The importance of apps to Internet sales has risen in conjunction with the popularity of mobile device, particularly smartphones and tablets.
In May, Google announced that more searches are performed from mobile devices than desktop computers; in June, a report from “ad retargeter” Criteo showed that for many retailers, nearly half of their mobile transactions take place within apps.
But people can't buy what they can't find. With more than 1.4 million apps available on Google Play as of February and 1.5 million apps in Apple’s App Store as of June—numbers that will certainly only continue to grow—any new app (not just retail) faces a challenge in distinguishing itself from the pack of apps competing for the same search terms.
In some cases, traditional SEO techniques will suffice: Google has announced that implementing app indexing will allow apps to appear in the results for relevant mobile searches. However, to target customers who search specifically within the app store rather than on Google’s search engine, it’s vital to understand the unique rules and ranking algorithms of whichever app store you are targeting.
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Though not visible to searchers, keywords input by app developers determine the search results in which an app will appear. Since there is a limit of only 100 characters, choosing the correct keywords for this limited space is vital for ensuring a high ranking. There are a number of things that should be kept in mind when selecting which keywords to use:
- Do not use the name of the app or the name of the company as keywords. The app is already searchable by those terms, so using them as keywords is redundant and consumes valuable space.
- If an app is available in multiple languages, provide keywords in each of those languages. People won’t search in a language that is not their own.
- Standard keyword selection guidelines apply. Choose keywords specific enough to limit competition but broad enough to be relevant for common searches—remember that most users search using common language terms, so avoid overly technical or uncommon words.
Title and Description
A short title for the app is preferable so that it can be fully displayed on the screen without being truncated. In the past, some app creators have used long titles in an attempt to stuff in as many searchable keywords as possible, but Apple, for example, is now wise to this tactic—they may even penalize any new app that tries this approach. However, there are some workarounds that allow you to include more keywords.
- Subtitles: To include keywords in the title field without going overboard, use a subtitle. It is a short, descriptive phrase separated from the main title by a dash or colon.
- Description: The first few lines are the most important, as app stores only display a few lines of text in the preview. The first part of the description should be a "hook," something to pique the viewer's interest enough to click and see the entire description. Additional room in the description field can be used for reviews or testimonials to convince readers of the app's quality.
In Google Play, apps with video previews receive higher rankings than those without. Before creating a video preview, however, you should understand the store’s rules, including the purpose of videos and the restrictions that are placed on them. Apple, for instance, has fairly strict rules and regulations for video previews.
- Apple requires that the video preview must be a walk through of how to use the app, rather than a commercial-style advertisement;
- Be between 15 and 30 seconds long;
- Be viewable on the iPhone 4 and newer; and
- Be posted in one language.
If you plan to include a video preview for ranking purposes, ensure that it adheres to all rules of the app store it will be displayed in. Review restrictions before you enter video production so you do not waste time and money creating a useless video preview or one that can only be used in certain app stores.
Engagement is how long the average visitor spends on the app. It can be difficult to entice users to remain on your app long enough to prove competitive with some of the most popular current apps, but there are a variety of methods that naturally encourage users to spend more time with your app.
- Provide an introduction and instructional walk through of the app for first-time users.
- Offer rewards to players who play for a certain uninterrupted period of time.
- Send push notifications that encourage users to further discover the app or return after a certain time of inactivity. (If you plan on enabling push notifications carefully review the OS-specific regulations and ensure your app has the proper functionality to meet those requirements.)
- Facilitate real-life interaction with the app, such as QR code or barcode scanners; real-time two-player options; geo-location features like alerts or coupons; etc.
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Feedback left by users can influence a person’s decision to download your app. To facilitate this process, many app makers include a pop-up asking the user to submit a rating and comment. This prompt is to review the app and the user experience it provided, not the company or its additional products or services.
For instance, in the case of retailers, the review is not for the user’s opinion about the store or its merchandise. With this in mind, it is extremely important to carefully select the wording of the review prompt and the timing for when it will appear (a prompt interrupting a player in the middle of a game will leave a sour taste in their mouth and could lead to a poor review, even if they’re enjoying the game).
Building in review prompts can also provide development teams with valuable insight to improve the app’s quality, fix real-world issues and enhance the app’s UI to more closely align with real user needs. Improving the app can lead to a chain of events, ideally resulting in better reviews, more downloads, longer use and higher conversion rates—all of which will help increase you app store ranking.
An easy way to collect this crucial information that will help improve your app is to further prompt any user who submits a rating of two-stars or lower to detail the reasons for their low rating. While not ever low reviewer will elaborate in a meaningful and helpful way, you are likely to get some useful information. Even comments as seemingly simple as “this isn’t the app I thought it was” should tip you off to issues with your app title, keywords or description when submitted enough.
App Store Optimization stands to become an important facet of marketing in the future as the usage of mobile devices rises. Familiarity with the most significant factors in app ranking is a necessity for those aiming to distinguish their apps from their competitors' and achieve high visibility in the app store.