How to Rank on the Apple App Store

June 20, 2018

In order to get your app in front of your target audience, you need to understand how to optimize the app's rankings on the Apple App Store. Learn the factors that impact ranking, then choose the right keywords.

People search the app store for the apps they need every day. That’s why more brands are investing in app store optimization, or improving their rank in the Apple App Store for the search terms their target audience is using.

If you’re interested in launching a successful app, ensuring that your app is optimized for the app store is key. At the beginning of 2018, Apple shared these app store stats:

  • Over 500,000,000 people visit the Apple App Store every week.
  • There were more than $300 million in Apple App Store purchases on January 1, 2018 alone.
  • iOS developers were paid $26.5 billion in 2017 (30 percent more than the previous year).

These numbers show just how many people use the app store – and how many dollars go through it.

Understanding how to rank in the app store is the most important factor of app development and promotion (after creating a great product). First, learn the app store ranking system, then choose relevant keywords.

1. Understand the Factors That Impact Your Ranking

One of the most effective ways to get app downloads after launch is through app store optimization (ASO). There are four elements that determine how well you rank in both Apple and Android app searches.

Keywords in the name and description

According to MobileDevHQ (now TUNE), putting keywords in the app name has a major impact on app store search rankings. Apps with keywords in the title have a 10.3% higher ranking than apps without.

Try creating an app name that’s memorable and specific to your app. The name should also be relevant to what the app does. Think of keywords your audience might use when looking for your app.

For example, the fitness app category is competitive, and it can be challenging to stand out. That’s why companies like Grokker and Asana Rebel have chosen more descriptive titles for their yoga apps:

Asana Grokker app apple store

Both include the words “yoga” and “fitness” in the name, rather than leaving them as “Asana Rebel” and “Grokker.”

Using relevant keywords in the title helps your app to rank for keywords that users are likely to be searching for.

Visuals and branding

First impressions matter, especially in the app store. If someone is on the hunt for an app in a competitive space, then app product shots will influence what they choose to download.

The meditation app Calm’s product shots are aesthetically pleasing, and they show exactly what the app does.

Calm meditation app product shots

Some mobile apps use basic product screenshots, while others get creative and combine typography and rich visuals to connect with the audience. Either approach works; just choose the one that fits the tone of your app.

Number of downloads

Downloads have an impact on an app’s search result ranking. If your app is able to sustain growth, the app store will reward you for that success.

Some experts suggest that volume of downloads within 24 hours is the most important metric, followed by downloads from the last 72 hours.

Success in the app store often begets more success. Apple gives priority placement to the apps it thinks users want to download the most, which drives more downloads and transactions in the app store ecosystem.

If people consistently download and use your app, it’s more likely that you will get a quality placement in the app store.

Number of positive reviews

Apple doesn’t want their users to have negative experiences with an app. That’s why Apple considers the number of positive reviews on your app compared to others when determining your rank.

There are plenty of tactics you can try to generate and sustain better app store reviews—and in turn, influence your ranking. Here are two tactics that we’ve seen work well:

  • In-App Request: Ask people using your apps whether they like it, then prompt them to leave a review if their response is positive.
  • Email Marketing: Communicate with your app users early and often through email marketing. Use email as a channel for asking users to leave feedback on the app.

2. Use Relevant Keywords in Your App Listing

When you upload your app to the App Store, you have the ability to leverage keywords to increase the likelihood of having your app show up in search. This is important because according to studies, at least half of iOS apps are found through search.

Here’s what you’ll be met with:

App store keyword entry

When you’re adding keywords to your app listing, remember to include keywords that are relevant to your audience—keywords they might be searching for.

However, realize that some very popular keywords are unlikely to have an impact on rankings, while others could be optimization gold. The more descriptive your keywords, the better your chances for ranking in the app store for relevant search queries.

For example, if your app targets people who are interested in sports, relevant but weak keywords include play, sports, fun, cool, best, or games. These keywords are vague, since thousands of apps could be considered “cool” or “fun."

On the flipside, specific keywords are usually stronger. Consider Olympics, multiplayer, sports competition, boxing game, basketball, soccer, or hockey.

Here’s a bit of wisdom directly from the Apple guidelines:

Choose keywords based on words you think your audience will use to find an app like yours. Be specific when describing your app’s features and functionality to help the search algorithm surface your app in relevant searches.

We’ve found the following guidelines helpful for choosing keywords:

  • Don’t use a keyword multiple times
  • Use the entire 100-character limit
  • Always separate your keywords with commas
  • Don’t waste characters by putting your company name, app name, or app category in the keyword section

In addition, follow Apple’s guidelines for app developers. The guidelines state that your app is likely to be rejected if your keywords include:

  • Unauthorized use of trademarked terms, celebrity names, and other protected words and phrases
  • Terms that are not relevant to the app
  • Competing app names
  • Irrelevant, inappropriate, offensive or objectionable terms

By including the keywords that will help users find your app, you’ll also help yourself and your rankings.

Are You Ready To Rank In The App Store?

While it might seem like Apple App Store optimization can be a daunting task, remember the approaches shared in this piece:

  • Understand the factors that lead to ranking
  • Embrace the role that keywords play in ranking

When you embrace these ideas and invest time in truly understanding your audience, your chances of ranking better improve.


About the Author

Bill Wilson mindsea headshotBill Wilson is the founder and CEO of the mobile design and development studio MindSea, where he helps brands go mobile through creative mobile app solutions. Over the years, he's been a mentor to many entrepreneurs and a guest lecturer at universities discussing the power of mobile.

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