We get a lot of questions about app store categories. And there are a lot of things to cover.
First, let's get the the basics out the way.
When apps are submitted to the stores, they need to be placed in a category. That's where users will find it.
Frequently asked questions
"What's the deal with primary and secondary categories on the Apple App Store?"
The Primary category is, in the words of Apple, "particularly important for your app's discoverability". The secondary is optional but advised - if your app is listed in more places, it is more discoverable.
"How come some categories also have subcategories?"
Some categories got too big to be useful.
Games - in particular - encompasses a huge range of genres. It also covers a huge number of apps: almost 800,000 in the Apple App Store alone, more than double the next most popular category.
"Can I put my app in a less competitive category to give myself a better chance of ranking in the top 5?"
Do not miscategorize your app!
Both stores will punish you for this. All apps get reviewed manually by teams at Google and Apple. They can and will reject your app if you put it in a category that doesn't fit. Apple have been explicitly warning that they will ramp up efforts to delete apps that don't conform to their standard since last year and doubled down on their editorial efforts back at the WWDC in June.
Comparing the stores
There is no harmonization between the two stores.
Many of the listed categories are found in both stores but not all. Some are close - like 'Books' and 'Books & Reference' - and some are completely missing from one store to the other - for instance, the App Store has no 'Dating' category.
Google Play splits all apps between Games and non-games (Apple announced that a similar change is due to come later in 2017). Google Play also has a special set of subcategories for Family apps.
Here is an exhaustive side by side comparison of all the categories available to you. Just scrolling down will show you how mismatched the two stores are.
Apple App Store
Google Play Store
|Subcategories for Games||
|Subcategories for Family||
How to choose the right category
For some apps, this won't be a very involved process. If your app is incredibly specific then choosing the category will be straightforward.
But some apps can fit in multiple categories. Eventbrite is a good example. It is an ticketing app, but there is no 'ticket' category in either store:
Eventbrite in the App Store
Again - and I can't stress this enough - do not try to put your app in a category it doesn't fit into. Not only does this annoy the stores, it annoys users. On Google Play, any user can flag apps as miscategorized.
If you can choose multiple categories and subcategories, you should. The more places your app is listed, the more discoverable it is.
This multiple primary category option is available on the Apple App Store. Google Play only allows apps to be listed under single categories, plus an extra subcategory related to Games or Family apps.
If you have the choice, there is one basic rule for choosing categories: find the least competition. Because app discoverability is so dependant on high ranking, any chance to make the process of getting into the top 10 easier should be taken.
A quick way to check the competitiveness is to look at the Leaderboards screen (in our Market Intelligence tool). Let's stay with the Entertainment and Lifestyle categories chosen by Eventbrite.
Entertainment Top 10 (USA, last 30 days)
Lifestyle Top 10 (USA, last 30 days)
You can see that Entertainment is heavily dominated by Netflix - it would be a tough task to overhaul them. HBO Go, for example, has been boosted by the launch of Game of Thrones Season 7 - the most successful in history - and only just crack the top 10. Entertainment appears to be a much harder category to rank highly in.
Other stats on the Leaderboard page corroborate this. To reach the #10 rank in the Entertainment category, apps needed 10.5k downloads a day; in the Lifestyle category that figure was just 4.5k.
When you start planning your user acquisition strategy, make sure you start by figuring out which categories (and subcategories) are going to be the simplest to target.
Switching app store categories
Sometimes, an app can change over time. You might have planned for it to serve a particular purpose but then it ended up being used in a way you never thought of.
Twitter is a great example of that.
It was launched as a new social media platform, a way to send micro-updates to your family and friends. But it exploded into wider usage as a platform for journalists. The company realized this and switched categories.
A successful app store category change
Up until April 2016, Twitter had ranked around the #5 spot in the Social Media category charts. Since switching to News they've been #1 practically every day.
Lesson? Go where your users take you!
App store categories can and will change. The app stores are increasingly focused on an editorial approach to the stores. The stores want users to find and explore apps that they themselves have vetted and approved.
Featured apps are going to take up more and more screen space thereby concentrating the attention of users and driving organic installs to a smaller subset of apps.
Don't allow your app to get lost in all this.
Having a well set-up ASO keyword strategy will help and so will optimizing your app videos. But ultimately, the process of app store optimization starts when you submit your app and choose your categories.