How to Find the Best Keywords for App Store Optimization (ASO)

Lucas Riedingerby 
Product Manager at AppTweak

14 min read

Optimizing your app for the App Store or Google Play involves careful keyword selection, performance monitoring, and data-driven decisions. In this guide, we’ll take you through the essential steps to ensure your app gets the organic visibility it deserves.

One of the cornerstones of ASO is keyword optimization – the process of researching, analyzing, and selecting the right keywords to include in your app’s title, subtitle/short description, keyword field (iOS), and full description.

In this blog, we’ll explain every step of the keyword optimization process in detail. We’ll also share actionable tips to optimize your app’s metadata using AppTweak’s keyword research tools powered by AI:

  1. Research: Build your keyword list
  2. Prioritize: Define the top keywords to include in your metadata
  3. Target: Add keywords to the different metadata, keeping in mind store ranking factors
  4. Monitor: Monitor, measure, and iterate

1. AI-powered keyword research: Build a list of 150-250 terms

This step may seem obvious but it is the most crucial, as all your subsequent actions depend on its success! The keyword optimization process starts by building an extensive list of around 150-250 keywords. Taking your time here will help ensure you don’t miss out on any relevant keywords that have the potential to drive downloads to your app.

Start by brainstorming keywords. Think of the words you use when describing your app, its features and values, as well as the keywords used by your competitors. Be sure to also check the keywords used in your app reviews (if your app has already been published) and competitors’ reviews to understand how users describe your app.

Use automation to identify all the main topics in your app reviews

Once you run out of ideas, use an ASO tool to strengthen this step of your keyword research. In AppTweak, you can leverage 12+ keyword suggestion tools in AppTweak to save time finding new visibility opportunities. For instance, our AI-Generated List powered by Atlas AI provides you with 100 relevant keyword suggestions for your app in seconds.

Keyword research tools powered by AI. Save time identifying keywords in your and competitors’ metadata: top installs drivers, most relevant terms for your app, and more (source: AppTweak)

Be careful: Search results are more crowded than ever

When finding interesting keywords for your app metadata, keep in mind that the past few years have seen both the App Store and Google Play add new elements to search results, demanding ASO practitioners to adapt to these changes and consider more than just keywords in search to increase visibility.

To cite a few more ranking elements, it is now imperative to optimize your visibility strategy with paid ads (e.g. Apple Search Ads), in-app events, promotional content, featured stories, similar apps, and more.

This is super important to bear in mind, as being the third app ranked in search results for a keyword is not guaranteed to drive the same visibility as before. Let’s look at the example of the keywords “match games”.

Read more on iOS 16 & what’s new for ASO

Live Search for “match games” on iOS, US (source: AppTweak)

As we see, users are exposed to a myriad of elements in the search results – including Apple Search Ads placements and featured stories. As a result, our main advice when choosing keywords for your own metadata is to use Live Search to understand the elements that might rank for your chosen keywords.

2. Prioritize keywords using smart KPIs & live metrics

Next, you’ll need to shorten your keyword list and think about which terms actually deserve to be in your app’s metadata.

The fact that search results have become increasingly crowded means that ASO practitioners need to carry out even more thorough keyword analyses to choose the terms with the best potential for their app.

At AppTweak, we provide a series of smart KPIs & live metrics (updated daily) to better inform your decisions. When looking for appropriate keywords, we typically recommend focusing on 4 important KPIs:

  • Keyword Relevancy: An AI-powered indicator between 0 and 100, showing how relevant a keyword is to a specific app. Keyword relevancy should be the number one criterion in your keyword selection, as it is essential to know that users searching for that keyword are likely to be interested in your app.
  • Keyword Volume & Maximum Reach: The search popularity and visibility potential of your selected keywords. Even if your app ranks #1 on a very low-volume keyword, you’ll have a difficult time driving any traffic to your app.
  • Keyword Difficulty: Once you’ve found a very relevant and high-volume keyword, don’t forget to check its difficulty. It’s no surprise that high-volume keywords are the most competitive ones, with very powerful apps ranking in top results. These keywords are very difficult to rank in top positions for.

These three elements can work against each other, making it tough to find the right equilibrium between all 3. The more specific and relevant a keyword is, the better it will encourage users interested in that keyword to convert and download your app. However, the more specific and niche the keyword is, the lower its volume (generally), thus reducing your potential reach.

Let’s deep dive into each of these metrics to understand how to best analyze them when optimizing your app’s keywords:

a. Keyword Relevancy Score

Keyword relevancy should be your number 1 priority: You should regularly make sure that the keywords added to your app’s metadata are related to your app’s features and functionalities.

Expert Tip

Both Apple and Google want to provide a good user experience; this means only showing apps in the search results that match a user’s search query. Apple and Google are pretty good at this: if a keyword in your metadata is not relevant to your app’s functionality, it is very unlikely that your app will rank in the top 10 for that keyword.

But how do you quantify keyword relevancy for different apps? At AppTweak, our team has developed Atlas AI, a unique intelligence that combines 9+ years of AppTweak data with hundreds of hours of training.

Atlas AI has been trained to understand the relationships between apps and keywords, and specific app store mechanisms. Thanks to Atlas AI, you can leverage a powerful KPI – the Relevancy score – to understand exactly how relevant each keyword is to your app.

Discover more AI features to grow your mobile apps & games

Comparing the relevancy score of the same keyword for two different fitness apps – iOS, US (source: AppTweak)

b. Search popularity (keyword volume)

Keyword volume is an obvious KPI to keep in mind. The whole purpose of ASO is to increase your app’s visibility and have your app rank for the keywords users search for on the stores.

It’s great to have your app rank for different keywords, but you want to make sure these keywords will actually drive traffic to your app. If no one searches for a keyword in the first place, ranking in the #1 position still isn’t going to drive a lot of visibility to your app.

Expert Tip

Search Popularity (also known as volume) is a metric between 5 and 100. In AppTweak, you’ll be able to see the exact Search Popularity provided by Apple (and its evolution through time), allowing you to understand how popular each keyword is in your specific country.

Volume is a very interesting metric to consider, but you’ll also want to understand how much traffic a keyword could potentially drive to your app. For this, AppTweak has developed a metric called Maximum Reach.

c. Maximum Reach

Maximum Reach is an estimation of the total number of times a specific keyword is searched for on the stores over the last 30 days. It indicates the potential number of impressions (the number of times your app is viewed) an app could receive if it consistently ranked as the top result for that keyword.

Unique to AppTweak, Maximum Reach is an extremely powerful indicator, as the ultimate goal of keyword optimization is to increase impressions. As Maximum Reach understands both Search Popularity and impressions (the number of times an app is viewed in search results), this metric can also more accurately represent the exponential relationship between search volumes and traffic.

Comparing keyword volumes (Search Popularity scores) vs. their maximum reach potential – iOS, US (source: AppTweak)

The image above shows this in practice: Despite the volume of “strava” being only 2.1 times the volume for “hike,” we can clearly see that “strava” has a much larger maximum reach, generating 76 times more searches than the keyword “hike”. The higher the Maximum Reach, the greater this app’s opportunity to gain visibility from this keyword.

This exponential relationship between volume and traffic makes high-volume keywords very attractive; however, they are also very competitive and just as difficult to rank for. This is why you should also always look at a keyword’s difficulty score when selecting keywords to add to your metadata.

d. Difficulty Score

AppTweak’s difficulty score helps you judge how competitive a keyword is. Unless your app/brand is already very popular, you’ll want to kick-start your ASO strategy by targeting keywords your app has a realistic chance to rank for – keywords that aren’t so competitive and that have a low difficulty score.

When selecting keywords for your metadata, you should consider discarding keywords that are too competitive, or for which there are very powerful apps already ranking. Sometimes, this means going after keywords with a lower volume.

To illustrate this, below we easily see that the keyword “running tracker” has a great balance of high volume and low difficulty. In general, the higher the difficulty score, the more powerful the apps already ranking for that keyword.

Comparing keyword volumes (Search Popularity scores) vs. their difficulty scores – iOS, US (source: AppTweak)

3. Optimize your metadata & implement keywords

Now that you have analyzed a large number of keywords and reduced your selection to only a few high-potential terms, the next step is to add them to your metadata. You’ll need to arrange your keywords in your metadata carefully, as keywords don’t carry the same weight across all placements (title, subtitle/short description, keyword field, full description).

ASO Guide: How to optimize your product page for the App Store & Google Play

When crafting your metadata, you should always try to balance traffic and conversion. For instance, your title not only has the biggest impact on ranking algorithms, but is also the most visible element of your app page on the App Store and Google Play (and can thus strongly impact your app’s conversion rate). As a result, make sure to optimize your title with your top-priority keywords that describe to users the core of what your app is about.

As shown in the image below, keywords placed in the iOS keyword field do not impact conversion. These keywords are not visible on the app page, and you can optimize this metadata field with the sole purpose of increasing traffic.

Impact of keywords in the app title, subtitle, keyword field, and long description on traffic and conversion (App Store & Google Play)

How to target the right app keywords with AppTweak

Selecting the keywords that you’ll implement in your metadata can be a scary step in your keyword optimization – but don’t worry, we have useful features that will help you draft and assess different metadata variations.

With Metadata Simulator, you can write and compare drafts of your title, subtitle, and keyword field (iOS), or your title, short description, and long description (Android). When you prepare your drafts, you may also see our comments/warnings to help you stay aligned with the latest app store rules and best practices (e.g. not repeating keywords, character limits, etc).

Write & compare drafts of your app metadata – Metadata Simulator (source: AppTweak)

Be sure to consider the following elements when drafting your new metadata in AppTweak:

  • Character count: You should use as many characters as possible to target as many keywords as possible. Don’t worry – AppTweak will let you know when you reach the character limit.
  • Total Market Searches (TMS): This indicator provides a total estimation of all the times your target keywords are searched for by the whole market. Targeting high-volume keywords with lots of combinations will increase your TMS, but beware – this doesn’t mean you will rank on or convert with all of them. The TMS acts as a proxy for the maximum reach of all the combinations in your list.
  • Add keywords you were not following: In this section, we’ll also show the keywords you wrote in your draft that have not yet been included in your list. Click on these keywords to add them to your list and see all their metrics in the table on the right.
  • Comparison table: You can also expand or hide the table that shows you the specific differences between your current metadata version and the selected draft.

Keep in mind that the store rules change over time and you might not always remember all of them. But don’t worry — some warnings will appear if you don’t respect the store’s guidelines or ASO best practices when writing your metadata.

Warnings for unsuitable metadata drafts on the App Store (source: AppTweak)

4. Monitor your work & repeat over time

Keyword optimization is an ongoing process that requires continuous updating, testing, and iterating. Having updated your metadata according to your ASO strategy, you can now start tracking your progress.

We recommend keeping your new metadata for at least 3-4 weeks to give the app store algorithms enough time to stabilize your ranking for all the keywords you added. Once this time has passed, you can start assessing your performance and making iterations.

How often to update your app’s metadata

How to monitor keyword performance with AppTweak

To monitor your app’s rankings for your targeted keywords, you’ll be able to leverage numerous keyword monitoring tools in AppTweak:

  • Visibility History: Provides a general overview of how your keyword performance evolves (for all the keywords in your selected list). Use this chart to get more in-depth insights into each app’s visibility/ranking history.
  • Keyword Impact: Allows you to understand how your and competitors’ organic downloads have evolved for the selected keyword list. In this section, you can compare organic growth between two dates and leverage our smart filters (e.g. compare organic app installs from keywords with volume/relevancy/etc greater than 50).
  • Brand vs. Generic Installs: Allows you to analyze your installs from branded vs. generic keywords in one view, to easily compare your brand awareness with competitors.
Comparing Strava’s keyword performance with Nike Run Club – visibility history, keyword impact, and brand vs. generic installs (source: AppTweak)

Monitoring your app doesn’t stop there! To understand your global presence and find intelligence about your overall app store visibility (not just on the selected keyword list), you’ll need to check out the All Ranked Keywords Report.

Complete picture of your overall app store keyword rankings (source: AppTweak’s All Ranked Keywords Report)

Get the complete picture of your app’s keyword rankings with All Ranked Keywords

Conclusion & next steps

In this blog, we covered the major points related to app keyword optimization – from researching new keyword opportunities to increase visibility to testing new app metadata drafts for your app.

Want to take your app store marketing game to the next level? Here are some important points you should consider when evaluating your next steps:

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Lucas Riedinger
by , Product Manager at AppTweak
Lucas is a Product Manager at AppTweak, helping to fuel growth for the world's most popular apps and games. He is passionate about rugby, basketball, and video games.