App Store SEO: Why I’m Still a Skeptic

I love how the field of SEO has branched out to include a lot of tasks and channels greater than just the search engines. That said, although I hear a lot about SEO for the app stores (mostly Android’s “Play Store” and iPhone’s “app store”), I have a lot of skepticism about making big investments there for a few reasons:

  • The vast majority of downloads come through browsing, branded search, and web-based links rather than searches.
  • Search volume in the app store is completely opaque, and thus hard to optimize toward (though MobileDevHQ has some impressive substitutes).
  • Mobile app developers who build creative stuff are likely to get very little generic/non-branded search volume, so SEO in the way we classically think of it isn’t high on the list of critical marketing tasks/channels.
  • Professional app developers in mid-size to large companies will be doing some app store SEO on an ongoing basis, but the SMBs of app development likely won’t. Churn would be extremely high for this customer set, as many app builder create one or two things, then move on.
  • Although apps are popular, the volume (in terms of number of apps vs. number of websites) isn’t anything close to how much people use the web. Usage time may be high (due to the “Angry Birds,” “Facebook,” and “Google Maps” phenomena), but the long tail of apps don’t get the diverse usage that websites do.
  • The app store ranking and featuring systems are not even close to fully baked, and I expect they’ll continue to change dramatically, making SEO practices in the app store a gamble even in the short term.
  • The inputs for app store ranking algorithms are both limited and hard to control. Get keywords in your app name, keywords and description, get a large number of positive reviews, and… well, actually, that’s pretty much it (to be fair, there are a few other metrics and best practices, but compared to web search, it’s puny).
  • App store SEO is still very gameable, and black hat practices aren’t well controlled yet.

Long term, I think this will turn into an interesting market, but for now, I’d be skeptical about investing in an app store SEO product at Moz vs. growing web-based SEO, social, and inbound products & data.

I would love to hear the opposite viewpoint, and more about which points above I may have gotten wrong.