Your iOS App Name Also Affects App Engagement

Learn how your iOS app name can influence the amount of engagement that your app gets. This in turn can affect your App Store search rankings.

What's in an app name? Maybe a little more than you think.

You probably already know that putting keywords in the title of your app can help you get ranked higher for those keywords in App Store search. This is because the Apple App Store algorithm usually gives those keywords more weight when deciding how relevant your app is to those keywords.

But there is another place where the right keywords can help you. In this post, we will show you how the right keywords in your app name can help boost another important App Store search ranking metric: engagement.

Spotlight Search = Engagement

It has been mentioned that Apple is taking engagement more into account when it comes to App Store search rankings. Although nobody but Apple knows for sure how much this factors into your rankings, it is certainly logical.

Downloads, while an important statistic, is very one dimensional when it comes to determining app quality and can be easily manipulated. But if people download an app and actually use it on a regular basis, then that should be a more telling indicator of how good the app is.

There can be a big barrier to engagement however. Even if you have the absolute best app in your niche, the average person can have as many as 40 apps on their iPhone and the really hardcore downloaders can have 259 apps, or more.

So getting people to download your app and actually use it, can be two entirely different battles. One way to make sure that your app can be found easily after it is downloaded is to put a common descriptive word in the name of your app.

This goes against the usual best keyword optimization practices, where you are looking for less competitive and often less common keywords. But for this strategy, you want to include one or two of the first words that would come to a person's mind when they want to find an app like yours. Luckily, you have 255 characters to do this, so will have enough space.

Why go against best practices for keyword optimization? Because of Spotlight Search in iOS.

When someone searches for anything on their iPhone or iPad, a list of apps is displayed in the search results by default. If they do have 259 apps on their phone and need to book a hotel, it would be very helpful to have an app name like Hotel Tonight. If your app is on a very short list of apps that come up, it is more likely to be used over the other apps on a person's device.


Let's take a look at some specific examples to show you how this works. In the first example, we will search for part of an app name. We will start simple and only search for the keyword "hotel." As expected, this search brings up Hotel Tonight because it has that word in its name.

But it also brings up Hipmunk which doesn't appear to have that word in the app name. Remember though, that you are only seeing the Bundle Display Name in iOS search, which is usually 11 characters or less.

However Spotlight Search is actually searching the App Name field in iTunes Connect. If we look at the full name of Hipmunk, this is what we find.

That is why it comes up in the search results for "hotel." Let's dig a little deeper.

Next, what about searching for only part of a name? If we do a search for "to" we find that it does bring up apps with that word in it, regardless of the location within the word. It even finds it in the concatenated name GoToMeeting.

But let's try something harder. What about something like "BnB" or the abbreviation for bed and breakfast. Interestingly, Spotlight does not find Airbnb on my iPhone. Therefore, you should not assume that every string of characters will be treated as a keyword in iOS search.

But what if the string is not a real word but is in the beginning of a word? When we search for "Spo" it does turn up the Yahoo! Fantasy Sports app.

So it appears that the current version of Spotlight Search will find complete words anywhere in a word, but will only find non-words at the beginning of words.

I guess it makes sense, searching anywhere in each word for any random characters could lead to too many results. Therefore, if you are going to put an abbreviation in your app name and want it to be found in Spotlight, it has to stand alone or go at the beginning of a word.

Something to keep in mind when choosing your keywords. The bottom line is that you need to double check that your app can be found in the way that you intended.


The degree of positive effect that this technique has on your engagement will depend on your user demographic (if they use Spotlight Search a lot or not) and which keywords you choose. You might also consider pointing out to new users that your app can easily be found through Spotlight. This could simply be a screen in your beginner's tutorial.

Targeting on-device search is not nearly as measurable as optimizing your keywords for App Store search, but with the number of published apps growing every day, you have to look for every advantage that you can find. This could be huge for certain apps and is yet another reason to add keywords to your app name. Test it out and see if it works for you.

How much of an effect do you think Spotlight Search will have on increasing engagement?

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

Hugh Kimura

Written by: Hugh Kimura, Head of Content

Date: January 2014

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