App Store Optimization (ASO) (1/5): Keywords & Description

A lot of people, including some journals, asked me to do this, now I finally gave up. This has been the secret sauce of the success of the AL Voice Recorder, an app with more than 330.000 downloads today. At it’s peak, the app reached 7.000 downloads a day, resulting in an $50+ income per day. All because of the fact that it was the first app in the list when searching for the terms ‘voice recorder’ on Android Market.

What is ASO?

I mentioned the term App Store Optimization the first time publicly at the Droidcon in Berlin, Germany on November 3rd, 2009, when doing a presentation on ‘Making Money Mobile’. Whether I was the first person that used this term, I don’t know, probably not. However, I used it since then and I think it should definitely be included into one’s app marketing strategy.

App Store Optimization means everything that helps your app being more visible in app stores. This means everything, from contacts with users to marketing to Android Market SEO is ASO. However, for this article, I want to focus only on the Android Market in genrell and it’s search algorithm in particular.

Parts of this and the following articles on App Store Optimization will be:
1. Keywords
2. Description
3. Icons
4. Screenshots
5. Videos
6. Ratings
7. Installs
8. Users

While this article will cover the extremely important part of the keywords and description.

1. Keywords

When you are not featured and don’t want to rely on the Android Market’s ‘just in’ section, keywords are all you have.
They are essential for your app to be found when the user is searching. Keywords are of special use to you, when

  1. they are used often in search queries
  2. your app appears in the top part of the result page

For example ‘voice’ and ‘recorder’ are pretty good keywords. Due to the fact that almost no Android device has a voice recorder preinstalled, this words are queried very often. The same is the case for other essential apps that come not out of the box on Android like file explorers, backup managers or others.
The importance of the frequence of keywords was very high until december 2010. Since then, the Market search algorithm has been changed and the frequence of keywords in an app’s description is not that important anymore. Nevertheless, keywords are still essentiel for your app’s visibility. How the Android Market is determining the position of your apps will be part of another post.
When you are really serious about optimizing your app for keywords, you will look for good keywords first, and implement your app afterwards.

What are good keywords

Some keywords are bad because no one is querying for them. So how can you find out which keywords to optimize for?

The first step should be: Take a look at the Android Market. Type in some Keywords and see what will happen. When looking at the first apps you will see whether they are found by ‘accident’ and don’t really fit the keywords or if they are in a real correlation to them. When there is no app whose content matches to your search terms, your keywords are either weak, or your idea is unique. When you are convinced the keywords of your app and hence the app itself are unique and usefull to millions of people, go ahead and build it! If you are not, you might want to reconsider your idea or release an early candidate, produced after Pareto’s law (80:20).

If there are lots of apps that fit your keywords, you should take a look on the download and rating rates to determine whether the apps found with your keywords are successfull. This again is an indicator on whether your keywords are queried often or not. You can also search google or prominent android forums for apps often wanted and keywords often used.

Keywords: How?

Now that you know which keywords you want to optimize for (it can be an array of keywords, e.g. not only ‘voice’ and ‘recorder’ but also ‘recordings’, ‘speech recorder’, ‘sound’, ‘media player’ and so on), you need to put them into your text. As I said frequency is not as important as it was in the past anymore. Still, your description should include your keywords repeatedly. You should make sure your text is human readable, putting the same keyword as every second word will definitely destroy your description and scare users. You should make sentences that are usefull and don’t make it too obvious that you are using keywords. A bad example:

“Keywords: angry birds, birds are angry, rio, bird, …”

A good example (out of the Farm Tower‘s app description):

“… will love the cute animals (pig, cow, chick, chicken, sheep, horse, bull, cat, no angry birds though ;) ) and the funny sounds …”

I think you can see the difference. To benefit from other well known brands like Angry Birds is a way to go, as long at is not too obvious.
As a rule of thumb you can say one keyword string per sentence is a good way to go.

Keywords: Where?

It seems as if the title of an app had a higher relevance than it’s description. If it’s possible, you should also place the most relevant keywords of your app in the app’s name. For example AL Voice Recorder for ‘voice’ and ‘recorder’ or 3D Invaders – 3D Game for ‘3D’ and ‘3D game’. If possible, you can also choose your developer’s name in a way that it includes keywords (though I don’t do that for self marketing reasons).

Keyword spamming

When you do this too obvious things, what will happen some day is: Your app will be kicked out of Android Market and that’s not what you want. Some popular apps still have a part in their description beginning with ‘Tags: …’ or ‘Keywords: …’ but as I mentioned in another blogpost, one day either these passages or these apps will vanish.

Keywords in a nutshell

To put it in one sentence: Determine good keywords and use them wherever you can, but use them in human readable sentences. The good thing about the Android Market is that you can see the effect of your changes in a day, other than when you are doing website SEO and the spider comes along every two weeks or so.

2. Description

This is, compared to the keywords section of this article, only a short part. Nonetheless I hope it will help you.
Description and keywords share a strong relationship, still there are differences. While keywords are used for saying your app is top to the search algorithm, your description needs to say the same thing to the human user. Other than for your keyword placement, the complete description of your app has to be summarized in one sentence. This is because the Android Market is build in a way that wants to give the user a fast overview over the app and its use. The user gets to see the first three lines of text and if he likes it, he will press the ‘More’-button and read your whole description or at least the next three lines. That’s why the first three lines of your description have to be catchy and create a desire for the app. An example:

“The most intuitive, usefull and simple to use File Manager on the Android Market”

There you got it: One sentence that says what the app is all about and why the user should install it. Plus ‘File Manager’ as keywords. Of course, some users might disagree with the description, but that will always be the case. Furthermore, to make a judgement, the app has to be downloaded first. I will talk about users in the last part of the ASO-series.

The next lines are also important but can describe the app in more detail. The closer to the end of the description text, the less users will read it, the less important it is (you can place a FAQ here if you want).

So to sum the description part up: Make it human readable, make the first sentence catchy and let it describe the app in three lines (max).

I hope this blog post will be usefull to someone. In the next part, I will write about Icons and Screenshots, so stay tuned.
Please feel free to share your own experiences in the comments.

33 Comments

  1. Great article and great blog, thanks. I’m looking forward to the next articles.

    Noticed that the description of Google Maps use the “Keywords: ” tag, which I found funny.

  2. cool ideas, I implemented them and it did advanced my apps to the first 3 pages.
    10x!
    –alagant

  3. I was thinking about this for quite a while. Great article. I was thinking can :description in manifest file under help too? And for what it is used for anyway?
    I made one application that is something like ice-breaker for me to android and making money through it. So if you could only check my description and “keywords”, cuz i THINK i did it good, but results aren’t proving my thoughts

    If you can give some suggestion or pin point me to mistakes that would be great.

    • Hello Slaven,

      thank you for your message.
      I’m afraid I’m not aware of the description tag you mentioned. Can you provide some example of where to use it in the manifest?
      Questions regarding your app:

      • What keywords do you want to optimize your app for?
      • Are there any successful competitors?
      • Can you make an estimate how big your niche is?

      Best regards
      Johannes

  4. Hello Johannes,

    Now that i am reading my post again i see that some word were left out (probably because i used tags that belong to html so it was filtered). The description tag can be find under application in manifest.
    http://developer.android.com/guide/topics/manifest/application-element.html
    I think the market reads this one too and can help. But didn’t see much app using it. So maybe we found something, or nothing :D

    Now that you form you questions like that i guess i didn’t settle on any set of keywords. I just have a lot of them… I am trying to make my app as dynamic as it can be, and to be used in lot of different scenarios. so i guess that is the problem. It’s hard to strictly define it’s purpose.

    the keyword would be: cool, make you cool, make me cool, the man, button, tease, prank

    successful competitors: for pranks and cool keywords maybe Finger Print scanner, but something similar to my app didn’t find.

    for niche hmm i guess everyone who is searching above keyword.

    I am waiting for you advice regarding keywords before i try description tag myself. Maybe you can try to put it in your app and share results.

    Sorry for big comment :D and thanks for helping me understand it better.
    P.S These questions are pretty good maybe you can write article about questions that would help you (the reader ) to define proper keywords.

  5. A** K**** T***

    2012/01/05 at 19:25

    Hi,

    Check this: http://****.com

    Thanks

    Edit: Link removed due to commercial content

    • Hello guys,

      please note that this blog is intended to be a platform for advertising commercial products (unless you have been given permission).

      Best regards
      Johannes

  6. Incredibly useful info! Thanks. I had been wondering what the algo was for the Android Market keyword search. I would love to see this spelled out somewhere.

  7. Hi Johannes, thanks for sharing this info! I got warning from Google as reporting spam for my word scramble game. After having gone through your blog i am very clear that why i got it. and one more thing i would like to know can we use other game names as keywords(like same kind of games).

    Thanks,
    John

    • Hi John,

      You should hide it in a usefull sentence, like the example of Farm Tower I mentioned. I ‘ve heard of apps that have been kicked because they mentioned Angry Birds too aggressively.

      Best regards
      Johannes

  8. Thanks for the insight! Well, it seems to be a bit easier on the Android market than on the iTunes App Store. Do you know of any good services or apps that make the App Store keyword research a bit easier than doing it by hand and trying to find keywords that put my game Roosterama any close to Angry Birds?

    Anyone knows how relevant the App Store description is – compared to the 100 char keywords allowed?

    Thanks in advance!
    Markus

  9. Oh yes, I forgot to ask: if you have suggestions or ideas for my iPhone game, called Roosterama – please do so – would be nice…

    http://itunes.apple.com/app/roosterama/id501125592

    My keywords are so far:
    sports,party,funny,run,cute,pet,animal,chicken,farm,athletics,longjump,track,field,medal

  10. Awesome article !! Totally.
    Could you give me a few suggestions 4 my app : https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.note.picasso
    Thanks :)

    • Hi Shashwat,

      sure. I have four short tips for you:
      1. Think about which keywords fit your app the most. What would a user most likely search for when he has a problem your app can solve. Probably ‘Paint’, ‘Draw’ or similar.
      2. Use shorter sentences with clear statements that put the use in the foreground. Like here.
      3. I think it would be more profitable for you to offer your app free and ad supported instead of paid. If you want to stick with the app being priced, raise it.
      4. Internationalize your description. A good way to start is the auto-translation the Play Store’s developer console offers.

      Best success
      Johannes

  11. Hi Johannes,
    thanks for the useful tips. I implemented the keywords tip in my app ( https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.anywhere.tsoro ). I also have the “rate me” dialog box in my app but I am not getting enough ratings and feedback (only 2 ratings so far).
    Do you have any suggestions for improving installs and ratings?

    Best regards,
    AnyWare

  12. Abdulhamid Dhaiban

    2012/07/01 at 06:37

    Fantastic.

    Firstly, I want to add that the description modification is reflected in the search instantly. However, It is not appearing in the app details page. I tried to play with the description of one of my apps and search after update. The app was going up and down in the search list. The is a tip.

    Secondly, I thought that keywords list is allowed in google play because I saw popular apps listing keywords. But you told it is wrong. Thanks for this information because you saved my life :).

    Finally, I have one question! How to get my app in trending apps list? Do you have an idea about it?

    Thank you very much for this helpful post.

    • Hi Abdulhamid,

      thank you for sharing your observations.
      The trending apps list shows the apps with a “hockey stick growth in the last 24 hours” (Source). So what you have to do is get a lot of downloads in a very short period of time.

      Best regards
      Johannes

  13. Hi Johannes
    The best article, very useful information
    Could you give me a few suggestions 4 my app

    https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=ironroad.vms&feature=search_result

    thanks :)

  14. Hello Johannes,

    It is a pleasure to read your article on app store optimization. This is a new term I heard from your blog and it is very very right term because if your apps listing in app store is not properly optimized your apps will not come in top of search. I have one query that what should be the ideal keyword density in app feature and description & what should be the maximum length of title of apps.

    we created these paid apps & any expert advices from you would be appreciated :)

    http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/invite-kids/id559687783?mt=8

  15. Hi Johannes.
    as all the users replied to this blog said, great article, i think there is a lot of misunderstanding when it comes to ASO.
    however, i want to ask you i have several apps in the google play store one of them is a flashlight app which drive nice installs but also the keywords to use are very easy.
    the problem starts when you have a new game.
    I have a game called star coin (maybe the name is not so good) and i changed the name a few times and stil users cant find my game. i will be happy if you can advice me how to optimize my title and description to drive more installs.

    Thank you very much for the information.

    • Hi Tomer,

      the weight of keywords is much lower today than it was before. It is more and more important to focus on outside factors on the play store, same as it is for websites (e.g. backlinks). So, for example, it’s much more important to get a high momentum when your app debuts in order for it to be taken seriously by the play store’s algorithm.
      Looking at your description you are probably focusing on “coin” for the first and “puzzle” for the second half of your description. Maybe you can try to make it a bit longer and try to write it a bit more straight to the point on the one hand but more cheerful and beautified on the other. For example instead of “we are always happy to listen to what our users have to say”, simply “We always listen to our users”. You can also try to spread your keywords more over the whole description.

      Best luck!
      Johannes

  16. Ali Kamran

    2014/05/12 at 06:43

    Dear Johannes Borchardt,
    I read your blog and i am truly thankful for this sharing. when i first read your blog i decided i will definitely get your suggestions on my game. This is my first game i need your suggestions about keywords,description and other ASO related things please check it out.

    https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.glory.gem.heroescape&hl=en

    Also if you can teach me ASO i can definitely do what i know and what you want. Like if i post my link somewhere i will definitely post your link as well. Can give you free excel report as well because i respect my teachers :D … Looking forward for your reply. If its convenient for you, please add me on skype etech281 … if not then not a problem :-) …

  17. Hi, nice article.

    My application has been in the market for about 2 months and I’ve barely gotten 10 installs. My application is https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=air.TwistCalculatorFree , Also when I search “Twist Calculator”, my application doesnt appear in the search results. But when I search “TwistCalculator”, my application is the only one that appears. Can you have a look at it and give me some suggestions? I will really appreciate that.

    Thanks

  18. Great work, I loved the way you divided the ASO world into subjects, This provided an easy read flow…

    Out of curiosity do you guys know Supersonic’s Mobile Ad network?
    to sign up, you can try the system for free!

  19. Nirdosh Bhandari

    2015/08/21 at 17:48

    nice article.
    Can anyone give any suggestion for my new android game. Its called Crazy Plane: makes you crazy.
    https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.thenirdosh.crazyplane

  20. A very great and detailed article Johannes.

    On recent algorithm updates, I think both Google and Apple have already able to detect more apps you spamming their keywords, especially on Google’s side.

    BTW, my on the go formula for app keywords are: Relevant/LSI Keywords, High Traffic and Low/Med Competition or Difficulty. What are your thoughts to my formula?

    • Hi Carl,

      thank you for your comment and sorry for your late reply. Yes, keyword spamming should definitely not be an option. Even mentioning unrelated apps like in the example in the article can potentially cause a ban.
      The formula is probably not the difficult part, but finding the right keywords is. Personally I like this article on keyword research a lot. It’s just a lot of work.

      Best regards,
      Johannes

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