Earlier this year, I wrote a blog post about effective techniques for App Store SEO. The post was based on my own experience quadrupling the number of daily app downloads in iTunes, which was the direct result of following the advice given in this AppCod.es slideshow:

The post resonated with a lot of developers and app creators who were frustrated with the discovery problem in iTunes and the iPhone/iPad App Store (see also: iOS 6 App Store sorting options change: “For a small developer, this is terrible news”).

Some developers may assume that once app store SEO techniques are implemented and downloads get a bump, their marketing job is done. Not so! The following list shows some of the limitations of App Store SEO:

1. App store SEO does nothing for engagement.
While App Store SEO is crucial for getting users to find out about apps, it does absolutely nothing to keep them engaged with the app once the download is complete. And engagement for most apps is terrible. I’m looking at the Flurry benchmarks for all apps from one month ago. Of the new users for the week of August 27, the retention rate (meaning they’ve used the app in the last week) averages just 11% for all apps used in the Flurry benchmark. For apps downloaded the week of July 30, it’s just 5% overall. For some categories, such as Business, it’s even less.

This is a big deal. As users walk away, they take with them future revenue, feedback, shares/recommendations, and downloads of new apps offered by the same company.

2. App store SEO doesn’t boost in-app purchases
While app store SEO can result in increased revenue for developers who make paid apps, it does not help with in-app purchases. And, according to Distimo, in-app purchases are where the money is coming from for the majority of the 200 top-grossing apps in the iPad, iPhone, and Google Play app stores:

In-app purchases top grossing apps
How can developers boost in-app purchases? Users generally figure out the rules, when trying to activate a certain feature or advance more quickly in a game. But in-app messaging is another way to remind users of paid features.

3. App store SEO has a limited impact on cross-app promotions
For developers who have two or more apps in the app store, there are a few SEO techniques that help with cross-promotion. Listing the name of a more successful app in the description or keywords can help boost sales of the newer or less successful app. However, the best way to maximize cross-promotions is in the app itself. If users like an app, there is a high probability they will enjoy other apps by the same developer.

4. App store SEO has limited impact on real-world activities
For apps that have a real-world component, such as shopping, checking in, taking and uploading a photo, or completing some other action, SEO has only a limited impact. Certainly, the first time a user tries the app, it may be a result of what he or she saw or was looking for during the search in the app store. For instance, if the search was for a “location app”, then one of the first actions the user will undertake after downloading and installing it is trying out the location features. However, the user may need to be reminded to keep checking in or trying other features.

5. App store SEO can be outgunned by the competition
One thing I’ve learned about app store SEO (and, indeed, SEO for any popular search engine) is successful techniques will eventually be utilized by the competition. Over time, this will reduce the number of downloads, as other apps show up in the search results and/or users download competing apps. But it’s important to remember that app store SEO is just one of the battlegrounds. If a developer can win on quality and engagement with mobile users, this may erase the SEO gains of competitors.


Looking back at the list, it should be obvious that while app store SEO can get people in the door, continuing engagement is necessary to boost retention, revenue, cross-promotions, and recommendations. Developers and app owners who understand this have a higher chance of app store success. Developers who fail to address engagement will have a harder time making traction, and may miss some incredible opportunities to help their users derive more value from these apps.

If you’re interested in bringing engagement to your mobile apps, consider Neemware — the SDK takes just an hour or two to integrate into an app, and lets anyone on staff send in-app messages, promotions, surveys and feedback forms in real time!  It’s free to download.

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One Response to Five reasons why app store SEO is not enough

  1. You got some good point Ian, ASO has to be a part of the strategy (you don’t want to be left out and let your competitors be the ones that are found through search) but it can’t be the whole strategy.

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