The Ultimate Guide to Keyword Research for Apps

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This guide is here to provide you with step by step help when completing keyword research for apps. Researching keywords is almost always a core activity when planning and marketing your apps. Generally speaking the primary sales channel for most apps are:

  • Search Engine Results (generally for web apps)
  • App Marketplace Search Results (generally for any mobile / tablet apps)

Often this is supported with other channels such as:

  • Social Media
  • Blogging
  • Pay Per click Campaigns
  • Paid Advertising

Whatever the case, all of these channels require that you know what keywords to target, and that you target them correctly.

Note that when we talk about keywords we are actually referring to keyword phrases. A single keyword will rarely be actionable, and you will be mostly looking for 2 to 3 word phrases.

This is my ultimate guide to researching keywords for your app. Its actually very similar to researching keywords for any website, although there are some alight differences when we are considering any app that will be sold via an app marketplace (such as Google Play or the Apple App Store).

Step 1: Initial Ideas

The first step for any keyword research activity is to record all the keyword ideas you can think of that you could target with your app. Open up an Excel or Google spreadsheet and record all your keyword ideas in column A. Remember that your ideas should be at least 2 words long, and can probably be as many as 5 words – most should be 2 or 3 words. Remember that they can represent actual questions that people might type into a search engine.

When completing this for Decision Buddy the initial ideas were things like:

  • decision making
  • decision making tool
  • what should I eat tonight
  • what should I do tonight

Step 2: Use the Google Adwords Keyword Planner

To do this you need to sign up for a google adwords account – you won’t be spending any money, just using the free tools. You might be thinking that you’re actually delivering your app via an app marketplace, and that google adwords is built using that data. This is true, but the keyword analysis tools that google adwords has provides analysis from the biggest search engine in the world – even if it isn’t exactly where you’ll be selling your app, it still provides an excellent indication of what people search for in general.

Once you have your account go to Tools and Analysis >> Keyword Planner:

Adwords Keyword Tool 1

Then go to ‘Search for new keyword and ad group ideas’ and enter all your keyword phrases in the first box, then hit ‘Get ideas’:

There is one more useful thing that you can change if you are targeting a specific language and/or location – on the left of the screen you can change the targeting options – you should definitely do this if your app is targeting a specific geographic location (such as the UK for example).

Adwords Keyword Tool 2

Now select the ‘Keyword ideas’ tab – this will list out some useful information about average number of monthly searches for each specific search term and also give you a list of related keywords:

Adwords Keyword Tool 3

You now have several things to note down:

  1. First of all add a second column to your spreadsheet to record the monthly searches for each term you already have recorded.
  2. Second look through the list of suggested keywords and pick out any that seem relevant and have a good amount of monthly searches (Anything over 1000 monthly searches is definitely worth recording, depending on what you’re targeting it might be worth recording searches with as little as 250 monthly searches). You can sort the list by clicking on the ‘Avg monthly searches’ column.

Looking down the list for the terms I searched in my example, its clear that the terms ‘decision making’, ‘decision making process’ and ‘decision maker’ are very interesting and searched for a lot. Some other search terms around questions like ‘what should I eat tonight’ have far lower search volumes, but combining each of the variants for these adds up to some good numbers and given that they involve quite a few words they should be easier to target than a term like ‘decision making’, which I would guesss is going to be fairly competitive.

Whatever the case you should have a decent list of keywords that you can take use, for me in this case I have around. We will expand on this information in the next step.

Step 3: Use Word Tracker (Free)

What we’re going to do now is use the awesome free wordtracker. This tool is similar to google adwords but isn’t restricted to getting its data from google searches, and as such might give you some additional ideas. Creating an account is free, and the tool is really quick to use.

Once you’ve logged in enter all the keywords in you list from the previous step into the main box (each word needs to be entered on a new line) and press the search button:

Wordtracker 1

The results provided by the wordtracker tool are presented below, and can be incredibly insightful if you’re developing a web app and working on search engine optimisation.

Wordtracker 2

First of we need to add another column next to our keywords and enter the searches figure from wordtracker – also, add any extra keywords that wordtracker suggests that are relevant, and have a searches figure of over 100. You should also return to the google adwords tracker to record the results for the additional keywords found.

Step 4: Use Straply

If one of your main sales channels an app marketplace (like google play or apple app store), it’d be really useful to try and get some information regarding search term usage within that marketplace. This is nowhere new as simple as getting information regarding google adwords, but there is something we can do, that is using Straply. Straply is still in beta as of this writing, but the data its delivering right now is pretty unique – its just focussing on the apple app store and google play, but as that accounts for the vast majority of the market its definitely worth a peek.

Straply is current free, so jusy go ahead and sign up for an account, then go down your keyword list and perform the following on each term. (If you list has got very long, with some obvious non-starters in there then now might be a good time to do some pruning).

Enter your keyword in the search bar at the top and press ‘Search’:

Straply 1

Straight off, press the ‘See all keywords’ button, and you’ll be presented with some really useful information regarding search volumes and competition.

Straply 2

Right now we’re not interested in competition, so all we want to do is record the search volume fogure for the respected app stores – so add 2 more columns (one for iOS AppStore and one for Google Play), and enter the search volume rating for each term. We also want to capture any extra keyword ideas that Straply can provide us, and add them to the list (for now I’m only adding extra ideas that score 3 or more in either google play or the apple appstore).

One thing thats apparent from this data is that whilst people search for similar subjects across app marketplaces and the web, the terms used are often quite different. When targeting terms for the web questions or investigative searching rates quite highly, whereas app stores rarely seem to get volume for these terms. When people are searching app marketplaces the are generally looking for a thing (an app), not trying to answer a question. This is a really important when doing app store optimisation, or selecting an idea based on keyword research.

Base Keyword Research Complete

By the time you have reached this point you should have a spreadsheet that looks something like this:

App Keyword Research Step 1 Results

If you’re completing this keyword research for the purpose of idea selection, you really don’t need to do anything more just yet – this list should give you all the information you need to choose the right idea. If you’re mining more deeply for keywords then step 2 will show some other methods of finding keywords by using other resources such as Yahoo answers, competitor sites / apps and wikipedia.

So what other methods do you use to perform keyword research for your apps?

  • yassine enissay

    Interesting informations, thank you Matt
    I have a question, how to know how much traffic can each keyword get in google play, just google play, and not in google search engine

    • Right now there is no way to know this, which is really frustrating. I think google is holding off releasing this information due to their experiences with keyword spamming in google search results. It makes it very difficult to know what people are actually searching for though. Sorry

      • yassine enissay

        Thanks for reply :p

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