Building an app is just the beginning.
To succeed, you need to acquire users and generate revenue by getting it in front of the right people. But with over 5.6 million apps available across the Apple App Store and Google Play Store, how do you cut through the clutter and get noticed?
App Store Optimization (ASO) helps ensure that your app store listings rank in relevant search results to increase downloads while lowering user acquisition costs. Keyword research and optimization is the foundation of ASO — but the process can be confusing and frustrating.
Luckily, we’re here to help. Let’s look at what ASO keyword research and optimization entails, why you should do it, and how to do it right.
What are keyword research and optimization for ASO?
Before we dig into the nuts and bolts, let’s get onto the same page about a few key concepts.
App store optimization (ASO)
ASO is like search engine optimization (SEO) but for app stores.
Just like search engines use a set of ranking standards to surface the most relevant information on search results pages, Apple App Store and Google Play Store have their own algorithms to help users find the apps they need. The ranking signals used in ASO include keywords on an app’s listing, number of downloads, ratings, and reviews.
ASO helps increase an app’s visibility, reach, and organic installs. It enables you to build brand awareness, lower user acquisition costs, and generate more revenue. And, when you attract users most likely to benefit from your features, you get more engagement and great reviews to boost your ranking and drive even more downloads.
Keyword research for ASO
Keyword research is the foundation of ASO. It helps you understand how your target audience searches for apps like yours, and identify key terms and phrases to describe your app so your listing will appear at the top of relevant search results.
These keywords typically relate to your niche or industry, and users often use them to search for similar apps.
Keyword optimization for ASO
Keyword optimization involves strategically incorporating the right search terms within the app name, subtitle, and description. It helps Apple’s and Google’s search algorithms understand what your app does and direct the right people to your listing. But there’s a character limit to all the fields in your app listing, so you must be strategic about what keywords to include to maximize high-quality traffic.
Is ASO different for Apple App Store vs. Google Play Store?
Making your app available on both Apple App Store and Google Play Store can help you reach a wider audience and acquire more users.
The rankings for both depend on four key attributes:
However, the two platforms use different algorithms, so you must approach keyword optimization differently. Here’s what you need to know.
While both stores have a 30-character limit for the app title, how it appears in search results is slightly different. In Google Play, users only see the title and icon, so your app name must be self-explanatory.
On the other hand, people also see subtitles and screenshots in the App Store search results, which means you can be slightly more creative with the app name.
Subtitle (Apple) or short description (Google)
iOS apps require a subtitle of up to 30 characters, which appears in the search results under the app name and screenshots.
Android apps allow a short description of up to 80 characters, but it doesn’t appear in the search results. Users can only see it in the app listing under the screenshots.
Apple App Store listing has a 100-character keyword field where you can specify the search terms you want to rank for. This information is invisible to users but is a key ranking factor.
Meanwhile, Google Play doesn’t have this field. Instead, its algorithm analyzes your app’s name and app description, plus the keyword density in the long description, to determine its ranking.
Apple doesn’t use the copy in the long description as a ranking factor, which means you can be more creative. Use the opportunity to highlight your brand image, build connections with users, and explain the benefits of your app.
On the other hand, Google uses content in the long description to determine the app’s ranking, so you should follow SEO best practices and pay attention to keyword density (typically 2-3%— don’t be tempted to stuff your copy with keywords to the point where it sounds unnatural).
Screenshots can help explain how your app works and attract more people to download it. You can add up to 10 screenshots to the App Store listing and eight to the Google Play store listing. The screenshots will appear on App Store search results but not Google Play ones — Android users only see them when they click through to the app listing.
How to do ASO keyword research (without pulling out your hair)
Now the rubber meets the road: how do you find the winning keywords to ensure the right audience sees your app on their search results?
It starts with keyword research, but getting started can be daunting. The good news is that there’s a method to the madness. Here’s how to nail your ASO search terms:
Brainstorm for potential keywords
List as many keywords as you can think of based on your app’s features and terms used in your niche. They can be about your app’s category, functions, or unique selling points. Look at the descriptions and reviews of similar apps to identify the keywords and combinations of terms they use.
Consider these questions:
Who is your core customer, and how do they talk about the problems your app solves for them?
How do users refer to your app’s features and benefits?
What terms do people use to search for the features and solutions you offer?
What tasks does your app help users accomplish?
You can use an ASO tool to supplement hands-on research methods, such as browsing the app stores and referring to search engine results to find related search terms.
Expand and refine the keyword list
Your list should include both one-word and long-tail keywords (more specific search phrases, typically a few words long).
You may take one main short keyword and expand it into multiple long-tail ones to increase specificity. You can also combine various keywords and explore synonyms, variations, and different spellings to address how people talk about their pain points or search for solutions differently.
For example, some people use the term cycling, while others may call it riding, bicycling, or biking. You may also consider broader terms such as cardio exercise, conditioning, and training. Analyze user comments, online forums, and social media groups to see how your ideal audience approaches the subject and describes its goals.
Type the keywords into the Apple App Store and Google Play Store search boxes to see auto-suggestions and long-tail keywords related to your main keyphrase. Also, Google Keyword Planner (it’s free!) can help you generate keyword ideas based on a search term’s popularity. Note that the results are based on web searches, so you should validate them for ASO.
Perform competitor research
Determine which apps you’re competing against and see what keywords they use. Analyze the app titles and descriptions to identify recurring key terms. You can also use ASO tools to see what key phrases your competitors rank for. Besides keyword ideas, look for gaps between market demand and existing solutions and find out how your target audience talks about them.
You can use ASO and keyword monitoring tools to visualize the keywords that your competitors rank for, especially those used in app names and subtitles or short descriptions. Also, look for common combinations or long-tail keywords that frequently appear in the long descriptions on Google Play listings.
Research the performance, relevance, and volume of your target keywords in Apple Search Ads (ASA) to get a complete picture of the market landscape. You can use the insights to align your app listing with search ads to boost your relevancy score and improve the effectiveness of your marketing campaigns.
Analyze keywords and create a final list
By now, you’re probably looking at hundreds of keywords and wondering what to do with them. Start by grouping similar ones, so eventually, you can choose the best from each category. Then, evaluate each set based on the following criteria:
Search volume (traffic): Use Google Keyword Planner or the search volume feature in your ASO tool to see if people use the keyphrase in their searches. The higher the score, the more discoverable the search term.
Competition (difficulty): Targeting overly competitive keywords can make it hard to achieve the top positions in relevant search results.
Relevancy: The search terms must be relevant to your audience and accurately describe your app’s features. An inaccurate description may lead to poor ratings and ultimately hurt your ranking.
With these criteria in mind, pare down your list to five to ten core keywords. These may include currently ranked keywords (or an enhanced version) if you have an existing listing, new keywords, and competitor keywords. Find keywords at the sweet spot: there should be a high enough search volume for visibility, but not so competitive that you end up way down the search results.
Striking a balance often means ranking for terms with lower search volume to gain higher visibility. Your final list should include keywords at various levels of competition — start with 50% medium/low, 25% medium/high, and 25% high, and make adjustments based on your ASO performance analytics.
Common ASO keyword research and optimization mistakes to avoid
Mobile app marketing is competitive. A minor misstep could impact your ASO ranking, visibility, and downloads. Here are some common mistakes to watch out for.
Too many high-volume keywords
Rather than butting heads with deep-pocketed major brands, gain visibility by being a big fish in a smaller pond. Try to snag the top positions for lower-traffic keywords instead of getting stuck in position #108 for high-traffic, competitive ones.
Too few long-tail keywords
Most app marketers aren’t using enough long-tail keywords to capture users with high intent. Instead of struggling with high-volume search terms, incorporate more long-tail keywords in your app listing.
Low keyword density
Most app store listings have too few keywords. You should include the most relevant search terms in the app name and as many keywords as possible in the subtitle and descriptions to increase visibility, click-throughs, and conversions.
Your keyword placements must make grammatical sense, sound natural, and work well with the context. Don’t randomly insert key phrases just to increase the keyword density. It can make your listing look scammy and untrustworthy.
Lack of localization
If you’re targeting a global audience, perform keyword research for each location because users in different countries may talk about their challenges or search for solutions differently. A direct translation of search terms used in your home market may not work well in a foreign one.
While launching an app involves many moving parts, your app store listings are the foundation where most users will find your app. Using the right keywords can help increase your app’s visibility and discoverability to drive conversions.
Here are some key points to remember:
ASO helps you increase your app’s reach and organic downloads, while building brand exposure and lowering user acquisition costs for higher profitability.
ASO keyword optimization helps app store algorithms understand what your app does so you can appear on relevant search results and drive high-quality traffic.
While keywords are an important ranking factor in both the Apple App Store and Google Play Store, the algorithms work differently and require different optimization strategies.
ASO is complex and best approached systematically. Brainstorm, create an initial keyword list, perform competitor research, and analyze the keywords to build a final list.
For successful ASO keyword optimization, avoid common mistakes around the choice of keywords, keyword density, and localization.