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When I was first introduced to the concept of SEO, I thought about it in relation to websites and blogs. Marketers know that it’s crucial to use keywords, tags, and titles to boost their pages on search engines like Google. What I didn’t realize was that the same rules apply to app stores with app store SEO, or “app store optimization.”
As of June, Apple’s app store had over 900,000 apps. And last year, research firm Canalys estimated that up to two-thirds of the apps in leading app stores get fewer than 1,000 downloads in their first year.
Cardinal Blue saw this trend firsthand, publishing a few apps to iTunes that didn’t get amazing traction. But then they created PicCollage, a photo app that grew to 14 million downloads and 5.3 million active users.
In this interview with cofounder Ching-Mei Chen, she tells us about how they optimized for the app store, what factors affect your ranking, and why you should update often.
What happened on day one? Did you do any marketing?
We were shocked to be featured as new and noteworthy by Apple. We didn’t talk to anyone from Apple or the press. We can only guess it was picked up because of its simplicity and that it showed off the touch interface. Back then you could only pool multiple photos into one area of the screen, but it had no other features like saving a collage or sharing it. Apple likes simplicity, I think. It was so simple, it couldn’t be poorly designed.
It only got featured for one week and got bumped up into the top 10 of photo apps; and now it’s been 18 months and we haven’t been knocked out of the top 20 since. The competition is getting crazy, and we haven’t spent any marketing money yet.
After being featured, what did you do to maintain that growth?
I think a big part of it is user experience – being bug free, and the user knowing what to do within the first five seconds. That’s why our interface is really simple, and the motions are really intuitive. One thing that definitely makes a difference is SEO. We use different terms every version to see which work best.
What are you altering?
They scrape descriptions, and the reviews. We change the description’s keywords. There’s also keyword search terms that you can change with each revision. We tried keywords like “Justin Bieber,” too, and we scored pretty high, actually. The only other variables are the screenshots. You have to make sure people love you, and write good reviews for you.
Do you prompt people to write reviews?
Yes, but we have to avoid being spammy. Every third time an active user comes into the app, we ask them to leave a review. The other thing we did – I think the way we phrase it is “Do you love PicCollage?” and they’re asked to either write a review saying how they love it, or write feedback on what to improve.
Does Apple check for relevancy in keywords?
No. Only titles, and if someone complains. Apparently, now, you can’t put the name of another app in your title. Also, if your icon is too similar and someone complains. Also, if it infringes copyright, or if it’s an obvious direct copy of another program, it gets taken out.
How often did you publish updates?
We had a newer version in the queue immediately as Apple released the previous version, so about one-week development cycles. That’s not how we do it now because the program is code-wise a lot more complicated, with more menus, etc. We kind of lost sight of the big picture as we were trying to turn out things we needed to get in there as soon as possible, like sharing and saving. Trying to figure out a roadmap for the product took more time. Now we generally have two submissions per month. We were initially advised to not put out too many updates, but I think it keeps the program fresh in users’ minds and makes it look like it’s being maintained.
Does updating boost your visibility in the store?
Not really. Each update resets your stars to the all-time average, but you can still read previous reviews. Currently we have five stars, but if we pushed out a new version, it would go back to 4.5 stars. As we get more reviews, it goes back to that 4.5-star equilibrium anyway.
PicCollage is now available on iOS and Android platforms. If you haven’t tried it out, you should definitely download it. It’s easy to use, and a fun way to create picture collages!
Image from PicCollage