Want to Rank in iPhone App Store Search? Get your Keywords Right

October 20, 2010

Mobile search is not just about Google and traditional search engines. What’s on the minds of App developers is instead how to get found on the Apple App Store. These are the most important App store search ranking factors that I’ve discovered.

While performing research for a presentation in the “weight loss” sector I performed several searches that clearly indicated the underlying search algorithm. I’ve illustrated one particular search journey below for the term “lose weight”. To confirm my findings I also investigated further segments and arrived at the same conclusions.

  • Broad word matches is the biggest App Store search ranking factor and synonyms don’t count
    The app search engine is heavily reliant on keywords in iPhone app names and descriptions. Proof of this was found by looking at the titles and descriptions in top ranking apps. For example the more downloaded Kellogg’s Special K app is obviously about weight loss and “lose weight”, but as it doesn’t use this specific term it is not ranking at all for a “lose weight” query
  • Number of downloads seem to be the second most important ranking factor
    I analysed this by viewing who was ranking in the “Health & Fitness” category and comparing my search results. The iPhone app “lose the belly (weight loss for women)” is the highest ranking app within the category “health & fitness” due to download volumes
  • The as-you-type results require exact match and promotes use of keywords early in the title
    All suggestions included the exact match query, and these results are markedly different from the final search results after pressing enter (so less about downloads)
  • Number of reviews or star ratings don’t impact rankings
    I found lower rated apps frequently in higher positions than ones with many more and higher ratings
App TitleLoose the Belly (weight loss for women)Loose the Belly (weight loss for men)My Special KLose weight with Andrew Johnson
Rank InstantNot PresentNot PresentNot Present#1
Rank Search#1#3Not Present#2
Rank Category#41 (free apps)#68 (free apps)#30 (free apps)#41 (paid apps)
Title KeywordsSearch term found as “broad match”Search term found as “broad match”Search Term not found at all – only synonyms such as “get slimmer”, “slimming”, “weight control”Search term as exact match first in title
Description KeywordsSearch term found as “exact match” two timesSearch term found as “exact match”Search Term not found at all, only synonymsSearch term found as “exact match” two times

App Store Search journey for "lose weight"

App Store is SEO 101

The above findings are probably not too surprising for any experienced search marketer. It might as well be basic SEO advice – get your onsite optimisation right with suitable keywords for discovery and offsite optimise with links (but in this case it’s downloads) as a measure of popularity to boost rankings.

What’s your experience and findings from ranking in the iPhone App Store search?

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