Researching (iOS) App Store Keywords with Sensor Tower

I’ve mentioned “researching keywords” a few times in this blog. I thought it might be useful to describe what I mean/do when I talk about researching keywords…

Keywords, the goal

Here’s what I’m trying to achieve. I want the best set of keyword phrases I can find for my app. In this case, it’s Reminder+. And by best, I mean:

  • keyword phrases that have high traffic; lots of people searching for that phrase and viewing the resulting list of apps.
  • keyword phrases that I can perform well with; will my app rank highly enough in that list to be considered, if I have those keywords?
  • keyword phrases that are relevant to my app; if I do rank highly enough to be considered, will my app match what the person was searching for?1.

The “researching” process

When I say researching, I’m using that word to encompass a few different steps.

1. Idea generation

I start by generating a list of possible keywords (and phrases). Generally, I approach this as follows:

  • My app offers a solution to problem x
  • What words and phrases might someone use when they’re searching for a solution to this problem?2
  • In addition to the obvious terms, can I think of any less common words that might also be used?

Those bullet points may seem obvious, but they’re important, especially the last one. A lot of the initial keyword phrases that come to mind are probably oversubscribed, and your chance of ranking highly for them, is slim. Given how much competition exists in the store, a key part of this process, for me, involves thinking outside the box.

2. Investigate those phrases in the App Store

Having a list of ideas is fine, but you can only use so many keywords, so you need to know which of them are the best for your app within in the context of the App Store:

  • How much traffic does a keyword/phrase get?
  • How much competition is there for that keyword/phrase?

This is where Sensor Tower comes in. Sensor Tower is a service that, among other things, can help with App Store optimisation. I use one of their free accounts3, which has several restrictions, and I (currently) only use one of their tools/pages: Keyword Rankings4.

Here’s an example showing some of the keyword phrases that I target with Reminder+:

I find this tool useful for the research phase as it gives me an indication of both the Traffic for a keyword phrase and the difficulty associated with ranking for that phrase.

It’s also possible to select one of the keyword phrases in question and look at the apps that currently rank for it, giving you a quick look at the competition.

One of the restriction associate with a free account is a limit on the number of keyword phrases that can be entered (tracked). Whilst this can slow you down and limits what you can realistically track for an existing app, it doesn’t prevent useful investigation.

3. Iterate and review

This process is iterative.

  • Invariably, some keywords phrases will turn out to be unsuitable, either because they don’t have enough traffic or they have too much competition. So they come off the list and I look at alternatives.
  • The process of reviewing the list and trying things in Sensor Tower often generates new ideas, which are then tested.
  • The two places we can put keywords are the keyword field (100 characters) and the App Store name (255 characters); as I get closer to the set of keywords that I want to use, if some of them are going to feature in the App Store name, this also needs to be reviewed.

  1. Relevant keywords: for example, it’s no good ranking first when people search for “fly fishing” if your app is for making VPN connections…
  2. What words and phrases might someone use… – you could ask people, use a thesaurus, look at keywords similar apps are using…
  3. Free account with Sensor Tower: my current app revenue wouldn’t cover the subscription price…
  4. Keyword Rankings tool: is accessed via App Intelligence > App Store Optimisation > Keyword Rankings
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