Gamasutra: The Art & Business of Making Gamesspacer
View All     RSS
April 24, 2017
arrowPress Releases

If you enjoy reading this site, you might also want to check out these UBM Tech sites:

35 App SEO Tips to Increase Mobile Game Downloads in 2017
by Marcus Kay on 03/20/17 09:27:00 am

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


If you're a mobile game developer, read these App SEO tips!

You’ve put in a lot of hard work to make a great mobile game, and published it on the app stores.

Hooray! Now what?

After you launch, it’s time to get people to download and use your app. After all, if you don't care about it, who will?

app seo increase app downloads no one cares

To help you get started, I've put together a list of 35 App SEO tips to get app downloads. But wait, what is App SEO?

App Search Engine Optimization (App SEO)
App Search Engine Optimization (App SEO) is also referred as App Store Optimization (ASO) or App Store SEO. It is the process of optimizing mobile apps to rank higher in an app store's search results. It also improves an app’s overall and category rankings by boosting app downloads and conversion rates.

Some of the tips helped me increase app downloads by 1478% in less than a month. If you follow them all, I'm sure you can get even more app downloads than me. The best part? You don't need to spend a penny to do most of these tips!

Okay, let's dive right in!

  1. App Name & Keywords
  2. App Name Format
  3. App Name Length
  4. App Description & Keywords
  5. App Description - The First Few Sentences
  6. App Description - The Expanded Description
  7. App Description Length
  8. App Icon
  9. App Keywords - Getting Keyword Ideas
  10. App Keywords - Selecting Your Keywords
  11. App Keyword Optimization
  12. App Screenshots
  13. App Preview Video
  14. App Store Ratings - The Impact
  15. App Store Ratings - Getting Five-Star Ratings
  16. App Store Ratings - Reply To Reviews
  17. App Store Ratings - One-Star Reviews
  18. App Localization Strategy
  19. App Localization - Best Countries For Your App
  20. App Localization - Top Countries By Revenue
  21. App Conversion Rates - The Impact
  22. App Conversion Rates - Page View CR
  23. App Conversion Rates - Download CR
  24. App Size
  25. App Pricing - Free with In-App Purchases
  26. App Pricing - Free with Ads
  27. App Pricing - Paid Apps
  28. App Compatibility - iMessage
  29. App Compatibility - Apple Watch
  30. App Compatibility - Family Sharing
  31. App Compatibility - Game Center
  32. App Updates
  33. Apple App Store vs. Google Play
  34. Putting It All Together
  35. Here’s What To Do Next

App Name & Keywords

Name your app in a creative and searchable fashion. Not only it is the first piece of the clue telling your potential users what your app is, but it also gets your app in the search results. According to research by MobileDevHQ (now renamed Tune), using keywords in your title can result in up to a 10.3% increase in rankings.

app SEO keywords title
Image courtesy of MobileDevHQ via John Rampton on Forbes

Both Google and Apple’s search algorithms scan the app name for keywords when a user performs a keyword search in the app markets. It is a good idea to include a few keywords in your app name as an App SEO practice. It is because both platforms give quite high priorities to apps with app names that contain the search input. But don’t stuff every keyword into your title or your app will look spammy. You need to find a good balance between keywords and branding. But how? Read on!


App Name Format

Keep the actual brand name short and sweet. You can then append this short brand name with a few keywords, typically preceded by a dash or a semicolon.

App SEO Pro Tip: App Name Format
Use the format "Brand Name - Keywords" or "Brand Name: Keywords" to include relevant keywords in your name.

Here are some real examples:

app seo increase app downloads google map Google Maps - Navigation & Transit

app seo increase app downloads amazon icon Amazon App: shop, scan, compare, and read reviews

app seo increase app downloads ebay icon eBay: Buy, Sell, Save! Electronics, Fashion & More

app seo increase app downloads pandora icon Pandora - Free Music & Radio

app seo increase app downloads weather channel icon The Weather Channel: Alerts, Forecast & Radar

It’s also important to use only URL-friendly characters in your title, particularly in the App Store. It is because Apple uses the app name to create your app URL. Also, avoid any special characters in your app name, like the trademark or copyright symbol. They will cause iTunes to refer to your app’s numeric ID to scan for relevant keywords instead of your app name.


App Name Length

Apple limits the app name to a maximum of 50 characters since September 2016. So you have to make good use of every character in your app name. Brand Name: Use 23 characters or less for optimal presentation on every device. Total Length: To make the most of the 50 character limit, use more than 40 characters to cover more relevant keywords.


App Description & Keywords

Apple App Store: Apple App Store does not search for keywords in the app description, but that does not mean iOS developers can be lazy with it. Read the sections below for more tips about App Description.

Google Play Store: you need to be careful with the app description. It is because Google pulls keywords from your description to be your app’s keywords. Incorporate your keywords in the description in natural and sensible sentences. Note that keywords in the above-the-fold section (the first few lines) carries more weight than the rest of the description copy in Google's ranking algorithm, so remember to put your main keywords in this section. And this leads us to the next tip below...


App Description - The First Few Sentences

According to StoreMaven, only an average of 5% users will click the "read more" button below the first few sentences of app description on Google Play. This number is further down to only 2% on Apple's App Store. So the first few sentences of your description are the most important. Every word counts! app seo increase app downloads app description

Make it concise and attention-grabbing. Tell users what makes your app unique and why they will love it. Focus on your app's values, instead of features. And don't forget to include a call-to-action text to get the users excited!


App Description - The Expanded Description

Highlight the features of your app here. Use spacing and bulleted lists to make it easy to read. If possible, also list out all the social proofs, awards, and honorable mentions your app has received. Don't forget to include your app’s social media links too. Also, Google Play Store allows rich formatting and emoji in your app description. Make good use of these to make your description organized and stand out from the crowd. Communicate in the tone of your brand. Use terminology your target audience will appreciate and understand.


App Description Length

We analyzed the description length of the top 100 apps in Nov 2016. Here are some findings:

  • 90% of top 100 apps use more than 589 characters
  • 90% of top 100 apps use less than 3385 characters.

Though app description length doesn't have a very impact compared to other factors, it is still a good idea to keep your length within this range.


App Icon

A better icon can increase your downloads up to 560%! To design a good icon, keep your design simple and eye-catchy. Do not cram the small space with many items or words. You want people to remember the icon after the first impression. Also, make sure your icon will still look good when it is scaled down to the smallest size required by App Store / Google Play. To get more design inspirations, browse the top-rated apps in your category and Apple/Google’s top picks. Also, make sure your icon is different from your competitor’s to avoid brand confusion.

App SEO Pro Tips: Branded vs Functional Icon
If your app has a brand, use the logo to make your brand and your future products recognizable. If your app is a functional app, use one object to describe your app.

app seo increase app downloads facebook icon
Branded App Icon - facebook

app seo increase app downloads whatsapp icon
Functional App Icon - Whatsapp Messager


App Keywords - Getting Keyword Ideas

To begin with, try and come up with at least 50 keywords. Here are some great tools that help you with the keyword ideas. All you need to do is to provide a keyword. These tools will then give you many keyword ideas to consider. And they are all free!

apple search ads keywords

You can also use Google Trends to check how popular a keyword is in different countries. This is very useful if you want to launch your app in specific countries.

Remember that your keywords must be relevant to your app. Don't be tempted to use a keyword just because it is popular, but not relevant to your app. You want your app to be found by users who will really download and enjoy your app.

App SEO Pro Tip: Use Time-sensitive Keywords
Let's illustrate the idea by an example: using "Rio" and its related keywords during the Olympics 2016 would greatly help the exposure of your sports apps. Your app would also have a better chance to get into the app store's feature lists too.


App Keywords - Selecting Your Keywords

With your initial set of keywords, you have to pick a strategy on how to filter for the right keywords. There are some keyword research tools that help you with this filtering process. They provide the difficulties (or chances) and traffic of your keywords. In any case, choose about 25 keywords carefully for the next release of your app.

App SEO Pro Tips:

App Keyword Filtering Strategy
For a new app, choose keywords with low difficulty and reasonable traffic. They help your app gain the initial momentum. After gaining the initial momentum, start using keywords with higher traffic and reasonable difficulty. They help your app stack up more downloads. Work your way up gradually as your app gets more popular.

Use Long-tail App Keywords Use longer keyword phrases (aka long-tail keywords) to outrank the competition. For example, it is hard to outrank Zynga Poker by the competitive keyword “Poker” (high difficulty). But you have a better chance to outrank it by the keyword phrase “Poker Casino”. It is because “Poker Casino” is less competitive (lower difficulty).

Retiring Poor App Keywords If you have already released your app with your target keywords, check your current app ranking of these keywords. Keep those keywords that your app ranks within top 10, and replace the rest with new keywords in your next release.


App Keyword Optimization

Now that you have chosen the keywords, you are ready to use them for your app. app seo increase app downloads keywords

For iOS developers: Fill in the keyword metadata with your selected keywords. This metadata decides how your app gets discovered. Follow the rules below and make every character counts!

  • Use all 100 characters
  • Separate every keyword by a comma and avoid space
  • Use singular OR plural, the easier one to rank for
  • Don’t repeat keyword
  • Use numbers instead of spelled out words
  • No need to include the words in your company name, app name and app category names.
App SEO Pro Tip: How To 5X Your iOS App Store Keywords
Do you want more keyword space for your iOS app? You can get up to 500 characters for your iOS app store keywords using this hack. That is five times more!

For Android developers: Google Play doesn't have the keyword metadata. Instead, Google pulls keywords from your description to be your app’s keywords. Incorporate your keywords in the description in natural and sensible sentences. As a guiding principle, do not use any keyword more than 5 times or Google will likely treat the keyword as a spammed word.


App Screenshots

According to StoreMaven, 60% of users won’t swipe past your first two screenshot images. A better version of your first two screenshots can increase your conversions by 25%!

To make great screenshots, make sure each screenshot is telling a single message about your app. Show your strongest messages in the first two screenshots. The best apps use all five screenshot slots to impress their users, and you should do the same.

Adding texts on your screenshots can help, but make sure they are on a clean background. And try to create a positive impression in the viewers’ mind at all times.

App SEO Pro Tip: Vertical Screenshots
Keep the screenshots vertical. The users can see more screenshots on the narrow screens when the screenshots are vertical.
app seo increase app downloads clash of clans 1 app seo increase app downloads clash of clans 2
Vertical screenshots of Clash of Clans

app seo increase app downloads uber1 app seo increase app downloads uber2
Vertical screenshots of Uber


App Preview Video

Making a video may be difficult but it can increase install rates by more than 23% according to StoreMaven. Don't forget to use a good poster frame (iOS) / feature graphic (Google Play).  This graphic has a big impact to whether your visitors would watch your video.

App SEO Pro Tip: App Marketing Video
Here are some of the essential elements of an effective app marketing video. They are recommended by Apptamin, a company well-known for its app videos and trailers:
  • Use the first 5 seconds to grab the viewer’s attention
  • Focus on the best features, instead of all features
  • Your video should make sense even with the sound turned off
  • Include a call-to-action


App Store Ratings - The Impact 

Ratings and reviews have a great impact on your app downloads. You need an average rating of 4-stars or above. Or else only less than 50% users are willing to download your app. Check out this infographic for more details: app rating infographic


App Store Ratings - Getting Five-Star Ratings

How can you get more five-star ratings for your app? Delay asking for a rating until there’s a likely moment of constructive feedback. For instance, ask when the user completed a reservation, finished a mission in a game, etc. When the time comes, ask nicely, and don’t beg.

What does that mean? Circa News app is a perfect example. It got 90% five-star ratings for every major version. Here is a flowchart of how it asks users if they would like to provide feedback:

app SEO Service - Cicra News feedback flowchart

Image courtesy of Circa News

The key is to encourage satisfied users to leave positive reviews and deflect negative reviews by using a “send feedback” option. To do this, you can either develop your own version of rating and feedback flow or simply use the tools like Apptentive's Ratings Prompts.

App SEO Pro Tip: The Right Paths To A Review
Direct only positive reviews to App Store, and negative reviews to support.

But what if I already have many bad reviews? Redditor amirrajan shared some awesome tips about how to sweep bad reviews under the rug. He also tells you how to give a positive first impression about your app by making good use of the five-star reviews.


App Store Ratings - Reply To Reviews

Remember to reply the app reviews and feedback! Only the ones who care about your app will spend the time to leave a comment. Show them you care about them as well! This is a great way to let the visitors know that the developer is active too. On Google Play Developer Console, there is a "Reply to a review" option for you to do just that. app seo increase app downloads reply review

But this option is not available on Apple's iTunes Connect. Luckily, Paul Mayne found a way to find the contact of the App Store reviewers using Google search. The Google search goes in this format: “{user name}” twitter OR facebook OR linkedin OR email While this may not work every time, it can be very useful sometimes.


App Store Ratings - One-Star Reviews

One-star reviews are your friends. Read them all. Try to understand why the users complained your app, and think about what you need to do to turn them into five-star reviews. This thought process helps you improve your app from the user perspective. Also, fix all serious bugs, crashes and performance issues.

app seo increase app downloads 1 star ratings

In the end getting more and better app reviews comes down to creating a great app users love. Listen, improve your apps and repeat until you are topping the app store ratings.


App Localization Strategy

App localization gives you a larger audience to download your mobile app. But localizing the whole app to many languages can be a daunting task.

Before doing a full localization of your whole app, consider localizing your app listing first. It means translating your app name, keywords, screenshots, etc.

David Janner of MAKE APP Magazine conducted a localization experiment. In his experiment, he only localized the app name, the keywords, and sometimes the top line in the app description. After this simple localization, his app received a massive 767% increase in downloads. Before localization, the downloads were mainly from within the US. After localization, his downloads looked like this:

ASO App Store Optimization Keyword Localization Keyword Translation

Image courtesy of MAKE APP Magazine

According to OneSky, only 31% of the world’s total app revenue came from the U.S., while 41% came from Asia, and 23% came from Europe. In particular, China has already surpassed the U.S. by both iOS app download and revenue. If your app only has an English version for the U.S. market, you are leaving a lot of money on the table.

App SEO Pro Tips:

App Localization Strategy
Localize your app listing first to see how well your app performs in different countries. You can then decide if you should perform full localization of the whole app for the best performing countries.

Icon and Screenshot Localization Different countries have distinct preference of icon colors, screenshot layouts and annotations. Check out these posts about icon colors and screenshot localization for more insights.


App Localization - Best Countries For Your App

Now you know the strategy, but which countries should you start first? If your app is already available in more than one country, you can use app analytics to find out the top countries by your app downloads. Check the official languages of the top five countries, and localize your app listing if you haven't done so. Depending on your priority, you can also do the same using top countries by revenue, ARPU, conversion rate, active devices or retention.


App Localization - Top Countries By Revenue

Another approach is to localize your app listing for the top countries by downloads and/or revenue.  According to App Annie, here are the top countries in Q3 2016. app seo top countries Again, check the official languages of the top countries, and localize your app listing if you haven't done so.


App Conversion Rates - The Impact

First, what is conversion rates (CR)?

Let’s use the analytics from Apple App Store to illustrate the concept. In Apple iTunes Connect’s App Analytics, you can find the followings:

  • Impressions (the number of times your app showed up in the App Store)
  • App Page Views (the number of visits on your app’s page in the App Store)
  • and App Units (the number of downloads)

With these data, you can easily calculate two CRs:

  • Page View CR = App Page Views / Impressions x 100%
  • Download CR = App Units / App Page Views x 100%

To put things into perspective,

  • The page view CR is the percentage of people who see your app from search results, rank lists, or featured app lists, and then tap the icon to check out your app.
  • The download CR is the percentage of people who visits your app page and then downloads your app.

These two CRs can be presented along with impressions, app page views, and app units in a diagram called Conversion Funnel in app marketing. app store optimization conversion funnel

Why is conversion rate such a big deal?

There are mainly three reasons.

1. CR is a strong quantitative indicator of App SEO effectiveness

Keyword ranking and number of downloads are not the best metrics to measure the performance of App SEO. There are many external factors that can influence those two metrics. For example, a big competing publisher may publish a hugely popular app and shift the apps in the keyword ranking by a margin (e.g. The impact of Pokemon Go and related apps on the keyword “Pokemon” and “Go”). Or you run App SEO and an advertisement campaign at the same time and the number of the downloads become not purely organic. On the other hand, CRs are independent of market competition nor the source of traffic. They give you the true picture of App SEO effectiveness.

2. CR reflects the likelihood of getting ranked

CR is a natural ranking signal in app store search. If lots of people search certain keywords, click on the same search result, and download the same app, Google Play and the App Store should receive a strong message:

“Users want to see this app!”

and place the app in a dominant spot (i.e. rank or featured list).

3. CR saves you money!

It's just simple math: if you double your CR, you cut your advertising cost by half for the same amount of downloads. For the same reason, if you haven't optimized your CR, don't spend big bucks on advertising campaigns! You would be wasting your money. Just a side story: some ranking manipulation farms even go far and take advantage of this. They offer keyword-rank-manipulation service. They boost the ranking of an app by “searching” the app by specific keywords, tapping the app in the search results and download the app — the exact flow of conversion funnel.


App Conversion Rates - Page View CR

Now you know the importance of conversion rate, let's see how we can improve them. Let’s do a recap:

Page View CR = App Page Views / Impressions x 100%

If Page View CR is less than 3%, you should try to improve it. 3%? Really? Yes, 3% sounds very low, but you won’t believe many apps have less than 1% we have seen! To improve Page View CR, focus on optimizing these metadata:

  • App name
  • App icon
  • First 2 lines of app description
  • First 2 screenshots (or app preview video)
  • App ratings

It is because the app search result only shows these pieces of information. That means they are your baits to bring users to your app page. So make good use of them!


App Conversion Rates - Download CR

Now, let’s look at Download CR:

Download CR = App Units / App Page Views x 100%

Folks from SplitMetrics have done a wonderful job on this topic. They gathered the download conversion rates from hundreds of experiments with over 10,000,000 users. Here are the best conversion rates in each app category in their study: app store optimization conversion rate

Based on this graph, you should set your download CR target to at least 60% for most categories. For Health & Fitness and Education categories, you may set your target a bit lower to around 40% and 50% respectively. If your download CR is lower than the target benchmark, you should follow all tips in this article to improve this metric.


App Size

Try to make your app smaller than 100 MB. It is because users cannot download apps that are more than 100 MB using cellular service. app seo increase app downloads 100mb

So for example, if a user on a bus or a train can't download "now", it is unlikely the user will write down the name and try again X hours later when they're home. Need some proof? This post from appfigures shows that ~98% of the top 100 free and ~62% of paid iOS and Android games can be downloaded are under 100 MB. Do you think 100 MB is not enough for your app? Take a look at Clash of Clans. Its iOS version is just 85.3 MB.

App Pricing - Free with In-App Purchases

Making your app free can remove the friction for users to download your app. After all, what price is better than free? If you want to make money from your free app, consider In-App Purchase (IAP) pricing model if that makes sense to your app design. IAP account for 79% of app store revenue. app seo increase app downloads iap

App SEO Pro Tips:

New to In-App Purchase (IAP)? Check out this Do's and Don'ts IAP Checklist. It can jump start your IAP design.

Need In-App Purchase (IAP) Ideas? Here is a wonderful list of 40 IAP ideas for you to consider.


App Pricing - Free with Ads

If you choose to make in-app advertising revenue, try to use native ads. They are created to fit the exact context of the app they appear on. This way, they serve as extra content for the app itself rather than a piece of promotional materials. Check out this post to see more reasons why native ads are better than traditional banner ads.


App Pricing - Paid Apps

Use a reasonable price by comparing your app price with your competing apps. Also, take reference of the price range of the top apps in your app categories. A good starting price point to test the market is $0.99 or $1.99. Anything above $2.99 won't make you a lot of money. The exception is Minecraft Pocket Edition, which is priced at $6.99.

App Compatibility - iMessage

For iOS apps, supporting iMessage App helps your app grow viral through the user's phone contacts. You can also gain extra exposure in the App Store for iMessage. app seo increase app downloads imessage

Need ideas of how to use iMessage for your app? Check out how these 10 apps make use of iMessage integration for more ideas.


App Compatibility - Apple Watch

For iOS apps, supporting Apple Watch improves your app's customer experience and user loyalty. But don't just copy your original app features directly to your Apple Watch app. Make good use of the Apple Watch characteristics to improve your user experience. Need inspirations? Check out these 50 best Apple Watch apps.


App Compatibility - Family Sharing

For iOS apps, Apple offers the Family Sharing opt-in for app developers. Family Sharing allows up to six family members to share app purchases on the same credit card across devices and parents to supervise their children purchases. Supporting Family Sharing means you can reach more family members and improves user loyalty. Apple also clarifies that in-app purchases are not transferable through Family Sharing. Family members just the apps themselves. It means Family Sharing gives higher revenue potential for apps with in-app purchases.


App Compatibility - Game Center

Though Game Center app is removed since iOS 10, the Game Center service is still available. If you have an iOS game, you can make use of these Game Center features:

  • Leaderboard
  • Achievements
  • Challenges
  • Saving Games
  • Matchmaking for multiplayer games

These features improve your game's virality and user retention in many ways.


App Updates

Statistics show that there is a high correlation between high ratings and app update frequency. In fact, releasing regular updates has many benefits. It improves user loyalty and keeps an app top of mind because your app will show up in the updates list in the app stores. Apple and Google also like to see app updates because they show you're committed to the app and that it's still being maintained. How often should you update your app?  Check out this chart first: app version update frequency chart

For these 25 top iOS apps, the average was about 30 days between updates. I'd recommend at least an update a month, and up to once a week. Don't forget to use push notifications to alert users to new app updates. They have a big impact on your update downloads. Ideally, you should only send notifications to the users who haven't downloaded your latest version. In case you can't distinguish who have and who haven't, you should word your message carefully to avoid the confusion. For examples, Hey! Have you checked for updates in the App Store recently? Updates! Are all your apps up to date? Check the Updates button in the App Store. Of course, you shouldn’t do an update just for the sake of doing an update. Your updates should always improve your app in some ways, either by bug fixings or enhancements.


Apple App Store vs. Google Play

If you wonder what are the differences between Apple App Store and Google Play on app SEO, here is a great summary: app SEO apple vs google


Putting It All Together

Here is a cool infographic produced by Y Media Labs. It sums up the most important points about app SEO. app SEO strategies increase visibility

After you have published the changes, keep an eye on the keyword rankings. The rankings change right after you published the new version. Target to make your app rank within top 10 of all keywords. If your new keywords are too hard to rank, you might have to replace them with your old keywords. Repeat the three steps every three weeks or four because that is when big trends of keywords change. Don’t give up if the results of first few optimizations are not turning out well. App marketing takes time and app SEO needs many observations to master.

Good luck in your journey!



This post originally appeared on Meatti 

Marcus Kay

Marcus Kay

Marcus is the founder of Meatti - a platform that helps mobile game developers increase app downloads and revenue using data science. Find him on TwitterLinkedIn and his blog.


Related Jobs

DigiPen Institute of Technology Singapore
DigiPen Institute of Technology Singapore — Singapore, Singapore

Senior Lecturer
Impulse Gear, Inc.
Impulse Gear, Inc. — San Francisco, California, United States

Senior Narrative Writer
Sony PlayStation
Sony PlayStation — Playa Vista, California, United States

Technical Art Director
Sony PlayStation
Sony PlayStation — Playa Vista, California, United States

Senior UI Tools Programmer

Loading Comments

loader image