Kissmetrics Blog

A blog about analytics, marketing and testing

Built to optimize growth. Track, analyze and engage to get more customers.

5 Myths About App Store Optimization

Hang on to your brain. I’m going to throw some numbers at you.

Apps are a big business. Really big. App sales are a $25 billion industry, as reported by WSJ. This doesn’t account for the broader revenue generated by other industries that are part of the app economy. VisionMobile estimates that the global app economy will be soaring at $143 billion by 2016. With growth rates at or exceeding 30%, the app industry is one hot area right now.

Plus, it’s growing. App creation and purchasing is on the rise.

huge markets in 5 years

Graph from Moz.

With a billion smartphones in the world, people are buying apps.

That’s why app store optimization (ASO) is red hot for marketers and search optimization experts. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of mythologizing going on, and a lot of mythbusting that needs to happen. We’re dealing with a subject that is as serious as it gets; we can’t afford to screw it up.

In this article, I’m going to set a fuse to five inane myths about app store optimization, light the fuse, and blow them sky high. Along with each myth, I’m going to deliver a dosage of truth that will help you dominate the ASO game.

How Important is App Store Optimization?

First, let me drive one important point home: ASO is really important.

Why? It’s not only because apps are big biz, but because customers are searching for those apps. Apptentive reports that 63% (iOS) of app customers report browsing in the app store to discover new apps.

new app discovery methods

There are a variety of different ways that customers find new apps — media, websites, friends, etc. But far and away, customers are searching for apps. Nielsen’s data parallels that from Apptentive:

percentage of app users

Graph from Parisoma.

According to the head of search and discovery for Google Play, Ankin Jain, a full 12% of all daily active users are looking for apps on a daily basis. And a whopping 50% of these DAUs (daily active users) search for apps at least once a week. Over the course of a month, Google Play processes six million unique search phrases.

We need to respond to ASO by getting better at it, and by getting rid of the following myths:

Myth #1: Change your title often to adapt to high-ranking searches.

Truth: Pick a title and stick with it

There’s no argument that the title is the most important single element of app store optimization. As Jain, the head of Google Play’s search, stated in the Inside Mobile Apps report, the title is the ‘most important’ piece of metadata.

In response, some ASOs took to switching up the title to better adapt to top searches. They would create different variations of the title on a daily basis, changing keywords, adding keywords and renaming their product. Doing so, however, does not help your ranking. In fact, it could hurt it. In our previous article on ASO, Robi Ganguly states:

“Changing your title often to include different keywords can be detrimental. As your app begins to rank higher and gain more reviews, news of your app will begin to spread by word of mouth. Changing the title can make it difficult for word to spread about your app.

Once you pick a title, that’s it. You’re done. So you better make it good. Here are four tips for doing just that.

1. Make it short — 25 characters.

A short title is one that users can read in a single screen. Lengthy titles will get cut off. For the single most important piece of search metadata in the app store, you don’t want it to get chopped.

The app below — Productivity Wizard — only has part of their title featured in the screen. They would be better off not producing such a lengthy title. Because I can’t see it from my app browse screen, I’m less likely to download it.

productivity wizard in app store

2. Make it creative.

Why creative? Jain explains that searchers are either categorical or navigational. A user who has heard of or seen your app will be conducting a navigational search to access it. If this title is creative, it is more likely to be remembered — and thus to be successfully searched for.

A navigational search is something like “Angry Birds” or “Evernote” as opposed to categorical queries such as “bird game” or “note taking app.”

3. Make it unique.

Unique is similar to creative, but with a twist. Creativity is something that will stand out to the user. You don’t want your app to get lost in the morass of bandwagon apps like Flappy Pig, Flappy Wings, Flappy Fall, Flappy Hero, Flappy Monster, Flappy Nyan, etc. ad nauseam. Bandwagon apps are rarely as successful as the titan they were following.

A navigational search for a “flappy” app produces 2,193 results. Lack of a unique titles means you’re going to get lost in the crowd.

search for flappy

4. Use a keyword, but don’t keyword stuff.

Keyword stuffing is as much as sin in SEO as it is in ASO. Apple reports that “Repetitive and/or irrelevant use of keywords in the app title, description or promotional description can create an unpleasant user experience and can result in an app suspension.

repetitive keywords in app store

Remember, you only have 25 characters to play around with. A short title plus a short keyword is all you have room for.

Myth #2: Keywords aren’t that important.

Truth Keywords are important.

As the myth goes, keywords are for SEO, rankings are for ASO. Because ASO is such a different game from SEO, many optimizers dispensed with the importance of keywords in title creation and description writing.

The truth of the matter is that keywords matter…quite a bit. Keywords are important enough, to place in your title and in your description. Again, to reference my point above, don’t stuff it. But use keywords.

MobileDevHQ’s study of keywords in the title produced these results:

keywords in the title

App titles that contained keywords had a 10.3% higher ranking than those without it. 10.3% doesn’t sound like a lot. However, if it’s as easy as popping a keyword in the title, why not?

Let’s go back to the data that I surveyed in the beginning. Remember how many users search for apps?

app discovery

Graph from Apptamin.

App Store and Android Market have algorithms, and those algorithms use traditional methods of search — keywords. Don’t neglect keywords.

Myth #3: It’s all about the ratings.

Truth: Ratings are important, but not the end all.

There is no arguing with the fact that ratings are important. Judging by the amount of push notifications and near-begging from apps, you’d think that ratings were one of the most important features in the entire universe of app store optimization.

Ratings, as one of the lead listing features in apps, do have an impact upon a user’s likelihood to tap through or download an app:

evernote in app store

The truth is, while app ratings are important, they aren’t as significant as most people think in affecting an app’s rankings.

To uncover the truth behind the impact of rating, Inside Mobile Apps conducted a study. They first examined a random sampling of the easy search terms (1-25 results), medium search terms (26-100 results), and competitive search terms (101+ results) to see how each app ranked based on the ratings.

Here is what they came up with for iOS rate/rank comparison:

average rating by position iOS

Graph from insidemobileapps.com

The ratings on these apps takes a nosedive after position eight. Also interesting is that the rating doesn’t seem to have a huge impact on the first eight positions, fluctuating both upward and downward. In the “easy” search term, researchers discovered that a 10th-ranked app may have a rating as low as 1.09, which, frankly, sucks.

Here’s Google Play ranks the apps. Unlike iOS, there’s less fall off toward the end of the spectrum. Researchers suspect that “Google Play’s search algorithm seems to take a more meritocratic approach to app discovery and visibility, letting higher quality apps rise to the top.”

average search rating by position google play

Graph from insidemobileapps.com

There’s more devastation to the myth of rating-is-everything. Even some of the highly competitive apps in the Top Charts aren’t backed up by high ratings. Look at some of the rating levels of iOS’s top charts. No one wants a rating between one and two stars, but that’s what’s going on, even with a Top Chart listing.

top charts average rating by position

Graph from insidemobileapps.com

The takeaway is simple. Sure, ratings are good. Higher ratings are nice. And for users, that nice four or five star status makes a good impression. However, in terms of ranking, it matters less than we might think.

Myth #4: As long as it’s on the store people will find it.

Truth: It needs a lot of downloads to get recognized.

There are some ASOs who believe that an app, as long as it’s in the Google Play or App Store will get found, will get downloaded, and will get desired revenue.

Let me show you some stats.

Regardless of your niche, that’s a lot of apps. In order to successfully compete, you need more of a differentiation than just some smart keywords in your title and description.

We need to modify this borderline myth with a healthy dose of algorithmic reality.

You need downloads.

I showed you in the point above that ratings have a less-powerful impact than we might think. But the impact of downloads is usually underestimated.

It’s a tough deal, because in order to get more downloads, you need more downloads. Let the data speak.

how downloads correlate to search rankings

Apps with more downloads simply rank higher. That’s all.

Download velocity depends a lot on how your app does from a marketing standpoint. As SEW reports, the high ranking apps have wildly differentiated velocity, depending on their path to popularity:

ASO charts

Image from Search Engine Watch.

In order to increase app downloads organically, it’s often best to go the route of traditional marketing — social media, content marketing, PPC, mailing lists, etc. Once you accrue a trickle of downloads, you should be able to increase your ranking, then gain more downloads, higher rankings, more downloads, etc., until you reach a tipping point.

Don’t go down the path of the scammers who artificially build up junk downloads simply to boost their rankings. The algorithms are programmed to identify automated methods of downloads, such as robotic or inorganic viral download spurts. Furthermore, it’s reported that the algorithms are even able to identify spammy methods of download upticks caused by emailing huge lists of potential customers.

Myth #5: Description is not very important.

Truth Description is very important.

I’ve heard of ASO attempts that fall short of awesome, because they failed on the description.

Here’s one report that claims to train you to become an ASO ninja:

Description doesn’t make a difference.

They qualify their carte blanche statement by saying:

From a pure ASO perspective, the description field does not have an impact on search rankings in the App Store. On the other hand, the Google Play algorithm takes into consideration the context in your app description for ranking.

From my study and research, description is important for both Google Play and App Store. Even if description quality and keyword inclusion had zero impact upon the ranking algorithm, it unarguably has the potential to compel users to download the app. Those download stats, in turn, have a powerful algorithmic impact upon rankings.

Search Engine Watch reports that the number two relevance factor for app store ranking is, “app description,” ranked directly after title as number one. Among their “tips to help you rank better in the App Store,” number one is “focus on natural incorporation of keywords in the title and description data.”

AppTweak, similarly, explains the principle of keyword inclusion in descriptions:

Keywords have a huge importance in ASO (App Store Optimization). Indeed, whether on your title and/or keywords field for iOS apps and on your title and/or description for Google Play apps, keywords have a strong impact in the App Store algorithm. Therefore, they need to be wisely chosen in order to give your app the maximum visibility and the chances of getting found.

Conclusion

Part of app store success is simply avoiding pitfalls, or in this case the myths about ASO. You may not be creating the world’s next Flappy Bird or a billion dollar Instagram. However, with sufficient effort and enough savvy, you can create an app that will get found, will get downloaded, and will make you successful.

What myths — or truths — have you discovered about ASO?

About the Author: is a lifelong evangelist of Kissmetrics and blogs at Quick Sprout.

  1. Interesting to see what other researchers are discovering. Just wanted to add some of our iOS ASO findings regarding the following points in this post…

    Myth #3: It’s all about the ratings

    We took a different approach when looking at the common ratings characteristics of top ranking apps. First, we selected the top 20% of keywords with the most estimated traffic (highest Traffic Score). This ended up being 14,364 keywords.

    Then we looked at the apps that ranked in the top 20 for those keywords to see what they had in common. If anyone is interested, this resulted in 162,727 unique apps. Like the IMA study, then we averaged rating by ranking position.

    What was interesting was that apps that ranked #2 and #3 actually had higher average ratings than apps that ranked #1. So this supports IMAs findings that average rating is not a huge determination of rank.

    However, one thing that is not mentioned in this post is ratings count. We noticed that the top three positions had a significantly higher ratings count than any of the other positions.

    This was the case for both current version and overall ratings counts. So while higher isn’t necessarily better when it comes to average rating, the number of ratings does seem to play a role in rankings.

    Myth #5: Description is not very important

    While we agree that the description for iOS apps should be the best it can be to maximize downloads, it has not ben known to actually influence keyword rankings.

    The app title and keyword field are much more influential.

    When we studied the appearance of a keyword in the descriptions of the apps mentioned above however, #1 apps used the target keyword an average of 5 times. This could simply mean that the keyword was so important to the definition of the app that it had to be used multiple times OR keywords in the app description could actually be influencing rankings.

    We will be doing more research on this and will publish our findings as soon as they are available.

    Other findings…

    We also found some interesting stats on average app file size, days since first/last release and how many of these top apps used keywords in their name/in-app purchases/publisher name.

    • The pure number of Ratings could just be a coincident to the number of Downloads. Just saying, that apps with more Ratings rank better is wrong, maybe they just have more Rating because they have higher Rankings / more Downloads.

      Would be more interesint to look out if the download/Rating Ratio is anything higher – we all know, Google loves user Engagement and that Ratio could be a good indicator for that

  2. Thomas Sommer Sep 23, 2014 at 6:17 am

    Regarding Myth #5, I would say we can close the debate by dividing ASO in 2 distinct areas: discoverability and conversion.

    As I wrote it in a blog post (applift.com/blog/app-store-marketing-stick-out-and-go-for-the-close.html), App Store marketing is essentially about these 2 things: sticking out and going for the close.

    Some parts of ASO matter for the former, some for the latter and some for both of them. In the case of the description on the Apple App Store, it only matters for conversion (whereas on Google’s Play Store, it matters for both).

  3. Sorry, I so don’t agree with the title part. You got 255 characters. Of course don’t turn your title to a keyword list, but for sure don’t make it as short as it wouldn’t be cut, just so it would look good.
    And angry bird is an example for app name, not title.
    I always try not to be cut in the middle, though usually I am, and make a story of the title, but with significant keywords included. Title short as possible is a good strategy for Gplay, not for iTunes…

  4. This article is very brilliant. It has really made me think and thats the kind of writing I enjoy reading the most. I’ll try my seobilog.com Thank you for this well written material and information.

  5. Cara Harshman Nov 25, 2014 at 2:32 pm

    Such a well researched post, Neil. Well done!

    I dug into Myth #3 about rankings and found that MobileDevHQ has recently come out with more research (apptentive.com/blog/ios-app-rankings-ratings-apple-app-store/) about the importance of rankings after Apple updated their algorithm in 2014. While it’s still true that rankings are not the most important factor (clearly, there are myriad components to app store optimization) this new data says that the *number of ratings* matters more in the algorithm than it used to. Of course, the higher the rankings the better.

    We wrote this article (blog.optimizely.com/2014/11/25/teardown-taco-tuesday-yo-quiero-more-ratings/) with experiment ideas for app developers to increase the volume of ratings they get, all inspired by Taco Bell.

  6. Hi,

    Do you have any idea if the order of the keywords has any impact? Does it really matter?

  7. Regarding the title, I completely disagree that it needs to be under 25 characters. As you rightly point out in Myth #2, keywords are extremely important, even moreso when located in the title. I would recommend breaking your “title” into a title and subtitle, where the title portion is the app name you use for marketing purposes and the subtitle is more descriptive of the features and probably includes relevant keywords. The title portion should absolutely be under 25 characters and unique, but the subtitle can contain several more words that are relevant to ASO and can clarify the value of the app.

  8. Roland Ohlsson Dec 04, 2015 at 2:20 pm

    #2 Make it unique is wrong. I used the title Flying Noise, and it was raking highest on it, but no one downloaded it at al, except from those i force on facebook. I regret that I didn’t go with a title that is much less unique

  9. Really great article. I agree for the most parts but I think sticking with your app title especially when you are ranking low with it is not a good idea.

    Maybe if you are struggling, you can change it.

  10. All you opinions guys seem to be ASO specialists’. I write as a single developer and I must say that the ASO things don’t work for me at all.

    I’ve been focused on all the details. great description in all major languages (not automated translations). Great number and quality of screenshots also localized for all languages. Unique app name and unique title. Keywords and lastly the game is not that bad and what is the result? 1 download per day :-\

    This is very depressing and in my opinion, the ASO itself is worth nothing without the initial boost from downloads received from ads paid with some real money. So for sole devs who don’t have money for paid advertisement ASO seems to be a waste of time. I’ve done almost 500 screenshots just for iOS (16 languages x 5 different game screens x 6 different resolutions like all ipads and iphones). Of course I did it in some automated way but I had to publish them manually and the whole process of publication took me two or three days and gave no advantage over a simple listing of just few words + one screenshot.

    Almost the same on other platforms like Google Play and Windows except that in the Play Store I had some attention from local blogs and on Windows I won some award and they just featured the game in few countries.

    So I don’t simply believe in the ASO without money and my advice to other developers reading this would be rather to don’t waste time on details and just do great apps, even if nobody is probably able to find them right away. I speak from a perspective of three months from initial publication.

    • I’m actually glad you put that comment down since I, as well as two others, are in the midst of creating a game for the Gplay store, while also working on trying to get it on the Apple App store as well. Can I just ask if you went exclusively on the Apple Store? And I believe that you can’t expect to do decently without any sort of initial investment in advertising/marketing. I’m working numbers on how much the investments may need to be, but surely it’s almost definitely necessary; unless you have a strong enough social network such as Facebook. Concerning your app specifically, can I how long it took you to develop, design, and put together? Also how many people you had working, or if it was just you? I’d also love to hear the app, maybe check it out as a fellow developer! :) Thanks!

  11. How much time does it take to rank high on new keywords added to Itunes Connect?

  12. HI,

    My problem is:

    1) Our users search “Papem”
    2) They find app related on “Paper”

    Google think it was an error of our users. Google think they wanted to search Paper.

    How can i find a solution?

    Thanks

    Alberto

  13. Good, thorough article, evidence-based, and even greater discussion under it!

    I have a question about statistics presented – do those users report browsing as their main way of looking for new apps or rather one of the ways they use?
    This makes huge difference.

    I know it’s not 100 per cent accounted for by statistics, it’s a rather a hint, but I’d doubt the assumption that an App Store works pretty much the way Google does and users turn to it when they want to find a proper app. I’m not sure, I haven’t seen the statistics, but it seems plausible to me that they still turn to Google.

    And yet – I agree with the main point that app store optimization IS really important, but me and my colleagues tend to think of it broadly. What needs optimization is how you communicate with customers in the App store. I think the validity of this approach is accounted for by statistics showing that personal recommendadtions in family or among friends are a channel of app marketing. Basic conclusion is simple – establishing connection and top class cusotmer service and communication will create an attachement between users and your product and they will mention it in their private convsersations making this way a buzz around it and marketing the app.

17 comments

Please use your real name and a corresponding social media profile when commenting. Otherwise, your comment may be deleted.

← Previous ArticleNext Article →