There is a good chance that you don’t need to game the app store rankings. If your app is really good, and fulfills a user need and is really a pleasure to use….you don’t need to read any further.

Well, maybe….there still might be some tips you can gain from this article on how to rank higher in app store rankings. Before we move to the section where we share tips on how to game the mobile app store ranking and come up tops in the rankings, lets look at some of the basic hygiene things that you need to keep in mind while trying your luck with a mobile app.

What is the Size of your app?

The app size matters a lot. It has a huge impact the number of downloads you get. If you are targeting countries like India, it matters even more.

According to various reports, more than 95% of the Indian Sim cards in use are pre-paid accounts with no internet activation required. And the user usually ends up on the operator portal (on Nokia phones he just needs to long press 0) and then graduates to using apps that are showcased on operator app stores. And eventually moves app stores like GetJar, Android marketplace etc. Mind you, in the case of Smart Phone users this path wouldn’t apply….but then a smart phone user is not expected to be on a pre-paid SIM.

With time the user realizes that he needs to buy that Rs 98 (or other) internet pack to get better data usage rates. But before that he knows that he would be charged on per-use basis. This will ensure him downloading smaller apps more frequently than larger apps.

With the users getting intelligent and the operators also pushing for internet packs we will soon be moving to a scenario where all users will be on Data packs but till then the app size will continue to matter.

From my personal experience….on iPad for example, I download all the apps from the iPad itself and whenever the app is very large it prompts me to connect to my computer and download it….and the last time I connected my iPad to my PC was almost six months back.

There is also the question of heap size of the phone, where smaller apps benefit.

Mobile users use mobile apps in short bursts. Their attention span on mobile apps is not more than 5-10 minutes and then it is back to business as usual. All you got to do is ensure your app gets downloaded on the target phone within 5 minutes & doesn’t cost the user a bomb.

Your app should connect on all operators

Not all apps require to connect to internet. But if your app is such that it requires internet connection every time the user tries to use it, it would be wise to check if your app is connecting on all operators. If not all, at least on the top operator networks in your geographic region. If you were targeting India….that would be Airtel, Idea, Vodafone, Aircel and Reliance.

Have a wap-based version of your app

Remember that the life cycle of a mobile handset is 10 months. That is to say, the user is most likely to upgrade his handset within the next ten months. So, why wait till you can serve a user an app on his Nokia N90 when you can hook him on with a wap page on his Nokia N70 itself? That way, you wouldn’t lose the ten months…and also whenever he is ready, you can prompt him/her to download your app which is available for Nokia N90 – his new phone. How does this affect app store ranking? Not directly….but if you are playing a long term game…one fine day this wap engagement will turn into an app download.

Now for the tips to game app store rankings:

When was the last time you spent time and energy to understand how the app store where you are attempting to rank higher works? What is the algorithm that decides the app ranking? Different app stores have different algorithms.

For example, it is believed that Apple takes into account the downloads that have happened in the last 4 days. This means, to game the iTunes app store….a developer can force maximum downloads for 4 consecutive days (by advertising heavily) and rising up the rankings.

Once your app is high in the rankings, the leader-feeder effect kicks in and the app retains leadership position organically (this logic held true till 1 year back…don’t know the status now…haven’t followed it in recent times. If you know more please do leave a comment).

List Higher in Search Result pages of app stores

Try to find out what percentage of your users are downloading your app from the search listing page of the app store and how many from the showcase page of the app store. This will give you a fair idea of how ‘searchable’ your mobile app is within the app store.

For example, if I go to GetJar and set my device to Samsung Galaxy S II, and search for ‘Four Square’….I don’t get the FourSquare app in the search result pages. Instead if I searched for ‘FourSquare’ I would get it as the first result itself.

Foursquare on GetJar

Where did the copy writer/distribution manager who uploaded the FourSquare app to the getjar mobile app store go wrong? Simple: They didn’t anticipate how normal users would search for apps.

I feel the person writing the title and the description while uploading the mobile app into the app store needs to understand how normal users will come & search. What keywords will they be using while searching for an app (Note: Not always do users use your brand name to search for your app). To understand this the person needs to study the Google Keyword Generator (a Google tool, that helps understand how people search) and use keywords that are being used by maximum number of searchers.

Words which are used by maximum number of searchers needs to be woven into the title & description. If your mobile app needs to figure higher for a particular keyword within the app store….the keyword needs to be in your app title. For example, I searched for ‘social networking’ on GetJar…. and the top five apps that get displayed in search results have the keyword ‘social networking’ in the title (Click Here). Funny thing is, Facebook – the biggest social networking site – doesn’t get listed here because their copy writer/distribution manager didn’t care to include the term ‘Social Networking’ either in the title or the description.

Unfortunately, the app store searches aren’t as intelligent as Google search….they don’t understand context or semantics….so it is all about including the exact keywords. If the FourSquare copywriter/distribution manager had added ‘Four Square’ as a keyword (even if it might be against their brand guidelines) in the description their app would have been listed for that search.

As a vindication of this theory, try searching for Facebook, Twitter, Yahoo or MSN and the Nimbuzz client (Disclaimer: I work for Nimbuzz!) will appear in the first search result page.

Some app stores also have a keyword section, where you are expected to add keywords that best describe the mobile app you have developed. In most cases, the keywords already mentioned in the title of the app doesn’t need to be included because they are always grouped by the app store.

Also remember that the word “free” is the most searched word in app stores, so don’t forget to include that in your title.

Exploit ‘Sort by name’ functionality for higher ranking

Most app stores have ‘sort by name’ functionality in app listing pages. In such app stores starting the mobile app name with a number…like “1 Nimbuzz” …wouldn’t be a bad idea. This would ensure your mobile app gets listed first in the mobile app store whenever the user sorts by Name.

Exploit ‘Sort by release’ functionality for rankings

Most mobile app stores also have a ‘sort by release’ functionality in mobile app listing pages. This is nothing but a listing by the release dates. This is the easiest to exploit – by giving short releases. If you are worried about your existing users having to upgrade their clients most often….then stop the upgrade prompt from reaching them. You could have upgrade alerts pushed to existing users only when you have significant changes in your mobile app.

Use animated Gif to attract attention

Some mobile app stores might have issues with this but there are others where you can try. If you are featuring on a lot of search result pages but your download numbers aren’t that exciting chances are users aren’t seeing your app getting listed.

Change that by being loud and clear – by using an animated gif which will pull the user’s attention to your app. If Gif images aren’t allowed help yourself to loud & bright colors which will still attract the users.

Spend your money on app stores wisely

If you are a corporate and are spending money on app store advertising, I would recommend your spend more on Saturdays & Sundays. Promotions on weekends yield better results on mobile – when it comes to both paid and free apps. It is ironic, because on PC, the best traffic days are Wednesdays & Thursdays.

Also, if you are spending money you should definitely try out Cross Application advertising. Somebody already on an mobile app is more likely to download the app….and obviously the download will happen from the app store url, thus still contributing to your app store ranking. All mobile app stores run such programs…connect with them and find out.

Give your mobile app releases on Friday evenings

I could get jammed in my office for suggesting something like a Friday release. But it is a good way to remain as the Latest Release for a longer duration. Most people won’t be working on Saturdays/Sundays and thus your app will be listed for a much longer time in the ‘Sort by Release’ section. This coupled with the fact that most paid and free apps get downloaded on weekends….all works in your favour.

Always get user to download from app store

Always get the user to download from the app store. Even when the user reaches your platform from the PC, give him two options – that of receiving an SMS link or of downloading from the PC itself. If he opts for the SMS link, you can make it count against your app store downloads….but if he still opts for the PC download….well hard luck with some app stores.

If you don’t know how this needs to be done, the best example would be Nimbuzz’s download page. Try it out at http://get.nimbuzz.com

What if I only want to promote my paid app?

Well, you have no choice but to use a free Lite version to create awareness about your paid version. Personally, I would recommend a free app with in-built payment opportunities. Small transactions, that the user will indulge in once he/she has downloaded your app and gotten addicted.

Seed app reviews yourself

This is more important if you are launching a new app (though, I think it is a good practice to continue to seed positive reviews till they start coming by themselves). You can maybe use your QA team, Product Managers and other employees in your organization to get this done. This will give a fresh perspective…and more importantly a new set of keywords which could be included while people search for apps (this will vary with every app store). Google also crawls Apple store’s pages on web…and these reviews could end up being more useful to iPhone app developers.

Hat Tip: Mobile is a tricky business. Once you go live with newer versions…by virtue of adding functionality you end up increasing the app size, the battery consumption and a whole lot of other things. This puts your existing users (who were otherwise happy with your existing mobile app) in trouble….sometimes they even want to go back to the earlier, lighter app you had. So it would be advisable to have your earlier versions still available for download with the disclaimer that you don’t support them anymore. Obviously, this won’t be from the app stores. Why do this – because the same users will graduate to better phones and hence better processing power in the next ten months. Then, they would download again from the app store!