What is App Store Search Marketing

App Boosting Part 2– successful app store marketing for iPhone and iPad apps

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Hanns Kronenberg

As an expert in search engine optimization, Hanns Kronenberg helps companies attract more visitors via Google. In this way, its customers' websites receive more than 20 million visitors through search engines every month.
He studied business administration with a focus on marketing and statistics in Münster and has been dealing with search engines for 10 years. After holding positions in management positions at companies such as RTL, Deutsche Telekom, Tomorrow Focus, muenchen.de and meinestadt.de, Hanns Kronenberg has been working as an independent SEO expert since 2007.
Hanns Kronenberg is one of the pioneers in the field of mobile search and app store marketing and is the publisher of the "SEO-Post" app, which can be used to access all important and current SEO news on the iPhone.

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In January 2011, Apple announced the impressive total of 10 billion app downloads on iTunes. The downloads are distributed over around 350,000 apps on offer and 160 million users of iOS devices (iPhone, iPod touch, iPad). Which marketing measures are used to make an app successful? The SEO consultant and publisher of the iPhone app "SEO Post", Hanns Kronenberg, examined the App Store and shows how the search for apps and the app ranking work on iTunes.

Part 1 of the article “App Boosting” explained why apps for the iOS operating system from Apple are currently of outstanding importance when using the mobile Internet. "With more than 10 billion downloads in less than two and a half years - including a staggering 7 billion downloads in the last year alone - the App Store has exceeded our wildest expectations," said Philip Schiller, Apple's senior vice president of Worldwide Product Marketing. “The App Store has revolutionized the way software is developed, distributed, discovered and sold.” According to a recent study by market research company Gartner, 90 percent of global app downloads are via the Apple App Store. According to Gartner estimates, the number of annual app downloads will increase by 117 percent to 17.7 billion in 2011. The global turnover generated by mobile applications is forecast at over 15 billion dollars for the current year. But how do users choose between the approximately 350,000 apps that they download, and what measures can be taken to support the success of an app?

App store rankings (top charts)

The most important guide for users when choosing apps are the top charts in the three categories:

  • Apps (purchased)
  • Apps (free)
  • Top-selling apps

In a survey of iPhone users carried out by AdMob, almost 60 percent of those questioned said that the app store rankings made them aware of the apps that they wanted to download.

While the iTunes App Store home page shows the top 10 in each of the three categories on the stationary PC and on the iPad, a list of the top 25 is displayed directly on the iPhone and iPod touch. This gives an app outstanding visibility and attention when it ranks in the top 10 or 25 places in the top charts.

However, recommendations from friends and colleagues (38%), advertising in other apps (25%), news articles and blogs (20%) and the presentation of an app via the providers' direct information channels (15%) have a much smaller influence on the downloads. . The central point of contact for discovering new apps is the App Store itself.

Unfortunately, there are no advertising opportunities in the App Store. In addition to the top charts, other apps are presented in categories such as “New and noteworthy” and “Cutting-edge”. These lists are, however, maintained purely for editorial purposes. The greatest lever for the success of an app download is therefore to achieve the best possible placement in the app store ranking.

The number of downloads in the last 24–48 hours determine the top charts

The app store rankings in the two most important categories "Apps (purchased)" and "Apps (free)" are determined solely by the number of downloads. This counts the rolling downloads over a short period of approximately 24–48 hours. Other factors such as B. the ratings of apps have no influence on the app store rankings in the top charts. In order to achieve the best possible ranking in the App Store, an app must have been downloaded as often as possible in the last 24–48 hours. Only the downloads of the respective country version of the app store are counted. The rankings in the individual countries therefore differ from one another. The downloads of updates to an app are not counted for the top charts, by the way. Only new installations count.

The ranking in the top charts is more comparable to the music charts and less to the Google rankings. While a website on Google can achieve stable top 10 positions for a keyword indefinitely, the rankings of an app in the top charts are usually short-term and volatile. The mechanism of the top charts with its short evaluation period of the downloads ensures a lot of variety and always new apps in the top positions. This is certainly also in Apple's interest and ensures that the total number of downloads and sales are maximized.

Once an app has made it into the top 25 or even the top 10, a cycle of success begins. In these positions the app gets a lot of visibility, which leads to more downloads. More downloads mean even better positions in the top charts. This results in even more visibility and even more downloads, etc.

The cycle of success ends as soon as a certain saturation takes place. This happens in particular with the free apps, which every user can simply try out without risk. The more users have already downloaded the app, the less it can benefit from a good position in the top charts. At some point, a large number of users have already downloaded a particular app and fewer and fewer new downloads are added. Logically, the app then loses positions in the top charts.

The saturation effect is not quite as evident in paid apps. Naturally, the number of downloads of paid apps is not as high as for free apps. As a result, demand will not become saturated so quickly. Very successful payment apps such as “WhatsApp Messenger”, “Doodle Jump” and “Angry Birds” manage to stay in the top 10 for a very long time. Apparently, the increasing number of iOS devices sold and new customers is sufficient to ensure that there is always new demand in the area of ​​paid apps.

Typical ranking history of an app

The mechanisms described lead to a typical ranking process that can be observed in most (at least halfway popular) apps. Due to the short evaluation period of the downloads of 24–48 hours, the rankings have to be measured at very short intervals of 1–2 hours in order to make the typical course of the curve visible at all. A daily measurement is not enough for this.

As an example, Figure 2 shows the ranking history of the free iPhone app “Google Places” in the first week of release. The app was published on Wednesday, January 12, 2011 in the German App Store. In most apps, the curve profile has a similar profile. The most important points in the ranking history of "Google Places" were marked with the letters A to E:

A) Release and entry into the top 100:

Publishing the app triggers a buzz. The publisher announces the publication of the app on its own marketing channels (owned media). If the app is interesting, other media also report on it and the app is recommended by the first users (earned media). The publisher may also book advertising to make the app known (bought media). If the app appeals to a broad target group, it should succeed in entering the top 100 charts on the first day, as in the example of “Google Places”. How high the app rises in the rankings depends on the strength of the buzz. If the app only addresses a small target group or if only a small buzz was generated, it will probably only succeed in entering the top 100 in one sub-category (e.g. lifestyle, education, utilities, etc.).

B) first resistance:

From a certain point (B) after the release, the curve of the ranking development no longer rises quite as steeply. This point is usually reached within the first 24-48 hours. The number of downloads has to compete with more and more powerful apps and it is becoming more and more difficult to gain further places in the ranking. In the example of “Google Places”, this point was reached at the end of the first day when it came to entering the top 25. The top 25 apps already have good visibility in the App Store thanks to the top charts. The generated buzz effect must generate more downloads than the visibility advantage of the top 25 apps. At this point, the ranking increase of “Google Places” slowed down, which was also due to the fact that this point was reached at night. The number of downloads is low during the night and as a result there are naturally few changes in the rankings. The next morning, however, other media reported the publication of "Google Places" and the buzz was strengthened again. On the second day, additional places in the rankings were quickly gained. With entry into the top 10, the ranking curve flattened out again. Depending on the ranking position at which point B is reached and the curve flattens out, you can already assess the success of an app download within the first 24-48 hours. In the case of “Google Places”, it was foreseeable at the beginning of the second day that the momentum generated by the buzz was strong enough to achieve a top 10 ranking. However, the momentum was too low for first place in the App Store.

C) Achieving the best placement:

At point C, the app achieved its best placement in the top charts. In “Google Places” it was 4th place on the third day. Most of the downloads will now be generated. In addition to those generated by the buzz, there are also downloads, which are brought about by good visibility in the App Store. This is the period in which, due to the high visibility, many users become aware who would not have been reached via your own marketing channels. The better the ranking, the greater the desired effect. Depending on the quality of the app, the current competitive situation and the application, an app can stay in this position for a certain period of time. As the demand saturates, however, it slowly begins to lose positions again. The course of the ranking curve can be compared a little with a glider flight. At the beginning, the generated release buzz pulls the app up in the rankings. If it reaches the top 25 or even the top 10, it can benefit from the “thermal” there due to its good visibility and receives additional lift.

D) Relegation in the rankings:

After the app has achieved its best ranking at point C, it slowly loses positions again. At a certain point D it begins to fall faster and faster in the rankings. With Google Places, that was the case on day 5 when it left the top 25. From this point on, the app no ​​longer had high visibility in the App Store and was losing positions in the rankings faster and faster. Since Google does not aggressively advertise the app on its own website or on other platforms, point D was reached relatively quickly. Apparently, the English-language app was not so well received by users in Germany that word of mouth would have given them further support for staying in the top 25 for a longer period of time.

E) Leaving the top 100:

At the end of day 6, “Google Places” left the top 100. This point is not inevitably and not always reached that quickly. Some apps can achieve a relatively stable position in the top 100 after the first sharp drop in the rankings, which they can hold for a longer period of weeks or months. This is where the true quality of an app and the publisher becomes apparent (size of the target group, internal quality of the app, competitive situation, price-performance ratio, strength of the application, strength of the publisher's marketing channels, improvements through updates, etc.).

Further examples of ranking processes

The second example of the “Google Latitude” app in Figure 3. The app was published in Germany on December 13, 2010 and also achieved a ranking in the top 10 on the second day, as well as “Google Latitude “stayed in the top 100 for less than a week.

One of the most successful apps in recent times is the “Tagesschau” app, which was published on December 21, 2010. As can be seen in Figure 4, the app recorded a steep rise in the rankings without interruption, up to number 1 for free apps. The buzz triggered by the publication was so great that there was no resistance (point B) on the way to first place. The app was able to stay in this position for several days and has now been in the top 50 for more than a month. When leaving the top 10, however, there was a greater decline in the rankings (point D). For a few days now, “Tagesschau” has been gaining positions again and has made it back into the top 25. This development can perhaps be explained by the current political situation in Egypt and an increased demand for news. “Tagesschau” editor-in-chief Kai Gniffke told SPIEGEL that by January 7, 2011, 740,000 users had already downloaded the app. The lion's share of this is likely to be the iPhone version, at an estimated 90 percent. The number of downloads could now be over 1 million.

Optimization of the app store rankings

As shown, most apps achieve their best rankings in the App Store in the first few days after being released, which is how they get the most downloads. The higher the app rises in the rankings, the more its visibility in the App Store increases. This effect is very important, as users orientate themselves heavily on the rankings when it comes to their download behavior. In this phase, the publisher has a great chance of being noticed by users he cannot reach through his other marketing channels. Therefore, this period should be used particularly well.

To optimize the app store rankings, it must be remembered that the rankings are calculated on the basis of the number of downloads over a very short period of approximately 24-48 hours. A publisher should therefore also concentrate their marketing budget for the publication of the app on a short period of time in order to achieve the maximum effect. With the release of the app, full speed should be fired in the first few days in order to generate the greatest possible buzz and the best possible rankings. In contrast, if the budget were distributed over a longer period of weeks or even months, the ranking effect would largely fizzle out.

Specifically, the following measures should be taken for the release:

Submitting the app to iTunes Connect: To publish an app in the App Store, it must first be submitted to iTunes Connect. Apple checks the app and releases it at some point after it has been successfully checked. This process can take a day or stretch over several weeks. The exact release date and the associated marketing measures are therefore difficult to plan. However, Apple offers the option that an app is not published automatically after a successful check, but only after approval by the publisher. This means that the publisher can decide for himself when to press the start button and plan and coordinate all marketing measures in line with the publication date. Therefore, you should definitely avoid the automatic publication and control the start time yourself.

Owned Media: Via all of our own marketing channels such as B. your own website, Twitter, Facebook, etc., the app should be promoted as strongly as possible at the start. All iOS users who access their own website can also be automatically redirected to a special page via a switch, which introduces the new app and links directly to the download page in the App Store. It may also make sense to announce the app via your own channels before the release date and to build up tension. If a publisher has several apps, he should also use the cross-selling options.

Earned Media: At the start of the app, news sites and blogs play an important role in generating the greatest possible buzz. These multipliers should be informed in good time using suitable press material.This should ideally be done a few days before publication so that the media have enough time to prepare an article. When selecting the press distribution list, it should be ensured that there are also websites that are known as contact points for iPhone news (just search for “iphone news” on Google). Exclusive information, interviews, videos about the app and screenshots can help to win one or the other platform to spread the news. You may also reward your own users in the form of a competition for spreading the message via Twitter, Facebook and other channels in order to support word of mouth.

Bought Media: In addition, the market launch of the app can be supported by purchased advertising. In order to minimize wastage and avoid media discontinuity, you can apply in other apps. Such forms of advertising can, for. B. be booked through the Google subsidiary AdMob. But even Google AdWords can only be targeted at iPhone users. Here, too, the principle applies that everything is shot at full speed for a short period of time in order to generate as many downloads as possible in the first hours and days after publication.

Price: In the case of paid apps, a reduced introductory price can be very successful for a limited period of time in order to achieve a large number of downloads quickly and thus increase the rankings. For fear of having to pay more at a later date, users buy the app immediately and don't wait long. If you do not want to give a discount, simply claim that the price offered is reduced for the introduction and that the app actually costs more regularly. You can still claim later that you were so satisfied with the market launch that you are now offering the reduced price permanently as a thank you. The reduced price should be clearly communicated in the description of the app and possibly even in the app logo.

The more bundled and more extensive the measures are carried out in a short period of time, the greater the buzz effect that increases the ranking of the app on iTunes.

Generate a new buzz at regular intervals

So far we've talked about the buzz around an app launch. As we have seen, with most apps it cannot be avoided that the rankings fall over time, which has a negative effect on the visibility in the App Store. The publisher of an app should therefore create a new buzz at regular intervals to give the rankings a new boost. In principle, all of the above measures are suitable for this purpose. It is often a good idea to generate a new buzz when an update of the app is published and there is also something to talk about in this context (new functions, new content).

The publisher of the fee-based navigation app “skobbler”, for example, makes this particularly successful. Figure 5 shows how, since the release in October 2009, skobbler GmbH has repeatedly succeeded in creating a new buzz and thus reaching the top of the top charts for purchased apps. They repeatedly come in first place. Since I was able to advise skobbler in a workshop on the subject of “app store marketing” before the market launch, it makes me particularly proud when a customer implements the recommended measures so well.

Skobbler GmbH is a management buyout from the well-known provider Navigon. The high-priced and popular apps from Navigon are probably the top-selling apps in the App Store. When the low-priced “skobbler” app was launched, so many downloads were generated that skobbler not only reached number 1 in the App Store, but despite its low price even generated more sales in the short term than the Navigon app, which was around a hundred times as expensive in the App Store. Navigon was so unsettled by this development that they terminated the skobbler license agreement for the map material and threatened legal action. This fight "David against Goliath" ensured that skobbler received a lot of attention and sympathy in the media, which in the first few weeks repeatedly led to a new buzz and the app "skobbler" repeatedly returned to number 1 in the app store. Rankings catapulted. Litigation can also be used for a buzz to improve the rankings in the App Store. In addition, skobbler also cleverly uses price promotions to give the rankings a new boost over and over again. In the list of the best-selling iPhone apps of all time published by Apple in January 2011 (App Store Germany), the “skobbler” app took 15th place and the “NAVIGON MobileNavigator Europe” app took 43rd place.

In the case of free apps, by definition, there is unfortunately no possibility of generating a new buzz through pricing. It is therefore much more difficult in this area to trigger a new boost for the rankings at certain intervals. Thus, many very good apps disappear over time in the invisible depths of the app store rankings. The large number of constantly new iPhone owners are not paying enough attention to many highlights from the past, especially via the top rankings for free apps. There is an urgent need for Apple to permanently introduce top rankings for the apps with the most downloads of all time and to present them equally on the start page in the App Store. However, there is a trick that can be used to very successfully generate a new ranking boost even with free apps. Unfortunately, I cannot publicly reveal this trick, which is based on a special system in the App Store. If many publishers were to use this method, Apple would probably have to act quickly and fix this "flaw in the system".

Search on iTunes

It goes without saying that an app should also be easy to find at any time using the internal iTunes search. When entering the app via iTunes Connect, three fields must be taken into account, which Apple evaluates during the search:

  1. App name
  2. Publisher name
  3. Keywords (maximum 100 characters)

According to my observations, the presence of keywords in these three fields is weighted by Apple in exactly this order during the search. The name of the app has the greatest weight, followed by the name of the publisher and the keywords stored. The number of downloads may also count as a fourth criterion, whereby the weighting is then very low. For example, if you search for “news” on iTunes, the apps that contain the keyword “news” in the app name are displayed first. This is currently followed by the “tinnitus help” app, in which the word “news” appears in the name of the publisher (IND - Ingenierbuero f. Nachrichten u. Datentechnik). Popular news apps such as “Bild”, “Tagesschau”, “N24”, “stern.de” or “DER SPIEGEL eReader”, which one would assume to be in the top positions, are only shown below.

When selecting the keywords, it must be ensured that both the usual spelling of the brand (e.g. Immobilienscout, Immobilienscout24) and the core keywords of the category (e.g. Real Estate) are stored. When searching for “Immobilienscout24” you can currently find z. B. only the "Immobilienscout24 Podcast", but not the iPhone app "ImmoScout24".

In the early days of the App Store, the "Description" field was also evaluated in the search. This resulted in a wide range of spam opportunities that were also used intensively. In the description, sentences such as “Visit us on Twitter and Facebook” were very popular, so that they would also be displayed as a search result when searching for the popular keywords “Twitter” and “Facebook”. Another classic was the list of competitor apps in the description: "If you liked apps A, B, C, D, E, F and G, you will surely like our app H." In this way, the Own app also displayed as hits when searching for the names of competitors. Fortunately, Apple has eliminated this possibility of spam by no longer evaluating the description text for the search. The downside is that some apps are now hard to find. The "Keywords" field was created as a replacement for the publishers. However, the number of stored keywords is very limited due to the limitation to a maximum of 100 characters. Once you have stored the keywords and the app has been approved by Apple, you can no longer change the keywords. A change is only possible again when the app is updated. In this way, Apple certainly wants to ensure that the manual control of the keywords is possible with a reasonable expenditure of time on the part of Apple employees.

Since the name of the app has the highest weight for sorting the search results, it is worthwhile in some cases to "trick" a bit and possibly include several important keywords. For example, instead of simply calling an app “picture”, you can also call it “picture (news and weather)”.

Optimize conversion

So far we have discussed how an app can achieve the highest possible visibility in the App Store. The second important step is to optimize the conversion in the App Store. To do this, the user must first click on the details page of the app. If an app is shown in the top rankings or in the search results, the information presented is very scarce. In the search results on the PC z. For example, the app logo, the app store category, the last update date and the price are displayed. In the top rankings, the information is even lower. For a good click-through rate (CTR), it is useful to think twice about the app logo and the name of the app in particular. For larger projects, it is definitely worth doing some market research and testing different variants against each other.

If a user has made it to the detail page of an app, he should find a well-formulated description and meaningful screenshots so that visiting the page actually leads to a download of the app. It is beyond the scope of this article to list all the important pieces of advice in this area. In a nutshell, the subjectively perceived purchase risk of the user should simply be minimized by a well-designed detail page on iTunes.

Added value, quality of the app and size of the target group

With all the tips for app store marketing, it should not be overlooked that the added value for the user, the outstanding quality of the app and the largest possible target group cannot be replaced. To give a feeling for which apps run successfully on iTunes, Figure 6 shows the 50 “top iPhone apps of all time” on iTunes Germany (apps with the most free downloads).

As you can see, there are not only apps from big brands in the top 50 list, but also pure app store success stories such as: B. “iHandy Wasserwage”, “Paper Toss” and “Talking Tom Tom”, which struck a chord with iPhone users. However, especially with free downloads, the retention rate (retention rate, user loyalty) and the frequency of use must be taken into account. According to a recent study by Localytics, 26 percent of all apps downloaded in 2010 were started only once (and then forgotten or deleted). As early as 2009, flurry.com found that the average retention rate of an app was 67 percent after 30 days, 32 percent after 60 days and only 25 percent after 90 days. These values ​​can of course differ greatly from app to app and between the individual categories. If an app cannot convince the user in terms of quality after the download, the value for the number of downloads is quickly put into perspective. This knowledge is also extremely important when developing the business model of an app. If an app does not pass the everyday test, you cannot rely on permanent advertising income from its use and perhaps better offer it as a paid app. In the last few months, so-called in-app purchases have also developed into a successful business model. For in-app purchases, e.g. B. Additional functions, bonus levels for games, additional experience points, subscriptions and recurring services can be acquired within the app, which are then billed by Apple via the iTunes account.

Ultimately, the recipe for success for an app can be summed up in a single sentence. Peter Vesterbacka (creator of "Angry Birds", one of the most successful apps with a total of over 50 million downloads) said aptly: "Create a great app and get the message out." I wish all readers successful “App Boosting” and “Happy Apps”!