How to optimize your apps for the Apple and Android marketplace


With more than 250,000 native iPad apps on Apple’s App store and an ever-growing open-source Android market, now known as Google Play, app stores are over-saturated meaning digital publishers need to work harder to ensure their apps are both visible and “search-friendly” for users. This post will discuss “App Store Optimization”, with regards to optimizing keywords and magazine descriptions for the App Store and Google Play.

It is notoriously difficult for magazine publishers to promote within an app store due to the thousands of other unrelated apps all vying for users’ downloads and attention. The launch of Apple’s Newsstand has improved things significantly but Newsstand’s search function is still limited; it searches all of the App Store, unless users utilise filters.

When an app first goes live on the App Store it will normally receive an initial flurry of downloads due to the fact it has elevated visibility whilst it sits in the new releases section of Newsstand and the store. However it can be challenging for an app to remain “top-of-mind” once this period ends due to the steady stream of new apps which are constantly released. Unless Apple or Google chooses to promote the app themselves via “New and noteworthy” or “Editor’s Staff picks” or the title is a ‘Top free’ or ‘Top Grossing’ app then a title’s ongoing success will come down to how easily it is found via search. For this reason, publishers need to do everything that they can to enhance the “searchability” of their apps by making sure their keywords, description and app name are chosen and optimized for their audiences.

Keywords are provided during the app build process and are used on all Apple apps; it is worth remembering that the keywords are terms you think users will be searching the App Store for, not necessarily what you think they would be searching the web for. These can be updated but require a full app update to do so so it is not really feasible to change them on an issue by issue basis. You can however gain some issue-based optimization as ‘in-app purchases’ are now searchable. In-app purchases do however need to be registered in advance of an issue release (normally months in advance to be safe) so it’s important to keep your developer up to date on your headline-feature schedule if you want to take advantage of this. After the app name, the keywords are the most heavily-weighted part of the search algorithm so they are hugely important. Due to the importance of app name if you have a strap-line for your magazine it is worth adding it to the app name e.g. ‘attitude – Europe’s no.1 gay lifestyle magazine’ figures more prominently on its key search terms than ‘attitude magazine’.

Android’s search algorithm works in a different way as it does not use keywords, with the search being based on the app name and app description. So it is important that you consider search-engine optimization whilst writing your description as otherwise it will be lost amongst the thousands of apps on android, ie try to get your keywords into your description. The android search functionality is particularly weak but conversely a well considered description can lead to significant amounts of traffic. One keyword per sentence is enough to make an impact as too much repetition of keywords would risk the app being flagged as spam and being kicked off the Android marketplace. You can check the strength of keywords online with ranking tools (though this may not necessarily reflect app store search) and you should also search the App Store using your chosen words to see what comes up and establish where there might be a search opportunity which your competitors have missed.

An app store environment is built with fast browsing in mind – users are given an initial overview of the magazine or app via the first line of the description plus app screenshots and rating, interaction with the page is required to gain further information. It is therefore important your opening line or two gives people reason to download your app, or enough of a hook to ‘click for more’. Similarly your screenshots are an important part of the sale – if you wish to change yours you can provide your developer with screenshots as frequently as you like. Games often create custom graphics to show functionality, there’s nothing to stop a publisher doing this. It is important that the description is seen as a shop window – where possible try to offer more than just some standard copy from an ‘about’ page. Tell potential readers who the magazine is for and why this is perfect for them, what it will help them to do etc..

Finally, with reviews, the first 5 which are posted for each version are the most visible; it’s worth reviewing your app version immediately as it is released to assist with initial impressions – this is particularly important as, users with problems are those most likely to write a disgruntled review early on, happy customers are more likely to read an issue and take their time before posting their reviews (if at all), by which time the first 5 have been established, so if you can fill your first page with warm reviews before often misleading negative comments – e.g ‘what a con, this isn’t free’ (even though the app clearly says it contains paid for content!) or ‘this app doesn’t work’ (often due to impatience or not seeing FAQs) – then you will benefit.

Magazine app names, descriptions and keywords should be included in a publisher’s marketing strategy. They are essential for your app to be found and can have a significant influence on sales in congested genres, the popularity of an app is also included in search algorithms so once you start appearing at the top of the rankings that position is easier to maintain as downloads will also increase. In addition to optimising the routes for readers to find your title organically, publishers also have various more direct ways to generate traffic. For example, every Apple app version has 50 promotional codes available for publishers to do as they wish with, this allows a user to download the app for free (only really useful on paid-for apps) – these can be sent to app review sites, or prominent bloggers and forum posters in your genre – if you have a free app you just need to send people the link to the app. Your magazine-app provider can easily provide voucher copies of the paid content within an app for review purposes. Examples such as this should be used as part of a concise app strategy to create greater visibility and awareness of your title.

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