How to SEO for a Mobile App

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How to SEO for a Mobile App

As more and more clever people are submitting applications to the AppStore, the competition to rank well for application searches becomes even more stringent. Application marketplaces are very much like un-sophisticated search engines that only search a select inventory of apps, so much of what we know from SEO can be applied when submitting an app.

Essentially, there are 2 things to think about in SEO for the apps store:

  1. -Rankings of the app within the AppStore
  2. -Rankings of the app within Google (AppStore download pages can rank in Google)

This post will give very specific tips on how to optimize both AppStore rankings and Google rankings of your application.

Optimizing the Name and Url of your App

The name of your application has SEO impacts in both Google and in the AppStore searches. The keywords that you use in the name of your application are grouped with the keywords in the keyword tag. That means, there is no need to repeat keywords that are in the title of the application in the keyword tag that you submit (or vice versa). This also means that brevity is not necessarily the best strategy in application naming. If you have a strong brand, you should include that in the name, but then also include basic keywords that describe the app, so that it will rank well for more generic searches, and you will have more characters available in the keyword tag. A good example is the Kindle app, which could just be called ‘Kindle’ but would be better if it were called ‘Kindle: Free Amazon eReader.’

Just like in traditional SEO, the url of the application plays a role in what keywords it will rank for. The name of your application will automatically be used as the file name in the url for your application. For that reason, you should be sure not to include special characters, like a trademark or copyright symbol in the name, because it will cause a system error that means the url will simply be an auto-generated with the numeric App ID. (Read more here: http://gigaom.com/apple/app-store-seo-the-impact-of-itunes-web-preview/)

The Keywords Designation in the AppStore

After rankings, reviews and downloads, the thing that controls rankings of the app in the AppStore, and the thing that you can control with a well-crafted submission is the name of the application and the 100 characters of keywords that you submit with it. When listing the keywords in the AppStore, it is important to understand that every character counts, and you should optimize all 100 characters. You can separate keywords with commas only – there is no need to include a space after the comma because the algorithm understands the comma as a space. That means that your keyword list could look something like this: keyword1,keyword2,keyword3,keyword4.

The AppStore understands keywords one-at-a-time, rather than in phrases, and it has no context or semantic understanding. That means if there are plurals, tenses, mis-spellings or synonyms, the AppStore algorithm will not understand that your app should rank for those unless they are included in the keyword tag. That means that if ‘dog’ is a top keyword for your application, you would need to include both ‘dog’ and ‘dogs’ if you want to rank for both searches. And if you are optimizing for ‘plates’ you will also need to include ‘dishes.’

Spamming the keyword tag with un-related keywords or the name of your competitor will get you rejected, so be sure that the words you choose are clearly related to your application. Think about what people who are unaware of your application might be searching for if they wanted an app like yours. This might mean including keywords for really generic ideas like ‘apps for moms,’ ‘organize my life’ or ‘kids games.’

Don’t forget that the two most searched keywords in the app store are ‘cheap’ and ‘free’ so include those in your title or keyword list. The AppStore even offers a filter that only shows free apps, making it even easier to eliminate paid apps from a query. If you have a paid app, it might even be a good idea to build exposure by offering a ‘lite’ version of the paid app for free then encouraging people to upgrade to the paid app once they have enjoyed the free version.

Optimizing the App Description

The app description has nothing to do with rankings in the AppStore, but everything to do with the Google rankings. The keywords that you choose to list when you submit the app with can’t be seen by Google, so to rank the app well in Google you must optimize name of the description that you submit. The good news is that Google is a much more sophisticated search engine, and it does understand plurals, tenses, mis-spellings and synonyms.

The description that you submit is what will be shown in the AppStore and on the HTML page that Apple created on the web about your application. When you are writing a description, look at where line breaks will happen when the app is displayed on the phone. You can read more about this here: http://banagale.com/character-and-formatting-tips-for-copy-writing-in-itunes-and-the-ios-app-store.htm. In the app store, each ‘line’ is 120 characters and then they automatically put in a carriage return. Looking at character counts will help you control how the text is formatted in the app. You only get three lines above the fold (before you have to click ‘more’ in the AppStore), so that is a maximum of 360 characters including spaces – If you accidentally have too many characters, and  a carriage return is added, you will waste a full line and 120 characters of ‘ad copy’ space. Follow the banagale.com link and look at the image of the Echofone app description, to see exactly what you are trying to prevent. The display of the description is very disjointed, hard to read and not aesthetically appealing in terms of formatting.

When writing your description, think about it in terms of potential downloaders just scanning it. Most people will not read an app description, especially if it is free, so the vital information must be clearly illustrated in the pictures, and pulled out in bullet points. It is also important to note that items in bulleted lists will automatically wrap after only 45 characters.

You can use 4,000 characters including spaces. Also, you can include Unicode symbols and personal reviews directly in our description. Even though they will not affect your rankings in the AppStore, it is a good idea to include some reviews of your application in the description. This is especially true if you are launching a new app that will not start with any reviews in the store. Reviews can come from beta-testers or official app review sites, as long as they are useful and appear to be genuine.  This will help encourage people to download, and will also probably add good keywords to help create search relevance when Google crawls the page.

Choosing a Category

You may not realize it, but the category that you choose to submit your application to can be quite strategic. In many instances, your application could fit into multiple categories, so your job as a marketer is to balance the need to reach the intended audience with the category that has the least competition in terms of similar apps and keyword search rankings.

MobClix offers a great tool that can help you assess the level of competition between different categories of applications. It will let you break the number of apps down by free and paid, and then even sub-divide within the different categories. It only has indexes of the AppStore applications in US and Canada, but it is a great tool.

It even give you the price, rank, release date and average star rating for all the apps in the AppStore. Access it here: http://www.mobclix.com/appstore/1