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Your Guide to Hacking the App Store's Search To rank higher in the app marketplace, follow these best practices tips to make your way to the top.

By Sean Casto Edited by Dan Bova

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.


There are over 1.6 million apps in the Google Play Store and another 1.5 million in the Apple App Store, as of July 2015 data from Statista. That's a lot of apps and the number is growing at a steady rate. This, however, makes getting the app discovered a daunting task, and a main concerns for mobile app developers and marketers.

According to comScore, an average U.S. user downloads just three new apps per month, whereas data provided by Pocketgamer.biz indicates that developers submit over 1,000 apps in the Apple App Store per day. In November 2015 alone, 56,435 apps were submitted to the Apple App Store, averaging 1,820 apps in a day. The situation is similar for the Google Play Store as well.

Competition is therefore fierce and you will need more than an amazing app to get noticed.

Mobile App Optimization

Also known as App Store Optimization (ASO), Mobile App Optimization makes all the difference between your apps getting lost and found in the App Store.

When developing an app we are all hopeful that it will generate tens of thousands of downloads. But the reality is often different. In fact, one grim truth about mobile apps is that it must show up in the featured lists or in the top rankings in order to generate a high number of downloads and hit critical mass. To rank in the top 10, the app either needs to acquire thousands of downloads a day, or get featured by the app store editors.

Related: A Step-by-Step Guide To Building Your First Mobile App

Therefore, the only way to reach your target audience is through search or organic discovery. A Forrester report finds that users find 63 percent of mobile apps through organic searches. But to reach that you need proper App Store Optimization to improve the visibility of your mobile app in Google Play or App Store. Mobile app optimization is often defined as the new SEO for app marketplaces. It is an emerging popular term in the app marketing industry and almost all app marketers are now jumping onto the mobile app optimization bandwagon to achieve their user acquisition goals. But not all can reach them.

For one thing, there is no one set formula to follow that will help you win the top rank in the app store's search results. That being said, there are certain best practices that if you leverage can help you rank higher in the app marketplace.

Here are a few tips to help you hack the App Store's search.

Keywords in the title

Unlike Google, Apple largely depends on the app title and keywords when it comes to ranking. Your title should include one of the heaviest search traffic keywords. This improves your chances of ranking when someone is searching with that particular search term. You should therefore spend enough time researching the keyword for your apps' title, as changing the title often to experiment with different keywords will only harm your ranking.

Related: 5 Questions to Ask Before Developing a Mobile App

Next comes the keyword field. Again you need to find relevant keywords for your app. In addition, take advantage of App Store data. Find the terms most used by your target audience when searching for products similar to you. It is important to target specific keywords which have the highest traffic search and lowest competition.

Also, use the keywords naturally within titles. A TechCrunch report suggests that Apple too has become strict with "keyword stuffing' especially within titles since last July. Creating unnecessarily lengthy descriptive titles for your apps might have worked in the past, but it won't help you anymore.

Be careful with your categories

In addition to creating a comprehensive title and keywords for your apps, you must choose the right category classification for search relevancy. In fact, selecting the right category not only improves your chances of getting ranked in relevant searches, it also improves user-browsing experiences. This is one reason why Apple has introduced curated sub-categories in iOS 8, allowing marketers to narrow down the categories.

As a result, you now have a better chance to rank higher when users browse through the new "Explore' section. It filters apps based on their subcategory to increase the visibility of the relevant apps as well as to improve user-browsing experience.

Get ratings and reviews

Getting higher ratings and positive reviews is another way to hack the App Store's search. Good reviews and ratings indicates the quality of your app. Therefore, make sure your app is bug free in order to reduce the chances of bad reviews. In addition, there are platforms that allow you to test and market your upcoming iPhone and iPad apps before its official launch.

Using such platforms you can provide a preview of your app to your target audience and get quality feedback from them on app improvements. You can even target these beta testers to write a (good) review for your app once it is released. There are also several other tools developers are using which allows encourage users to leave reviews through push notifications as they interact with your app.

Related: Mobile App Marketing 101: How to Spread the Word About Your App

While following some proven strategies and best practices that can help you rank higher on the App Store, offering genuine value to users will actually allow you to take them through the app store search funnel. This, in turn, will help you to get into the top position in the app marketplaces' search results and remain there for a longer period of time.

Spread the word

Did you know that 19 percent of apps are discovered on social networking platforms? Maintaining active social media pages is crucial for gaining new users and retaining current users. Social media is an essential part of stimulating conversations about your app. If you've put time and effort into social media, and you haven't seen results, then it is time to rethink your game plan! If you feel that fans are not seeing or responding to your posts, you may be posting at the wrong times. Facebook and Twitter both have optimal times for posting.

Posting targeted content at certain times will result in a higher rate of user engagement and therefore more downloads. Utilizing certain formatting techniques can greatly improve the number of retweets. Using Caps Case Typing for the first letter of the word, for example, draws 52% of retweets. Furthermore, using the word "free" entices users to share the tweet, and gains 50% more retweets.

Screenshots -- digital window Shopping

Visual appeal is another key factor when a user is deciding whether or not to download your app, or someone else's. Utilize the maximum amount of screenshots Apple (5) and Google (8) allows, and make sure that they are well planned and show off the best design elements of your app. The goal with screenshots, and most other components of App Store Optimization, is to focus on how your app is a better choice than competing apps.

Post the screenshots in a logical order, and show common user flows. The first screenshot is the most important, so it should give the user a clear idea of the purpose of your app. Each screenshot should highlight an important benefit, and include at least one line of brief text to explain it, if necessary.

A Compelling Video

The App Store requires that your video cannot exceed 30 seconds, during which you must convey your app's key features, and convince people to download your app. Experts say that users are more likely to view your App Preview Video than they are to go through your screenshots, so it is very important for your video to make a good first impression. Screenshots are still important, of course, but your video can do a better job in conveying your app's features, and inspire users to download it.

On average, users will lose interest within the first 10 seconds if your video is not engaging. Therefore, the features of your app that are the most interesting should be included at the beginning of your demo video. Make sure to create your video in HD, and to highlight key features in an efficient manner. Music and graphics will make the video more exciting, and a voice-over will make you seem more trustworthy.

ASO takes time

All in all, it is important to note that while ASO proves to be the most important tool in driving your app user traffic, it will not happen overnight. App Store Optimization is an ongoing process and must be tweaked and constantly reassessed in order to reach the top charts.
Sean Casto

Founder and CEO of PreApps.com

Sean Casto is the Founder and CEO of PreApps.com, the leading mobile marketing and discovery platform. He has been a guest speaker at industry conventions for Microsoft and Samsung and lectured at Universities such as Northeastern and Harvard. He has also appeared on and been mentioned by The Washington Post, USA Today, The Boston Globe, Boston News Network and The Associated Press. Through his work and industry experience, Castro has acquired a deep understanding of the struggles developers face and a passion to serve the growing mobile app community. Castro has helped thousands of app reach greater market exposure and downloads. Read more at www.PreApps.com.

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