The Need to Know on ASO: Part 2 – Keywords

In part 1 of Calldorado’s series on app store optimization, we gave a broad introduction to this very important topic. Now it’s time to drill down. In part 2, we take a closer look at keywords.

Every Android developer knows that the Google Play search box is where most users find their apps.
And how do they find them? By typing in a keyword.
Obviously, your challenge as a developer is to fill your product description with the best keywords possible.
To remind you, you have four places where your keywords can go on Google Play. They are:

  • App name
  • Developer name
  • Short Description – the 80-character field that users see before they expand to reveal the long description.
  • Long Description – the 4,000-character field that gives a comprehensive description of your app’s features and purpose.

That’s quite a lot of ‘real estate’. So, the next question is which terms to use?

Brainstorm it
Start with a brainstorm. Get your team in one room and thrash out all the possibilities. Think about why users would seek out your app and how they might use it. Look at your user reviews for clues. Certainly, check out what your competitors are doing.
A good start is to break down your words into the following groups:

  • Single words
  • Phrases
  • Keywords based on app features
  • Keywords based on app category
  • Branded keywords

Think about localization
The beauty of the Play Store model is it supports global downloads. So make sure you think about users who speak a different language from you. Research keywords in other languages and track the results.
Consider Google Adwords
One pro tip is to sign up for a Google Adwords account. Although Adwords applies to web searches, it can be a good indication of the popularity and commerciality of a term. Experts advise looking for terms with a high ARPU (Average Revenue per User) rather than looking for those with high volume.
In a popular blog post, the ASO expert Thomas Petit described how he chose the keywords such as “workout”, “workout app” and “work out at home” for his keep fit app. They returned a very high ARPU compared with generic words like ‘fitness’, which delivered a high volume but low return.
Game the system – but be careful about it
Hacks abound in the world of ASO as they do in web search. One obvious tactic is to pay people to carry out a keyword search and then download your app, thus moving you up the rankings. However, Google and Apple disapprove of flagrant manipulation like this, so be careful.
Another dodgy practice is ‘keyword stuffing’ – i.e. filling your descriptions with as many keywords as possible. It’s tempting, but it can damage your app’s reputation and degrade the user experience.
There’s a similar risk with deceptive keywords. Some app developers use popular but irrelevant terms, or even celebrity names or big brands. These tactics inevitably backfire.

OK, so you have a bunch of keyword possibilities. Now, you have to establish which ones to use. Which raises the question: what are the metrics for measuring the impact of keywords? Essentially, there are three:

  • Relevance
  • Volume
  • Difficulty

Most experts agree that the most important keyword factor is relevance. It’s pretty obvious really. If a keyword is not related to your app, then no user is going to act on it.
So, let’s say you have made a puzzle game featuring flying squirrels. The keyword ‘puzzle game’ would be very relevant and a perfect fit.
Of course, ’flying squirrel game’ would be even better. But how many people will actually type that in? Probably none. And so, we come to their next metric: volume.
This refers to the total number of searches users make for that term. Clearly, you want to find words that people regularly type in.
We’ve established that ’flying squirrel game’ would be very relevant but dismally low on volume. So we could try ‘animal game’. Let’s assume that this term is better – it’s relevant and also frequently searched for.
Great, but now you have a new problem: difficulty.
Now you’ve found a really popular search keyword, but there’s a new problem: every other developer is using it too. You’ll have to work hard (or spend lots of money) to get your app high up in the results with this word.
Ultimately, what every app maker wants is to find a bunch of keywords that have a high search volume, but a low level of difficulty i.e. loads of traffic for little effort.

Once you have a bunch of keywords, your next task is to test them. You need to know how frequently they are typed by users, and how many other app makers include them.
Google’s own developer console offers lots of help here. Last year, it was updated to give developers the chance to see data on 1000 keywords. This includes the conversion rate, the visitors to the listing, the installers, buyers, and return buyers.
Developers can also see how many users installed the app by entering a keyword and how many came from a browsing session or from looking at a store category such featured apps.
For those who want to go even deeper than this, there are a number of companies such as TheTool and AppKeywords that offer richer metrics.
They can help you with your research and also when your app is live. A good practice is to check the performance regularly and change things about once a month to see if you can move up the rankings.
It’s advisable to start with high volume terms just to see if you can get a good rank. Obviously, if you do, keep using them. Next, weed out the popular keywords for which your app doesn’t rank. Replace them with longer-tail terms.
Ideally, as your app grows in popularity, you will be able to test the higher volume terms and see if you rank higher for them. If this is the case, you can restore them.
So now you can see why finding good keywords is an art as much as a science – and a constant process rather than a one-off action. That said, it’s also free. It will only cost you time.

This article is just an introduction to a hugely important and detailed topic. If you want to go deeper, take a look at the links below.
Google Play official help videos and articles
App Annie tips:
Keyword tools:
Useful blog posts: