According to TechCrunch, Apple have updated their App Store ranking algorithm. Apparently the Facebook app moved from number two for the phrase ‘social networking’ to number seven. So several apps saw a sudden drop, starting on the 17th July, and then a better recovery. So how important is App Store optimisation?

That was the fifth topic on the most recent TWIO episode, and here’s what our guests had to say about it…

ALEX TUCKER: We don’t really do that much work with mobile apps. I suspect if you’re Facebook, are you too worried about a drop from two to seven? Maybe not. But in more competitive markets where there’s sort of less domination of a small number of brands – fitness apps, for example, or productivity apps, you know, if you’re a Scribe or a MapMyFitness or something like that, then dropping a few places is likely to make a bigger difference.

I also kind of wonder if the algorithm is time-bound in some way. I mean, it’s not something that I’m really experienced with but are we seeing the most popular downloads right now or are we seeing the most popular downloads in time or what? I’m not really sure.

DAVID BAIN: It’s interesting. I’ve had an app that ranks fairly well for digital marketing and I didn’t find it too difficult to do that. Obviously a lot easier than it would be to rank number one on Google for that term, for instance. And I’ve also got a couple of podcasts published within the iTunes, but it’s a similar kind of thing, you know. You’d think that Apple’s algorithm for considering podcasts would be fairly similar to considering apps and I’ve got one podcast that is about four years’ old and I haven’t updated it that much but it consistently ranks very highly for a competitive term. So obviously there’s a bit of age of the app, I reckon, in there as well. There’s things like ratings and reviews. But as a whole, surely the algorithm that considers where an app should be ranked is a little bit more simplistic than something like Google. Emily, is App Store optimisation anything that you’ve looked at at all?

EMILY HILL: No, it’s not. It’s not really my area but from what I know about it, it sort of seems like a simplistic variant of search engine optimisation. That’s about making sure that you know what the keywords are, making sure those keywords are represented in the app’s title and description copy without being spammy, and just sort of making sure you’ve got a decent app to start with, because that’s the thing that’s going to influence whether or not people want to install it. You know, I’d say the same thing about websites. Make sure you’ve got a good website and then worry about optimising it.

DAVID BAIN: Great point there. If you release an app and it’s poor quality then you’re actually going to get poor ratings and reviews and that’s just going to be a downwards spiral and you might as well forget about it and release something else, I reckon, in the future. But the interesting thing about Apple is that the algorithm is such a black box, probably even more so than Google, maybe because there hasn’t been as much focus or study done on it. But you can certainly drive a lot of traffic from it. So it’s ripe for quite a few different businesses. Kevin, is that something that you’ve looked at at all?

KEVIN GIBBONS: Yeah definitely, and I think for us it’s really important. I just pulled up a stat actually which is, so this is going back from last summer, but global revenue from App Stores was likely to hit 25 billion last year and they predict it’s going to be $46billion by 2016. So I guess to answer the question, ‘Is it important?’ I think that means yes, quite clearly.

The other one is interesting. There’s Clash of the Clans was making, and probably still is, $654,000 a day last February. So we’re in the wrong game, I think is the lesson!

DAVID BAIN: And Pete, are you going to change your game?

PETE CAMPBELL: Yeah, I mean I know that we had to do an infographic recently on in-app transactions and Candy Crush generated 1.2billion in revenue from people buying add-ons to skip levels so yeah, it definitely is an important industry. I think the reason Apple have changed it is because the algorithm is a bit like Google in the late ‘90s. It was actually quite simplistic. I mean, it is essentially a case of you identify your keywords, you pop them in the title, you pop them in the description and you look to encourage people to essentially download the app or leave reviews about the app, which then is one of the main reasons why you see a lot of apps prompt you to leave a review on the App Store, because they know it’s going to influence their search rankings.

One thing that we’ve faced the challenge of recently in App Store optimisation is the way that actually Google has changed their mobile results. I’ve got a client who specialises in VOIP, which is voice telephones over the internet and if you search VOIP on a mobile device, whether it be an Android or an iOS, you will see two organic results and then you’ll see a block of eight App Store download results dependent on the App Store. And of course when you’re on the desktop results you don’t see it at all. So at least from an SEO point of view, to me it’s actually posing a challenge where I’m having to update my iOS listing over here and my Google Play listing over here so it actually improves my Google result, ‘cause Google pulls from the same feed. So that to me is what I’ve been finding most interesting lately, that App Store results in Google have been killing my clients’ organic clicks because their app isn’t in the top ones there, but organically they rank quite well.

DAVID BAIN: So can you see yourself in the future advising clients to develop an app based on the results that you’re seeing in search results?

PETE CAMPBELL: Yeah. I mean, in some ways actually yes I have, really. It’s something that I was going to mention when talking about SEO but if you look at the Amazon app or the Dominos app, they aren’t actually apps designed using the iOS language. They’re actually just i-frames of the mobile site. So despite the fact you’re on the Dominos app, you’re just looking at the mobile site. You’re just tricked into thinking it is an app. So I think businesses or brands who have a mobile-friendly site should look to introduce an app version where it just displays the mobile site. The rules of the app store say that you’ve got to have some feature that is coded within the Apple Swift language but it’s quite easy to get there when you look at the success Amazon, Dominos and a lot of other bigger brands are having by just showing their mobile site as an app.

DAVID BAIN: Yeah, it’s interesting that I think it was Kevin that mentioned that App Store search is like Google was in the late ‘90s. Or sorry, it was you Pete, wasn’t it? I was thinking it was maybe like AltaVista was! That was long ago! But it leads you to think that apps, although they’re really, really popular, are so early in terms of opportunity and if you’re getting in there just now and you’re really supplementing your services, your content with something valuable, then you really do have a significant opportunity to place a big footprint in the sand and it can drive lots of traffic towards what you do. But it’s got to be done right and there’s no point in reactively doing it just because you think that there’s lots of traffic there. I guess it’s a conversation that can be expanded and we can keep on talking about but a couple of other topics to talk about.

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