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How To Improve Your New iOS App’s Keywords If They Didn’t Perform As Well As You Hoped

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I’m a big fan of the Sensor Tower – from their keyword tools which I use nearly daily, to the excellent Sensortower blog. Hugh Kimura & his team consistently publish some really good content over there & I recommend you pay them a visit. Tracking and improving keywords after you publish an app is really important, so Hugh kindly agreed to share his knowledge below. Enjoy the post & let us know your thoughts in the comments. Elaine.

After putting in a ton of work to develop your iOS app, nothing is more disheartening than not getting the download numbers and keyword rankings that you were expecting. You may not know where to go from here. Was all that work for nothing?

Luckily, there is always hope.

If it makes you feel better, almost nobody gets all of their keywords right on the first try. Anyone who has been going App Store Optimization for awhile will tell you that conditions in the Apple App Store are always changing and you need to continually monitor and tweak your keywords to get the best possible performance.

So pick your head up and let’s do something about those keywords. This post will show you where to get started and give you specific tips for choosing the right keywords.

Find Out Where You Stand

Generally, the first set of keywords that you choose without using any research tools is not going to be very good. This is because the first words that come to your mind are usually going to be the most common and competitive keywords. But who knows, you may have picked a couple of great keywords too.

So before you go on, you need to know exactly where you rank for each of your keywords. This will allow you to remove the ones that are not working for you and replace them with keywords that can help you get more downloads.

Use a Search Rankings tool to track all the keywords you are using. Once you have this information, you can then move on to the next section on how to choose your keywords.


Choose The Right Keywords

This is the most important section in this post. After you learn this information, you will know more about App Store Keyword Optimization than a lot of your fellow indie developers and more than even some mobile app managers at large companies.

Let’s start with the big picture. Your goal is to rank in the top 10 for all your keywords and there are basically three parts to choosing the right keywords.

The first and most important criteria for choosing keywords is that they have to be highly relevant to your app. It doesn’t help if you rank #1 for the keyword “cats” if you have a game about aliens. Be sure that you put a lot of thought into what people might type in when they search for an app like yours.

The second thing to look at when choosing keywords is the Difficulty Score. This is a measure of how difficult it will be to rank for a keyword, on a scale from 0 to 10, with 10 being the most difficult.


Many developers make the mistake of looking for traffic first, then ranking difficulty second. However, it doesn’t matter if a keyword gets a ton of traffic, if you rank #1,252. Nobody is going to scroll far enough to find your app.

The key is to figure out the approximate Difficulty Score that will allow your app to rank in the top 10.

For example, after examining your existing keywords, you might find that your app ranks in the top 10 for a couple of keywords that have a Difficulty Score of 2.1 or lower. Therefore, whenever you choose new keywords, you should be looking for keywords with a Difficulty Score of 2.1 or less. This is just a rule of thumb and you will have to do some testing, but looking at the Difficulty Score is a huge help in quantifying the keyword selection process.

Finally, if the first two criteria above are equal, then choose keywords with the highest Traffic Scores. The Traffic Score is also measured on a scale from 0 to 10, with 10 being the highest. It shows approximately how many times people are searching for a particular keyword.


The only time that you would completely disqualify a keyword is if it has a Traffic Score of 0. Otherwise, consider any keyword that has at least some traffic, but remember to prioritize relevance and Difficulty Score before Traffic Score.

If you would like an in-depth tutorial on choosing and optimizing keywords, with specific examples, you can check out our keyword selection post.

Where To Get New Keyword Ideas

There are many resources that you can tap to get new keyword ideas. You have probably already heard about the common ones, but here is one of our favorites that not many people talk about. We think you will like it too because app users literally do the work for you.

We call this technique Review Mining and it is simply the process of looking through your app’s user reviews to find new keyword ideas. Anyone can do it for free, here’s how.

First, open iTunes, then look at the profile page for your app. Then look a the Ratings and Reviews for your app, then sort them by Most Favorable. Here is what it would look like for Clash of Clans.


You want to sort by the reviews with the highest ratings (most stars) because you want to get ideas for positive keywords, or keywords that are associated with features that users like about the app. People are more likely to search for those keywords when looking for an app like yours.

Reviews with low ratings will have keywords that people don’t like about the app. Common words that we see are things like: “crash” or “slow.” So the ratings act as a great filter for finding the right keywords for your app.

Now start looking through the reviews and write down any interesting keywords that you find. Be sure to have a notebook or spreadsheet open before you start this process.

Yes, this is a tedious process and since you have a new app, you will not have too many reviews, which will not yield many keywords.

Not to worry, we have the solution to both of these problems.

Our Review Analysis tool can mine the reviews of any app and display the most app-specific keywords at the top, along with the user sentiment associated with that keyword.

This is very helpful because certain words may come up in the reviews for your app, but some of them may be generic terms that appear in the reviews of all apps. So we do some major data crunching and compare how often a keyword appears for your app compared to how often it appears in the reviews of all other apps.

The keywords that are most specific to your app are displayed first. Here is an example of the top results for Clash of Clans. As you can see, there are some great ideas to start researching. These keywords can also lead you to other keyword ideas that you may not have thought of.


Since your app might not have enough reviews to make this method effective yet, just examine the reviews for apps that are similar to yours. Your can now put your competitor’s users to work to help you brainstorm new keyword ideas.

Regardless if you use our tool or do it manually in iTunes, we hope that was helpful and gave you a new idea for where to find more keywords. To get 11 more resources to find keyword ideas, read our blog post on how to brainstorm for keyword ideas.

Overcome Title Vanity

Before I let you get to work on your keywords, I have one more tip for you. Putting a few of your keywords in the title of your app can help you rank higher for those keywords.

Some developers are against putting keywords in the title of their app because it doesn’t look as pretty. But if it helps you gain an advantage, why not give it a try? You can always change it back later.

If you don’t believe me, let’s take a look at the Facebook app. You would think that since this app gets millions of downloads, it would dominate all of its keywords. But if we spy on the keyword rankings for the app, we find that it doesn’t rank #1 for all of its keywords.

It still does very well, but we can definitely see that there is an advantage to having keywords in the title of your app. For example, for the keyword “post” the Facebook app currently ranks #5 on the iPhone. As you can see, all of the apps that outrank the Facebook app for this keyword have the keyword in their titles.


Just be sure that the keywords you add to your title form a sentence or phrase that makes sense when people read it. If you just add keywords randomly, your app will be rejected by the App Store reviewers.


As you can see, improving your keywords is not a difficult process. However, it requires continual testing and ongoing maintenance to stay on top of your keyword rankings.

Many developers do not achieve the organic download results that they are looking for simply because they give up too soon. Stick with it, keep testing, and you will start to see results.

If you are ranking well for all of your keywords and are looking to get even more downloads, look at improving your icon and screenshots. Test your app icon and screenshots to find out if you can improve them.

About the author: Hugh Kimura enjoys surfing, photography and travel. He is the Content Strategist for Sensor Tower, a tool that helps app developers increase their App Store search visibility and get more downloads.

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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.

{ 19 comments… add one }

  • Hugh Kimura January 2, 2014, 10:23 am

    Hi Elaine,

    Happy New Year! I hope that this post helps and we wish everyone a prosperous 2014.


  • Rana V January 4, 2014, 3:03 pm

    Hey Elaine,

    Just heard your interview on EO Fire, and was truly inspired as a fellow non technical app developer like myself it gives me motivation. I also have a concept that I am working on that has the ability to change forever how Premier League Fans celebrate goals via mobile….let me know if you would like to hear more or potentially JV on the idea. You can reach me via email.


  • Paul January 7, 2014, 10:07 pm

    But how do we know whether or not Clash of Clans, King or other developers have fake reviews. I’m almost certain these guys know that reviews drive the downloads and there are plenty of companies that provide fake reviews so how can we base our keywords on those reviews. How do we know those are genuine reviews. Actually it’s very easy to tell which ones are fake – which are actually majority of reviews that I see in the App Store. Just my two cents.

  • Hugh Kimura January 7, 2014, 11:12 pm

    Hi Paul,

    Three questions about your comment…

    1. There are many resources for finding new keyword ideas, the Review Analysis Tool is just one of them. Just like any other resource, they may or may not yield good keywords, but the more resources you have, the more likely you are to find good low competition keywords. Do you agree?

    2. I can’t prove that most of the reviews are real…can you prove that they are mostly fake?

    3. Even if all the reviews are fake, but they give you keywords that help your app get ranked and get more downloads, does it really matter if they are fake?

    I welcome any additional thoughts…


  • Kevin January 21, 2014, 4:07 am

    Hi Elaine,

    Great article. Have always wondered what are the key points to look for whilst doing keyword research in Sensor Tower. These are definitely valuable knowledge.

    I have a question for you though. Do you research on single keywords or do you include keywords that forms a phrase? For example, the keyword ‘building’ and ‘town’ both has high difficulty, low ranking but high traffic. Based on those stats, I would be better off looking for other keywords. However, these 2 keywords, when combined to ‘building town’, gives low difficulty, high ranking and good traffic. Would you still consider using these 2 keywords then?


  • Hugh Kimura January 21, 2014, 9:16 pm

    Hi Kevin,

    Elaine might have some additional thoughts on this, but generally you should try to target single-word keywords first. If you cannot find anything that you can rank for, then look for two-word keywords.

    In either case, shorter words are preferred.

    Hope that helps.


  • Elaine Heney January 24, 2014, 8:30 am

    Rana – thanks for the comment. I don’t do JVs sorry but good luck with your idea.

    Paul – no idea, I think everyone gets their fair share of crazy reviews!

    Kevin – I should but doing long tail keywords testing and all the different options you have with words at that stage makes my head spin. Try & report back how it goes for you!

    Hugh – Awesome. Thanks again for a great post.

  • Jay March 23, 2014, 11:26 pm

    Please tell me how (or direct me to a resource) to change keywords without uploading new code. It seems that while I can edit some things in iTunes connect, the keywords field is locked.

    thank you

  • Elaine Heney March 23, 2014, 11:30 pm

    Right now, there is no way to do this. To update your keywords in ITC you have to upload new code. It would be a lot nicer/faster if you didn’t! :)

  • Jay March 24, 2014, 12:04 am

    WOW! A world-famous celebrity, from my favorite country outside of the states, responded to my comment…in less than 5 minutes!! Elaine, you’re the best!

    Now, a follow-up question: Does the new code have to really be new…or will they know if I upload the same binary? If it does need to be new, could I simply modify something simple, such as a launch image, or does the change have to be related to the app’s “mechanics?”

    Thanks again. I love reading your stuff all across the web.

  • Elaine Heney March 24, 2014, 8:45 am

    Hi Jay, yes you can absolutely modify the code any way you want. Cheers.

  • JC April 2, 2014, 5:14 am

    to piggy back off of Kevin’s comment. I had a particular questions regarding two worded keywords, would they yield results for the singular word?
    Example, if “building town” was a keyword. Would the app come up under search for “building” or “town” on it’s own?

  • Hugh Kimura April 2, 2014, 2:54 pm

    Hi JC,

    Yes, since all of your keywords in iTunes should be separated by a comma, your app would be available for the singular words. The Apple search algorithm figures out the combinations automatically.


  • JC April 3, 2014, 12:00 am

    Hi Hugh,

    Thanks for the quick response. Just want to make sure I understand your answer correctly.

    So if “building town” was a keyword, but not building, town separately. A search of “building” on its own would yield a result of the App? Apple search algorithm will figure the single word in a keyword phrase as a keyword?

    Additional the other scenario being: would a search for “building town” yield a result if only “building” was a keyword and not town.

    Thank you

  • Kevin April 3, 2014, 9:04 am

    Hey JC. I believe if you want to include “building town”, you should be putting “building,town” as your keywords. Apple will automatically create combinations based on your keywords.

    So say you have “building,town,new” as your keywords. Combinations would include “building town”, “new building town”, “new town building” etc. etc.. Of course, they will also work as singular word too.

    As for your other query, if you only have the word “building” and not town, search will only work for the word “building”.

  • Hugh Kimura April 3, 2014, 6:19 pm

    Thanks Kevin, spot on.

  • JC April 4, 2014, 5:28 am

    Hi Kevin,

    Thanks for the respond. I understand that “building,town” would generate building town as a search phrase. I was just curious how the other way around work in Apple’s search algorithm.

    Also regarding plural of a word, would the singular search of a word yield results or exact match of plural. Say would “town” come up is keyword is “towns”?

  • seo service June 4, 2014, 10:53 am

    Good content has the best chance of being viral content, and Google rewards content virality heavily in its rankings algorithm.

  • RW June 21, 2014, 2:33 am

    “However, it requires continual testing and ongoing maintenance to stay on top of your keyword rankings.”

    Each tweak to keywords requires an app update. Each time we do this, the visible reviews go hidden and appear to casual viewers as “this app has zero reviews”, which surely impacts downloads. (I sometimes skip over zero-review apps if I don’t have time to check each “previous version” tab).

    Do you all just bite the bullet and do it often anyway? Maybe this ratings-hiding after an update has less impact than I would image in? Especially after just launching, those first batch of reviews seem as precious as gold.

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