For many web marketers making the transition to the mobile app ecosystem, the parallels between web and app are staggering. One of the best things about the app ecosystem is that it’s a blank page where marketers can learn from past successes… and past mistakes. Partially due to this, the app ecosystem has grown and matured faster than any other platform in history. Unfortunately, us app marketers haven’t necessarily learned all the good lessons from web marketing. One of those lessons is the importance of — and techniques for — competitive intelligence.
App marketers are quickly getting smart about many new marketing channels, from TV advertising to App Store Optimization (ASO). ASO is like SEO for the app stores: combine a bit of science with a bit of art, and build a process to rank highly in search in the app stores. Just like on the web, users who show intent for your niche by searching for a related keyword are incredibly high value users, and ranking highly gives free downloads. Most importantly, users love search: app store search is the number one way users find apps. All in all, ASO is the best user acquisition channel for app marketers.
On the web, SEOs are used to performing competitive intelligence to help them understand their own performance in SEO, gain insight into new ideas, and to ensure they’re always beating their competitors. Understanding a competitor’s strategies, tactics, and motivations is the first step to beating them. By having a thorough understanding of competitors, marketers can build a better strategy to rank higher, be more visible through different search terms, and so on — all leading to beating the competition.
Web SEOs know to track many different competitive metrics: PageRank, domain authority, rankings, top search terms and keywords, links, etc. Each of these KPIs give unique insights into how a competitor is thinking and acting. ASOs need to think about analogous KPIs in the app store. In my experience, many haven’t done this because it has been hard to know what the analogous KPIs are and even harder to track those KPIs.
What KPIs To Track and How To Track Them
The first step, then, is to know exactly what competitive metrics to track. What KPIs are necessary to track if you’re an app marketer working on ASO? Why should app marketers be tracking those metrics? And how does an app marketer actually track those KPIs?
The first and most important metric to track is “what keywords does my competitor care about?” By knowing these keywords, a marketer can see exactly what keywords mean the most to a competitor and what they’re trying hard to rank for. This can be a critical step to reverse engineering a competitor’s app store search strategy.
Finding the keywords an app cares about isn’t an easy task, especially if you want to keep that list current. The way to track it is to first come up with a long list of potential search terms (search terms that include keywords which you would use, or potentially even what you wouldn’t use because you know better), then you need to search for each of these keywords as frequently as possible, looking to see if the competitor shows up (and, if so, in what position). By pulling together each of these ranks over time, you can start to find out which keywords are the most important to a competitor. Obviously this can become time consuming over a long period of time and a large amount of competitors (especially if you care about doing it all over again in multiple countries), so using services that can help you is always a good thing.
Once a marketer knows the keywords a competitor is trying to rank for, understand how they rank for those keywords and search terms provides huge insight into what is working (or not) and allows the marketer to ensure they are beating the competition (or, if not, where they are losing). It’s the equivalent to tracking search rankings of competitors on the web.
Finding search rankings for any amount of terms is a tough problem. Of course, if you want to reverse engineer a competitor’s keywords, you’ll start by getting their search terms. The same process listed above will work to track search terms, but again, using tools to do it for you is always a better use of your time. In addition to having the information available all the time via the web, some services will allow you to export this data to CSV or PDF for further analysis offline.
An app’s rating is a feature that web SEOs simply don’t have access to: a simple way to see how happy customers are with the product. Not only does a competitor’s rating allow you to see how much their users like their product, but because rating is a factor in ASO, it’s akin to tracking domain authority or PageRank.
Getting access to a competitor’s rating is easy: just open the appropriate app store and check it out. But always be sure to view at least the following three pieces of data (where available): (1) the current version rating, (2) the overall rating, and (3) the number of ratings for each star. This will allow you to see, over time, how the rating is changing, what releases/updates do well, etc.
Luckily for app marketers, we can go further than just ratings. We can see the exact feedback that an app gets through its reviews. Aggregating and seeing the exact words and messaging that are used about a competitor is an amazing tool to get into the minds of users and build further keyword research for your own search purposes.
It would seem that getting review messaging is just as simple as rating. However, it is much, much more difficult. The extra difficulty comes from the fact that you want representative messaging, not just anecdotes. That means you have to sift through large amounts of reviews in order to get the overall gist, and most common messaging, from all the reviews. Compiling all available reviews daily and keeping count of each word and phrase used (skipping unnecessary words such as ‘the’ or ‘and’, etc) gives rich keyword research to use in your app.
The frequency of updates by a competitor can tell you a lot: how much they care about their app, how much development power they have behind their app, how frequently they are testing new features and/or keywords, etc. Pairing release cycle and search rankings, a marketer can start to tell how a competitor is testing search keywords and performance, giving insights into what works and doesn’t work.
Tracking release cycle again requires constant attention to the app store. Check your competitor’s app store page for updates every day and track the release notes, the updated version number, and the date.
The overall popularity of a competitor is one of the most useful KPIs to track for an app marketer. By tracking each of the different KPIs above and distilling those down to a single popularity KPI allows an at-a-glance view of how each of these individual KPIs are actually affecting a competitor’s performance in app store search.
Popularity requires all the metrics above, plus Top Charts rankings, combined with a formula to give a single score KPI to use for a competitor. At MobileDevHQ, our Popularity score focuses on the most recent 30-day window for an app, to allow for fluctuation (especially week-over-week, when weekends/weekdays may cause big jumps/dips) without lagging behind.
Competitive intelligence can separate the good app marketers from the best app marketers, especially when it comes to App Store Optimization. Picking the right KPIs and tracking them religiously allows app marketers to see exactly which keywords to choose, where is best to compete, and set an app up for long-lasting success.
Of course, those are just a few of the best possible KPIs to track competitors when it comes to ASO. What other competitive KPIs do you track as an app marketer?