The App SEO Conundrum

Search engine optimization is old hat for most Web publishers, but what about the new world of applications?

For the most part, according to agencies and developers, the old rules apply. But in crucial instances, optimizing an app for visibility is quite different from the Web.
“The same guiding principles apply, such as those involving the keyword research for naming apps and building descriptors,” said David Berkowitz, digital media and online marketing strategist at 360i.
That’s when it comes to Web search. Developers have to deal with a raft of other issues when it comes to optimizing for other methods of app discovery, chiefly the mysterious most popular lists Apple maintains. Cracking the code on those is more difficult than ever, thanks to Apple cracking down on pay-per-install schemes designed to boost app visibility.
When it comes to search, keywords and descriptions for apps are essential for the success of each developer. Many of the same search engine optimization strategies used for the Web apply for software applications in iTunes, Android Marketplace and other app stores. Only it can sometimes be more tricky.
Android, Apple, BlackBerry and third-party stores impose restrictions on the language and format used to describe and market an app. Google provides a number of parameters on its support site. Developers have a 4,000 character limit for descriptions for apps listed in the Android Market. That may sound like plenty. But is it enough to effectively describe and market every app?
In addition to the character limitation, Google warns on its support page, “Repetitive and/or irrelevant use of keywords in the app title, description or promotional description creates a spammy user experience and can result in an app suspension.”
Google seems generous for its Android platform when compared to the famously restrictive Apple. When submitting an app for the iOS platform, the app upload page limits developers to 700 characters. In that short space developers have to provide information that will show up in search results, effectively describe an app and ultimately make a sale.
“Either the app stores themselves internally have to allow developers a wider array of parameters, or they need to market the search function more like what we’re used to on the desktop,” said Noah Elkin, an analyst at eMarketer.
It may not mirror the Web search experience completely, but many agencies use the same people to work on both Web and apps.
What needs to be adapted is the different fields available for keywords and descriptions. “There are various limitations from characters to the available fields when optimizing for any particular app store,” said Berkowitz.
Within the character restrictions, Berkowitz said, “There are limits to how much SEO can be done within app stores themselves. The bigger opportunity is optimizing around Web search for such applications, especially broader queries like “travel apps” or “Soduku apps.” App marketers can apply SEO best practices to improving visibility against such queries.”
Many developers publish the same app for multiple platforms, such as the iOS, Android or BlackBerry. Each platform has different requirements for its descriptions, however that pales in comparison to developing for the different operating systems.
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