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App Marketing 101: Search Engine Optimization

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For app developers, the single most important step in preparing an app for sale is to ensure it’s been properly optimized for the iTunes App Store search. This process, called Search Engine Optimization (SEO), is both a science and an art. It requires putting yourself in the place of the consumer and trying to think like they would. Mostly, it requires answering one simple question: If I was looking for an app that did X (X being the main function of your app), what would I type into the iTunes search bar?

There are three searchable aspects of your app within iTunes. These are your company name, the app name and the hidden keywords field. These all hold equal bearing and don’t affect search order. In other words, if your company name is “Smash House,” by default, your app won’t appear before the app “Smash Brothers” or one that happens to have “smash” in its name. In other words, all apps are treated equal by the search engine.

Space for keywords is limited. Your application name can be a total of 250 characters long, and your keywords list is limited to 100 characters (including spaces or commas). It’s important to note, however, that your keywords section doesn’t need spaces. Each word can be separated with only a comma.

It’s also important to note that iTunes search is exact search: The words placed in the search box by the consumer must all be found in one of your three searchable fields. iTunes will make no assumptions on the part of the consumer. The plural form of a word is a completely separate word than the singular form (kid vs. kids, hero vs. heroes, etc.) and words within words will not be pulled out in search (EA’s apps will not show up in a search for “Each,” for example). It will, however, often recognize slight misspellings or take out unnecessary spaces (a search for Face Book will still result in the Facebook app).

Remember, the single highest percentage of app discovery comes from searching for a specific type of app, which makes learning the nuances of SEO crucial to pushing your app to the front of the crowd.

This is the first post in a three-part series. To learn more about marketing iPhone apps, read Part 2 and Part 3, which will be posted later this week. For an in-depth analysis of app marketing, download the GigaOM Pro report “How to Market Your iPhone App: A Developer’s Guide” (subscription required).

Image Source: flickr user Yutaka Tsutano.

5 Responses to “App Marketing 101: Search Engine Optimization”

  1. Mark Hernandez

    Great set of articles Aaron. Well done! I love it when articles are long, informative and well thought-out. Thanks for that.

    But I would like to shine a light on something kinda related here…

    Of course your article is focusing on existing discovery methods, but I’d like to point out that if we step back and look at things from a wider view, we see ourselves struggling to use primitive discovery methods which haven’t changed much, and to me they’re unworthy of the second decade of the 21st Century.

    “Discovery” is a serious and fundamental problem here in the future with an overwhelming number of choices, whether we’re talking about music, video, games, apps, books, information, etc.

    What HAS been available for a long, long time on our machines but hasn’t yet been utilized is 3D and a multi-dimensional means of zero-ing in on the products that we want — something we do routinely in real life.

    Yesterday I needed a unique and particular kind of thing to go on my desk and I went directly to the Container Store and found it right away and would have struggled to find something like it at Target, Ikea, Staples or Office Depot, etc.

    Think about real-life and the myriad of unique product categories that are simple for people to handle.

    There’s also “associative” kinds of progressive discovery, “yeah, I need something kinda like that only taller, and with drawers.”

    But the computer interface still shackles us with one giant warehouse-style department store with pretty much just the “endcap displays” being one of the few means to bring something to our attention. I’m over-simplifying of course.

    And using Google outside of the App Store, for example, is like going to the disorganized village marketplace. When you use the English language to search, there’s no guarantee you’re adequately adept at specifying what you were trying to find. Using Google we have to stop and think of the best English search phrase, and still don’t get the results we want.

    While the analogies are difficult, it doesn’t take much brain power to see that the discovery methods we’re currently using on the computer (and still must be rocket scientists to learn how to game to our advantage) are still quite primitive compared to what we routinely do with ease in the real world.

    ’nuff said I suppose.


  2. Hi Sean – you are totally correct, however in this case you have to imagine that iTunes IS the search engine that most people (80% of app discovery) use to find apps so essentially app store SEO = search engine SEO. Not to say that other search engines like Google and Bing are not important as well. A great way to get quite a few links without a huge cost would be through wire distribution of a press release on a service like PR Mac on top of other traditional SEO tactics.