SEO for Mobile Apps and App Stores

The world of mobile applications is foreign territory to most Internet marketers. App development requires different skills than traditional website development. App planning and design forces marketers to understand the limitations of different platforms and devices. But once an app is developed and ready for download, how can users find it, or even know of its existence? There are, after all, millions of mobile apps.

Using Search Engines to Locate a Mobile App

Users can find a mobile app through the various app stores as well as via searches on Google and other search engines, provided the app pages are optimized for that purpose. Interestingly, search engine optimization for mobile applications isn’t all that different from SEO for any other digital asset or website.

Search engine optimization for mobile apps and the app stores that offer them is about two things: keywords and links. If that sounds familiar, that’s because it is. Search engine optimization for websites boils down to three basic concepts: getting crawled, optimizing content, and building credibility through links and social media mentions. The only thing different about SEO for mobile apps is that it isn’t the app itself that’s being optimized; it’s the page on which the app sits.

Think of app SEO like optimizing video content for search engines. Search engines can’t understand the audio or visual content contained inside video files. Instead, the engines rely on the content around the video file to provide the content they can crawl and use to understand the searches for which that video might be relevant. The textual content on the page around the video file sends the relevance signals the search engines need.

It’s the same with mobile apps. Search engines can’t crawl around inside a mobile app to understand what it does, who it’s useful to or why people might want to download it. The textual content on the page around the mobile app needs to provide that context. Typically, an app will have two pages to optimize: the app store page and a page on the app owner’s website.

Optimizing Content for App Stores

When submitting an app to the various app stores, whether it’s Google’s Play Market, Apple’s App Store, or the Windows Phone Marketplace, the text submitted with the app is crucial to the app’s success in the app store itself, as well as in search engines.

The title of the application determines the title tag and URL of the web page the app is hosted on, and influences the keywords associated with the app. Choose a title for the application that reflects not only the brand but also the app’s function. For example, Groupon’s mobile app for Android is called “Groupon – Daily Deals, Coupons” in the Google Play Market. Customers looking for Groupon in particular will find the app easily. Customers looking for an app that offers daily deals or coupons will also be able to find Groupon’s app. In this way, Groupon intercepts new customers that may not be familiar with its brand but know that they want an app for deals and coupons.

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Groupon's Android app in the Google Market

Groupon’s Android app in the Google Market

The app stores also have a keywords field. Unilke traditional SEO for web sites, the keyword field in the app stores does influence the search results because there is generally far less text to signal relevance on for an app than for a traditional web page. Stuffing the keyword field with unrelated keywords or competitors’ names can get an app rejected from some app stores, so stick with purely descriptive keywords that signal the purpose of the app.

The category an app is submitted to is also important for browsers as well as searchers. In many cases an app could fit into several categories. Choose the category that best fits the app’s function and user, but also contains the least competing apps.

Last but certainly not least is the description. The description field is the longest textual section of the page and acts similarly to the main content on a web page. Just like with traditional SEO for websites, the description text for the app should be written for the target audience and then optimized with the relevant keywords to attract searchers. Use words people search for as well as marketing messages in the description, and make it crystal clear that the app is offered by a reputable retailer with a trusted brand. Unfortunately, there are some imposter apps that pose as official apps and then spam the unsuspecting user’s phone with ads or bookmarks or other more malicious behavior. Linking the app store page to the official app page on the website, and reciprocating that link from the website back to the app store page, will reassure the customer that they have indeed found an app from a brand they can trust.

Optimizing Mobile App Pages on Websites

Naturally, the app should also have a marketing page on the site it represents. For example, Victoria’s Secret’s PINK Nation app in the Apple App Store links to its PINK Nation website. The website, in turn, links to the mobile apps in the various stores. Excellent cross-pollination between the app store and the website to boost the app’s SEO but also to reassure customers that the PINK Nation app is indeed from the brand they trust rather than an imposter.

In addition to improving rankings to attract more mobile app customers, sites can also implement the SoftwareApplication microformat to entice more searchers to click through from the search engines to their mobile apps. Part of the CreativeWork schema, SoftwareApplication specifies a standard way to mark up information already on a web page so that search engines can identify it and use it to spruce up its search results. For example, Apple uses the CreativeWork schema to mark up its app web pages. As a result, the PINK Nation app shows up in Google’s search results with its icon, reviews and price displayed as part of the search results. This rich snippet, as Google calls it, creates a focal point on the search results that encourages searchers to click through to the app page.

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Google's search result for the Victoria's Secret PINK Nation app in the Apple App Store

Google’s search result for the Victoria’s Secret PINK Nation app in the Apple App Store

Other than cross-linking with the app store and using microformats, optimizing the content on the app’s web page on the brand’s website is no different from optimizing content on any other web page. For an in-depth primer on optimizing content, see my three-part series that begins with “Optimizing a Page for Search Engines, Part 1: Keyword Research.”

Building Links for Mobile App Pages

The first and most obvious links to build have already been discussed: links between the brand’s website and the app store pages. Beyond those, building links for mobile apps is usually easier than for other forms of content because an entire ecosystem of sites has shot up around mobile apps. Many sites like Appolicious, AppCraver, AppAdvice, and App StoreHQ exist for the sole purpose of helping people find new apps to download. Some of these sites function like directories, allowing app makers to submit their apps for inclusion on the site. Others are more like blogs, which provide contact information where app makers can pitch their apps for inclusion in the blog’s editorial process. Regardless, goal of link building for mobile apps is to get links into the app store pages to boost their organic search popularity and thus get them found and downloaded by more people.

Some question which page to primarily build links to: the brand’s web page or the app store pages. If there’s a choice, the answer depends on how the brand’s web page presents the app. Let’s assume the goal is to increase app downloads. If the brand simply provides marketing information about the app and then links to the app stores for the actual download, then the sending the user to the brand’s web page requires two clicks to get to a download. Every click represents some percentage of loss in conversion to download. Consequently, to increase downloads the links should be built straight to the app store pages. If the app is downloadable on the brand’s website as well as on the app stores, the way that Groupon’s mobile apps are, the links should definitely be built to the brand’s website to strengthen the site’s SEO overall as well as the app’s SEO.

If, however, the app is being offered as link bait with the primary goal to increase links to the brand’s website and a secondary goal of increasing app downloads, the links should be built to the brand’s website when possible. Some directories or blogs won’t give app makers a choice, they’ll link to the app store or the brand’s website or both as a matter of editorial policy. When given a choice, understanding the goals for the app is critical in determining to which pages links should be built.

With the focus on content and links, it’s clear that SEO for mobile apps is indeed very similar to SEO for traditional websites. The fact that another company owns the app store page that houses the app creates an interesting challenge, but understanding the content elements available in the stores and the linking strategies required can mean the difference between a popular app and an unsuccessful one.

Jill Kocher Brown
Jill Kocher Brown
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