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.

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