When we think of mobile, we think of popular apps like Instagram and WhatsApp, or popular games. But the mobile world is a lot bigger.

Users spend more time in mobile apps than they do in accessing the Internet from their desktops and laptops. Not only is more time spent in apps, more digital content is consumed in mobile apps than on the desktop.

"Digital content" almost sounds too broad to fully appreciate the dramatic shift to mobile. We're talking articles, videos, music, blog posts, vacation photos, podcasts, whitepapers, tweets, and status updates.

Also, more text, from blog posts to articles to social media posts to whitepapers, is read from within mobile apps. More audio is consumed as music and podcasts. Also, every day, people watch hundreds of millions of hours on YouTube and generate billions of views, and 50% come from mobile devices.

Moreover, mobile makes up two-thirds of Apple's revenues. And more Google searches take place on mobile devices than on computers in 10 countries including the US and Japan.

How Users Find Apps

So, how do I get users to find and use your app?

Let's start by saying that most mobile apps are downloaded from the app stores. That's Apple's App Store and Google Play, for the most part.

The other primary ways people find apps is from ads in other apps (from small mobile games to the Facebook app), word-of-mouth, and increasingly from within another app (deep linking or applinks).

For the vast majority of mobile apps, app store discovery and paid user acquisition campaigns are the most effective channels for new users.

The good news for mobile app publishers and mobile app marketing agencies is that because most apps are downloaded from app store search, optimizing your app for discovery can put your app in front of a large, relevant user base without having to pay for each installment.

App Indexing in Apple's App Store and Google Play

Apple and Google differ somewhat in how they index a mobile app.

Apple relies heavily on the keywords used in the app title and keywords field. The combination of keywords used in the title and keywords field creates a keyword matrix.

Title: "Doggi: find a dog walker near you"

Keywords: walking, running, playing

Searching in the App Store for "dog walking" would return the above app (and likely several others). Note that the search term includes a word found in the title and a word found in the keywords field.

Google's approach to indexing mobile apps tends to look much more like traditional SEO. It has an app title, a short description, and full description fields—no keywords field.

But optimizing for Google Play is different than SEO; mobile app publishers are optimizing for Google Play search, not Google Web search.

Web Search vs. App Store Search

In Web search, users typically use long-term terms to find things that they want. This could be anything from "restaurants near me" or "how to learn a language in a month."

Search aren't as long with the app store search. The balance is generally one-word app/brand names searchs or two- to three-word phrases.

  1. Features: "chat," "share photos," "learn a language"
  2. App/brand name: "Facebook," "Instagram," "Duolingo"

Optimizing your app for discovery and conversion is called "app store optimization" (ASO).

ASO is similar to how modern SEO approaches website discovery—keywords, design, and copy that encourages relevant traffic to stick around—but it optimizes for app store search data and mobile user behavior.

Building a Keyword Matrix

Armed with the basics of how Apple and Google index mobile apps, we can now start to develop an app store listing for maximum exposure to relevant searches.

Start with building out your keyword matrix—the set of words used in the app title and keywords field (Apple) or descriptions (Google) that combine to cover the breadth of the 2-3 phrases your target audience is using to search for apps.

Apple and Google have different limits on app titles and descriptions. Apple's keyword field is limited to 100 characters, including commas.

Those limits require publishers and marketers to identify and select target keywords and phrases most relevant to the app and their target audience.

Relevancy is key. Taking into account the recent Apple "crackdown" on longer app titles, if your title is optimized correctly to include keywords relevant to your app, a developer can use all of the 255-character space provided.

Tapping into app store data to see how your target audience is searching for mobile apps like yours is the first step in building your optimal keyword matrix.

Because of the value in tapping into the organic search traffic found in app store search, it is generally a good investment to locate a service or platform that provides both access to app store data and tools to help you evaluate and optimize an app's keyword matrix in your next steps in mobile marketing.

Using ASO to Build a Mobile marketing strategy

In ASO, the two primary goals are...

  1. Discovery: Create app titles, descriptions, and complete the keywords field (Apple only) so that Apple and Google know what your app is about and returns the app in a relevant search result.
  2. Conversion: Create clear and compelling app icons, screenshots, and videos to boost your app's chances of being downloaded.

By defining and executing a complete ASO strategy, savvy mobile app publishers and marketers can create a stream of organic, ultra-relevant users to your mobile app and boost your visibility.

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image of Dave Bell

Dave Bell is a co-founder and the CEO of Gummicube, a global provider of data, technology, and services for app store optimization.

LinkedIn: Dave Bell