How To Research Apple App Store Keywords For An Unpublished App

Even if your iOS is not published yet, you can still get started with keyword research. This post will show you how.

Some app developers think that you cannot get started on App Store keyword research until an app is actually published. That is simply not true.

In this post, we are going to show you how to hit the ground running by doing keyword research before you even submit your app to the App Store. As you would expect, there are things that you cannot do, but there is also a lot that you can do.

If you have not read our guide to choosing the best keyword for your app, be sure to go through that first because it will teach you the basics of keyword selection. Since you are just starting out, you should choose relevant keywords with the lowest Difficulty Scores (and at least some traffic) and work your way up from there.

Use A Proxy App

Since your app isn't published yet, you will need to find an app that is published and is similar to your new app. It doesn't have to be an exact match, but it should be in the same category and general niche.

Let's say that you are developing an app that allows users to create photo collages of their vacations, by location, and share them with their friends and other travelers. As we look through our Sensor Tower Leaderboard, a popular app that also allows users to create collages is InstaCollage Pro, so we will use that app as our proxy.

Now add that app to your app list by clicking on the green Add New App button at the top of the Sensor Tower subscriber area. If you are not a subscriber, don't worry, you can try it out for free.

Button to add a new app to the keyword tracker

Once your proxy app has been added to your app list, you are ready to do the following steps to start researching your keywords. Before we get to what you can do, let's start with what you cannot do.

What You Cannot Analyze

The only major thing that you cannot analyze before your app is published is how your app actually ranks for the keywords that you have chosen. But since you are able to do all of the analysis listed below, you will be far ahead of other developers who wait until their app is published to do their keyword analysis. While they are just getting started, you will already have a long list of keywords to test.

What You Can Analyze

The first step is to do your keyword research and find keywords that are good candidates. Again, if you did not go through our keyword selection guide, be sure to do that now and choose relevant keywords with low difficulty scores. When you have a list of keywords that you think will be good prospects, continue with this tutorial.

Keyword Prospect List

Even though you cannot see how your app ranks for the keywords that you choose, you can still use the Search Rankings Tool as a way to track the keywords that you want to keep your eye on. Just add all of your keywords to the list and keep track of their Difficulty Scores.

If the Difficulty Score of a keyword gets unusually high before you launch your app, you will be able to react and find a replacement. As you can see in this screenshot, InstaCollage Pro is not ranking for any of the keywords we chose. But that is okay because we are only using the Search Rankings Tool to track keywords for your app, not InstaCollage Pro.

This is just an example of some keywords that you might choose on a first pass. The reason that these might be good keywords is because they are words that are related to travel and photography and they have fairly low difficulty scores. In addition, they all have decent Traffic Scores, so there is interest in these keywords.

Optimize Keywords

Now run the top keywords on your list through the Optimize Keywords Tool and see if there are any refinements that you can make before adding it to iTunes. The tool will let you know if you have unnecessary spaces, duplicate keywords and more. When we plug the words from the Keyword Prospect List into this tool, this is what we get.

There are 37 characters available to add more keywords and the keyword "photographs" might be a little too long. But now we know how we can improve.


Even though your app is not released yet, since you chose a proxy app that is in the same category, you will be able to see other similar apps when you use our Competitors Tool. Just click on the Track Competitor button if you want to watch that app. If you do not see an app that you want to follow, you can manually add it at the bottom of the screen in the Add Custom Competitor box.

Tracking your competitors will help you keep an eye on other apps that are doing things that you like and may want to study later. This goes for both keywords and app functions.

Intelligent Suggestions

Although you cannot get keyword suggestions for your app with the Intelligent Suggestions Tool because your app is not published yet, you can still get suggestions based on the keywords of your proxy app. Here are just a few of the keywords suggestions that come up for InstaCollage Pro.

Review Analysis

The Review Analysis Tool can also be used to find good keywords in the reviews of your proxy app. Here are some great potential keyword ideas that come up for InstaCollage Pro.

If you want to analyze another similar app, you can use the search box in the upper right corner of the Review Analysis Tool screen.


If you have an app that you have not launched yet and you think that you need to wait for it to be published before you can start doing your keyword research, you now have no excuse for waiting. Get started today and stay a step ahead of your competition.

When do you usually do your keyword research, before or after you launch? Let us know in the comments below.

Sensor Tower's platform is an enterprise-level offering. Interested in learning more?

Hugh Kimura

Written by: Hugh Kimura, Head of Content

Date: November 2013

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