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App Store Optimization: The act of fiddling with two arbitrary strings of text in order to rank higher in searches in the Apple App Store.

Here is a history of Dark Sky’s rankings, in yellow, for three search terms. Can you spot when we “engaged in search optimization”?

Search stats for 'weather'
Search for “Weather”

Search stats for 'forecast'
Search for “Forecast”

Search stats for 'radar'
Search for “Radar”

A few observations:

  1. It appears that the only things that matter are the list of app keywords and the app title (which happen to be the two fields that a developer cannot modify once an app has been published). The description doesn’t seem to effect search results.
  2. Changing our title from the nice and simple “Dark Sky” to the ungainly “Dark Sky - Weather Radar, Hyperlocal Forecasts, and Storm Alerts” had a big effect. Look at those juicy keywords!
  3. You’ve got to play games with the keywords field. Inexplicably, you need to include pluralized words as separate keywords (e.g., both “forecast” and “forecasts”). And be sure to remove spaces in between your commas so you can cram in an extra word or two!
  4. Being in the Top 10 Sales / Grossing lists don’t matter. Topping the chart in your category doesn’t matter. Being Fireballed doesn’t matter. Consistently improving your app doesn’t matter. What matters is adding the right words to your app’s title field.
  5. The good news is this: Turns out you can have a successful app without appearing in any search results. Dark Sky has done remarkably well. Although I suspect this is bad news for Apple… it indicates search is so broken that it’s not the primary means for finding new apps by many (most?) iOS users.[1]

  1. Whenever I search the App Store, it’s almost always to find a specific app that I’ve already heard about elsewhere. I’ve given up using it for exploration.