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Apple’s and Google’s search algorithms are black boxes and completely undocumented, but when you look at enough data, patterns start to emerge. I actively analyze search results to reverse engineer how the stores decide which apps to rank and how to rank them, and share what I find, including tips, tricks, and secrets, here for you to learn from.


Table of Contents


In this Keyword Teardown, we’ll be looking at one keyword, which is different than the three I usually analyze. But! This time we’ll go deeper to analyze the first ten results and not five, so you have more to learn from.

Keyword: PDF Scanner

61 high96 very high2.9K moderate1.6M very high$6M very high

Business apps and utilities do very well in the App Store. They’re mostly silent successes because there’s very little showing off with a scanner app. Yet, as you can see from the scores above, the keyword is popular and competitive, and the apps that reach the top get quite a few downloads and earn millions for their developers.

Needless to say, keyword optimization is important here. So, let’s see why Apple’s algorithm chose the following results.


The Top 5

Starting at the top, we have Adobe Scan, which gets everything right here. Both words are present in the name and are not repeated in the subtitle. The name and subtitle feel a bit stuffed, but with the most new ratings in the entire list (of top 10), it’s not a real problem. This is a pretty solid setup for a top app and one that will make it harder for others to compete.

Dropping to #2, Scanner App, we see very good performance (aka. downloads), but that’s not a strong signal. What works here is that both words are in the name and not in the subtitle, and the app is getting a good number of new ratings. With the right keyword placement, having the most new ratings isn’t essential, which means this one can focus its keywords a bit to get more love from the algorithm.

CamScanner, at #3 is an interesting example of how important spaces are. The app uses both words in the name and doesn’t repeat either, which is very important. It also has more ratings than #2. So why isn’t it higher? I suspect the key is in the hyphen between CamScanner and PDF. We know the algorithm drops some characters, but when it comes to separating words, it’s better to go with a space and not punctuation unless you go with the very basic set.

I could be wrong here, but I’ve seen this repeat across a bunch of different keywords. I’d err on the side of caution and always surround words with spaces. In this case, they have the characters.

So far, things make sense.

At #4 we have another potentially interesting case. Lots of new ratings and using both words in the name and a hyphen that’s surrounded by spaces. You’d expect Genius Scan to rank much higher, and you’d be right. If… it didn’t make the cardinal sin of repeating words between the name and subtitle, which really devalues them.

And in #5 we have an example of just how important it is not to devalue keywords. Mobile Scanner uses the words in its name correctly but only has a few hundred ratings. Looking down the rest of the list, most other results have thousands of ratings. So how can it land a top rank? Easy answer (that you must have seen coming from a mile) it doesn’t devalue its keywords by repeating them.

It’s such a powerful advantage!

Going Deeper

Microsoft Lens (#6), Scanner App (#7), and Scanner · (#8) all have more ratings than #5 and also repeat one or both words between the name and subtitle, which really hurts them. All three can get much better ranks if they remove the duplication. It’s that easy.

Adobe returns in #9. While Acrobat isn’t really a PDF scanner, it does have something to do with PDFs and likely has “scanner” in its keyword list. The keyword list combines with the subtitle when it comes to indexing. The weight is lower, which is why Acrobat’s thousands of ratings can only push it as high as 9th place.

#10, which is fairy brandless, duplicates both words in its subtitle. Just like Luni (#8). That alone would net it 9th place, but it also has very few new ratings, which means it can barely hold on to 10th.

In this case, removing the duplication and focusing the name and subtitle (aka. keeping things short) should give the brandless app a good push, at least above Acrobat and possibly as high as 6th.

And that’s all I have for you today. Subscribe to the newsletter for a new Keyword Teardown next week.

How Does Apple’s App Store Algorithm Work?

App Store Optimization splits into two major parts: keyword optimization, which is how you’ll get more people to find your app, and conversion optimization, which is how you’ll be able to turn more of those views into downloads.

The former, keyword optimization, is what you should focus on first and involves selecting the right keywords and placing them into your app’s name, subtitle, and keyword list/description in a way the algorithm will understand.


Scores help to identify opportunities. They’re not the only thing you should use, but they make analyzing a bunch quicker and easier. In case you were looking at the scores in this article and wasn’t sure what they mean, here are the details:

  • Popularity – This is a measure of how many searches the keyword receives on a monthly basis but normalized to a scale of 5 – 100, where the most searches get 100, and none/barely any get a 5. Because it’s normalized, the actual values sit on an exponential curve, which means a 10 isn’t half of 20 but actually less.This is best used in the context of relevant keywords to aim high but shouldn’t be used to compare to irrelevant keywords. Higher is better, but not a requirement.
  • Competitiveness – This is a measure of how strong the apps that are currently at the top 10 results are, on a scale of 1 – 100, where 1 means not at all and 100 means extremely tough. The algorithm we created looks at the same performance metrics as Apple’s and Google’s algorithms do. Smaller is better here, but much like the popularity score, you should only look at it in the context of keywords that are relevant to your app or game.
  • Results – This isn’t exactly a score but rather the number of apps the algorithm will return for the keyword. Most users wouldn’t look past the first five or ten, but when optimizing, we can use this number to gauge the difficulty of ranking. Less is good in this case.

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