If you want to win in mobile, you have to win in apps. And if you want to win in apps, you have to win in search. But it is not easy: to get a top 10 ranking in your category on Google Play or the iOS App Store, you’ll need to rank for 60 to 110 search terms on average. That starts with a strong focus on app store optimization.
We studied the top 50,000 apps on iOS and Android, including billions of ratings, reviews, and bits of metadata to find what’s different about top-ranked apps.
Search really, really matters
For most mobile publishers, a massive 65 to 80 percent of all your app installs will come as a result of app store search. Apple says that 65 percent of all iOS app downloads come directly from search on the app store. Mobile ad network Fiksu says that 80 percent of quality organic Android downloads come from Google Play search.App publishers who want to win in installs and engagement, the ultimate goal, must first win in search. Click To Tweet
There’s a good reason for the dominance of search: people are extremely task-focused when installing mobile apps.
Not only are Google Play and the iOS App Store very often the first place users recall seeing apps that they install, smartphone owners typically approach app discovery like a job to complete as quickly as possible.
When we asked over 3,000 smartphone owners why they had downloaded their last few apps, 37% of them said they had a specific task to accomplish. Another 13.5% of them had searched the web for something they wanted, and Google had returned the app as a result. Put those two together, and you’ve got about half of app installs resulting from purposeful, intentional, directed search.
So you’ve got to win search. But how?
To win search, win ranking
If you want to be a top app, you have to win at Google Play’s and the App Store’s ranking algorithms. That means a lot of things in terms of app store optimization, but ultimately it means you need to rank for a large number of keywords that people search for.
On average, top 10 apps rank for a lot of keywords:
- Android: 60-105 terms
- iOS: 65-110 terms
If you break it out by individual apps, your app has to rank for between 15-25 search terms in order to crack the top 150 apps in your category on Google Play. On the iOS App Store, you have to rank for more than 25 to crack the top 150, and to hit the top 10 you have to rank for over 65 terms.
Android has a longer tail than iOS, for two reasons: there are more apps available on Google Play, and Google has traditionally been more sophisticated at crawling and indexing content, and at returning search results, so more apps rank for more terms. Apple, in contrast, relies more heavily on developer-provided content such as app titles and iTunes Connect keywords, which limits the diversity of terms an app can rank for.
You can see the long tail here:
If you want to rank in the top ten apps in your category, you can’t just rank for many different terms, you have to rank first, second, or third for a lot of those keywords. This is the core challenge not for apps that are forgettable, way-out-of-contention efforts thousands of positions from the top in their category, but apps that rank 140, 152, or 137 in their category.
Apps in the top ten get hundreds and sometimes thousands of times as many installs as these moderately successful apps, and it makes all the difference between pulling in millions of dollars of revenue each day or week, and pulling in maybe a $1M every two or three months.
This is the scope of the challenge: apps that want to challenge for top-ten spots need to rank for between five and eight times more keywords, on average.
Of course, averages are nice to see, but of limited applicability for your particular app in your specific Google Play or App Store category. The real question is: how many keywords do top apps in my category rank for?
As you might expect, the answer varies wildly.
Top apps in the wildly competitive games categories rank for easily 200 keywords each. Photo & Video is also extremely competitive, and Social is tough too. But less popular and less trafficked categories such Books, Business, News, and Weather are comparatively easier to rank in, with top apps ranking for 25 to 50 keywords in most cases.
For iOS, the different category challenges look like this (get the Android chart here):
Within the massive games categories on both Google Play and the App Store, which house easily half of all mobile apps, similar principles apply: some categories are just much, much more competitive than others. Which is why you need to select your app’s category very, very carefully.
On Android, for instance (get the iOS Games subcategories here), Casual games are the most competitive, while Family, Music, Trivia, and Board games tend to be easier to rank in:
The key is in knowing your competition, and playing accordingly. As TUNE app store optimization expert Patrick Haig says, taking your time is also critical.
“It’s important to realize that not all of your competitors may be equal, so don’t target your most popular competitors at the outset. Take a graduated approach to keyword targeting and optimization, and as your downloads and user engagement increase, you’re likely able to graduate to more competitive (and often higher volume) keywords.”
Clearly, there’s a lot more involved in app store optimization than just ranking for keywords. Keep your eyes out for more research on this from TUNE … we have about ten reports on the topic that we’ll be releasing over the next few weeks.
For now, you can get our full and free report here.
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Before acting as a mobile economist for TUNE, John built the VB Insight research team at VentureBeat and managed teams creating software for partners like Intel and Disney. In addition, he led technical teams, built social sites and mobile apps, and consulted on mobile, social, and IoT. In 2014, he was named to Folio's top 100 of the media industry's "most innovative entrepreneurs and market shaker-uppers." John lives in British Columbia, Canada with his family, where he coaches baseball and hockey, though not at the same time.