ASO Blog

5 ASO Experiments to understand the App Store

Tue 1 Mar 2016, 12:47 PM - maximilian

Today’s guest post is a little special. It is brought to us by Maximilian Lehmann, App Store Optimization expert at ASO-Perform-Apps (German ASO consulting company). In his post, Maximilian offers us the results of 5 very interesting ASO keywords experimentations he made on the App Store. His objective was to try understanding the recent Apple App Store algorithm changes. Find out his 5 insightful discoveries right away.


The Apple App Store, a complex and ever-growing black box

After not showing much movement at all, the Apple App Store has changed quite a bit since the major Update we faced last year and it clearly had a huge impact on how the App Store algorithm works. This major change has caused a lot of confusion.

Indeed, many articles have been published claiming that the App Store became more intelligent and rumors started to spread around to explain what happened and how App marketers should react to it. As there still circulate many assertions trying to explain what has really happened, we wanted to give it a try with a few experiments on our own.

As we are aware that the algorithm is a complex and ever-growing black box, we want to emphasize that we do not claim to have decoded the App Store in any shape or form, but we do think that the results of our little experiments might be valuable to you and your ASO strategy.

In order to explain which steps we took, we will visualize each of the points on our case study with our app “7 Minute workout”. That way, you will get a better idea on how we approached each experiment.

Requirements for the experiments to get started:

Experiment 1

To which extent do Keywords in your App Store description affect your ranking?

Many rumors arose to explain the phenomenon of the latest big update. From the indexing of the App Store description, to Apple associating the keywords of your app to similar ones, there were many hypotheses on what really happened.

In order for us to not just build our strategy on assumptions, we reconstructed the following scenarios based on these 2 questions:

  1. Do keywords cause rankings if you place them in the description?
  2. Do keywords correlate with existing rankings and improve them if included in the description?

To test the first scenario (1), we have included very generic keywords to the text, which were not in the title or keyword field.

Here is what happened:

Keywords Number of words in the text before Rankings before Number of words in the text after Rankings after
Fitness 0 - 5 -
Healthkit 0 - 4 -
Life 0 - 4 -
Sweat 0 - 2 -
Training 0 - 1 -

Even though we optimized the keywords “fitness”, “healthkit”, “life”, “sweat” and “training”, and therefore included them in the description very strategically, we did not manage to get our App rank for neither of them.

But what happens if you want to improve your existing rankings through optimizing the description?

To try answering this question (2), we added some keywords to our German description, which we already covered in our title & keyword field and got the following results:

Keywords Number of words in the text before Rankings before Number of words in the text after Rankings after
training 2 442 6 453
intervall 0 148 5 134
intervall-training 0 34 5 34

Conclusion:

As you can see, we filled the description quite a bit in order to test if keywords in the description would improve the keyword rankings in any way. In this case, even with a decent keyword density, we could not get any real improvement of the rankings.

This tends to prove that we cannot approve the fact that the Onpage optimization of your app’s description will improve your rankings in the same way it does in the Google Play Store, for example.

Nevertheless, you should notice that your App Store description is indexed by search engines like Google, therefore a slight keyword density can definitely improve your SEO efforts.

Experiment 2

Are there new ways to fill the 100 characters keyword field more effectively?

You may already know the basics to optimize your keyword field:

However, we wanted to show you a tweak that we found while optimizing some of our apps to maximize the amount of rankings we could get from technically including only one keyword.

Therefore, we will take some keywords and, instead of separating them with a comma or writing them together, we will separate them with a dash.

We noticed that when we added one keyword separated with a dash to our title, we would also rank for the keyword written together, even if we did not include it anywhere written together.

We therefore tried to reconstruct this scenario and changed our keyword set

from: title: 7 minute workout keyword field: wallsit

to: title: 7 minute work-out keyword field: wall-sit, test-123, test-321

We wanted to see if we could rank for “wall-sit”, “wall sit” and “wallsit” altogether.

This is what we measured:

As you can see the rankings did change quite a bit. The keywords that got separated with a dash like “wall-sit” lead the app to rank for “wall sit” as well as “wall-sit”. However, your app apparently will not rank for “wallsit” if you do not explicitly write it together or include it in your title. By including it in the title, we did found out that you could rank for both versions.

Conclusion

By including one important keyword in the title and separating it with a dash, you get the whole advantages of the App Store ranking algorithm using 2 words instead of one and combining each with one another without losing the ranking of the keyword written together.

In clear words:

You will rank for “workout”, “work-out”, “work out” and all kinds of combinations with the keywords “work” + “keyword in title/keyword field” or “out” + “keyword in title/keyword field”

Experiment 3

Can you actually increase your Keyword Field from 100 to 200 characters?

You might have already heard that you can take advantage of the fact that the App Store ranks your keywords for multiple countries.

That way, you can increase the keywords your apps will be indexed for from 100 characters to 200.

One rumor we are particularly interested in is that you can use English keywords in the Spanish keyword field to increase the amount of English keywords you rank for. Then, not to lose the Spanish rankings, you can just put the Spanish keywords in the Mexican keyword field.

Let’s test this hypothesis:

Step 1: We searched for rankings of Spanish keywords in the US App Store and found clear evidence that Spanish keywords do rank in the US.

Step 2: We filled some test keywords in the Mexican keyword field and put it to the test if they rank in the Spanish App Store.

Conclusion:

Unfortunately this does not work at all, as the Spanish App Store just indexes Spanish and English (GB) keywords and not Mexican ones. If you want to get a more in-depth insight where your keywords actually rank, we recommend you to take a look at the new overview Apple provides in iTunes Connect when you click on the dropdown menu to see in which country your app is available and then click on “Learn more about App Stores and Localization”.

Also, make sure to check out the great overview by Moritz Daan, Growth Hacker at Phiture.

Experiment 4

Does Apple take into account how you place your Keywords in the Title?

There are many articles on how to fill your app’s title the best way. But there also is a lot of confusion around how the App Store actually indexes the title. That is why we wanted to find out if the relevance of particular keywords in the title could be increased individually. We therefore have to find answers to the following 2 questions:

In order to find out how important the length of the title really is, we changed our title from 83 characters to 34 characters and compared the rankings.

Here is what happened:

Conclusion:

The results are very interesting, as, besides losing ranking for 3 keywords (which we excluded to shorten the title), we did not increase our ranking at all. Apparently, according to the graph, the rankings even declined a little bit.

But then, why do bigger brands appear to have short titles?

Like for example Waze (title length: 33 characters)

or Soundcloud (title length: 26 characters)

After testing and consulting some other Experts in the app industry, thanks for example to Daniel Peris (PickASO), the consent is that big brands relinquish on a longer title to emphasize their brand recognition and to improve their Click-through-rate, which gets higher the shorter your title is.

However, most developers should definitely use up to 80 characters to fill their title with the most important keywords to maximize their visibility as their brands might not be that recognizable yet.

What about the position of the keywords? Might that be one factor to influence the ranking of one specific keyword?

To test this, we took our Spanish version and changed the title

from:7 minutos de ejercicio - entrenamiento diario con 12 ejercicios de impulsar su metabolismo by arise

to:entrenamiento diario - 7 Min de ejercicio”. That way, we tried to emphasize the keyword “entrenamiento diario”.

Let’s take a look at the results:

Conclusion:

Well, our results showed that our experiments to change the length of the title, as well as the position of the keyword in the title, did not make any real difference in the rankings of our app.

Even though you could optimize your Click-through-rate (CTR) by positioning the most important keyword at the beginning, this might not have any impact on your keyword rankings. At this point, we are curious about your experiences regarding this fact. If you have experienced something else, feel free to discuss it in the comments below.

Experiment 5

Does it affect the ranking if you put the same keyword in both the Title and Keyword Field?

The last aspect we want to explore is if you can strengthen the ranking from one keyword by adding it to both the keyword field and the title.

To test this, we simply added 3 keywords in the title as well as the keyword field of our French app version and measured the impact.

So, again, we placed the keywords “entraînement”, “metabolisme” and “exercices” both in the app title and keyword field. Here’s what we found:

Conclusion: As some rumors claimed that this would be a proper method to increase your ranking, we had to test it out. Apparently, by taking a look at the graph above, nothing changed after we did.

At this stage, we would therefore not recommend you to use your keywords for both the title and the keyword field. It would be a waste of space. You should rather focus on keywords that can create a high number of combinations, resulting in multiple rankings for long-tail keywords.

So what did we learn?

The overall opinion is that the App Store algorithm changed quite a lot and that it got more advanced.

When taking a closer look at the impact, the changes were not dramatic at all. As we tried to trick the App Store, we found out that lots of these methods don’t actually work to improve the ranking of Apps.

What should you focus on?

Keywords optimization still is one of the most important things to focus on in your ASO efforts, even if you cannot optimize keywords in your App Store description or strengthen your title.

We therefore recommend you to focus on what is working like using 100 instead of 200 characters for your keyword field or you could try using use dashes to separate your keywords instead of commas to improve your overall outcome.

We also want to encourage you to make more experiments, as the App Store and the overall discipline of ASO evolve constantly.

To sum this up, we want to emphasize once more that we are aware that the Apple algorithm considers much more aspects than just the keyword data alone, so even if we made sure to exclude other factors (reviews, user acquisition, etc.), changes in the rankings could of course have different causes.

In fact, the main purpose of this post was to show what has or has not worked in our particular case. If you’ve experienced anything else, maybe from an angle we did not think about yet, we are looking forward to read your comments.

What do you think of these experiments? Anything you want to share with us?

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App Store Optimization ("ASO") is the process of improving the visibility of a mobile app (such as an iPhone, iPad, Android, or Windows Phone app) in an app store (such as iTunes or Google Play for Android). App Store Optimization is the mobile equivalent of Search engine optimization. Specifically, App Store Optimization includes the process of ranking highly in an app store's search results and top charts rankings. ASO marketers agree that ranking higher in search results and top charts rankings will drive more downloads for an app. - From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.