App Store keywords checklist: 21 tips to work around Apple’s horrible search

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Don’t you hate those articles about App Store marketing who basically tell you you need to build a great app*? Me too.

Here are 21 practical and actionable tips to get the most from your App Store keywords, with real examples from my Mac app Email Contacts Extractor, references and further resources.

Let’s see how many of these you know already.

Basic tips

All of these tips can be found in the documentation provided by Apple.

  1. You can only use up to 100 characters for keywords.[1]
  2. Each word in your app title and company name counts as a separate keyword.[2]
  3. The description does not count as keywords.[3]
  4. Separate keywords with commas.[1]
  5. Keyword changes require an update of the app binary.[1]
  6. Prefer specific keywords.[4] E.g., extractor is better than tool.
  7. Each keyword must be more than 2 characters.[1]
  8. Keywords that use offensive language or are trademarked or that reference another app’s name or company name, might cause your app to be rejected.[1] However, many product or brand names are accepted based on the context of the app, so try them if appropriate. E.g., gmail.

Intermediate tips

Improve your chances with these tips learned by trial and error.

  1. Separate keywords with “,” but not “, ” (no extra space) to save characters.
  2. Use single words keywords but not phrases (even if the iTunes Connect Guide says otherwise). Searches that are a combination of your keywords will display your app too. E.g., “extract,contacts” instead of “extract contacts“.
  3. Consider including plurals if the App Store does not recognise them. To test this, first submit your app without plurals and search your desired plurals. Then upload a new version with the plurals that are not recognised by the App Store.[5] E.g., addresses.
  4. Category names no longer count as keywords. In any case, only use a category name as keyword if your app is very popular within that category or if the category is not too crowded.[6]
  5. While it’s not possible to know which keywords are more frequent, it is possible to scrap the App Store for common words in app titles. The last list I found was compiled by AppsFire. You might want to avoid adding any of these as additional keywords.
  6. If your app is free, you don’t need to include free as a keyword, although you might still want to include it in the app title for marketing purposes.[7]

Advanced tips

You should follow these tips if you plan to make a living from your app.

  1. Different countries produce different search results. You can localize both your app title and keywords. You can also change the App Store country to test the results. On iPhone: open the App Store, select the Featured tab, scroll down to your account and tap, change country region. On Mac: open the App Store, selected the Featured tab, scroll down, tap on the country flag.
  2. While it’s not possible to know which search terms are related in the App Store, we can consider Google searches as an approximation. Use Google Keywords Tool (limited to mobile traffic and each desired country) and Google Trends (limited by country) for ideas. E.g., using this I found that “export“, “backup” and more frequently used than extract in the context of email contacts export.
  3. iTunes and the iOS App Store sometimes produce different results. Try both.
  4. Consider including common misspellings as keywords. E.g., adress.
  5. Consider using services that track your keywords ranking, such as AppCod.esMobileDevHQ and AppStoreRankings. Unfortunately I can’t endorse any as I haven’t used them yet.
  6. In-app purchase titles do not count as keywords anymore.[7]
  7. Keywords might be deactivated by the App Review team without letting you know (unverified).[8] Make sure you test them all after releasing the app.

Bear in mind that the above change every so often. If you found that any of the tips doesn’t work anymore, please leave a comment below.

This post was all about keywords. For a more generic introduction to App Store Optimisation (ASO), you might want to read apptamin’s checklist.

* (BTW, they’re right)


1. ^ a b c d e App Store Resource Center – Marketing Resources.
2. ^ iTunes Connect – Frequently Asked Questions > App Store.
3. ^ iTunes Connect – Frequently Asked Questions > Manage Your Applications.
4. ^ iTunes Connect Developer Guide – Best Practices.
5. ^ App Store Optimization (ASO): App Name And Keywords.
6. ^ Category names no longer work in App Store search on the device.
7. ^ a b New rules in App Store Search.
8. ^ “SEO Optimizing” Your App for iTunes – Part 4 (Additional Findings).

11 thoughts on “App Store keywords checklist: 21 tips to work around Apple’s horrible search

  1. ggwarpig

    Curious about phrases. Why not use them? Does the App Store not work like Google Adwords?

    For example, wouldn’t the keyword “music player” rank better than “music,player” if someone searched for “music player”? Thanks!

    Reply
    1. hpique Post author

      You can certainly use them if you have characters left. However, there is no hard evidence that “music player” makes your app rank better when searching “music player” than “music,player”, and the latter allows for more searches.

      Reply
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  3. Bernhard Niesner

    Thanks for the very helpful post! What about using a keyword twice – if you have e.g. a Spanish cooking app, would it make sense to include “Spanish recipes, Spanish cooking” or is it enough to put in Spanish only once to get to the same results and therefore save on characters? Thanks a ton!

    Reply
    1. hpique Post author

      Thank you for reading it, Bernhard! I haven’t found any evidence that adding expressions gives you better results than using individual words. In your case, “Spanish recipes,Spanish cooking” should produce the same result than “Spanish,recipes,cooking”.

      That said, this might change at any time as it isn’t a documented feature. If you find any difference, do let me know.

      Reply
  4. Edouard Breine (@earboz)

    Great article, thanks for sharing!
    Just one thing I did not get, could you elaborate on 2-4 Category names? What do you mean by does not count? I’ve once read that it was useful for iOS5, but no longer the case for iOS6… Could you elaborate? Why ” only use a category name as keyword if your app is very popular within that category”?

    Also, do you have any feedback on iOS7 ASO changes?

    Cheers,

    Edouard

    Reply
    1. hpique Post author

      Thanks Edouard. There’s more context in the footnote. The thing with category keywords is that they are too broad, which makes them highly competitive and most likely a waste of characters.

      No feedback on iOS 7 ASO yet. Too soon. :)

      Reply
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  6. Pingback: เทคนิคทำ product description & keyword สำหรับ app | เปล่ง Pleng

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