When an app developer comes to release a new app, after months of development, they are inclined to relax too soon, and gloss over the submission process. But the choices you make when submitting an app can have a big impact on your visibility in the App Store. With almost a million apps vying for attention, details like screenshots, app description, title and keywords can make all the difference.
Nobody knows exactly what formula Apple uses to rank search results, but it is pretty clear it is a combination of text search, download stats, and ratings. The only aspect you have direct influence on is the text you enter. The title and keywords seem to be paramount. Terms in the full description are either not scanned at all, or weighted much more lightly.
My wife, Jennifer, just released her second app, Speeches. It’s an app for preparing and delivering slide-less presentations and pitches. Basically, speaker’s notes on your iPhone.
I helped her out with the submission, and came to some realizations about how to choose terms for the title and keywords. We established a small system for narrowing in on what would be most effective, and I want to outline what we came up with here.
The first thing you need to realize when introducing a new app is that you are already at an enormous disadvantage. There are probably existing apps in the App Store that are similar to your app, and they have a big lead in terms of ratings and downloads. Even if your app is much better, there is a good chance you will get completely buried at the bottom of the box, and nobody will find your app. It is essential that you do what you can to raise your visibility by careful choice of search terms.
The first step is just to write down all the terms you can think of that people might enter in a search for your app. Use a Thesaurus and Google searches for inspiration in order to expand on the terms you can think of immediately yourself. Don’t just come up with general terms, but seek out terms for very specific uses of your app. For example, obvious terms for Speeches include ‘public speaking’, ‘speech’, and ‘cue cards’, but terms like ‘wedding speech’ and ‘debating’ could be just as valuable.
The second stage is to test the words. How? It’s easy — just search for them in the App Store. Contrary to what you might expect, you are searching for terms that produce few hits. When your app enters the fray, it will likely be way down any list of results, so it is important to have short lists. Less than 10 results is ideal. Less than 20 is still acceptable, but more than that is probably a waste of valuable letters in your keyword field. People will simply not scroll through to your app if it is at number 36, and certainly not if it is at 413.
In the case of Speeches, we initially had terms like ‘keynote’ and ‘powerpoint’ on the list, but seeing these produced hundreds of hits, dismissed them as a lost cause. We focussed instead on terms, and combinations of terms that gave us the most chance of being visible to the user, even if the app was ranked at the back. At least then the app is visible, and it’s up to the icon and screenshots to convince a potential customer to look further.
With terms chosen, it’s just a question of filling the keyword field with what you think is most important. And don’t be afraid to include a byline in the App Store title, together with your App’s name. These terms are also weighted heavily. We went with “Speeches — Speaker’s notes for public speaking’. If the title gets truncated, at least the app’s name is still visible, and the byline both describes the app in one short sentence, and boosts those terms in the search results.
There’s no telling if Speeches will have any degree of success — the App Store is a hard mistress these days — but at least we have given it the best chance of being found by potential customers. And it’s an ongoing process too, of course; if you think of better keywords, you can rotate them in with any update.