How Web Data Kills App Store Optimization

Dave Bell
by Dave Bell 28 Jan, 2016


The App Store may seem like a black box to many developers. What is the best way to drive downloads for an app? How does App Store Search really work? Where should I invest? These are the questions that many marketers have when evaluating how to approach App Store Optimization.


Unfortunately, the truth is that while the App Store can be difficult to navigate (without the right help or knowledge) the biggest obstacle to success can be bad data and "free" advice about how the App Store works.



Looking at data points from the Google Keyword Planner and Google Trends and comparing this data to even publicly available information exposed by Apple's App Store and Google Play clearly illustrates that user behavior across the Web and mobile platforms is very different. In fact, it is so different that using Web data to optimize an app may seriously harm an app and its surrounding business.


The Web and mobile are not the same

The Web and mobile have always been different platforms - with different user behavior and expectations. Going back to the days of feature phones (way before the App Store existed) people used the phrase "made for medium." It meant, in short, that when you develop a product for a mobile device you need to tailor the experience to the device. This is still true - and it applies to app marketing as much as it does the development strategy.


Keyword popularity and competition are not the same

The keywords that users use to search on the Web and those that they use in mobile are different. Relying on data from Google Web Search to optimize your app is kind of like relying on a map of Canada to traverse the United States. You may end up in the time zone that you are looking for, but you may be several states away from your intended destination.


Here is a great example:



As you can see from the above image, Google's keyword tool would lead you to believe that the keyword "Flappy" is low competition and has low search volume. No reason to target this keyword with your app right? Wrong. Anybody who has been breathing for the last 18 months knows that the game Flappy Bird took the App Store and Google Play by storm, making Flappy one of the most searched and highly competitive keywords in either of the two major stores Let's look at some additional data.



Fruit Ninja has been a staple of the App Store and Google Play for years, yet Google Keyword Planner indicates that this is a low competition phrase with relatively low search volume.



Many tools that seem like they are made for the purpose of ASO in fact leverage this kind of commodity Web data as their directional indicator for what people are searching for in the App Store. As a marketer, always ask where the data that you use for App Store Optimization really comes from.


Now that you understand how basic search is very different across the Web and mobile, you can start to understand why traffic volume can be drastically different for keywords across the web and mobile. Trying to catch a keyword trend like Flappy (think "Flappy Bird") would only be relevant for mobile, so using a tool that provides a broad and generic data set from the web will have serious inaccuracies - causing serious missed opportunities.


Understand mobile user intent

What end users are looking for when they search with a specific keyword is also different on mobile than it is on the Web. It is also incredibly important to understand. Your app could be ranked #1 for a keyword in the App Store, but if the content or intended use of your app isn't what people intend to find when they search for that keyword you will reap no rewards from the visibility. When targeting a keyword it is important to understand what a mobile user would be searching for with the keyword.


Let's use the example above, but zoom in on the context of a Web search for the keyword "flappy":



As you can see, most people searching for "flappy" on Google Web search tend to be searching for flapjacks and other pancake related contextual information. This is obviously not true for the App Store, where a search for flappy results in hundreds of mobile games that are related to or based on the Flappy Bird trend.


Let's look at another example. The keyword "Mall" is a very popular keyword in both Google Web Search and the App Store - however the context and user intent of the search is fundamentally different. When you search the App Store for "mall" the most relevant apps tend to be simulation games - in fact 70 percent of the results are games.



Know where your data comes from

While App Store Optimization is a critical part of the mobile marketing pie, it is critically important that mobile data is used in the optimization process. Apple and Google do not share exact search volume metrics with anyone, so as a marketer, it is important to always ask where the data that you use for App Store Optimization comes from.


Dave Bell is the co-founder and chief executive officer of Gummicube. In this role, Dave is responsible for overseeing the business strategy for the company, driving growth and market development. Dave is a pioneer of the mobile entertainment industry with more than 15 years of experience publishing, marketing, and distributing mobile applications and games across carrier, direct to consumer and app store channels.