If you have been publishing mobile apps over the last few years, you have likely seen the rise in importance and awareness of ASO, or app store optimization.

App store optimization is the practice of creating mobile app listings in the app stores that can are indexed so that your app appears in relevant app store search results, and is ultimately installed and used.

The main way app marketers optimize their app listings for indexation and discovery is by identifying and using relevant keywords and phrases in the app name, description(s), and keywords field (for iOS apps).

Each of these app listing elements have character limits, and impact how an app is indexed to varying degrees.

For example, it is commonly accepted that both Google and Apple weigh keywords used in the app title/name more heavily than those used in the keywords or short description fields, which in turn are more heavily weighted than the full or general description fields.

There are several other variables that impact rankings, the number and quality of the ratings and reviews, downloads and download velocity and more… But a lot of those variables are less related to the app listing, and more impacted by the app itself.

As a result, virtually every app store listing optimization effort begins with:

  • Which keywords and phrases should I target?
  • Which should I use in the most heavily weighted fields?

Because the app stores are “closed” – with neither Google nor Apple sharing insights to search traffic, keyword or phrase volume or popularity – the process of finding keywords defaulted to the tools available.

Most go to Google’s Keyword Planner.

The Google Keyword Planner is a free tool that helps marketers build Adword campaigns (Google’s ad network), and displays estimated search volumes, competitiveness and costs for advertising on web search results for that term.

We all knew it was keywords and phrases suggested by Google based on web search data, but that’s what we had to work with so we used ASO keyword tools that pulled their search data from this free API.

As we have come to learn, however, there are significant differences between web search and app store search.

Have mobile marketers and app publishers been optimizing their app store listings for the wrong search terms? Are these apps optimized for web search instead of app store search?


App Store Search and Web Search Compared

While the ability to type on a smaller screen, or being “on the go” may impact searches, the key difference between app store search and web search appears to be user intent.


App Store vs Web Results 

A quick search for “restaurant” in Apple’s App Store, and then again using Safari mobile web browser show very different results.

App Store Optimization - App Store Results
App Store Optimization - Google Results

Apple and Google are clearly expecting that a mobile user searching the app stores expect one type of results, and a different set of results when searching the web, even if from the same mobile device.

And this makes sense intuitively, but the approach has been “some data is better than no data”, thus continuing to rely on the Keyword Planner.

How then, do these differences in intent impact the words and phrases we should be targeting in app store search?


Related Keywords/Phrases in App Store vs Web

Consider a photo editing mobile app building a target keyword list for their app store listing.

In Google’s Keyword Planner – related keywords and phrases for a web search for “edit photos” are:

ASO - Google Keywords

While in our app store intelligence software we show the related keywords and phrases in app store search as:

Gummicube App Store Optimization

Wow – not even close!

Building your app listing targeting keywords and phrases for web search means you are likely optimizing for the wrong type of search.

If your goal for your app listing is to appear in relevant app store search, start by targeting the words and phrases used by users in app store search.

App store search results are different than web search results, related keywords and phrases appear vastly different as well, what specifically about user intent is causing these differences?

App Store Search User Intent


Moz.com helps us break down web search user intent by creating 3 general categories that explain most web queries:

  • “Do” Transactional Queries
  • “Know” Information Queries
  • “Go” Navigational Queries


The Keyword Planner suggestions actually fit these categories pretty cleanly:

Do = “Edit photos” or “Edit photos online”

Know = “How to edit photos”

Go = “Program to edit photos”


App store search typically breaks down into two categories:

  • Feature-based phrases – the vast majority (80%) of app store searches are multi-word phrases about features
  • Brands – the balance being for specific brands

Selecting what keywords and phrases to build your ASO strategy on ultimately means deciding how to use the limited space available in the app listing.

Build a keyword matrix with each keyword supporting the larger goal of building coverage for relevant 2-3 word phrases. Focus on features and use app store search data to position your app for long-term rankings, and organic user acquisition from app store search traffic.

About the author, Dave Bell:

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.