Who is your Competition – App Store Optimization

In my first book I completely ignored the concept of competition and during the last months I have seen that more and more people seem to obsess about the idea of difficulty when doing ASO.

How difficult is a keyword? How competitive is a keyword, really?

The conflict regarding the idea of keyword difficulty is thanks to the “score” of difficulty provided by ASO tools.
Although this score is a “nice” thing to have, it makes us lazy to really understand who we are competing against and to go deeper and analyze the real levels of competition and difficulty for desired keywords.

Understanding real competition

To understand what is going on, I need to go back in time 5 years, to the good old days of my life as an SEO consultant.
In the early days of SEO, small time SEO wannabe gurus used to claim they would “rock the world” because they could rank a website in top position for a keyword with 5,717,012 search results by Google.
This amazing “achievement” was usually debunked when you questioned them about the competition for that keyword.
One simple statement used to be enough destroy all those egos, and that self-proclaimed amazing strategy…
The statement was: search results and real level of competition are completely different concepts; the amount of search results doesn’t equal the level of competition.

In ASO something similar happens.

Not everyone that ranks for the keyword you are aiming for is in fact a competitor, in the same way when professional marathon runners competitorcompete in New York marathon they are not competing versus 10,000 people.
You, as an amateur runner trying to finish the New York Marathon, are not (sorry to burst your bubble) the “competitor” of a Nigerian Olympic gold medalist.
Those guys, the “real” runners, compete vs. the real athletes – those who trained to win the marathon. From 10,000 runners only 10 or so are real competitors.
So to understand who our competitors really are, we need comprehend how competitive the key phrases are.
Once we know the level of real difficulty , we can really know who are the difficult guys to beat… or who are the 10 top “athletes” we need to run faster than.
Reading the Ranking (what exactly are we looking at?)
I’m a visual guy and I like to “see” data rather than read data. I believe that an image can really explain the picture better than thousands of lines of data. My ASO reports are usually full of colors – red for the bad selections, green for the good ones, arrows that go up, arrows that go down…
That’s why I like to see results that I can easily export and organize what I’m looking at, especially when looking for competitors.
Factors I usually need to understand about my competitors are:
–      How often an app has been updated
–      When was the app launched
–      How many reviews since the last update
–      How many lifetime reviews
–      Who is the publisher
–      What is the average rating/review score
–      What keyword the title targets
–      What other keywords the app may rank for
As you can see, this is a bit more complex than just looking at a difficulty score and making a quick conclusion.
Here’s a bit about tracking competitors in my video:


 So what am I trying to achieve by looking at this competitor data?

  1. I want to find those apps that are ranking and that I believe are ranking by mistake.
  2. I’m trying to find the apps that are ranking and are active and alive, that enjoy real popularity and that are constantly updating.
  3. I want to know what apps may be doing ASO or may be actively doing marketing.
  4. I want to understand if someone that I believe “doesn’t deserve to be there” is in fact ranking for the keyword I want to rank for…

And I can only achieve that by going deeper than an average score.
So let’s have a look at the influential factors I mentioned above:

How often an app has been updated

This is the first sign to understanding if an app is alive. The number of updates not only tells me that there is a team behind the app and that the app is making progress, but it also tells me if there is a market.
App developers tend not to update their app unless it is vital; if there is no “market” or buyers/users, then there is no real need to keep improving the app.
Constant updates also show me there is money… Why keep making updates if you are losing money? Profitable apps make updates, apps in crisis stop doing updates at certain stage.
Apps with just 1 update or version 1, shows me that they are there by “mistake” or thanks to a clear weakness in the market.

When was the app launched

This is something vital. If an app was launched in 2010 and it has only 1 update I know by now that: the app has no ASO and I can predict that the app has bugs by now thanks to new devices and, potentially there is no one “behind it”.
If the app was launched recently, I can determine their ranking could be thanks to a “new app” effect… so potentially that ranking is not 100% stable and as soon as the “launch rush” downloads drop, that app could easily plummet down.

How many reviews since the last update

This is vital: Apps with low numbers of reviews with an update done 3-6 months ago tells me that there is a clear weakness for that keyword. Also, apps with a large number of reviews after a very recent update can indicate to me that a significant amount of traffic can be generated for that keyword, with so many reviews in such a small period.
Reviews are a clear indication of potential traffic and they are a great sign to keep us motivated, also please check the “Why Reviews Matter” chapter when we discuss the serious power of reviews under the new algorithm.

 How many lifetime reviews

Initially, we can be overwhelmed by a competitor with a huge number of reviews, but reviews lose ranking weight depending on the amount of time they have been up.
To make this simple to comprehend, if you have an app that has 10,000 reviews in 2011, that doesn’t mean those reviews are going to be enough to keep it “up there” in 2014.
It’s important to clarify that, in iOS, reviews lose weight after every update, making it frustrating and sometimes scary to update an app. One single binary code update can bring your ranking down thanks to the important weight those reviews carry.

Who is the publisher

My paranoid brain believes that big publishers will have an authority or trust factor with different algorithms, in fact, with both main algorithms, Apple and Google Play.
Understanding how big the publishing house launching the app really is can give me an indication if the traffic is organic and if the reviews are, in fact, organic.
If EA games is ranking on my competitor list, I can clearly define that they are not there just thanks to ASO… they are there because they have the authority to “drive” rank thanks to a sheer insane amount of downloads.

What is the average rating review/ score

I don’t need to explain with exact data why this is a must. The algorithm clearly prefers apps with higher ratings on average, compared with the ones in the lower range. Finding apps with very bad reviews and a low average rating among my “competition” gives me the confidence that my job is just to position my app better.
Obtain better reviews, provide a better experience and hopefully the algorithm (fingers crossed) will reward us for that.

What keyword the title targets

A pure basic of ASO is: What keyword is being targeted in the title of our competitor? This is a very basic concept and many times we believe it is not so relevant but it is still a huge factor.
Apps with the keyword in the tile tend to rank higher than apps without it: simple.
Does it make us wish the algorithm was better, more advanced, more intuitive? Yes.
But that is the way it works and therefore this is a strong point to consider when looking at competitors.

What other keywords the app may rank for

This last part takes longer to analyze as it usually requires us to do a reverse engineering of the app that we are trying to analyze. Tools like AppAnnie are brilliant for showing us the previous app ranking in different countries, helping us to understand when and where the app used to dominate.
Once we have found what keyword they rank for in different markets, it can give us clues about potential opportunities in areas that, at first glance, we may have overlooked.