App Store Keyword Optimization: Often, High and Early

February, 17 2017

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Simon Singharaj
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Simon Singharaj

In a previous post, we saw the terrible truth about app success rates and how tough it is to stand out in the app stores. More specifically, we saw how only a few new apps succeed in reaching a comfortable position in the ruthless top charts every week. 

The good news is there are other places in the app store for you to aim at. One of the most straightforward is the search results.

Search results are apps that appear when a given keyword is typed into the search bar on a user’s device. It is the most intuitive way for a user to find an app in the app stores, and it is consistently viewed as the most important: according to Apple, 65% of downloads come from search queries. It’s therefore critically important for your app to rank for relevant keywords.

Similarly to search results in Google, you will also need to rank well in order to be visible. As you can imagine, most people don’t scroll very far in the search results, and you better be amongst the first results if you want to have a chance for the visitor to click on your app.

Read more >> The Priori Data ASO Book

In order to understand the dynamics around search results and how you can improve your performance, we studied the keywords and search rankings of apps depending on their category rankings and/or age. With this, we wanted to build a data-driven argument for why keyword optimization is important for your apps.

Often: top apps rank for more keywords

To prove our argument, we first needed to confirm that there is a strong correlation between category ranks and the number of keywords an app ranks for (cf. chart below).

Indeed, our data confirmed that top apps in their categories rank for more keywords than lower ranked apps. In Google Play, the top 10 apps within their categories rank for between 150 to 300 keywords in the search results, whereas apps with category rankings lower than chart position 50 ranked for fewer than 100 keywords in search results.

keyword optimization GP Store
Source: Priori Data, average between Nov 22nd & Nov 30th 2016

In the Apple App Store, the trend is less obvious than on Google Play, and in general apps rank for fewer keywords in search results as developers are only permitted to enter 100 characters in their keyword field. Nevertheless, we see a clear correlation between category rank position and number of ranking keywords.

keyword optimization iOS
Source: Priori Data, average between Nov 22nd & Nov 30th 2016

Looking at these results, we can already draw a powerful initial conclusion:

  • We know that category ranks are indicative of overall downloads, and
  • We’ve just proven that ranking for multiple keywords in search results is correlated with high category ranks, so
  • We can conclude that keyword optimization can be used to improve category rank positions over time .

High: top apps command higher positions in keyword search results

Ranking in keyword results is about more than just quantity, it’s also about quality, and by quality we mean the closer to position 1 the better! In the end, what’s the point of being ranked if nobody sees you?

To prove that keyword rank position was also an important driver of top chart ranking, we studied keyword ranks across 2 segments of apps: apps ranking in the Category Top 1–10 vs. Category Top 11–50 (cf. chart below).

In Google Play, the Top 10 apps by category chart position also rank as the #1 search result for nearly twice as many keywords than apps ranking in category charts positions 11–50 (9.4 vs 5.6). This ratio generally holds as we go down to search result position #20.

In the Apple App Store, despite the overall numbers being smaller, the comparison still holds, albeit with a different distribution, as there is a higher concentration of search result ranks between 4 and 5.

keyword optimization - ranking

This analysis enforces our first conclusion that ranking for keywords is an important driver of downloads, but emphasizes that high positions are required. The further down an app slips in the keyword search results, the less likely that keyword will be a driver of a top chart position.

Early: younger apps should focus on less competitive keywords at launch, and then “level up” over time

So how can you rank in higher positions for keyword search results? Aim for less competitive keywords, particularly at launch.

To define a competitive keyword, we developed a Competitive Score (1–100), which is calculated by looking at the size of the apps (by downloads) which rank in the top 10 search results, as well as looking at the number of new apps that make it into a top 10 search result position over a given week. In general, a keyword that is populated by bigger apps at the top, with less week-to-week turnover in the top 10 positions, means a more competitive keyword.

To determine the best practice by app age, we isolated two types of apps:

  • Young Apps: Top 100 apps in their category (US) younger than 3 months
  • Old Apps: Top 100 apps in their category (US) older than 1 year

We then gathered keywords for which Young and Old Apps rank in the top 10 of search results.

Finally, we compared the distribution of those keywords by Competitive Score and identified a common behavior according to the age of the app (cf. charts below).

The results show that Young Apps can achieve a top 100 category position by focusing on low-to-mid level competitive keywords (57% have a Competitive Score between 0 and 60).

keyword optimization - ranking breakdown young apps
Top 100 apps in their category, younger than 3 months

Old Apps tend to rank high for high competitive keywords (71% rank for keywords with a Competitive Score greater than 60), indicating that apps which are successful in sustaining a top 100 category ranking have been able to “level-up” the competitiveness of their keywords over time.

keyword optimization - ranking breakdown top 100
Top 100 apps in their category, older than 1 year

If ranking for keywords is important, high search rank positions are preferred, and young apps can reach a top 100 category ranking with less competitive keywords, the smart path for a young app is to focus on targeting 0–60 level competitive scores at launch.


The data is clear: top apps succeed at keyword optimization, and if your goal is a sustained Top 100 category ranking, a thoughtful keyword strategy is a must-have. Our advice is to focus on Often, High, and Early.

The Ultimate Guide to 360° App Store Marketing

This article is part of a bigger project with Priori Data and Peggy Salz — a mobile authority, industry educator and lead author of The Everything Guide To Mobile Apps and Apponomics: The Insider’s Guide To A Billion Dollar Business— are working on: an e-book titled THE ULTIMATE GUIDE TO 360° APP STORE MARKETING.

The aim is to bring together a select group of recognized ASO experts and ninjas including Moritz Daan (Phiture, ex-Soundcloud), Thomas Petit (8Fit) and Charo Paredez Ortiz (DOCOMO Digital), to name a few. It’s a free resource focused on giving app developers everywhere on the planet what they need to grow their business on a budget.

Pre-register for the e-book today

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