I see it all the time - companies who create great apps only to lose them in the app store.

What Is App Store SEO?

It comes as no surprise that app store SEO and regular SEO are two completely different things. Whereas regular SEO has to please Google more or less exclusively, app store SEO is far more fluid. It is less black and white, less like a one trick pony, as it does not need to please one search engine but rather two big players. These are the Apple iOS Store and Google Play.

Regular and app store SEO vary on numerous accounts but fundamentally their principles are the same. Both are the art of getting what you want to the top of the list. Whether it is an app or a piece of curated content is irrelevant to the overall goal.

One huge problem is, like with the Internet circa 1996 onwards, content in the app store has become saturated. There is not one maps app but rather 40 available online. There is not one shopping list but 300. The task is to get your app through the waves of waterlogged content and, with Apple clocking in over 50 billion downloads so far (or approximately seven apps per every person on the planet) and Google Play reporting over 48 billion, there are a lot of apps competing for the top positions.

After all, what is SEO if not fighting against saturation?

How Do Web And App Store SEO Differ?

We’ve already touched upon how web and app SEO differ, but how do they differ from a practical point of view?

The main difference between app and web optimisation is the ecosystem where apps exist. The app store acts in much the same way as a directory online. It is easiest to imagine it a bit like the Yellow Pages (or Yell.com): Let’s say you want to find a plumber. There are literally thousands of plumbers listed in the UK, and so the market has become saturated. You will use the directory to find one plumber but, to be honest, the odds of you finding one particular one is fairly slim.

Now, let’s say you want a plumber in Alcester who provides undermount bathroom sinks. The odds are there are only one or two companies in Alcester who provide undermount bathroom sinks. They create a monopoly on Yell.com and so you are more likely to click on one of them. This is the exact same principle with apps in the app store. The less specific they are the less money they make per individual download and the more saturated the market is. The more specific they are, the more money they make (like the Alcester plumber) but the less downloads they have. It is a strange economy. 

It is because of the saturation, because of the nature of the app store, and because of the nature of the very apps themselves, that the approach is different when doing web and app store SEO.

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How Do Users Find Apps?

There is a superb study by MobileDevHQ in which they quote right at the top that 53% of Android users and 47% of iOS users found the last app they downloaded through an app store search. On top of this 64% of users download apps weekly and search results account for more than three times the downloads than the next top way of finding apps (through family and friends).

The MobileDevHQ study is extensive, however since it is relatively old (2013) we decided to ask people around the CAB Studios HQ to see if MobileDevHQ’s results were still relevant. The results were thus:

  • 69% downloaded an app in the past week
  • 26% downloaded an app in the past month
  • 5% downloaded an app longer than a month ago
  • 57% browsed an app store to find their app
  • 43% knew what they wanted before they browsed

Granted our survey was only of 23 people in the office, however what it does do is verify the MobileDevHQ statistics. The majority of people do search through the app store and thus app store SEO is important.

Optimising for App Stores

While apps' on-page SEO is important, it does not have the same meaning as it does with regular SEO. On-page SEO for the app store comprises of five major sectors.

  • App Title - the app title should be treated in much the same way as the H1 or Title tags in HTML. Ideally the title should include the keywords of what the app is for. For instance, a notebook would do better being called Notebook 3000 than it would being called ‘Book of Things’.
  • Description - the description is the key area of the app for SEO. Not only should it include keywords but it should sum up the app as best it can. Like with Youtube there is a fold in the description, with the primary content being the top two sentences.
  • Keyword Tag - the keyword section allows for 100 characters for keywords. Use them well. Apple can combine individual words so do not use phrases if you can avoid it.

Those are the three key areas of on-page SEO from a technical point of view, however there are a couple of graphical choices that help apps sell well. These include having a great icon and including screenshots with your app. Why? The answer is simple: Much like in the same way page visits are in the SEO for a regular website, number of downloads is a ranking factor for app store SEO. The prettier the page is, the more likely it is that people will download your app.

Ratings also matter, from an off-page point of view. Unfortunately they are also a sector the app designer has little control over, only by providing a decent app.

Important Things to Remember

The app store is not as progressive as Google’s web search. Rather than being able to make assumptions that the right search term will find the app it is better to leave nothing to chance. Hold the app store’s hand. Feed it all the key terms, optimise the page as much as possible. Think about your USP. Think about how it can help people and portray that in your keywords and description.