Mobile app development series: Part 3

By Josie Baik, on


With an estimated 2.2 million apps available in Google Play and 2 million in the iOS App Store, it can be challenging to make your app stand out. Without a budget to run large ad campaigns or receive celebrity endorsements, it may seem impossible to get noticed in the immense sea of apps.

This third and final part of the mobile app development series will help you tackle the last piece of your first mobile app project: app marketing. Don’t forget to read Part 1 and Part 2 to get started on the app development process.

App store optimization

App store optimization (ASO) is the process of maximizing the visibility of your app in an app store. According to Forrester, app store search drives the majority of downloads — 63 percent of iOS downloads and 58 percent on Android. As such, ASO should be a main source of app marketing, especially because you don’t necessarily need to dedicate large amounts of money to this process.

On a smartphone, users will most likely only see the first 50 search results in the app store. For this reason, keyword optimization is important to making sure your app is seen by users. The Apple App Store allows for 100 characters to define these keywords, and it does not take into consideration the app description in the search results. Google Play, on the other hand, pulls in keywords from the app description. That being said, there are different strategies in keyword placement for the two stores, but the importance of keyword optimization remains.

ASO in the Apple App Store

Thanks to the update to the App Store’s algorithm in November 2015, it no longer takes into account the app’s ranking and the number of downloads when showing search results. This new algorithm, implemented after Apple’s acquisition of Ottocat, uses a keyword ranking system that brings up more relevant results and boosts discoverability for all apps. In 2013, Ottocat’s language analysis system looked for common groupings in all the apps and broke down the 23 top categories into 500,000 subcategories. Each app was cross-referenced in an average of about 10 categories.

With this new algorithm, when your app enters into a subcategory, it also starts ranking for other keywords and apps in that subcategory, even if your app doesn’t use any of those keywords. To get a better understanding of the subcategories, play around with the “Explore” function in the App Store and look at where competitor/similar apps are categorized. You can also create a list of keywords relevant to your app and see which subcategories are defined for those phrases.

Identifying the best keywords

There are many strategies when it comes to identifying optimal keywords for your app. First, it’s important to select keywords that are relevant to your app. People downloading your app based on a searched keyword will raise its rank for that particular keyword. Similarly, using a less relevant keyword that leads to low conversion will result in a low keyword ranking.

Second, finding the balance between traffic volume and competition is something that will lead to long-term success. The best keywords are those with low competition and high traffic, and identifying these optimal phrases will be a process of trial and error. Though you don’t want to rank No. 3,288 on a keyword with 5 million searches each week, you also probably don’t want to rank No. 3 on a keyword with just 10 searches.

Third, after doing your research and tests for optimal keywords, use the best one or two in the app name. Don’t overdo it, though, since using too many will lead to low rankings for each keyword, as explained above. However, for Google Play, repeating your best keywords up to four times in the description has been shown to improve the ranking by up to 20 spots.

Finally, finding keywords that are trending and relevant to your app could be an easy but non-permanent cheat. There are many free or low-cost services you can use to find keywords and their rankings. You can also try typing keywords into the search bar in the App Store/Google Play to see the related and suggested keywords.

App reviews and ratings

App reviews are essential for app marketing because they improve your app’s ranking for keywords that people write in their reviews. The reviews and ratings are also a big factor users take into consideration before downloading, so make sure to address all issues mentioned in the reviews to prevent further negative reviews.

Getting friends and family to write reviews is a common practice, but make sure their usage patterns match up before they submit a review. For example, if your friend has never reviewed an app but does so five minutes after he or she downloads yours, Apple’s system can pick this up and take the review down. Also, make sure the reviews are relevant to your app and are not simple compliments — this will ensure the review stays up.

Featured apps

Being featured in the App Store/Google Play will get you great visibility and spikes in the number of downloads, up as many as 300,000 downloads a week. As simple as it sounds, having a great app increases your chances of being selected in both stores. What is a great app? According to an interview with John Geleynse, director of technology evangelism at Apple, a great app is one that is intuitive, engaging, exciting, memorable, satisfies a need and works as expected.

Implementing the latest and greatest technology from each platform is another way to get noticed. In addition, for Google Play, modifying the main functions and design of the default screen buttons destroys the app’s chances of getting featured, so make sure you stick to what they give you.

Last, localizing your app and offering it in as many languages as possible makes it easier for your app to be featured, since some featured apps are done on a global scale. Other than English, French, German, Spanish, Chinese (Mandarin) and Japanese are some of the highest grossing languages, but the best options will vary based on your app.

From idea to marketing, I hope this series helped guide you through your first attempt at app development!

About The Author

Josie Baik

IBM Mobile Futurist

Josie Baik is a business strategy, mobile and millennial marketing expert, and social influencer with two startups under her belt. She also has expertise in business analytics – utilizing critical insights to make strategic operational decisions – and financial valuation. She has successfully grown niche communities from scratch and formed partnerships with Fortune 500 companies. Josie received her MS Finance and MBA from the University of Southern California and spends her free time attending sporting events, reading Russian novels, crocheting, and playing XboxOne golf.

Articles by Josie Baik
See All Posts