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A picture paints 981* words more than an iTunes 100 character keyword limit (Sensor Tower)

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So you’ve slaved over your game – mortgaged the house, sold the kids, spilled blood and tears, developed a vitamin deficiency and haven’t seen sunlight in a long time** – and eventually it’s time to ship your app/game to the store. PAAAAARRRTTTTYY!!!

Loudspeaker crazy party man shouting happy

Well – sadly no you’re not quite there yet. The most important work is actually yet to do. Brace yourselves……

Once you upload your game to the store, have you any plan as to how people will find it and why they will download it? There are zillions of so called zombie apps up on the store which only get a few downloads every day. Not good for business and recouping the capital you invested into your app.

First up, there are a few things you need to NAIL to give your app the best chance of success:

1. You need to have more than a passing knowledge of the apps in your exact app category. If its education, study the top selling education apps in that category in the US app store. I say USA as its the place where you’ll probably earn the most money if you get everything right with your marketing. If you are doing games, don’t just look at the top games, look at your SPECIFIC CATEGORY. Uncover what is working TODAY in your category in the app store. Study everything from icons to themes to monitization methods. This market research is priceless. And word to the wise – do it yourself, don’t outsource it to a team member.

2. Your icon has to look like a million dollars. Does it look as eye catching and professional and appealing as the top 30 overall apps in iTunes? If it doesn’t, make it again. You might have to make it 10 or 20 times. The bar is set high on this one and you have got to put in the effort here.

3. People buy products based on how good the wrapper is. We like pretty, visual things. So your screenshots, which are now even more important in the store have to rock. Good just isn’t good enough any more. Spend time on these. When my apps are featured by Apple in various lists it drives downloads. Yet another reason to have a very good icon and screenshots.

Then we come to a very interesting part of the operation… the app name and keywords…


Before people even get a chance to see your eye popping ‘MUST DOWNLOAD NOW!’ icon and screenshots, they first have to find your app in the store. Looking at the table above you can see that most people find apps by using the search function in the app store.

A few basic points first:

1) You’ve got 1 app name and a 100 character keyword limit to play with
2) When putting in your keywords, don’t use any spaces, just use commas like this: car,fun,drive,speed,petrol,fly….
3) I find its useful to get your keywords written down before you finalise your app name
4) IAPs names are also searchable in the store, but only if you search for the exact full IAP name you used
5) I think there is something odd happening as well where the name of the IPA you uploaded also gets included as a search term. I’m working on figuring this out currently. If you’ve come across this, leave a comment on twitter or FB.
6) Things change… Apple mixes things up every now and again so you need to stay tuned with whats going on regularly. Changes have in the past resulted in big increases and decreases in app downloads. The whole thing still a black art in terms of trying to figure it out.
7) Your 100 character keyword limit is priceless, so use every character. You can update these after the app is published by resubmitting a new build to Apple.
8) Track your keywords in a spreadsheet or similar… you will want to refer back to them to check things.
9) It never hurts to use current popular themes or terms in your keywords as people will be searching for them. Probably best to have them applicable to your app though.

Trying to figure out the best keywords using guesswork will only get you so far. There are a number of online tools you can use. My favourite ones that I use on a regular basis are appcod.es and Sensor Tower


I want to run through some of the features in Sensor Tower / SensorTower, an interesting piece of online iPhone app software. There are a few things I’ve found really useful, and some more features that I want to dig into as they look pretty impressive.

One really valuable piece of knowledge is trying to reverse engineer what app keywords the really popular apps in your category are using. They way it’s set up currently is that there is no place you can go to get the exact list. You can try and reverse engineer it yourself by typing guesswords into iTunes and seeing if the app in question then gets listed in the search results, but it’s a bit tedious. Sensor Tower have an app store keywords spy tool so I thought it’d be a really useful place to start when thinking about what keywords are popular. But first I wanted to see how accurate it was ….


I used the keyword spy on one of my old games, Granny Detective. Here were the results:


And below are the actual keywords in my app. Worth noting, these keywords are not great so I wouldn’t advice using all of them in your apps :) Also – usually if you put in no spaces between words, they can display with spaces in ITC.


So Appstorerankings correctly found 11 of out my 14 keywords. That’s pretty good! It didn’t list the really generic terms – free, game, app. I’m pretty impressed though. Let’s try another.


This is a grocery app I did about 8 months ago.


And here are the keywords that the app does use:


Again, this has nearly all of my keywords – 15 are listed out of my 18 keywords. It’s the most accurate piece of keyword software I’ve seen so far. So when you are doing your apps, its definitely worth identifying your competitors who are doing well in the store. Then use this keyword spy tool to reverse engineer their keywords to see if any are applicable to your app.

Remember as well your app titles are included in Apple’s search. So once you have a list of keywords you like and think will work well, see if you can put 2 or 3 keywords in your app title. You do not need to duplicate these in your keywords. Be careful though, you’re title should still be readable, and not just packed full of random keywords… If your title looks like it’s just full of keywords Apple will probably reject it. Be sensible about it.

There are quite a lot of features in the back end of appstorerankings as well. To begin you can enter in your own apps and track specific search terms:


There is a useful ‘optomise keywords’ tool. Once you have decided on your app name and keywords, you can plug these in here and it automatically tells you if you have made any mistakes like duplicating a word in both the title and keywords. Doing this manually you’ll often get one duplicate you’ll miss. I do anyway! :) Also having a tool to tell you your exact character count might make the difference to getting one extra short word in there.


The Keyword research tab looks insane.


When you type in a word it lists apps that include that word, and you can look at the release date, last update, if they use IAPs, and category ranking in the US. That’s a lot of useful information right there.


Then it goes a step further and calculates the traffic that word is currently getting (are people searching for it?) and the difficulty to get found using that keyword. Nice.

Then if you like the easiest way of doing things, you can look at the intelligent suggestions. This is crazy. I put in my keywords, pressed one button and the website generated a list of suggested words ALONG WITH their traffic and ranking difficultly. That’s insane. In a good way :)


I’m going to stop now as I think half of you are probably already asleep but I have to say I love this stuff. :) Long story short – good keywords make A BIG DIFFERENCE.

Spend a bit of time working them out. Use one of the great keywords tools out there. They will make your life a LOT EASIER and hopefully will reflect in higher rankings in the store and more downloads and revenue for you. If you’ve used any of these tools let us know on facebook.

**= don’t do any of these things

Chocaholics – Thanks for reading this far! If you found this useful please do share this blog with your friends who are also looking to improve the keyword choices.

PS: Are you missing out on the Express – Sign up today and make sure you don’t miss out on the BIG NEWS!!

Do you have any APP KEYWORD NINJA TIPS? Let me know in the comments.

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Elaine Heney is an online entrepreneur, triple #1 best selling author and international keynote speaker. Elaine is an Amazon FBA ecommerce advisor, investor, Hollywood movie producer, online business consultant and CEO of Chocolate Lab Cashflow. Elaine has also published over 300 mobile apps across Amazon, Apple & Google, and enjoyed over 20 million app downloads and over 50 #1 apps worldwide.

{ 5 comments… add one }

  • Greg July 25, 2013, 10:28 am

    Great article Elaine

    regarding appstoreranking,

    which plan do you personally use and which do you suggest?
    the features you speak about in your article are the business plan which is like $350.00 a month..

    Im just starting out so I dont think I can afford that.

    I have signed up for appcodes

  • Greg July 25, 2013, 11:27 am

    Hey Elaine, sorry one more question

    so im confused

    on one hand I have AppCodes telling me to shoot for long tail keywords with low competition
    -and on the other hand-
    there is AppStoreRankings giving me the top Apps in my categories Keywords

    so when choosing my keywords do I want to overlap with the successful apps keywords? or do I want to try to find longer tail keywords and rank for them?


  • admin July 25, 2013, 11:29 am

    Hi Gregg, to get started why not reverse engineer the keywords of popular apps with appstorerankings? Its free to do that.

  • Peter Smith October 7, 2013, 5:12 am

    Hi there Elaine,
    Hope you are enjoying exotic lands!
    ASO is so important, and doing it right has proved a winner for me. However you and many others religously use a technique I don’t understand and haven’t seen in ASO – where you start an app name with an ‘A’ or the word ‘Ace’ or something else near the start of the alphabet. How does this improve your sales, the app store doesn’t sort alphabetically?
    Thank you (hopefully!) in advance,

  • Ehsan December 29, 2013, 11:07 am

    Its a great helpful post for App Store Optimization. It really helpful for me to improve my ASO services for my new websites http://theapppmedia.com


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