A guide to winning the app store metadata game

For many, metadata and app store optimisation (ASO) is a dark art; one practised by people with in-depth experience and an uncanny understanding of algorithms (yet another dark art). So before we dig into the details of creating, managing, and optimising metadata, first let’s explain what we’re talking about here.

Metadata exists in both the App Store (Apple) and Play Store (Google) and is divided into text data and visual data, the combined impact of which dictates how well your app performs in organic (non-promoted) search results.

The algorithms in the two app stores assess the strength and relevancy of metadata in relation to an app; they also assess whether users are choosing an app as the result of the term searched.  The more relevant the metadata is to the app’s offering and the more relevant consumers find it to their search intentions, the better the app’s organic ranking will be.

Writing app metadata can be straightforward, but optimising that data for advanced app store conversation and downloads requires attention to detail.

Metadata Fields & Things to Know

If an app is listed in the Play Store and the App Store, it will be necessary to create discrete metadata for each, since the stores operate different data fields, algorithms and assessment priorities. This is a case of one size does not fit all.

The Main Metadata Fields That We Need to Define Descriptive Text For

1. App Name or Title: At just 30 characters, this is the text that is shown next to the app icon and is considered a priority by both app stores when determining (or indexing) ranking. This short text has a big impact on app visibility, so should include the keywords most relevant to the app and the ones against which the app ranks highest.

2. Short Description or Subtitle: The subtitle is also indexed in both the Play store and the App store, so this metadata field heavily influences organic rankings. There are some differences in how the two app stores approach this metadata:

  • Play Store: The short description is shown underneath the screenshots on the app page. There are 80 characters available in this metadata field which should include the main keywords for the app, while clearly stating the main purpose and feature of the app. In the Play Store you should repeat some of your best performing keywords that you’ve used in the title, such as using ‘sports betting’ both in the app name and short description.
  • App Store: The subtitle field is shown to the right of the app listing, below the app name. Apple has limited this metadata field to just 30 characters, so it’s more of a challenge to write something that includes the main keywords that describe what the app is for – all the more so, when you understand that in the App Store you should not repeat keywords that you have used in the app title/name – there is no benefit in duplicating keywords in the metadata.

3. Description or Full Description: Again, there are differences in the way that Apple and Google assess the importance of this 4,000 character metadata. In the Play Store this metadata is indexed, so has a direct effect on ranking; this is not the case in the App Store, where this metadata has no direct effect on organic ranking.

  • Play Store: The two main points to consider in the Full Description are the occurrence and relevance of the keywords - both have a direct impact on ranking.  In the Play Store, an excellent long description will repeatedly use the keywords against which you want to rank the highest.
  • App Store: Although the Apple algorithm doesn’t consider the Description while deciding app visibility, it will indirectly affect an app’s conversion rate - a strong Description will increase consumer appeal, which drives conversion and that positively affects app organic ranking.

Note: How to write your app’s description will be the topic of a future blog post.

4. Keyword Field / Keywords: Only the App Store has this metadata field, perhaps as a supplement to the non-indexed full description. The metadata can be up to 100 characters, and can include both generic and competitor keywords; however, here we don’t recommend that you repeat any keywords, since there is no benefit in doing so. We recommend that you simply divide your keywords or phrases with a comma to separate them.

Metadata Practices

The first thing to say here, is that to access data about app store rankings and keyword performance, we are using an ASO platform. The platform allows us to carry out detailed auditing and reporting for our clients, on a continuous basis and determine the best practice for individual apps.

How to write keyword fields for metadata

Keywords used in metadata can be individual words or phrases, such as ‘weather’ or ‘weather warning’. When you write your metadata remember to divide the keywords or phrases with commas (rather than leaving spaces between them).

Complete refresh test: For newly launched and small-sized apps we employ a practice that we call ‘refreshers’, in which we create numerous metadata options for a complete refresh of the different metadata fields. This is a good way to test the effectiveness of metadata, and because the app is not well established (or is small-scale), there is little risk of adversely affecting existing organic ranking.

Optimisation: Optimisation of metadata is most relevant for large-scale apps that already have a good store ranking. Optimisations might be made to maintain an edge in a competitive app store vertical.  This process involves making minimal changes to the metadata fields because there is a risk of disrupting established organic performance with every change that is made.  The bigger the app, the harder they fall.

Tips For Finding Potential Keywords

For a more in-depth guide to this topic, read our blog about Choosing Keywords for ASO Targeting and Reporting.

How to identify the strongest competitors

For efficiency, we prioritise competitors that are listed in the same or similar categories and we assess how well each is performing. Note that competitors may not be the same across the App Store and the Google Play Store, or by region, so it’s necessary to carry out thorough research by store and region.

When auditing competitors we are looking for strength in:

  • average rating
  • rating count
  • app visibility
  • high number of organic rankings

By exploring the successful practices of competitor apps we are able to consider whether to apply those practices to an app for testing; anything that works well for the competition has the potential to work well for similar apps too.

Competitor Research

Image showing a list of app competitors displayed in the ASO platform

Using the ASO platform we look at the main competitors and the keywords they are using, the order of those words and how highly they rank against them. In doing this, we arrive at a list of similar keywords that we can add to a target list, so that our app will rank highly against them too. You can also place high-ranking competitor brand keywords in the keyword field (only in the App Store) to rank highly on them and improve visibility.

How Many Competitors Should be Audited?

Metadata layout

The ASO platform allows us to audit and report on as many competitors as we see fit - it’s good practice to add as many competitors as possible to the target list, to track the keywords they’re ranking on. By continually auditing competitors we achieve better insights about which keywords to add to the metadata.

Confirming Keyword Selection

To confirm that our keyword selection is correct and still relevant, we monitor the ‘live search’ function in the ASO platform to see which apps are organically ranking on specific keywords. If direct competitors are visible there, or similar/relevant apps are listed alongside our app, we’re on the right track.

Remember the three Ms: Managing Metadata Matters

Managing metadata for our clients is a significant part of the Redbox business - our expert team is delivering improved performance daily and they are also blending ASO with paid media in the form of Apple Search Ads and Google Ad Campaigns, the combined efforts of which further improve app store performance.  By sharing our insights here, we hope to assist others in honing their metadata management skills; but, if you’d rather someone else do the heavy lifting for you, just contact us.

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