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The *Updated* Complete Guide to App Store Categories

April, 3 2019

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Richard Rose
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Richard Rose

In August 2017, we provided a complete guide to app store categories - almost 2 years later we are back with an updated version, accounting for any app store changes and new lessons we have learnt.

 

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With over 2 million apps available on each of the two major app stores, categories help organise apps into more manageable lists for users to browse. Choosing the right category for your app is key - but not always straightforward - so we’ve come up with some essential information to help.

Selecting a category is compulsory for all apps on Google Play and Apple’s App Store, but should be valued as the first opportunity for App Store Optimisation.

Users search for apps that service different needs, and categories are organised in terms of what needs they fulfil. For example the need for up-to-date current affairs information will be satisfied by browsing the ‘News & Magazines’ category. Users will therefore search for apps within the category they feel is most relevant to their needs.

Whilst it is still important to market your app through social media, websites and advertising, the ranking of an app greatly affects organic downloads. An app ranking highly within a category will get more impressions, and improved download rates.

 

Google Play versus Apple App Store

The categories for developers to choose from are not consistent across the two major stores. The same category on Google may also perform significantly worse than its App Store equivalent. Therefore, the best choice on Google may not necessarily be the same for Apple.

We can see the difference in category options in this side-by-side comparison below. Google Play has a more extensive list of categories, and also adds separate family classifications. Both choose to isolate the most popular category, ‘Games’, with it’s own list of sub-categories.

category lists

games categories

Selecting a category differs slightly on the App Store, where you are given the option of selecting an additional secondary category. This is encouraged as it will help the app be seen in more places, however the primary category dictates discoverability and so should be the main focus.


Changes

2018 saw Apple briefly streamline their category list even further, removing several options including Weather, Sports, Entertainment and Lifestyle. However, this proved unpopular with developers who complained that it made discoverability even harder. Since then it seems that the categories have been restored.

Some refinements have still been made, notably adding a 'Shopping' category, in addition to 'Magazines & Newspapers' which allows some extra differentiation from the pre-existing 'News' category. Developments in technology have also demanded a new 'AR apps' category; whereas 'Catalogs' is now seen as unnecessary. 


Choosing the right category

Some tips on how to go about choosing the right category for your app:

1) Relevance is essential

The easiest place to start is by identifying which category is most relevant to your app. In fact, maintaining relevance in category choice is imperative as it is against store guidelines to place your app in an unrelated category. Apps that do risk being removed from the stores entirely.

2) Focus on users

Change your mindset from focusing on what you think your app is used for, and work on understanding your customers better. If you know why people use your app, what problems it solves and in what ways they do so, the category fit will become obvious.

Just like bubble wrap was originally marketed as wallpaper, apps can also discover an unexpected purpose. For example, Instagram may have initially been intended as a photography sharing site, with a focus on editing tools - however, as it has been adopted by the masses it has morphed into one of the most popular social media sites around. Users actually enjoy the direct messaging service and other interactive features, that means the app is of more interest to those looking in the social media category.

The way people use apps can change and adapt over time, so it is important to consistently take steps to understand your audience and adapt appropriately.

3) Consider the competitive landscape

If you are split between two category choices, an easy way of predicting your potential success with each one is considering how you’d rank compared to other apps already in said categories. Priori Data’s market intelligence tool makes this light work. With a few clicks you are able to discover the download rates of all apps in a given category, and find out how many downloads it takes to reach the top 10.

If you feel the current download rates of a category are achievable then the more attractive category should be higher performing one. However, it might be more sensible to prioritise a higher rank in a less competitive category in order to maximise discoverability this way. 

 

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Industry Tip

After discussions with our clients and the app stores, we recommend communicating with the app stores. The stores themselves might have a preference for where your app fits into the narrative they want to create for their marketplace - understanding and conforming to their desires could lead to benefits such as becoming a featured app.

 

Should you switch app store categories? 

Switching categories can be a risk, but there are some scenarios where the benefits outweigh the costs. 

1) If your current category is performing worse than the potential one 

Impressions are hugely important for generating organic downloads. Being part of a more popular category will place your app in front of more eyes, and hopefully lead to more downloads. 

However, this only works if the app is still relevant in the new category, and if it can compete in a more competitive environment where rankings are harder to climb. 

2) If your keywords are more relevant to another category 

Users may search within categories using keywords. Keywords that are relevant to the functionality of your app are crucial, and if used properly can dramatically improve conversion rates (people who see your app that download it). Ensure that your keywords match the category you are placed in. 

3) If there is an opportunity to rank higher in a different category

In our previous article we spoke about the success Twitter had in switching categories from social media to news. If we take the Global Downloads charts from both categories it is self-explanatory why this works for them. Not only do people use Twitter as a news outlet, but the news category is far less competitive than the social networking one. 

social networking cats

news cat

This allows them to claim number one spot in their category; where they would be lower down in 4th or 5th if they were still allocated to the social networking category. 

4) If people are using your app in a new way

Continuing with the Twitter example; they realised that 67% of Americans got their news from social media, and Twitter was particularly prevalent for this. Therefore it also made sense to switch categories from a functionality point of view, as the app was becoming more relevant as a news provider. 

 

Conclusion 

There is no transferrable method or definite answer to the question of where to place your app. Like many things with app store optimisation it is about using the intelligence you have to make informed decisions; and then testing app performance in different scenarios to ascertain what works best for you. 

For an idea of the sort of market intelligence our platform will provide to help you make these decisions, be sure to check out the report below! 

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