3 SEO lessons I learned from being #1 in the iTunes App Store.

A few months ago I worked on launching a Jewish dating iphone app connected to an existing dating site called jzoog.com. There was no marketing budget for the launch. The plan was to get the app into the app store and see where it goes from there.

When you search for “Jewish dating” in the app store on your iphone you get around 17 results. The objective was obviously to rank as high as possible in those results.


I started researching how the app store ranks apps in search results. I couldn’t find anything conclusive. Nobody really knows exactly what criteria Apple uses.

According to this article in Moz:

There are several aspects of ASO, including optimizing screenshots, optimizing your app icon and filtering negative reviews. […]Some apps have seen as much as a 300% increase in their downloads just from keyword optimization, so this process can have a huge impact on the number of times that your app is downloaded.

So choosing the right keywords and using them in your title and description is pretty important. Getting the right images also plays a role. I’ll talk more about this later in the the post.

But keyword related SEO or ASO (Apple Search Optimization) isn’t all you need. In an essay on Venture Beat, Michael Silverwood of Silicon Valley mobile startup accelerator Tandem Capital, describes how people believe Apple’s ranking algorithm actually works:

Apple obviously doesn’t make this public knowledge, but anecdotally app developers have come to believe the current iteration works something like this:

Ranking = (# of installs weighted for the past few hours) + (# of installs weighted for the past few days) + REVIEWS (star rating + number of reviews) + Engagement (# of times app opened etc.) + Sales ($)

So it’s a bit more complicated than getting the right keywords.

App Launched

A day or 2 after launch the Jzoog Jewish Dating app was coming up 5th in the app store search results for “Jewish Dating”. After a month it was at #3. Then it hit #2. After around 3 and a half months the app was #1. Woohoo!! With zero dollars spent on marketing. Time to celebrate.

How exactly did Jzoog snag the #1 position for Jewish dating? Honestly, I don’t know for sure, but I’ll try to make some sense of it in the lessons I learned.

Lessons Learned

Here are some of the SEO lessons I learned from the experience.

1. Importance of position
I was familiar with the statistics indicating that something close to 90% of searches don’t go any further than the top 3 search results and the majority of those just click on the #1 result. But I didn’t really get it until I experienced it first hand. The number of daily downloads of the app in the #1 position is so much greater than when it was #2 or #3 that it almost make you feel like throwing in the towel if you aren’t first.

The important of position might even be greater in the app store because you can usually only see one app listing at a time, due to the images. Most people are just not going to scroll more than 2 or 3 screens. Being first is key, and nets a amazing results.

2. Details Matter
The average business person might view the relatively large amount of time SEO’s spend on choosing keywords and optimizing titles and description as a waste. Well, they would be wrong. Small changes that seem insignificant can make a huge impact on SEO rankings, whether it’s on Apple or Google.I didn’t need to do a huge amount of research to figure out that “Jewish Dating” was a primary keyword for my app. But incorporating it in the app name was a move that I think made a huge difference.

The original name of the website is Jzoog (zoog is the hebrew word for couple), so the name of the app should be the same. But that would miss out on the benefit of keywords. At the time of launch the number 1 Jewish dating app was “Jewish dating”. Simple, yet powerful. It was also a paid app, so I knew there was no way it had the most users. Their name must be playing a huge role in their positioning as #1. Therefore, it only made sense for me to incorporate Jewish dating into my app title. Hence, the app is called Jzoog Jewish Dating.

I also worked hard on optimizing my description and displaying images that were properly optimized, clear and useful to the user.I don’t think I’ll ever be able to pinpoint exactly what got Jzoog Jewish App to the #1 position for “Jewish Dating”. It might have something to do with the velocity of downloads, or maybe not. It definitely isn’t the biggest Jewish dating app. Jdate holds the title for largest Jewish dating site, but their app is an embarrassing 5th or 6th on the list.

I really believe that my small optimization details have had a HUGE impact on the app’s ranking. The little things do matter.

3. The Mystery
At the end of the day you can do everything in your SEO power. Then the search engine will do what it pleases, and the results might surprise you. If you’re involved in seo you’ll have watched your sites jump from page to page, up and down, back and forth, often without having a clue as to why it’s happening. That’s because there are so many factors beyond your control.

There’s an old Yiddish saying that goes like this — “Man plans and God laughs”. It works for SEO too — “Man optimizes and Google (or Apple) laughs”

You need to do everything in your SEO power, but once you’ve done your work you need to take a breath and realize that you can’t control what happens next. Well, I guess you can pray.

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