “pianos.” Another example: the wildly popular Madden NFL 11 app doesn’t show up at all in a query for “football game” because there isn’t an exact match for “football” and “game” in the app name, company name or keywords (which aren’t published).
Still, despite the App Store’s idiosyncrasies, there are a lot of tips and tricks to make your app rank highly and to ultimately achieve more downloads.
1. Keyword optimization
This is the most important aspect of App Store optimization. The good news is it involves a lot of tried and true SEO practices. Only use related keywords. Don’t use a brand name or company name. Target relevant terms. Order by importance. As aforementioned, this is the only way your app will show up in search results for the words you want to target in the App Store. The built-in search engine doesn’t suggest results or customize results based on user history. It is strictly keyword-based. Apple has a pretty detailed guide on best practices for keywords. On a similar note, the description for apps has no purpose other than marketing. It is not factored into any search results in the App Store.
Directories serve a few different purposes for developers and marketers. The obvious one: a popular directory can make it easier for people to find your app and increase downloads. A byproduct of that, however, is your rankings in the App Store can rise. Even if your keywords are perfectly optimized, you need downloads and ratings to outrank people with similar keywords. A simple Google search reveals lots of directory opportunities.
3. Blogger outreach
A favorable review from a popular tech site or blogger can be all your app needs to leap up in rankings. Being featured on one of these sites usually means large volumes of downloads. Don’t be afraid about approaching prominent bloggers and asking them to review your product. Plenty of tech enthusiasts would love the opportunity to review a copy of your latest app. Paul Stamatiou has a good list of things to remember when pitching bloggers.
4. App name
An app name is typically decided upon long before a developer or marketing agency is thinking about search optimization the App Store, but few things have as big of an impact on App Store rankings as the app name itself. Think of the name as a title tag on a homepage. The name will carry a lot more weight than the keywords will. For example, if you are promoting an alarm clock app, “Ultimate Alarm Clock for iPad” would rank much better for relevant keywords than an app with an abstract name like “Clockio”. Another pro tip: use numbers at the beginning of the app name as to appear on the first page when users sort by name.
5. Free apps
It goes without saying that a free app attracts more downloads than a paid one — even at $0.99. But why not offer both? It’s no coincidence that many times the same app will occupy the top spot on both the free and paid charts. “Lite” or “Free” versions of apps are becoming more and more common. Cut the Rope Lite, a game for both iPad and iPhone, was at the top of both charts recently. The free app let users play enough levels to get the hang of how Cut the Rope works, but the coolest levels and extra features are all exclusive to the paid version (which is advertised often throughout the lite version). This is a brilliant way to utilize the by-products of the app. I presume the ultimate goal for the people behind Cut the Rope is to get as many paid downloads as possible. The app is being made regardless. It’s easy and strategic to leave out a few exciting features and release an additional app for free for marketing purposes. It’s a smart move.
6. Facebook Connect
With its 500+ million users, there’s no better place to promote your app than Facebook. Facebook Connect makes it easy. Simply build in a share feature in the app that automatically publishes high scores to Facebook or syncs with your friends. Nightstand, an alarm clock app, allows app users to share Nightstand with others on Facebook.
And just like that, hundreds of my friends on Facebook are exposed to Nightstand. Plus, it comes with my personal stamp of approval, which makes it a more powerful message than something less personal. Nightstand certainly did it right.
7. Icon design
Icons are the face of your product in the App Store. Even if an app is ranking highly and the description sounds interesting, a bad icon will turn me off from downloading it because I assume the rest of the app is just as carelessly designed. Don’t let all of the months spent developing and designing an app go to waste by not spending several hours on creating a solid icon. Pixel Icon has an amazing guide to the best practices of App Store icon design and even offers a free template.
8. App size
Once the RATP application download was reduced below 10Mb, the company saw its largest sales peak ever as users were able to access the service via their 3G networks (rather than via the web-based App store).
You want to give App Store users the opportunity to download the app at their convenience.
Encourage your users to rate and review your app. There are a number of scripts out there that automate this. Appirater is one of the more popular ones and targets dedicated users. The script launches into action if a user has had the app for 30 days and ran it at least 15 times; automatically generating a friendly request to rate the app in the App Store. This is an easy, unobtrusive way to get a large number of reviews from some of your app’s heaviest users.
You can have push notifications come through asking or encouraging your users to leave a review. In-app calls to action to leave a review work well too. Find ways to gently ask for reviews without being overly annoying.
You probably leverage Twitter for other marketing campaigns, so why not use it to promote an app as well? Lots of companies have had wild success using Twitter to promote a mobile app. Rovio Mobile, developers of the Angry Birds game, has 19,000 followers.
Bryson Meunier – App Store SEO
Search Engine Land – How to SEO for Apple’s App Store
The Apple Blog – App Marketing 101: SEO
Business Insider – Apple’s App Store Has a Spam Problem
ReadWriteWeb – Apple says we have enough fart apps: Here’s why that’s wrong