Why Your Competitors Are Outranking You For iTunes Keywords

This post will show you how to analyze your competition with regard to specific keywords on the Apple App Store.

If you are wondering why other apps outrank you in an App Store search for specific keywords, then this post is for you. We will show you how to get this information quickly and what to do to fix the situation.

How Do You Rank?

First, let's start with a more basic question, how are you ranking for your keywords? If you do not know, be sure to consult a tool like our Keyword Ranking Tool to find out how you are doing.

To learn how to do this, read our post on how to track where your app ranks for its keywords. Then study the Difficulty Score, Traffic Score and number of competing apps for each of the keywords on your list.

As an example, we will use the ESPN SportsCenter app. It is currently #9 on our App Leaderboard across all categories.

Here are a few of the keywords that this app does not rank in the top 10 for. Let's examine the keyword "mlb," or the abbreviation for Major League Baseball as our example.

Study The Competition

Now that you know where your app ranks, let's look at your competitors. It is very unlikely that you rank #1 for a majority of your keywords. In fact, you are doing very well if you rank in the top 10 for all of your keywords.

It is more likely that you have some keywords that are doing well, but there are others that need to be fine tuned or replaced. First study your competition's keywords and see if they would be a good fit for your app.

Here are some other quick things to look at. Keep in mind that the search algorithm may change at any time, but if you are continually tracking and testing your keywords, you will be alert to these changes.

App Title

As we have talked about before, some less successful apps can outrank mega apps for certain keywords by having those keywords in their app title. This is not always the case, but you will notice that it does happen frequently. So as you study your competition, pay attention to which apps ahead of you have the keyword in their title.

As you are probably thinking right now, you cannot include all of your keywords in tour title, so you will have to be very selective about which ones you use. You want to choose the most relevant keywords for your app and you must be able to put it into a sentence or phrase that makes sense to a potential user.

In the case of the ESPN app, when we use the Keyword Research Tool and research the keyword "mlb," we find that all of the apps in the top 10 have that keyword in their title. Since they all have that keyword in their title, it is already included in their keyword list, so there is no need to spy on the keywords of every app on the list. If they keyword is not in the title, then spy on their keyword list and find out which keywords they are using.

Therefore, if ESPN really wants to rank in the top 10 for this keyword, they should add it to their app title. A good example of this is the SofaScore app. You cannot see the whole app title in the screenshot above, but the full title is: "SofaScore LiveScore - Sports live scores and results, Football - Soccer (Brazil 2014, Premier, Champions) league table, fixtures & video highlights, Tennis (ATP & WTA), Basketball games, Ice Hockey (NHL), Super Rugby score, Union (Six Nations), MLB."


Another factor that determines your search rank is the number of downloads of your app. Since you can't tell exactly how many downloads another app has, you can estimate it by looking at the number of ratings for that app.

As you know, this is not entirely accurate because not all users leave a review of the app. But taking a look at the number of reviews for the apps that are outranking you can give you a idea of how far ahead of you they are in downloads. If all the apps in the top 10 have significantly more reviews than your app, they keyword may be too competitive and you might be better off looking for an easier keyword.

In the case of the ESPN app, the apps in the top 10 for the keyword "mlb" have much fewer reviews. So adding the keyword to the title might just be what ESPN needs to rank well for this keyword, instead of the #28 ranking that they have now.

Also look at the quality of the ratings. Since we know that Apple has been factoring in ratings into their Top Charts rankings, it makes sense that ratings will play a factor in search rankings also.

The ESPN app has many more 1 star ratings than 5 star ratings. So if ratings become more of a factor in search rankings, it may help the SportsCenter app to improve their ratings by fixing bugs quickly and finding ways to divert low ratings from being left on the App store.


Now that you know how to examine your competition for specific keywords, we hope that you put this knowledge to use immediately. The best part is that all of this research shouldn't take more than 3 minutes per keyword.

App Store Optimization does require continual testing, as conditions in the App Store constantly change. But doing a quick review like this can give you a lot of clues as to why other apps are more successful than you and what you can do about it.

Sometimes you just need to make a few changes. But in other cases, you will realize that you are out of your league and just need to look for new keywords that your app can be competitive for.

What else do you look for when analyzing your competition for specific keywords?

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

Hugh Kimura

Written by: Hugh Kimura, Head of Content

Date: December 2013

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