Solving the iOS App Store Search Problem

The following is not intended as a guide or critique to iOS app store ranking, rather it is about iOS app store search and discovery.

On the iOS app store, there are three ways to appear in search results:

– Title (weighted more than keywords)
– Keywords (inherited as a legacy from the iTunes store from music, etc.)
– Company name

The keywords field seems puzzling to me as it doesn’t make a lot of sense for apps. Keywords are inherited by apps by default by virtue of Apple bolting the iOS app store on to the iTunes store. Since iTunes songs already had keywords, apps got them automatically.

There are a few major problems with keywords in app store search:

– Keywords are limited to 100 characters (good luck German apps, you might get three words if you are lucky, but wow Chinese you can get 50 words or more)
– Keywords are ranked lower than the title – in order to show up in the top 10 in search results, you really need your search terms in your app title
– Keywords are not good at describing app functionality

There are tons of other features in You Doodle like frames, stickers, sharing, and more, but just to show you how bad keywords are at showing what You Doodle can do, here is a non-exhaustive list of just drawing keywords:


That’s 182 characters. Already the keywords field has completely failed. I could easily use another 200+ characters with words that describe the features in the rest of You Doodle. This means I have to release duplicate apps to cover all the keywords I want, but I won’t rank well doing that because downloads will be divided among the duplicated apps – and that simply increases the amount of spam on the app store.

There are two solutions that are so simple that I am floored Apple has not done any work to enable them:

– Make the app description searchable
– Increase the keywords max character count to 1000 or limit it to 100 words or something sensible

Making the app description searchable requires no additional fields in Apple’s databases and only requires a full-text index on the description. Apple has many billions of dollars of cash. Even done government-style this project would not cost more than 50 million USD, which is a drop in the bucket for Apple.

Increasing the keywords field max length is even simpler. Apple software engineers would go into their MySQL database and set the limit of the keyword field to 1000. Done. We’ll charge 1 million USD government-style for ten hours of work. I’m sure there’s a little more to it than this, but in principle it should be that simple. Going the keyword route, would not require any change of process for Apple, other than changing the 100 character constant in all their code to 1000.

Because every app submission or update goes through manual review, any app with keywords or app descriptions that do not match what is in the app could simply be rejected (I would hope that’s actually how it works already). The only downside is that an app description change would require a manual review. Another bonus is that title keyword stuffing would go away, making the app title more meaningful for brand recognition. The title could still be ranked higher to ensure brands appear at the top of search results, and any app with ANY keywords in the title would be rejected.

My vote is for the description, because you can put more natural language sentences in such as “Create Christmas Cards” or “Draw on a Photo”. This would help app store search immensely.

In my mind, Google is far ahead of Apple in App Store search. Google indexes the app description, has a superior search engine and takes into account the Internet presence of the app. Sure they have a bit more spam, but if you combined Google’s search prowess with Apple’s app store curation, I think the results would be good.

Got any better ideas? Leave a comment! 🙂

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[…] five years ago I wrote about solving the iOS app store search problem. It’s not really any better now than it was […]

7 years ago

50 million dollars for indexing app descriptions?

I think you’re estimate is a lot higher than the real numbers.



[…] a band-aid on a gushing wound of an app store search problem. I’ve already written about my suggestions for fixing the app store search problem extensively. My app You Doodle contains dozens of features and will never rank high for all of […]