App Store Keywords – Choose Wisely!

by Brook Lenox on August 14, 2009

app-store-keywords

You can now add keywords to your app store listings. I’m guessing Apple added keywords so that consumers could better find stuff through the growing app store clutter.

I want to share some important things to think about and test when it comes to your keywords.

Here they are:

1) Understand How App Store Keywords Work
2) Choose Wisely
2) Monitor Results

Understand How App Store Keywords Work

Honestly, I’m not sure even Apple completely understands how keywords in the app store work. We asked 2 or 3 different people at Apple and they couldn’t answer our questions.

But anyway here is what I do know:

  • You get 100 characters to enter keywords including spaces
  • Once entered, you CAN NOT change them till you do an update
  • When you update or add a new app you must choose keywords

Here are some theories I have, but am not sure of:

  • Spaces after commas are not necessary (some developers think so)
  • You don’t need to add your app name
  • Once you enter keywords, sales may decrease*

*Why would this happen? One theory is that your keywords “over define” your app, so that you only show up for those terms. You only get 100 characters and if you ranked for 25 words before, and now you just rank for 10-15 words, you could see sales drop.

I mention these theories just to get you thinking. Test them out for yourself.

Choose Wisely

If you’ve never done keyword research, you may want to glance through my 3 part series on keyword research.

Even if you pass on that reading, I encourage you to do at least 3 things before adding keywords to your app listing:

  1. Type some of the keywords that describe your app into Google’s Keyword Tool. This will give you two things: a) how many searches are occurring for those words as well as b) other relevant words.
  2. Type keywords separated by commas into excel (keyword1, keyword2, etc) and use =len(a1) in the next cell to the right to help you count characters.
  3. Bounce your keyword list off someone.

Monitor Results

Once you add keywords, watch your results.

Keep track of when you added your keywords and note if downloads went up, stayed the same, or went down as a result.

app-store-keyword-rank1

 At Pinger we tend to track everything. An engineer sneezes we track it.

So, like I said, choose your keywords wisely and watch those results!

Questions? Any results you can share?

Need more help? – You’ll find it in my How to Market iPhone Apps eBook
 

Photo credit: GRwitters

{ 41 comments… read them below or add one }

Cychosis August 18, 2009 at 11:32 pm

I am absolutely convinced that my sales have dropped significantly due to some keyword effect.

I had been averaging, for some 6 months straight, about $75/day in sales between my 2 apps — with plenty of $100+ days in there, and never, since January 09, a day of less than $45 — for six months straight.

The day after the I added keywords to my app, my sales were a little over $30 total. And that is about what I am averaging per day now, with several days under $20.

Could be that I saturated my market, but come on, really, what are the odds of that happening the day after I set keywords? I haven’t updated my apps any time recently, nothing else has changed.

Disappointing.

Ron
Cychosis, Pace, RAIDer

Brook Lenox August 21, 2009 at 8:38 am

Ron,

I agree…very unlikely that you’ve saturated your market. It’s got to be the keywords. This keyword thing is a mess.

Brook

guillaume August 26, 2009 at 10:52 am

Scary!!! Glad I read your post as was about to update and type in keywords without thinking too much… Found out I couldn’t change them but thank god it wasn’t in our #1 localization.

Will stick with no keywords for now…

Brook Lenox August 26, 2009 at 1:23 pm

Guillaume,

Glad to help. Let me know if you learn anything from your keywords once they are live.

Brook

guillaume August 27, 2009 at 7:18 am

Ok so just a quick update since I introduced keywords in one localization: I haven’t the numbers yet but I can confirm one of your suspicion. And it’s not good news…

I know for a fact that before the change, the search engine was looking at pretty much every word in the App description field. I keep track of all of our description fields throughout our regular updates and our app used to show just fine then whenever you searched any of the description’s words. Post-change our app simply doesn’t appear anymore. I can be certain of that as some of these words have a limited set of results (without any “more results” links): our App is just not indexed any longer with these keywords but just those in the keyword field.

I guess Apple wants us to use much more targeted keywords in order to increase relevancy but I’m puzzled as to what I should do to get started…

Will have first impact on stats by tomorrow…

Brook Lenox August 27, 2009 at 4:14 pm

Guillaume…thanks for sharing that info. Makes complete sense why so many developers have commented that sales have gone down after entering keywords. The total # of keywords that they were listed for decreased.

I learned something today. When an app jumps in DLs/rank, then it jumps in search as well. We lowered the price on Picfree from $5.99 to $3.99 and downloads went way up. Keywords we were ranking 10th for the day before, we were suddenly ranking 3rd or 4th.

Best,
Brook

Josh September 3, 2009 at 4:06 am

Curious if anyone tested reorganizing or adding spaces between the words without changing the words.

My curiosisty is that the very act of changing keywords (and not the words specifically) without changing price might have a penalty.

Maybe they penalize for simply trying to beat the keywords or they have a fifo system that gives older app keywords priority.

Any takers for testing this?

Brook Lenox September 4, 2009 at 11:48 am

Josh,

The only way to know it to test it! Try it and let us know. Just about to do an update. I know that using anything that looks like a competitive keyword will probably get rejected.

Brook

guillaume September 8, 2009 at 2:26 pm

Ok so a bit of news on my side. I initially made the chang by inputing some keywords but limited this to some markets thanks to the localization options. And I left the other markets with no keyword.

Where I’ve added some keywords, the numbers dropped by 65% and, after 12 days went back up. Not the the level where they originally were but close (-15%). However, I made this change BEFORE reading this article and didn’t chose the keywords well so I’ve got some optimization left to do and might recover.

In the other markets, I’ve lived hapilly for a while as my whole description field was indexed by the AppStore’s search engine but discovered at some point that Apple disabled that!!! I guess that they’ve considered they’ve given us enough time and a blank keyword field simply means “not findable” :-(

I’ve spent some time to find the right keywords and I’ll see soon whether it worked.

PS: I’ll do the update of my keywords and will change the order: I’ll see whether Josh’s theory is right. But I will need some time as we have to create a new version of the app…

Brook Lenox September 9, 2009 at 2:05 pm

Guillaume,

Thanks for sharing the #’s. Bummer that your revenue dropped, but seems typical.

Couple other things I’ve noticed (that may be very obvious) is that you don’t need to worry about phrase order, “text free” shows the the same search results as “free text”, but you do need to take plurals into consideration. “Pic” shows different results from “pics”.

Cheers,
Brook

Ben Promitzer February 6, 2010 at 4:21 am

I don’t get the whole keyword thing!! I have relevant words for my app “Viva Veggie” like farm, planting, Gardening etc. When I search for my game none of the words brings me to it. The only way of finding my game is to type in “Viva”. I find this an absolute disgrace that you can now no longer search through the categories and that they are now only showing top 25 … What’s the point of categorisation?? Very frustrating to say the least. So much for the indy developer with no corporate marketing budget to seed!

Brook Lenox February 8, 2010 at 5:31 pm

Ben,

One challenge you face is that the app store not only uses the keywords you enter, but also the # of times your app has been downloaded, so it’s hard to get into the top 50 for “farm” if your just starting out.

Perhaps consider using “farm” or one of your other keywords in the title.

Best of Luck!
Brook

guillaume February 9, 2010 at 1:22 am

@Ben. On top of what Brook says I suggest you also try to identify keywords which are not used by a lot of apps: try them in iTunes and whenever you see something that has less than 10 results, you’ve got one! Of course if the key word is irrelevant to your app, it’s pointless but some might work. And I believe it’s better to have lower traffic keywords in which you rank high than mainstream keywords where you just don’t show…

My 2 cents

Brook Lenox February 12, 2010 at 1:08 pm

Guillaume…good point.

Trying to find keywords that most developers overlook could be a good strategy. Just need to be aware of how many people are searching for those terms. Being #1 for a term no one searches for wouldn’t do any good :).

Thanks,
Brook

Paul February 26, 2010 at 11:38 am

I have long thought that it would be handy to have a keyword app. I am wanting to speak to some iPhone developers interested in helping me develop an app that would suggest keywords for iphone app developers, website developers, internet marketers, etc. I know that there are several tools available for desktops, but I haven’t found anything for the iPhone /. iTouch. Please let me know if you are interested.

Brook Lenox February 26, 2010 at 12:09 pm

Paul…interesting idea. Have too many plates spinning right now though to jump in and get involved. Come back and announce it here when it launches!

Niklas February 28, 2010 at 2:46 am

@Ben. I was going to write “I have the same problem, the only way to find my game is to write “BlockPop” and then press search.” But after written that sentence, I thought I better double check… Now, when I write “BlockPop” it is visible without pressing the search-button. I guess that even though it is the date of the release, it may take some time before you can find it. Also, I noticed that I was not thinking about this plurals when searching for my app, and that made me not finding it…

What I still wonder is, the “New” category, is it by any mean the same category as on iTune’s AppStore on the computer? The heading there is “New and noteworthy”, if that is the case I guess being new is not the only need for ending up there…?

Still, when you drill down to your category (E.g. Games->Puzzle), and chose “Release date”, shouldn’t the app be visible then? Today is 28th, the top one is now 25th there…

Niklas February 28, 2010 at 2:47 am

Sorry, missed one question: Is Apple having any docs about how this key-word and category things work?

Brook Lenox February 28, 2010 at 6:57 pm

@Niklas. I’ve never seen any docs from Apple on this. Has anyone else? Niklas…do you have specific questions?

Niklas March 2, 2010 at 1:51 am

@Brook. My specifick questions has to be:
1. What I wonder is about the “New” category in iPhone/AppStore, is it by any mean the same category as on iTune’s AppStore on the Mac? The heading there is “New and noteworthy”, if that is the case I guess being new is not the only need for ending up there? Does anyone know how it is?

2. When I drill down to the category (E.g. Games->Puzzle), and chose “Release date”, shouldn’t the app be visible there if I am sure that’s the correct category, and the date is not long ago? When checking, the dates now are quite old and the latest one is not in the top. Are they having some kind of random way of presenting the apps weigthed on date (would make sence in order to give each application the chanse to be visible, since I guess there are a huge amount of apps relesed…). Does anyone know anything about this?

Note: When I check “News” in iTunes/Appstore on my Mac today, I see that there are no new apps between 24th Feb and 1st March. Feels like they have had some problems on their side, perhaps that’s a part of why I am feeling confused. Does anyone know anything about this?

Perhaps this is not the correct place for asking, since it is a key-word thread, not category… Please fell free to (re)move it if that is the case.

Brook Lenox March 3, 2010 at 4:15 pm

@Niklas
1) New and Noteworthy is picked by Apple.
2) Yes…your app should show up by date released. I’m not seeing the dates as old as you. They seem to be two days behind for me. One important note: make sure that the release date you set in iTunes wasn’t a long time ago. Sometimes people submit their app, put 3 days from now as the release date, but it isn’t approved for 14 days. The release date will be the original date you entered, not the date your approved.

If that doesn’t make sense, email me offline.

jonas March 21, 2010 at 4:08 am

Is it 100 or 255 characters you are allowed to have for keywords? Some says 255?

Brook Lenox March 25, 2010 at 3:03 pm

@jonas – it’s 100 total including commas and spaces.

OJ May 20, 2010 at 3:02 pm

Does anyone know if the comma-separators count as a character in the 100 character limit?

Mercutio May 21, 2010 at 8:44 am

I have a question. How is the appstore handling very similar keywords? So as an example: Do I need to include both “MMORPG” and “MMO”, or does the first one include and therefore serve the second one as well?
Good blog by the way.

Brook Lenox May 21, 2010 at 2:14 pm

@OJ – yes, pretty certain the commas are apart of the 100 characters. Good luck!

Brook Lenox May 21, 2010 at 2:15 pm

@Mercutio – my understanding is that you need to include similiar words, but I suggest you test it as well.

Jeedee September 24, 2010 at 11:05 pm

An huge THANK YOU for writing this article and for the comments. Informations about the keywords and AppStore SEO is very rare so this is very appreciated.

Brook Lenox September 27, 2010 at 4:37 pm

@Jeedee – your quite welcome.

whizzkid December 9, 2010 at 12:59 am

@brook lenox, about the dates..
we submitted our app to be approved and set the release date for the 22nd.
the app was approved on the 19th and put in the appstore on the 22nd.
unfortunately, it had the 19th as the release date!

result: our app wasnt visible unless you scrolled down oodles of pages..
0 downloads.

So thats also a thing to keep in mind when submitting your apps.

Brook Lenox December 10, 2010 at 8:22 pm

@whizzkid – we’ve run into that as well. great point.

TJ February 8, 2011 at 1:18 pm

Late to the ball game, but what do you know, Apple does have a PDF out there for keywords: http://developer.apple.com/news/ios/pdf/ASQR_Assigning_Keywords.pdf

Brook Lenox February 12, 2011 at 12:53 pm

@ TJ – thanks

barb August 1, 2011 at 10:09 am

how can the book be sent to you if they do not ask for your mailing address?

Brook Lenox August 11, 2011 at 5:21 pm

@ barb – It’s “sent” as a download.

bluechilledkola August 26, 2011 at 2:12 am

Great article and thread :) Any current developments or news about appstore keywords, and whether they are still lowering down app visibility and sales? I’m releasing my first game probably next month or the next and I’m getting anxious about this lol. I also read somewhere that using a keyword in your app name gets a better ranking in terms of search. Is this true?

Brook Lenox August 26, 2011 at 3:05 pm

@ Blue – I’d encourage you to use keywords in the title IF they describe the app and make sense to the user.

Brent212 September 2, 2011 at 12:40 pm

I just updated my app purely to update the app name and keywords. It was recently approved and is now in the app store with the new name, but the updated keywords don’t seem to be working. The old ones still work, but the ones I added don’t bring up the app when searched for. On top of that, if I search for the app by name, it doesn’t come up, which seems absolutely ridiculous. Hopefully there’s just some sort of delay going on, since it was just approved about an hour ago.

Lakuracha September 18, 2011 at 10:06 pm

Is leaving the keyword field blank still relevant? I thought the keywords are now required by Apple in order to submit an app?

Brook Lenox October 15, 2011 at 1:45 pm

@Lakuracha – I’m not why you would want to leave it blank. I would suggest you use relevant keywords.

Brook Lenox October 15, 2011 at 2:22 pm

@Brent212 – there is definitely some latency when your app gets approved. Also, just because you use keywords, doesn’t mean you’ll show up for them. If other app developers use the same keywords, but they have more downloads than your app, then they’ll likely show up for those keywords before your app.

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