Category vs. Keyword App Store Optimization

When a client comes to me with the goal of being ranked #1 in their app store category, I always discuss other strategies that may be cheaper, more targeted, and longer lasting.

Browsing vs. Search

When your goal is to reach the top of your category, you are targeting consumers who are browsing, people who may not be sure what they want yet. You also may be targeting people who are looking for apps completely different than your own. For example, in the Music category, you have a wide variety of apps. Streaming services, instruments and games from developers like Smule, recording apps, guitar tuners, and unique apps like Shazam. If you target the category, you are casting a wide net.

Search is specific. Keywords allow you to pinpoint the consumers most likely to be engaged, loyal users of your app. Think of the difference between browsing in the Music category and typing in “tuner” as your search. The relevancy of a guitar tuner app is much higher for that keyword than it is in the category generally. When you combine this with the fact that around 2/3 of app downloads originate in search, you are focusing your attention to both the source of highest probable quality and volume.

Slippery vs. Sticky

If you are at the top of your category because you are one of the giants, you are likely to stay there until the next unicorn comes to dethrone you. But if you achieve a top categorical ranking through a burst media buying strategy, your ranking will drop as soon as you stop spending money. Your rank will fall as quickly as it rose, in fact. This is because category rankings are slippery, based so heavily on volume that the organic lift alone isn’t likely to stabilize the rank.

Through keyword ASO, you can create rankings that are stickier. Why? Because keyword rankings depend on relevance. When a consumer searches for a term, they are 5-6x more likely to download the first result than other apps in the top 10. So if you are able to achieve a #1 ranking, your organic download volume relative to other apps returned by that same search, and your relevancy can lock your ranking. It’s a virtuous circle.

In the Crowd vs. Head of the Line

Over 90% of apps are classified as “undiscoverable.” This is to be expected with over 4.5MM apps across the two dominant app stores.

Apps need category strategies, but I am increasingly pushing clients to keyword strategies that deliver higher, more lasting returns as part of their holistic acquisition strategy. Being in the top ten of your category is great, but you are still just an app in the crowd. It is also not sustainable for the vast majority of apps. Keywords allow apps to be at the head of the line where it matters most, where relevancy and intent with consumer intersect.

A couple of final thoughts to consider:

  • Relevancy matters, but so do app reviews. Keep your average rating high to increase your stickiness.
  • Apple Search is a new development, but we are already seeing great success on behalf of our clients. Even though the ads appear above the search results, think of it as secondary to being #1 in the search. It is marked as an ad and so will not carry the same amount of trust as an organic result.