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How to Optimize Your Mobile App for Search

Find out how you can optimize your mobile app to rank well in both the app store and Google search, plus learn some download conversion tips.

No matter what kind of mobile app you have, your main goal is to increase the number of users who download your app. In order to get more downloads, you need to rank well within the app store so more potential users can find you. In this post, we’re going to look at how you can rank well in the app store, convert impressions into downloads, and optimize your app outside of the app store as well.

Optimizing for the App Store

Basic search engine optimization principles apply to ranking well in the mobile app store, starting with a little healthy competitor research. You can start by looking under the relevant category for your app to see the top free and paid apps.

Next, think of the terms that people would search to find your app and search for them in the app store. For example, if you have a calorie counter app for iPhone, you would start by typing in calorie to see the suggested searches.

If you chose calorie counter, the first three apps shown are the following.

  • Calorie Counter & Diet Tracker by MyFitnessPal – Free with 4.5 stars out of 367k reviews.
  • LIVESTRONG.COM Calorie Tracker LITE – Your Free Diet and Fitness Calorie Counter – Free with 4.5 stars out of 7,150 reviews.
  • Calorie Counter PRO by MyNetDiary – $3.99 with 4.5 stars out of 12,234 reviews.

Here is what you will learn from this exercise about app store optimization and your competition.

  • Whether having your keywords in the name and description of your app will help with rankings (generally it will).
  • How to brand your app if you are using a keyword phrase (like ‘keyword phrase’ by ‘your brand’).
  • How many characters of your app name are shown in top charts (22 in the iTunes store), app search results (32 in the iTunes store), and in the main listing (44 in the iTunes store) so you know where to place your most important keywords and brand name.
  • How many reviews competing apps have and their average overall rating.

In addition to optimizing for rankings within the app store, you also need to optimize for conversions. Just because someone finds your app doesn’t mean they’ll download it – you have to hook them with your app details. To do this, you will need to do the following.

  • Put yourself in your ideal user’s shoes and think about what screens they would want to preview and include those in the details.
  • If your app is targeting specific search terms, make sure your app details satisfies the searchers’ needs in the first sentence or two of the description. Only 229 characters show up in the description (in the iTunes store) before a potential user has to hit more – make it count.
  • If a user hits more, be sure the information they find will increase their confidence in your app. If possible, add in credibility details such as where the app has been featured, awards it has received (like editor’s top choice), and snippets from some of the most glowing user reviews.
  • Keep the app up to date. Newer is usually more favorable.

Last, but not least, reviews definitely help determine whether an app will rank well. Consider adding a prompt to your app that will ask users to review it. Apptentive is one of the services that can help you create an intelligent prompt that encourages positive reviews.You could also do things like target Facebook ads to app users using the Power Editor and customize for audiences with their app user ID and remind them in their Newsfeed to rate your app.

If you’re competing against apps with a lot of great reviews, aside from having a great app, you will need to get more users to get more reviews. You might want to consider PPC advertising to attain more users in the hopes that you will also attain more reviews. You can also look to some of the suggestions in Joel Klettke’s post on getting reviews.

And while it may be tempting to offer incentives for reviews to help with your app rankings, you might want to avoid it. Google Play, for example, specifically states that you can’t try to manipulate, pay, or incentivize reviews. But it still doesn’t hurt to ask.

Optimizing for Google Search

Regardless of whether you can rank well in the app store, you also need to consider that people may be searching for your app on the web. Using the same example of a calorie counter app, you can see in Google suggested searches that app searches are popular.

Google Keyword Planner also shows that there is a decent amount of search volume for various keywords.

This means that in addition to ranking well in the app store, you will want to also create a landing page on your website for your mobile app that is optimized for search. While you will be competing with listings from the iTunes and Google Play stores, you could still end up on the first page of search results.

To optimize your onsite mobile app landing page for search and search visitors, you will want to do the following.

  • The page should contain on-site optimization basics: keywords in the title tag, meta description, URL, image ALT text, and content.
  • Make sure it is using a mobile-friendly or responsive design so that both desktop and mobile searchers can view it.
  • The mobile page should detect the device used by the searcher and point them to the app for their device, whereas the desktop page should give the searcher options to download apps for all of the mobile platforms you support.

In addition to onsite optimization of your landing page, you should make it a point to look for mentions of your app across the web and make sure they are linking to your app since a lot of articles will tell people to just search for the app name in the app store. You can search for your app name in quotes on Google to find recent mentions, then create a Google Alert of your app name to get new results delivered via email. Also, set up a Google Alert that monitors the web for lists such as The Top ____ Apps for iPhone that your app would fit in. If someone listed your app, be sure to thank them. If they didn’t, contact the blogger or article author and see if you can get listed.

PPC Advertising

If you can’t get your app to rank well on the app store, in Google search results, or simply want to get more visibility for your app, you can look into mobile advertising. Particularly, you will want to focus on Facebook Ads for Apps and Google AdWords Mobile App Extensions. Facebook’s advertising for apps will put your app into relevant users’ Newsfeeds, and the Google AdWords mobile app extension will add a call to action for people to download your app within mobile search results. Both are two great ways to get more users for your app!

What tips would you offer for app store optimization? Please share in the comments!