Identifying and Overcoming Apple App Store Visibility Issues Whitepaper
Identifying And Efﬁciently Overcoming The Limitations Of
iOS App Store Discovery
This whitepaper will identify the problem with current the Apple App Store discovery
process and demonstrate why it needs to be changed. Then we will show various ways
that app developers can overcome this issue, given the current situation. Case studies
are included at the end to illustrate actual results.
The Current Issues With Apple App Store Discovery
With over 900,000 apps currently on the App Store, competition for downloads
increases by the day. The most effective way for an app to gain notoriety has been to
get on the top 25 list in their category.
Getting on a top 25 list can be very difﬁcult because it is primarily based on the number
of times that an app is downloaded. To compound the problem, once an app gets on a
top 25 list, it is very hard to oust that app, by sheer virtue of it being on the list and
getting so much exposure.
To make matters worse, these download numbers can be manipulated through various
methods. It is common knowledge that downloads can be generated simply by using an
automated system to download an app and not even install it. For people who do not
have the time or knowledge to create such a system, downloads can be purchased from
individuals who already have a system set up.
At the root of this shortcoming is Apple's inability to come up with a powerful enough
search and recommendation algorithm to help users ﬁnd what they want. Being able to
recommend quality apps based on what an app really does, will need to be
implemented in order for users to be able to ﬁnd quality apps and to prevent talented
developers who have quality apps from quitting because they are not getting enough
revenue to continue their development.
Top 25 lists are not the only way to be found on the App Store. Apple also puts heavy
emphasis on app keywords in search. Developers can optimize the keywords that they
include when they build their app, which will give them a better chance of being found
for key search terms. While this method is perhaps too simple to deliver quality search
results to a user, therein also lies an opportunity for the developer, which will be
discussed later in this whitepaper.
The iOS 7 Solution
One way that Apple has been hoping to solve the discovery issue in the next iOS
update is by removing the Genius For Apps feature and adding the Apps Near Me
function to help buyers discover new apps. This feature will allow users to see what
apps are popular in their current area.
While this is a good solution for travel related apps or similar categories where location
is important, this does not help users who are in remote areas or developers who create
apps with national or international appeal. It appears to be just a small part of the
overall solution and while implementing this is a step in the right direction, it will not
come close to solving the current issues.
Given these limitations with the current Apple App Store, there are several possible
ways to overcome these limitations. We will explore each one and give you the pros
and cons of each.
The ﬁrst solution is to go outside the App Store and use paid advertising. This can have
great beneﬁts, but the learning curve involved with optimizing these ads can be quite
expensive and many developers do not have the budget to do the testing necessary to
get the desired results. Even if a developer is able to optimize an ad campaign, the
downloads will stop soon after the ads stop running. This means that the ads must
continually generate a positive ROI, which can be difﬁcult to do.
In a similar fashion, developers can also choose to utilize online methods such as
setting up a website, promoting through social media, writing a blog and doing SEO, so
they can be found online. While this can be very cost effective, it is also extremely time
intensive and the direct correlation between these efforts and downloads is not always
Finally, App Store Optimization (ASO) is another way that developers can improve the
visibility of their app within the App Store. Of the three methods mentioned here, ASO is
by far the most inexpensive and most highly leveraged way to improve App Store
Since optimizing for App Store Search relies on organic trafﬁc, it will have longer term
effects than paid ads, but it is simpler to do than tuning a website for web search. Given
the simplicity and emphasis placed on developer generated keywords, the shortcomings
in the complexity of the search algorithm can actually work out to be an advantage to
the developer who knows how to optimize keywords properly. We can break down ASO
into three basic categories: keyword optimization, localization and user appeal
Keyword optimization is the best place to start when it comes to ASO. Developers
should ﬁrst start with their native language and get that stabilized before moving to other
Choosing keywords can seem like a shot in the dark if one is doing it for the ﬁrst time.
There are a couple of different ways to get help when it comes to picking keywords for a
The ﬁrst option is to "spy" on the keywords of apps that are doing well in the target
category. Although not all of the competition keywords will be applicable, it is a great
place to start. The Sensor Tower Keyword Spy Tool will show you the keywords of any
app on the App Store. Using that as a starting point will give developers a head start on
Another way to get possible keywords is to use the Keyword Suggestion Tool. By
entering the best keywords from the research list along with other ideas, the tool will
recommend additional words that could be good keywords for inclusion.
When choosing keyword for a list, it is important to keep three factors in mind:
competition, trafﬁc and length. Competition and trafﬁc are straightforward, keywords
with low competition and high trafﬁc are best. Of course, this is a balancing act and
only testing will reveal which keywords will get the best results (more on that later).
When it comes to keyword length, shorter is better. This is because Apple only allows
100 characters in the keyword ﬁeld, so developers want to maximize this space, as
much as possible.
Along these lines, it is best practice to remove any spaces between keywords, add
commas between phrase keywords, use only the plural or singular form of a word
(whichever performs better) and do not use the app or company name in the keyword
list. This is because that information is already factored into the keyword list with having
to explicitly declare them. Although it almost goes without saying, duplicate keywords
should be removed. The Keyword Optimizer Tool will provide this information.
Following these steps will create a great set off initial seed keywords, but that is not the
end of the optimization process.
Each keyword has to be tracked and how an app ranks for the keywords in its list,
carefully monitored. This must be done because there is really no way to tell how well
an app will rank for a keyword until it is actually implemented.
Once the results are monitored, a developer can then start to remove the keywords that
an app is not ranking well for and add other keywords to the list. Using the Sensor
Tower Keyword Tracker will allow a developer to monitor how an app is ranking and will
send an email when the rankings change.
User Appeal Optimization
After the keywords are optimized a developer can optimize the title, description and
screenshots of the app to convince a user to download the app after it has been found
through search. Quantifying the effect of these elements in the App Store Discovery
process is more difﬁcult and beyond the scope of this whitepaper. Although keywords in
the title do factor into search results, communicating the function or beneﬁt of the app is
more important and therefore characterized as a user appeal optimization.
After the keywords of an app are optimized, an app developer can work on a similar
process to tune keywords, title, screenshots and app description for other languages.
Only localizing these elements can be a good way to test markets in other countries,
without spending a lot of time or money. If the result is favorable, then a developer can
localize the entire app for that country.
MindValley wanted to make an app that would become the “Spotify of personal
development” and allow users to download and mix meditation, music and spoken word
tracks. The result was Omvana. By doing keyword optimization alone, Kshitij Minglani,
CEO of MindValley Mobile, says that they have improved their downloads by as much
Varun Goel is an independent developer out of Chicago Illinois who created an
entertainment app that allows people to listen to fun phrases in various English accents,
so they can practice their accent. On his ﬁrst update after doing keyword optimization,
Varun was able to achieve a +143% improvement in downloads and a +283% increase
of revenue, just by improving his keywords.
Tapps started out making business apps, but then decided to shift gears and start
making games. It turned out to be a good idea because they were able to create over
60 games, with over 10 million game downloads, in less than two years. Felipe
Watanabe, from Tapps, says: “We have many examples of games in which the deﬁnition
of new keywords has changed the outlook of a game.”
Although opportunities exist for promoting an iOS mobile app outside the App Store and
making up for the shortcomings in iOS App Store discovery, they generally involve more
variables, longer optimization time and a bigger marketing budget to effectively increase
downloads. Even if an app marketing method is able to signiﬁcantly increase
downloads, methods like advertising have limited effectiveness and will stop yielding
results as soon as a campaign ends.
Through systematic research and vetting of keywords, a developer can improve
downloads of their app, sometimes with substantial results. Until the Apple App Store
implements a system that offers better discovery opportunities to up and coming apps,
App Store Optimization will continue to be one of the lowest cost and most highly
leveraged ways to improve the number of times an app is downloaded.