In the last two weeks updated versions Photo Notes and One Stop Crop have been released in the app store. The changes to One Stop Crop were fairly minor – I updated the version of the Aviary suite which included Sepia and Black/White filter effects.  Photo Notes was somewhat more extensively changed: I introduced a multi-page interface in the Pro version and I integrated the Aviary suite of photo editing tools into both versions.

In addition to the technical changes my goal was to take a more scientific approach to app store search optimization.  I had read the excellent marketing series by Justine Pratt in which she discusses the value of optimizing both the 100 character keywords field and the app title for search.  Browsing around on the internet I happened upon a (relatively) new service from – I checked out their demo and read a couple of presentations on the site and decided to give it a try.

The idea is pretty simple – first you think of the search phrases that you think your customers will use to find apps like yours.  Then, you craft keywords and your app title to give your app the best chance to be well ranked for search phrases.  It does get a little more subtle than that – you also need to consider the popularity of the search term (how many apps are returned from that query) and target your app for terms that have less competition.  I found the interface intuitive and quite helpful.  The service is by subscription and costs $14.99 per month.

To see whether was worth the price of admission I had to wait quite a while for my updates to be approved.  On average my wait time was around 12 days – quite a bit longer than in the past.

The first app to go into review was One Stop Crop Free.  It was summarily rejected for loading my app name with keywords – it turns out that is against the guidelines, and there is a fine line between what Apple will accept and what they will reject.  The lesson here is don’t be too obvious when you stuff search terms into your app name – make it at least sound reasonable. Thankfully it only took a day from re-submission of the metadata to get back in review – and this time it passed!  Yippee!

The following chart shows my daily downloads with a couple of milestones marked in red.  The first marks the day that I removed my “Announcing One Stop Crop” banner from Photo Notes.  Before removing the banner I had no idea how much traffic I was getting through cross promotion.  Apparently about  two thirds of my downloads came directly from Photo Notes.  The second line marks the day that the version with optimized search went live.  It definitely made a difference – downloads increased by approximately 250%. (from a few to 2.5x a few :-) )

One Stop Crop Free Downloads

One Stop Crop Free Downloads

The next app to make it through approval was the Pro version of Photo Notes.  In addition to optimizing search I also introduced a multi-page display that was only available in the Pro version.  In the chart below the red line indicates the release date of the update.  The results weren’t quite as earth shattering as with One Stop Crop Free, but sales did improve by about 25% from the week before the release to the week after.  Not too bad.

Photo Notes Pro Downloads

Photo Notes Pro Downloads

One Stop Crop Pro was also released around the same time, but downloads were pretty dismal and continued to be after search optimization.  A little further down I’ll discuss why I think that’s true.

On a more positive note, search optimization on Photo Notes Free had an immediate and dramatic effect.  Before the release it was ranked at about position 200 in Photography (free) in the US app store.  After the release it shot up by around 60 places and has continued to drift up a little.  Currently it is hovering around position 125.  In the chart below, you can see that downloads just about doubled after the update.

Photo Notes Free Downloads

Photo Notes Free Downloads

To give you a little perspective, in terms of daily downloads Photo Notes Free beats One Stop Crop Free by a factor of about 20 times, even after search optimization.  Until I used the suite I had no idea why.

Take a look at the next two charts: Shapshot: One Stop Crop Free Shapshot: One Stop Crop Free Shapshot: Photo Notes Free Shapshot: Photo Notes Free

The first column shows the number of apps returned from the search phrase.  The next two columns show your apps rank in that particular phrase one week apart.  The second to last column shows the popularity of the search phrase and the last column shows the apps chance of being ranked on the first page according to the algorithm.

What you will notice is that for popular search phrases like “Photo Crop”, One Stop Crop Free is ranked quite poorly – currently at 122 of >180 apps returned.  In the case of Photo Notes Free it is ranked quite well for popular search terms.  For example, for the search phrase “Photo Caption”, Photo Notes Free is ranked at a respectable 5 of >180 apps returns. This explains why Photo Notes Free is downloaded 20x as often as One Stop Crop Free.

An apps popularity directly affects its search ranking, and the search ranking directly affects the apps popularity.  If you want to improve your search rank you need some sort of external stimulus to improve popularity, like being featured by Apple, going viral or spending a pile on promotion sites and advertising.  Another option is cross promotion.

In the process of optimizing my search rank and working with the tools I gained some valuable insight into what is driving my app downloads.  The key  for me is to create a network of apps in order to cross promote.  I have one app that is doing well already, so I intend to use that as the cornerstone and build out from there.  There is one problem though: Photo Notes fails the 30 second test.  In Chad Mureta’s “App Empire” he makes the observation that you have 30 seconds to impress a customer (particularly on free apps) before (s)he deletes your app forever.  Photo Notes is rich and full featured, but it requires an investment of time to unlock the value.  Some people stick it out and love the app, but from my user retention numbers in Flurry, most people download the app, give it a go and delete it.

I have been thinking about a User Experience (UX) redesign of Photo Notes for some time, but never quite knew how to go about it.  I think that I’ve cracked that nut now and I’m already under way on the redesign.  I think that this will solve the 30 second problem which will bring Photo Notes to the next level.  Assuming that works I should have a great base to build upon for cross promotion.

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