App Store Optimisation

There’s no denying that iPhone has changed the way that we view mobile devices.  Mobile apps were nothing new, but the execution of the App Store has revolutionised the way we buy software, and given rise to a massive change in the way that developers can promote their applications.

It’s all about the numbers

In 2010, the iOS App Store generated $1.73 billion in revenue from around 500,000 different apps.  In January 2011, the store registered its 10 billionth download. At the iPad 2 launch in March 2011, Steve Jobs announced that the company had sold more than 100 million iPhones.  Although this is over a period of 4 years and 4 devices, the contract length and desirability of iPhone means that a significant portion of these phones are still in use.

And it’s not just Apple that’s going for it.  Right now, Android smart phones are outselling iPhone.  The official Google App Market has around 250,000 different apps, with many more available through 3rd party suppliers like Amazon.  The App Market hit 4.5 billion downloads in July 2011.

Despite the various criticism of the Apple App Store and the vague promise of HTML5 functionality replacing the app, it’s not going to happen any time soon, and in many ways, the revenue on offer from the App Store means that getting visibility in the app store is getting to be as important as visibility in natural search.

App Store Optimisation
App Store Optimisation

App Store Optimisation

Although the App Store appears to be a directory, it is actually a search engine – the categories presented to a user for navigation purposes are actually pre-selected search terms.  This means that whenever a user sees a list of applications within the App Store, they are viewing an algorithmically ranked set of search results.

Given that search algorithms can be understood, it means that provided you can determine the ranking factors and carry out app store optimisation on your listing, you can improve visibility and get more visibility.

Apple AppStore uses two principal ranking factors in its search results:

Descriptive Content

This is the 100 words of content used to describe the application.  As with SEO for Google, research into the search behaviour likely to be followed to find the App needs to be carried out in order to define a target keyword list for inclusion in the copy.

This aspect of the algorithm mainly governs inclusion in a set of results.  Some level of semantic branching is incorporated into the algorithm (a relationship between “game” and “play” would be recognised), however it appears that explicit inclusion of a search keyword is essential for ranking.

Individual pages within the App Store appear in the natural search results for relevant queries, so a key consideration of activity needs to be following the rules for good Google rankings, including some degree of relevant link building – in part this will fall into the App Promotion section below.

In common with a typical SEO campaign, one of the ongoing aspects of activity on this campaign will be to monitor terms driving converting traffic to the download page.

Relevant Sales Volume

App Store is a commercial venture, and Apple have an interest in promoting the most successful Apps within it.  With this in mind, they have weighted the rankings towards applications that sell well within a vertical – again, semantic branching is used to determine vertical popularity, so an App that sells well for “real estate” will receive a rankings boost for “property”.

App pages have a fairly standardised layout and structure, so a lot of emphasis on conversion is placed on the strength of the sales message on the page, and the ability to promote the App externally.


Sales and downloads of all versions of an App count towards the sales component of rankings.  As users will typically be more likely to download a free app than a paid one, having a free version will also help the rankings of the paid for alternative.

Sales volume is weighted towards popularity too.  More recent sales count for more than older sales, so you need to think about ongoing promotion.  App Store optimisation doesn’t start and end with the description, push for regular reviews from interested parties, get people to blog about your app, and push press releases throughout the life cycle.

Angry Birds - Doesn't need app store optimisation
Angry Birds

To a certain extent, ongoing app store optimisation is its own reward.  The more you sell, the more you will stay at the top of the results and the more you will sell.  Search for games in the App Store now, and you’ll still see 2 versions of Angry Birds in the top 4 results, which isn’t surprising given that more than 12 million copies have been downloaded.

How important is App Store Optimisation

Ultimately, a great app that attracts great PR and naturally attracts the attention of a big user base is going to do well in the App Store search, but as with launching a website, some degree of optimisation is always going to help.  Back in February, I wrote on the Latitude Blog that I expected to have at least one contract to perform optimisation for Apps during 2011, which has happened.


If you’re in the process of launching an App, and want to talk about app store optimisation, then it’s probably worth having a chat about what Latitude can do for you using SEO and Social Media to promote your app.  Drop us a line at, or call 0845 0 212 223.

One reply on “App Store Optimisation”

  1. Hi guys.

    Thanks for the interesting article.

    I’m not sure I agree with, or maybe dont quite follow, your point that “having a free version will also help the rankings of the paid for alternative”. Surely if you have a free and paid version of an application they are separate entities – they are not linked in anyway as far as the App Store is concerned – so this would not be the case? Interested to hear your thoughts.


Comments are closed.