The Keyword Conclusion – Exact Match on Success

“However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results” – Winston Churchill

The Key Word is Keyword

This is a follow up to the last post I wrote about the Great Icon Experiment and how I realized that just updating the icon and screen shots were not enough to bring me to the next level. Tragic, I suppose, but it did leave me with one more variable to test – the keywords. I did change the name of the app to start with an A, but I honestly can't imagine that's such a huge game changer. As a reminder, I changed my keywords from:



alien invaders,space wars,space invaders,super laser,alien,atari,space ace,cows in space,mr space

My goal here was to capitalize not on the keyword volume of people looking for a fun game, but ride the wave of all the other popular games out there where people are spending thousands of dollars on marketing.

And ohhh man did it work.

The 258% Payoff

The first is the old game's first week. The second is the new game's first week.

Oscar's Retro Space AdventureAlien Combat

No – that's not photoshopped – that's just the biggest difference I have ever seen after making such a small change. That's literally ALL I DID. Same game, same graphics.

What's even more fun about this is that it looks like the Alien Combat app is starting to level off around 5o downloads a day – that's legit! I've even made a handful of sales off this new app, which is just a huge bonus. The delta ended up being 258% when I updated my keywords. Not bad for a two hour project 🙂

Keyword Research? More Like A Popularity Poll

I'm developing a theory that I hope becomes one of those tangible resource that everyone can look to for hard evidence – the App Store is NOT Google and should not be treated it as such. People don't search for “cool arcade game about aliens” but the do search for all those awesome games they see ads for or read a review about. Keyword research for the app store should pivot off the following question:

What apps are getting a lot of downloads that are similar to mine?

The chart on the right explains this. Your keyword research should be all about finding games or apps that are hugely popular (measured by number of reviews) and have very little competition. What I mean by competition is when you type in the name of that app into iTunes, there are not 200 other apps that come up. Check out MetalStorm as an example – it has 5+ Million users…and no competition. Well, except Alpha Combat 😛

When you put these names in as your keywords, you pop up for those app searches. This is NOT as easy as it sounds, as finding these apps is just as big of a process as doing research for Google.

Update Your App and Join the Party

Believe it or not, Apple now lets you update your keywords other than your initial launch – when you create an update, you can change everything in the meta data.

What does that mean to you all you app owners out there? It means you can easily test this out yourself. Release an update that “fixes some small bugs” or whatever and actually just update the keywords. Let that run for a few weeks and see if there is a change for you too.

All I know is that a 258% increase just because of keywords is not something I would ever ignore.

Keep rocking! I also want to say thank you to everyone who has left comments, emailed, and signed up for the newsletter. I'm glad there are people out there getting some benefit from this info. LOTS more to come!



  • david March 4, 2012

    hello, carter. i read every single article you write at least 2 times already and i think they are great. i will keep following you. i read this article, and i got one question. so in this article, are you suggesting when it comes to name of your app, we should give the name which can cause some chain effect, users will be able to find your app among all the good similar apps or simialr bad apps, please be specific. will a good competition decrease the downloads?

  • leosion March 13, 2012

    Why Apple allow you use those keyworks which no relationship with your app?

  • Carter Thomas Carter March 13, 2012

    That’s a good question, but if you think about it in terms of what apps are all about, it kind of makes sense. The trick is to stop thinking about search in terms of Google and search engine optimization – that’s only one way to search for something. Google built an empire on people looking to answer questions or information on topics.

    What if you’re in the app store and you don’t really know what kind of app you’re looking for, but you’ve seen or downloaded an app that you like…and now you’re just looking for another app that’s just like it. That type of search can be much more effective for the user in a market that is driven by creativity. Uniqueness is almost impossible to categorize, but similar apps is not.

    This is why I think adding keywords that are based on other games is an effective strategy, along with a viable one for Apple. It’s only going to work if your game is similar to the one the user is searching for, so I say let it rip.

    Hope that helps.


  • Michelle April 6, 2012

    Carter, this information rocks. I would say for any developer of apps this tip would be #1 but by sharing this aren’t you giving away your secrets, therefore, potentially encouraging more competition in your categories.

  • Carter Thomas Carter April 9, 2012

    Well, yes. That’s kind of what I’m all about – I show transparency of what works and encourage people to try to win or beat me. It makes me work harder and produce better products. I can only wish for the same from all developers out there to do the same. Imagine how awesome apps would be if everyone making them had to produce something amazing just to be in the game?

  • Alexey April 18, 2012

    Well… if you used only one word as a keyword I’m not surprised that you had some spike in downloads after adding other words. That is quite obvious.

    I think there are few “bad” advises in your article:
    1) AFAIK Apple doesn’t understand phrases in keywords. I mean “space invaders” and “space,inviders” are identical. So your example is a good example how to waste 100 bytes you have for the keywords 🙂
    alien invaders,space wars,space invaders,super laser,alien,atari,space ace,cows in space,mr space
    Identical keywords:
    Almost twice less.
    2) You’re lucky that your app wasn’t banned, seriously. Or may be you are not 🙂 Try to search for “cows in space”. Can you find your app? If not – those keywords were banned. Apple can ban keywords which are not relevant or trademarks (atari). So even if your app in the store it doesn’t mean that all your keywords are active.
    With my example above you have smaller chances to be banned too. As you don’t have phrase “cows in space” all words are present but it doesn’t look like an app name anymore.

  • Carter Thomas Carter April 18, 2012

    Interesting points, Alexey. I’m interested in the “AFAIK” history – what proof do you have of all this? I’m not disagreeing, it’s just that I actually did a controlled experiment that has worked over and over, which is hard to ignore. Let me know your sources and I’m happy to take a look.

    1. That’s not a bad idea. In fact, I’m releasing an update to Alien Combat this week and will update all those keywords just to see if you’re right or not. I’ll post a comment in a few weeks to let you know.

    2. Search – “cows in space” – my app is #4.

    Thanks for reaching out.


  • K October 30, 2012

    I love this idea, but similar to Alexey have concerns. To my understanding Apple forbids using app titles in 3rd party app’s keywords. Researching the app, it looks like Apple is cracking down on this: try Groupon.

    Also, there are many stories similar to the one below about developers having their app rejected. What do you think?

  • Dennis Dang March 14, 2013

    Hey Carter, do SearchMan and the other tool (Can’t remember its name) tell you the amount of searchs a keyword get in App Store and Google Play like in Google Adword?

  • Carter Thomas Carter Thomas March 14, 2013

    Unfortunately no. You can ballpark it, but nothing exact. There are paid services like Distimo that will give you VERY accurate numbers if you want to pay.


  • Keyur Joshi August 20, 2013

    Thanks for taking the time out to post these experiences.


  • Joarley August 20, 2013

    Hi Carter,

    I’m curious about the outcome of the experiment you mentioned (on 18/04/12) you would make.

    Thanks for sharing all this great staff.

  • vol December 20, 2014

    hey, thanks!

Leave a Comment