How to Do App Store Optimization(ASO) After Apple’s Recent Algorithm Changes

Osman F. Kucukerdem
Jan 7, 2016 · 7 min read

Apple’s search algorithm changed on November 3rd, 2015. which affected almost every app in the App Store. Most people are still confused about what to do.

App discoverability has been broken for a very long time on iOS. The Apple’s search algorithm is used to rely heavily on downloads and app rankings. It was working best for apps that were already popular, in other words the rich were getting richer.

However, with Apple’s November 3rd search algorithm changes, search algorithm became smarter and started bringing more relevant results, boosting discoverability for all apps. In this post I’ll cover, what is behind the new search algorithm, how it affected apps and their visibility and lastly how to do app store optimization after Apple’s recent search algorithm changes.

New Language Analysis and Categorization Algorithm

Right now there are 25 main categories to clasify more than 1,5 million apps which is one of the main reasons of the discoverability problem. To understand how Apple is trying to solve this problem we need to learn more about Ottocat, a company that was acquired by Apple in late 2013.

Before the acquisition, Ottocat was using a language analysis system to categorize the entire App Store. A patented computational linguistics and information retrieval system organizes the entire store, making it as easy to find apps as going to the grocery store.

OttoCat has made 500,000 subcategories, for example, breaking up big categories like Entertainment into smaller ones like cinema, music, comedy, and more. An app is cross-referenced in about 10 categories, on average.

“What we do is look at all of the text in the apps and find common groupings in all of those apps,” explains OttoCat’s founder and CEO, Edwin Cooper. To learn more about his research and Ottocat, visit here.

After Ottocat’s acquisition, Apple first used their algorithm to build explore tab with hundreds of subcategories in iOS 8 which was good iteration but still not enough to solve app discoverability problem. Finally, on November 3rd, Apple brought new language analysis and the categorization algorithm to the search results as well.

How the New Search Algorithm Affects Apps

As a result of the new categorization algorithm, when your app enters one of the subcategories, it also starts ranking for other keywords and competitor’s app names which create the subcategory, even if the app doesn’t use these keywords in its app name or keyword spot.

Here are few examples I’ve found so far,

Here, we can see the apps Pick, Sunrise Calendar, Meeter, Cal and Meekan (all calendar apps) started ranking for “Gmail calendar” after Nov 3rd. As calendar apps, they got rankings automatically in their subcategory keyword.

Another example shows how apps in the same subcategory (Ticketmaster, Stubhub, Seatgeek, Eventbrite, etc) started ranking for each other’s app name after Nov 3rd.

How to Do ASO after Apple’s Search Algorithm Changes

Keyword relevancy is more important than ever. App developers and marketers should do their keyword research carefully, using only the most relevant keywords in their app name and keyword spots. Once the app starts ranking for new keywords, its performance is heavily affected by search conversions. This means that the more people download the app through that particular keyword, the higher the keyword ranking that app can have for it. Vice versa, less relevant keywords will lead to low search conversion and poor keyword rankings.

So what developers and marketers can do to stay on top of the search results;

  1. Pick your app category and sub-categories carefully

Since new algorithm breaks down the app store to hundreds of thousands of new sub-categories it’s important to find out which category your app falls into. There are a couple ways to figure out how Apple will categorize your app.

  • Check out the Explore feature in the App Store and find out which categories your app and similar apps are listed in. This feature still doesn’t cover all of the apps in the store, which is why I make a second suggestion.
  • Check out your competitor’s apps to find out which keywords have started ranking automatically after the Nov 3rd change. You can use the Mobile Action keyword analysis feature to find out these keywords.

2. Focus only on the most relevant and important keywords in your app name

Once you find your subcategories and the keywords that are used to define these subcategories, focus on these keywords in the app name. Your app name is still very important for keyword ranking. The difference is now that if the keywords in your app name don’t fall into your subcategory keywords then it’s less possible to get good ranking for them.

Using the most relevant and important keywords in the first 55 characters of your app name is also important to keep the search conversions higher for these keywords. Higher search conversion means higher keyword ranking.

Lastly, stay away from keyword stuffing in your app name. The more keywords you use in your app name, the less likely you are to have good rankings for each keyword. It’s better to keep it short and focus on the most popular and relevant keywords.

3. Use your keyword spot to create long tail keyword phrases

Again, focusing on the most relevant keywords is a must. Make sure the keywords in the keyword spot create combinations with others, especially keywords in the app name. This way, you can hack 100 characters and can rank in many search phrases. To find relevant combinations, check Apple keyword suggestions and related search queries.

4. A/B test your app icon, screenshots, app preview and description for better search conversion

However, these assets don’t affect keyword ranking directly, but a compelling app preview, better screenshots, unique app icon and flawless description help to sustain and increase your keyword rankings since search conversion is the main criteria of your keyword performance. It’s well worth spending time on A/B testing for each asset. You can learn more about how to A/B test this metadata here

5. Get more and positive user reviews

Reviews and ratings are one of the most critical factors of ASO. They affect both the Apple search ranking algorithm and the user’s download decisions. For Apple, it’s one of the ways to evaluate if the app is quality enough to rank higher for the related keyword searches. For users, ratings and reviews help to decide if an app is worth trying or not.

Low ratings lead to low search conversion which eventually leads to bad keyword ranking. The research below shows how ratings/reviews can significantly affect conversion rates.

For better and more reviews/ratings:

  • Listen to your users to learn what they want
  • Provide a value with great user experience
  • Ask your users to show their appreciation in right time within the app

6. Measure ASO progress by looking at right parameter

This topic has been discussed for a very long time. Most people look at keyword rankings, downloads and app rankings after every ASO update but few of them are looking at the right parameter to measure ASO success correctly.

I’ve mentioned how search conversion is important for keyword performance. There is no way to learn search conversions keyword by keyword but the App Store view-to-download conversion rate tells us overall how good or bad your ASO is performing.

After every ASO update, conversion rate changes need to be followed very closely. This conversion rate also shows which country is performing better in terms of ASO and which one needs more work. That’s why it’s also very important to analyze this conversion rate correctly before starting localization.

2016 is the beginning of the new chapter in ASO and I’ll write more about ASO tips and cases along the way.

Happy optimizing!

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Osman F. Kucukerdem

Written by

Mobile growth & ASO enthusiast

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