5 ASO Experiments to Understand the App Store
In this guest blog, we take a look at the results of 5 very interesting ASO keywords experimentations made on the App Store.
The App Store: A complex 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:
- Only organic downloads.
- We did not incentive users to rate the App (in fact over the whole time range the App had 0 ratings).
- We used AppTweak ASO platform to track and measure the results of our experiments.
How does 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:
- Do keywords cause rankings if you place them in the description?
- 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|
Even though we optimized the keywords “fitness,” “healthkit,” “life,” “sweat,” and “training,” and included them in the app description strategically, we did not manage to get our app rank for either of them.
But what happens if you want to improve your existing ranking by optimizing the app 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||No. of words in the text before||Rankings before||No. of words in the text after||Rankings after|
As you can see, we filled the app 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 in the rankings.
This tends to prove that the on-page optimization of your app’s description on the App Store does not improve your rankings in the same way it does in Google Play, 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.
Do we have new ways to fill the 100-character keyword field more effectively?
You may already know the basics to optimize your keyword field:
- Separate keywords with a comma and do NOT use spaces
- Do not include both singular and plural, especially for English keywords
- Use all available characters
However, we wanted to show you a tweak 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. So we tried to reconstruct this scenario and changed our keyword set:
title: 7 minute workout
keyword field: wallsit
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 keywords like “wall sit” as well as “wall-sit.” However, apparently your app will not rank for “wallsit” if you do not explicitly write it together or include it in your title. By including it in the app title, we did found out that you could rank for both versions.
By including one important keyword in the app title and separating it with a dash, you get the whole advantages of the App Store ranking algorithm. Use 2 words instead of one and combine each with one another without losing the ranking of the keyword written together.
For example, you will rank for “workout,” “work-out,” or “work out” and all kinds of combinations with the keywords “work” + “keyword in title/keyword field” or “out” + “keyword in title/keyword field.”
Can you 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.
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. 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.
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:
- Does a shorter title improve the rankings of the keywords in the title?
- Does the position of the keyword in the title influence the ranking?
In order to find out how important the length of the app title really is on the App Store, we changed our title from 83 characters to 34 characters and compared the rankings.
Here is what happened:
The results are very interesting – 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, the consent is that big brands relinquish on a longer app title to emphasize their brand recognition and to improve their click-through-rate, which gets higher the shorter your title is.
However, most App Store developers should definitely use up to 80 characters in their app title and include 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
“7 minutos de ejercicio – entrenamiento diario con 12 ejercicios de impulsar su metabolismo by arise”
“entrenamiento diario – 7 Min de ejercicio”.
That way, we tried to emphasize the keyword “entrenamiento diario.”
Let’s take a look at the results:
Well, our results showed that our experiments to change the length of the app title, as well as the position of the keyword in the app 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.
Does it affect your ranking if you put the same keyword in both the app title & 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:
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 not recommend you to use your keywords for both the app 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.
The overall opinion is that the App Store algorithm has 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.
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:
- Use 100 instead of 200 characters for your keyword field or
- Try using use dashes to separate your keywords instead of commas to improve your overall outcome
- 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 reading your comments.
What do you think of these experiments? Anything you want to share with us?