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50+ Business-Building Local SEO Tactics For SMBs

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50+ Business-Building Local SEO Tactics For SMBs

Do you have a local small to medium-sized business (SMB)?

If so, you know just how difficult it is to get found and stand out in increasingly competitive search results.

Local SEO strategies must adapt to new features and algorithm updates by the top search engines that affect local search results.

Most local SEO tactics fall into the following three categories.

  • Optimizing local listings and citations.
  • Optimizing your website and its content.
  • Optimizing and working on incoming links.

In this column, you’ll find over 50 specific things you can do right now to help improve your visibility in local search results, divided into those categories above.

Optimizing Local Listings & Citations

Let’s start with your NAP (Name, Address, and Phone Number) data.

In order to get listed and ranked in Google Maps, you need to be a legitimate business, and in some areas, you’ll need a business license (depending on the type of business you’re in).

That NAP needs to be consistent and listed the same everywhere or you’ll have problems later on.

Before you get started with local listings and citations, you’ll also need the following:

  • NAP of the business.
  • Website URL (list of internal location pages if more than one location).
  • A short description (up to 50 characters) that should include your main city name and type of business.
  • A longer description (up to 250 characters) that describes who you are and what you do. Include the city name and areas served if applicable.
  • Recent photos of your business.
  • Category of your business.
  • Keywords (that you’d like to rank for). These are typical “city name keyword” type keywords.

The main strategy for local listings and local citations is to get as many as feasible in the right category, with consistent information such as your NAP data.

Screenshot by author, March 2022

Local citations are mentions of a local business, which includes NAP data. Local citations may or may not include a link to your website. There are generally two strategies for getting local citations:

  • Get the local listings yourself.
  • Hire someone else to get them for you.

Taking the time to get local citations yourself can be a really big project, especially if you’re in a competitive industry in your area.

Competitors could have up to hundreds of thousands of local citations, which is nearly impossible to do manually.

If you’re a local business (SMB) in a fairly non-competitive market, then getting a handful of local citations manually is a good strategy. If that’s the case, a non-competitive local SEO strategy for local citations is to get these listings:

  • Google Business Profile.
  • Facebook.
  • Yahoo! Local (currently requires a payment to Yext).
  • Apple Maps.
  • Bing Places for Business.
  • MapQuest.
  • Yelp.
  • BBB.org.
  • FourSquare.
  • TripAdvisor.
  • Angie’s List.
  • TrustRatings.
  • YellowPages.
  • Home Advisor.
  • Thumbtack.

The last two on the list are specific to certain industries, and you’ll want to search certain directories that are specific to your local business’ industry.

Typically, these are easy to find — they’ll rank in the top 10 search results (on the first page).

BrightLocal has a list of top local citations for the U.S. that they maintain.

Submitting to directories (and getting listed) will allow your local business to take advantage of what’s often referred to as “barnacle SEO.”

Your business gets listed on pages on other websites that rank well for a certain keyword you’re targeting.

So for [Dallas carpenters], Google lists sites like Yelp.com, homeadvisor.com, thumbtack.com, houzz.com, and angi.com.

Getting listed on those sites will bring the business leads, as they’re ranking well in Google.

Once you have secured (and verified) those local listings, the next local SEO strategy is to get listed with the main data aggregators. There are three:

  • Data Axle (formerly InfoGroup) – Submit your business here.
  • Acxiom  – Register then submit your business here.
  • Localeze – Register then submit your business here.

The data aggregators will take the information of the local business and aggregate it (make it available for literally thousands of websites to use).

Be sure you’re using the correct NAP data and website URLs, as once the data aggregators get hold of your data, it’s tough to get it corrected and updated and can take quite some time.

Using A Third Party For Local Citations & Listings

Another local SEO strategy is to outsource local citations and listings.

Several third-party businesses allow you to submit your local business listing to them (the NAP data, short and long descriptions, URLs, etc.), and they will then use their connections to get that data on other websites.

Many have agreements with certain data providers, and can efficiently get hundreds, thousands, and even hundreds of thousands of local citations.

These third-party services include:

  • BrightLocal.
  • MozLocal.
  • Yext.
  • Advice Local.
  • SEMrush Listing Management Tool.
  • Whitespark.
  • Synup.

Some of these services are better than others, mainly because of the agreements they have with other websites and their technology.

Some submit to only 30 websites, and others like Advice Local will end up getting a local business thousands upon thousands of local citations, many of which include a link to the website.

Be wary of any third-party websites that set up a local listing on behalf of the local business but won’t give the local business the login and password for those listings.

Reviews Are Key

Getting reviews of your local business, especially on Google, is going to help rankings and it will encourage others to visit your business.

People do read reviews online, especially for service-type businesses (hotels, resorts, carpet cleaners, home inspectors, carpenters, and even car dealerships).

So, if your local business is a service-type business or another business where reviews are important, then creating a good strategy for dealing with reviews is key.

Local businesses need to request and encourage their customers to leave a review.

There are a lot of ways to encourage customers to leave a review.

Some businesses post a plaque at the business asking for reviews. Other SMBs encourage reviews by offering a “prize” each month to a random reviewer (one local business I frequent gives away an Apple iPad once a month to a random reviewer).

The local business should respond to reviews just as quickly as they are left, regardless if it’s a positive or negative review.

If it’s a positive review or comment, thank the customer for leaving a review.

If it’s negative, deal with it quickly and offer to take the issue offline to minimize any future problems and the negative review getting out of hand.

Even if you miss responding to a review, it’s perfectly okay to respond to reviews left several months in the past.

If the review shows up and can be seen easily, then I recommend responding to the review.

Too many local businesses will take the time to verify their local listings but won’t properly deal with reviews and respond to them in a timely manner.

Local businesses should take the time to develop a strategy for encouraging reviews, tell employees what that strategy is, and designate one or two people to respond to reviews.

Here are a few other ways to manage reviews:

  • Designate one or two employees to read reviews and handle review responses.
  • Encourage reviews by asking your customers when they check out or pay for services.
  • Send customers a letter or postcard in the mail, asking for a review after you provide services.
  • Outsource review monitoring and response. Typically, your social media or SEO company (or consultant) will help monitor and respond to reviews. If not, hire someone part-time to handle it for you.
  • Add a link on your website to a few other places where customers can leave a review. On the Google Maps listing, for example, Google provides a link to the listing that you can share.
  • Add a form on your website so they can anonymously leave a review (or leave their contact info if preferred). There are plugins available that will help you post those reviews on your website. This is especially helpful for businesses that sell products directly on their websites.
  • Create a comment box at your business, and provide a pen/pencil and forms. On the form, add a line for the customer’s email address. Ask them if you can post their review or testimonial online. Or, if you have their email address, email them and ask them to leave a review online.

Reviews sent directly to the business can be posted on the company’s website (with the permission of the customer). Reviews left on a third-party website (like on Google, Yelp, etc.) cannot be copied and posted on the company’s website.

Reviews on third-party websites have in fact been given extra weight lately by Google. So sites like these, where customers can leave reviews and feedback, could potentially help with local rankings on Google:

  • Yelp (yelp.com).
  • Trip Advisor (tripadvisor.com).
  • Yellowpages (yp.com).
  • Better Business Bureau (BBB.org).
  • Manta (manta.com).
  • Angie’s List (angieslist.com).
  • Foursquare (foursquare.com).
  • Facebook (facebook.com).

Another way to get more local reviews is to create a postcard or handout that’s given to customers.

Tell them you’d like their feedback, and use that feedback to make your business even better.

They can leave you a review on your website, or on any of these third-party websites (list the websites where you’d like them to leave a review).

Optimizing Your Local Website’s Content

Without going into too much detail about optimizing a local website, there are several on-site local SEO strategies that are important to consider:

  • Optimize for “Near Me” search queries.
  • Optimize for local.
  • Be a local content machine.
  • Buy a local website or blog.
Local Search on GoogleScreenshot by author, March 2022

Optimize For “Near Me” Search Queries

In the past, there have been more people using “near me” in the number of search queries, such as [restaurants near me] or [pharmacies near me].

Those two search queries assume the search engine knows where the searcher is located.

While “near me” isn’t necessarily gaining in popularity as it once was five years ago, it’s still used quite often.

I recommend doing your own keyword research and specifically looking to see if “near me” is used in search queries in your area.

If there’s a significant amount of searches, you may want to optimize at least one page on your website for “near me” related keywords.

Local Ranking Factors

Advice Local came out with their list of 2021 Local Ranking Factors, which is worth reviewing.

Specifically, they found that the local SEO experts that contributed to the list of ranking factors said that these are important:

A properly optimized GBP listing is the most important ranking “factor.”

So, it’s important to optimize your Google Business Profile listing.

Reviews are important, as well as responding to those reviews.

Then one of the “rising” important factors is the optimization of your website’s pages, which is the “On-Page” referred to above.

For example, make sure that your website has the proper Local Schema markup code, and the NAP data there matches the information in your GBP exactly, especially the name.

Work on getting more backlinks specifically to your individual location pages that include “city name + keyword” in the anchor text of the links.

Be A Local Content Machine

One interesting tactic or “local SEO strategy” I’ve seen lately that works well is becoming a local content machine.

Essentially, by adding a blog to your local business website and writing about local news and events, you’re producing content that others in the city will want to read and share, especially on social networks.

While you’re not necessarily writing about your local business, you’re branding the business locally. When someone wants or needs a company’s services, they’ll think of your business first since they’ve seen it so much online.

A local auto accident and personal injury attorney hired a writer to write articles every single day about accidents in their city.

While they weren’t targeting the actual victims they wrote about, the social media shares went up dramatically and the attorney got his name out there in front of people in the city.

Those social media shares did end up creating links to the website, which in turn helped local rankings.

Buy A Local Website Or Blog

If you’re looking to add a lot of content fairly quickly to your local business website, consider purchasing a local website that already has the content you need.

It could be a local hobby website with local news or articles, or it could be a local blog that has the content.

Perhaps the owner doesn’t have the heart to keep up with the content like they used to or they could just use the money.

Approach a local website or blog about buying their site and incorporating and moving their content over to your local business website.

Setting up redirects from the old domain name to your local business website will help pass any link equity and history over to your local business.

Optimizing And Working On Links

Links to your website have always been an important search engine ranking factor and will continue to be in the future.

Google’s algorithm has always favored links to a website.

But back in 2016, there was a stronger emphasis on links when Google released its Google Possum algorithm update.

Local links or links from other local businesses and organizations have been important for years, and are still a very important part of a local SEO strategy today.

Greg Gifford, Vice President of Search at SearchLab.com, recommends that you can “find easy link opportunities by looking at the relationships you already have.”

Local sponsorships, local volunteer opportunities, and local offline groups can all lead to local links.

Need more ideas for local links? Use Majestic.com to analyze the link profiles of similar businesses in another city.

Another local SEO strategy for local links is to get links from competitors.

Use a web crawler such as the Screaming Frog SEO Spider to crawl their website and review all of your competitors’ outgoing links.

Then, see if there are any links you can get from websites your competitors are linking to.

Essentially, those competitors are passing link credit or PageRank to the other website that then passes it to your website.

Additional Local SEO Tips

Those are a few local SEO strategies that will help local search engine rankings.

But, if that wasn’t enough, here are a bunch more local SEO tips and pointers that you may not have thought of yet.

Local Listings

Undoubtedly, the number one local search ranking factor is the “proximity of the business to the point of search.”

How far is the business away from the person who is doing the search?

For example, Google knows where the searcher is (especially if they are using a mobile phone).

The closer the business is to the person doing the searching, the more likely that business will show up in the Google Maps and Google local listings in the search results.

Some businesses have been known to get a “virtual office” location (or multiple virtual office locations) just for this reason, especially if the customer never visits their location.

While this is a local SEO strategy I don’t endorse, it’s a local SEO strategy worth noting – as a company’s competitors might be doing it.

Keep your local online listings up to date.

If you know you have an update to your NAP data, make sure it gets changed online as soon as possible.

If you’re moving, start updating your local listings.

As soon as you know the new address, start updating local listings online.

It can take months for websites to update your listing, so the sooner you start, the better.

Just as you update your “snail mail” with the US Postal Service when you move to a new location, you’ll want to make sure your local listings are updated as well.

As previously mentioned, the address with the USPS should be the same exact address used in your local listings.

Search engines most likely have access to USPS data and inconsistencies can lead to local ranking problems.

Consistency is key when it comes to NAP data and your business’s ability to rank well locally.

Make sure your local listings are consistent and the same as it is on your website.

Audit your local citations.

Inconsistent NAP data across multiple websites is one of the issues I see a lot.

Auditing your local citations to make sure your NAP is consistent everywhere can really help local SEO.

You might have multiple phone numbers, different versions of your address, or even a different address on some websites that list your NAP data.

Removing duplicate listings and updating inconsistencies can make a huge difference.

Add updated photos on a regular basis to local profiles.

Get on a regular schedule of taking new photos of your location and your business. Add new photos on Google Business Profile, your Facebook page, and other sites that will accept photos such as Yelp.

Add a budget for local ads.

Use Google AdWords to target specific locations and target potential customers in your area. Google is now offering ads on Google Maps listings, so setting aside a budget for those ads will pay off.

Work on getting more reviews.

It’s always a constant battle to get more online reviews than your competitors – but it’s worth it in the long run.

Ask customers for reviews – in-store, at your location, and even via email if you have your customers’ email addresses.

Ask for a review on Google, Yelp, and TripAdvisor if you’re a hotel or resort.

Always respond in a timely manner to every review that’s left, whether it’s a positive or negative review.

On-Site Local SEO

Add marked-up schema.org code to your NAP on your website.

The name, address, and phone number on your site should be marked up with the proper code.

It won’t affect how it displays on your site, but the schema.org code will tell search engines just that – that it’s your name, address, and phone number.

You can also add the markup in JSON-LD (JavaScript Object Notation for Linked Data) code, which can help Google know about your NAP.

Add the proper link to your telephone number.

Adding a “tel://” type of link to your phone number where it’s listed on your site will allow mobile visitors to click on the link and call you.

This can also help search engines display your phone number in the phone call extension area in mobile search results.

Speed up your website’s load time.

Optimizing your site for mobile devices can seriously (and quickly) help rankings.

I’ve seen Google send more traffic to a website just because the website loads faster than it did before. This might mean moving web hosts, redesigning the website, or using a CDN.

All photos of your business should be tagged with the appropriate location information and keywords.

Use an EXIF editor to add location information, keywords, and descriptions of each photo. Each image file can be updated with this information, which can include geotagged location information.

Multiple locations? Create a section on your website for each location.

Don’t create just one page for each location, add additional content if possible.

Each location will have its own unique personality with its location and employees. Why not consistently add content relevant to each location? Add a blog, and add photos to make it relevant.

Use the proper syntax and keywords in your URLs.

For each location, use a format like www.domain.com/location/. Link to each location in the main navigation on your website, but don’t link to sub-pages under each location.

Consolidate separate websites for each location to one main website.

If you’ve set up a separate domain name and website for each location, move those websites to your main site.

Redirect the domain names with 301 redirects and move the content to sub-sections on your main website.

Each location will feed off of the main website’s authority to become more powerful. Don’t forget to update your location’s local listings so they point to the new URL on the main website as well.

Some local search queries can trigger featured snippets.

Depending on your topic, you can increase your website traffic and visibility by showing up in “position zero” for some search queries.

Position zero is the “featured snippet” that Google shows above all of the other search engine listings.

Use SEMrush.com to analyze the keywords you’re currently ranking for, and see if any of them include a featured snippet.

Optimize the content to show up for the featured snippet. Other search queries may also trigger the knowledge graph, instant answer, local pack carousel, or images that you can optimize for.

Make sure you’re using HTTPS.

While you may not be taking credit cards or personal information on your website, moving your entire website to an SSL secure server will give you a leg up.

HTTPS is now a search engine ranking factor for Google, and many local businesses haven’t moved their websites to HTTPS yet.

So moving to HTTPS will put you ahead of your competition. It’s important to make sure that links that you’ve had for a while, such as local citations, point to the HTTPS version of your website.

Add a blog.

Write blog posts on a regular basis about local news, local issues, and local events. Post those on social media and link back to your blog post.

Photos are always liked by local residents, and quite often they’re shared.

Local SEO Audits

Perform an audit of your website.

There are several different types of audits available, including link audits, on-page audits, and local citation audits.

Local citation audits are good for identifying duplicate listings and inconsistent NAP data.

I’ve recently seen a rash of negative SEO being done in the local listings, with some businesses receiving listings being built “for them” with bad data, courtesy of competitors.

A local citation audit can identify a lot of these issues so you can deal with them properly.

Link audits are important, as local maps algorithms are increasingly relying on link data.

Having low-quality links and off-topic links pointing to your website can hurt rankings.

On-page audits are also important to identify areas for improvement on your website.

Fixing issues like formatting, metadata, heading, and even page load speed can improve rankings.

Off-Site Local SEO

Get your customers’ email addresses and use that data to target them on Facebook or for an email newsletter.

You can upload your customers’ email addresses and phone numbers to Facebook and target them with ads.

Then, create a lookalike campaign on Facebook to target even more people with the same demographics as your current customers.

Optimize for voice search.

More people are using voice search to find local businesses. They use voice search to help them find a business near them.

For example, they might ask, “Where is the nearest Italian restaurant?” Check out the Local SEO Guide study of “near me” local SEO ranking factors that I previously mentioned. It’s an interesting read.

Use the barnacle SEO strategy.

For your main keywords (the ones you want to rank for), take a look at who is currently ranking – and it may not be your own website.

If you can optimize your listing or show up well on another site that’s currently ranking for your keyword, then you’ll still see some traffic and get business.

If a Yelp, Home Advisor, Thumbtack, Angie’s List, or BBB page is ranking, then make sure your local business is listed on those pages.

Participate and sponsor local events, organizations, and non-profits.

These will increase your local visibility and will quite often include a link back to your website, which ultimately helps your search engine rankings.

Final Thoughts

It takes a holistic approach to optimize your website for search. The combination of on-site optimizations and offsite listings and links will help boost your SMB’s visibility in local search results.

More Resources:


Featured Image: Olivier Le Moal/Shutterstock




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SEO

A Complete Guide to App Store Optimization (ASO)

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A Complete Guide to App Store Optimization (ASO)

A mobile strategy is critical to your business presence, considering the saturation of mobile devices.

This is where app store optimization (ASO) comes into play.

In this article, you’ll learn:

  • What is app store optimization?
  • How does app store optimization work?
  • How do you optimize for Google Play & Apple App Store?

Whether you are new to app store optimization or simply keen to refine your approach to ASO, this post shares practical insights that are proven to maximize app store success.

What Is App Store Optimization?

Downloads, usage, and in-app spending continue to rise, but many users prefer to use a select few apps more consistently.

Discoverability has never been harder, but the rewards of locking in loyal users are bigger than ever – so maximizing visibility in app stores is crucial.

App store optimization (ASO) describes the process of optimizing the listing pages for your mobile app in app stores like Google Play and Apple’s App Store.

You may come across alternative phrases like “app store marketing” or “mobile app SEO,” but they all refer to the same thing.

The goal is to maximize the visibility (and downloads) of your app for relevant searches – basically, SEO for your mobile app rather than your website.

In many ways, the optimization process for ASO is very similar to SEO; in others, not so much.

Ultimately, ASO aims to maximize app installs while product development works on monetization, engagement, retention, etc.

An effective app store optimization strategy keeps new users coming in while your development team (hopefully) keeps existing ones active and spending.

With the right retention rates, app store optimization acquires the new users you need to drive meaningful growth.

The goal of ASO is nearly always app downloads, but supplemental goals can include items such as:

  • Increased brand exposure.
  • Positive app reviews and ratings.
  • More frequent and increased volumes of app reviews.
  • Audience engagement.
  • Additional marketing channel diversification.

How Does App Store Optimization Work?

If you’re new to app store optimization, it might help to think of it as SEO for your mobile app.

Except, rather than optimizing a website to show in search engines, you’re optimizing your mobile app listings for the relevant app stores.

In this sense, you could argue ASO is more like optimizing a Google Business Profile to show in Maps and local results.

The other key difference is you’ve got two major mobile app stores to optimize for: Google Play and Apple’s App Store.

These aren’t the only two app stores worth considering, especially if you’re developing apps for other devices (TVs, games consoles, etc.), but they are the biggest – by far.

According to Statista insights from Q3 2022, here are the top three app stores based on the number of available apps:

  • Google Play: 3.55 million.
  • Apple App Store: 1.64 million.
  • Amazon Appstore: 0.48 million.

As a result, most ASO guides focus on optimizing app listings for Google Play and Apple App Store. Aside from being the top two platforms, the optimization process is a little different for each.

This is mostly due to each app store having its own algorithm – much like different search engines.

In practice, most app store algorithms are more alike than they are different. So, the basic principles of app store optimization apply to all of them. However, some stores may use the odd ranking signal that others don’t.

To keep this guide simple, we’ll start by running through the most common ranking signals for app stores, in general.

Then, we’ll take a closer look at Google Play and Apple App Store to see how they’re different.

Organic Optimization: Your ASO Foundation

The key ingredient missing from many ASO marketing delivery approaches is organic search optimization and integration of app stores within the broader organic marketing mix.

There is more overlap between ASO and SEO than direct competition between the two.

The integration of these areas, and the application of consistent focus on ASO, can support numerous search marketing gains.

You may be surprised to discover that many of the traditional search engine optimization tactics that work for search engine performance, such as Google and Bing, can also be directly applied to ASO.

Examples of this include:

  • App name, title, and URL optimization.
  • Keyword research for ASO.
  • App rating and reviews generation and handling.
  • Deep linking within mobile apps.
  • Indexation of Apps in Google search engine results pages (SERPs).
  • Click-through rate (CTR) optimization.

The biggest marketing mistake, however, when it comes to integrating SEO and ASO is overlooking the role of the website in driving volumes of referral visits directly to your store page and app downloads section.

Your website should be seen as the driving force behind leading people throughout the information-seeking and buying funnel from your main online entity (your website) through to an engaged, ready-to-buy/download audience (your app store).

As content levels are limited within the app stores themselves, the more you can leverage your website content to increase app awareness and discovery to build external app authority and visibility, the greater the value, traffic, and downloads your app will receive.

The Most Important App Store Ranking Factors

Like search engines, app stores don’t reveal the details of their algorithms to the public.

That being said, the following seven ranking factors are key, functional components of all major app stores:

  • App name or title.
  • App descriptions (including keywords).
  • Installs.
  • Engagement.
  • In-app purchases and events.
  • User reviews.
  • Updates.

You can break these ranking factors into three categories: discovery, conversion, and validation.

Discovery signals help app stores connect your app with relevant searches. This includes your app name /title, description, keywords, and other contextual signals.

Conversion signals tell app stores that your listing compels users to download your app – a strong indicator that your listing should show for more relevant searches.

Finally, you’ve got validation signals (engagement, in-app purchases/events, reviews, reports/flags, etc.). These help app stores determine whether users get a positive experience after installing your app.

Positive validation signals (strong engagement, positive reviews, etc.) are an even stronger indicator that app stores should show your app to similar users.

What Do Users Want From An App Store Listing?

Optimizing your app listing for visibility is one thing; getting users to actually download your app is something else entirely.

The catch-22 here is that installs directly impact your ranking in app stores.

The more people install your app, the higher it should rank. This, in turn, should result in more installs, higher rankings once again – and so forth.

So, what are the key factors on your mobile app page that determine whether users hit the install button?

  • App icon: On most app stores, your app icon is the most visually prominent element on results pages and recommendation lists.
  • App details: This includes your app name/title and, usually, some short descriptive text explaining the purpose of your app.
  • App rating: Most platforms show the average rating/review score for your app in search results and at the top of your app listing page.
  • App description: With Google Play and the App Store, users can see a brief description on your listing page and they can click to see the full description – so that first sentence or two is crucial.
  • Visuals: This includes any feature images, screenshots, and demo videos that you can add to your listing, showcasing the key benefits and user experience of your app.
  • User reviews: Unless users are already familiar with your app, they’re probably going to browse through some reviews from existing users.

Here, you can see this in action.

Screenshot from Google Play, February 2024App Store Optimization Elements for ASO

Much like SEO, app store optimization is a careful balance of optimizing to maximize visibility in app stores while prioritizing the needs of your users.

Google Play Vs. App Store: Key Differences

Google Play and the App Store are more similar than different when it comes to app store optimization.

Firstly, the ranking factors are very similar, and the differences are mostly technical – for example, Google and Apple handle keywords differently.

Here’s a quick summary of the main ranking factors for Google Play and the App Store.

App Store Google Play
Listing Listing
App name App title
Subtitle Short description
Long description
Keywords (app name, keyword field) Keywords (all inputs), incl. keyword density
Ratings & reviews Ratings & reviews
Listing CTR Listing CTR
App performance App performance
Downloads Downloads
Engagement Engagement
Uninstall rate Uninstall rate
In-app purchases In-app purchases
Updates Updates

As you can see, there’s not much of a difference here – in fact, most of your time will be spent on things like specifications for icons, videos, and other assets for each app listing.

As a general rule, Apple is more strict with its developer guidelines and it’s usually harder to get an app approved for the App Store.

So, if you’re promoting iOS and Android apps, optimizing your listings for Apple’s guidelines will often satisfy both app stores while maintaining consistency and reducing workload.

Now, let’s take a closer look at app store optimization for Google Play and, then, the App Store.

App Store Optimization For Google Play

To give your app listing the best possible start, you’ll want to dedicate the most time to the following nine elements:

  • App title.
  • App category.
  • App descriptions.
  • App icon.
  • Feature graphic.
  • Screenshots.
  • Promo video.
  • App rating and reviews.
  • Google Play Android Vitals.

We’ll take a closer look at optimizing each of these elements, but always refer to official Google guidelines while managing app listings for Google Play.

App Title

Optimizing your app title for Google Play will feel familiar if you’re used to optimizing website titles for search.

You want to start with the product/branded name of your app and then include a brief description – in no more than a few words – using your primary keyword.

Google Play SearchScreenshot from Google Play, February 2024Google Play Search

You can use up to 30 characters in your app title, but try to keep it as short and punchy as possible.

Prioritize accuracy over keyword targeting and highlight the key benefits of using your app.

App Category

Selecting the right category for your app is essential for matching with relevant searches.

For example, let’s say you’re promoting a heart rate monitoring app. In this case, “Health and Fitness” is the most appropriate category.

Google Play example 2Screenshot from Google Play, February 2024Google Play example 2

When users specifically search for “heart rate monitor,” the keywords in your title are a stronger signal.

However, your app category can help your app show for more general searches like “health and fitness apps” or “productivity apps.”

Crucially, users can also browse categories in the Google Play store to discover new apps without searching.

Google Play Categories ExampleScreenshot from Google Play, February 2024Google Play Categories Example

For more info on selecting the right app category for Google Play, take a look at this Play Console Help page.

Short & Long Descriptions

In Google Play, your app listing includes two descriptions: A short description that shows under the About this app preview and a full description that users can reveal by clicking on the arrow highlighted below.

Google Play Descriptions - ExampleGoogle Play Descriptions - Example

You can use up to 80 characters for your short description and 4,000 characters for your full description.

In your short description, try to describe the core functionality of your app in the most compelling way possible.

Accuracy is key here, but you want to convince users to install your app – so highlight the most attractive benefits.

Your full description provides a more in-depth summary of what your app offers.

Remember that most people won’t click through to read the full description, and those who do are looking for information, not a sales pitch.

You’ll find Google’s official guidelines for creating app descriptions under the “App descriptions” section of this Play Console Help page.

App Icon

App icons show on the left side of search listings in Google Play and the top-right of app listing pages.

Google Play App Icon ExampleGoogle Play App Icon Example

These are the most prominent elements on app store results pages.

Ideally, you want an app icon that either visually describes the role of your app or leverages your brand image as a differentiator.

Designing a unique icon is more challenging if your app has a specific purpose and many competitors – e.g., a heart monitoring app.

Google Play example 3Google Play example 3

If this applies to your app, use design principles like contrast to make your listing stand out from other results.

Notice how Pulse App’s Heart Rate Monitor app stands out from the other listings above?

This is thanks to a combination of simple iconography with strong contrast, using a black background to stand out from the white Google Play results page.

Compare this to the REPS app, which uses similar iconography without a black background, and the Bodymatter app, which uses a black background but a more complex design.

Google Codelabs has an excellent tutorial on designing and previewing app icons. It includes best practices and tips for making an icon that stands out on results pages and the latest Android features, such as adaptive icons.

Feature Graphic And Promo Video

Feature graphics show on your app listing page and can also show for branded searches, paid ads, or recommendation sections on Google Play.

Until recently, you could only use images as featured graphics, but you can now use promo videos in their place.

Google Play Feature Screenshot from Google Play, February 2024Google Play Feature

This is one of the most visible assets on your Google Play listing, so use feature graphics to capture attention and showcase the best of your app.

Google suggests:

“Use graphics that convey app or game experiences, and highlight the core value proposition, relevant context, or story-telling elements if needed.”

You’ll find more guidance on creating feature graphics under the Preview assets section of this Play Console Help page.

App Screenshots

App screenshots show in the same horizontal panel as feature graphics on your app listing page.

They’re designed to showcase the best features of your apps while showing users what the in-app experience looks like.

Google Play Screenshot ExampleScreenshot from Google Play, February 2024Google Play Screenshot Example

You can include descriptive text in your screenshots to emphasize the key benefits of your app’s most important features.

Keep things descriptive, though.

Google prohibits the inclusion of performative or ranking text in screenshots, such as “app of the year” or “most popular…” and promotional information like “10% off” or “free account.”

If your app supports multiple languages, you’ll need to provide screenshots for each language version, including any translated descriptive text.

See the screenshots section of this Play Console Help page for more info.

App Ratings & Reviews

App ratings show prominently in results and at the top of the app listing pages in Google Play. Besides this, you’ve also got a prominent Ratings and reviews section as the largest element on your listing page.

Google Play Rating ReviewsScreenshot from Google Play, February 2024Google Play Rating Reviews

Aside from being a ranking factor, app ratings and reviews are one of the biggest trust factors that help users choose which apps to install.

You don’t need perfect review scores but a positive (3.5+ stars) is a great asset for rankings and installs.

Your review profile also allows users to view the feedback left by others – and how you respond. Once again, how you deal with user problems is often more important than the scores or feedback itself.

You’ll need a framework in place for generating regular reviews and replying to them, engaging with reviewers, and solving user issues.

Your replies are also visible, so avoid generic responses – show new, potential users how good you are at dealing with problems.

In fact, don’t take inspiration from Google’s own support team for Google One. Privacy is great, but the tone of the reply below is more dismissive than helpful, and the exact same response appears throughout replies.

Google Play Review ExampleScreenshot from Google Play, February 2024Google Play Review Example

This feedback can also help you develop a stronger product, and users often edit their reviews, following updates or resolved tickets.

Always remember: Long-term revenue is the goal, which starts with quality app experiences, engagement, and retention.

Google Play Android Vitals

Google provides an extensive toolkit for optimizing your mobile app. Its Android vitals initiative sets out the most important usability metrics that affect the visibility of your app on Google Play.

If you’re used to optimizing websites for search, this will sound a lot like Google’s Core Web Vitals.

The principle Android vitals is similar in terms of performance affecting your search ranking, but this is a far more extensive initiative than Core Web Vitals, as it stands.

Android vitals are broken into two key components:

Core vitals

All other vitals

To maximize the visibility of your app in Google Play, keep the user-perceived crash rate below 1.09% across all devices and 8% per device, with the user-perceived ANR rate below 0.47% across all devices and 8% per device.

Google Play Bad Behaviour ExampleScreenshot from developer.android.com, February 2024Google Play Bad Behaviour Example

Take a look at the official Android vitals documentation page for more information.

App Store Optimization For App Store

For the App Store, we’ve also got nine key elements to optimize, but they’re not quite the same as Google Play:

  • App name.
  • App subtitle.
  • Categories.
  • Keywords.
  • Description.
  • App icon.
  • App previews.
  • Screenshots.
  • App ratings and reviews.

One of the key differences here is how the two platforms handle keywords. While Google analyzes your whole listing for keywords, Apple provides a single field for you to add keywords.

Again, always refer to official Apple documentation when optimizing listings for the App Store.

App Name

In the App Store, your app name simply provides a recognizable and memorable name for your mobile app.

You don’t need to worry about keywords or descriptive text here – that comes later.

App Store NameScreenshot from App Store, February 2024App Store Name

For now, concentrate on coming up with an app name that’s easy to remember and spell while somewhat describing what your app does.

Apple offers the following advice:

“Choose a simple, memorable name that is easy to spell and hints at what your app does. Be distinctive. Avoid names that use generic terms or are too similar to existing app names.”

You can use up to 30 characters for your app name in the App Store, but try to keep it as short and punchy as possible.

App Icon

As with most app stores, the app icon is one of the most prominent elements as users browse the iOS app store. Apple provides extensive design guidelines for app icons and it’s more strict than most.

App Store IconScreenshot from App Store, February 2024App Store Icon

So, if you’re promoting your app across the App Store, Google Play, and any other platforms, you might want to start with Apple first. In most cases, this makes it easiest to maintain a consistent design across all platforms.

Generally speaking, the same design principles apply. Keep it simple and impactful with intelligent use of iconography, color, and contrast.

Look at your competitors and try to come up with something that stands out from the other apps your target audience is likely to see.

Subtitle

Your app subtitle provides a brief description below the app name. Use this to highlight the purpose and benefits of your app in the most compelling way possible.

App Store SubtitlesApp Store Subtitles

This is your first opportunity to excite potential users about your app, so try to make an impression here. You’ve only got 30 characters to work with, which means punchy subtitles tend to do best.

You’ll want to test and refine your subtitles over time, paying close attention to CTRs and installs as you try different variations.

Categories

As with Google Play, categories are key for discoverability in the App Store.

You can assign primary and secondary categories for iOS apps to help users find your app; the primary category has the strongest weight. – so choose the most relevant one.

App Store Categories Screenshot from App Store, February 2024App Store Categories

Apple provides extensive guidance for choosing app categories. Make sure you follow Apple’s guidance because selecting the wrong categories violates the App Store guidelines.

In some cases, you may find multiple categories that match your app.

For example, if you’re running a photo-sharing social media app, you could select either Photo & Video or Social Networking as your primary category.

In such cases, Apple suggests considering the following:

  • Your app’s purpose: Your primary category should be the one that best describes your app’s main function or subject matter.
  • Where users look for an app like yours: Understanding your audience will help you identify the category in which they will likely look for your app. Will they consider your app more of a social network or a photography app?
  • Which categories contain the same type of apps as yours?: Research how similar apps are categorized — users may already know to visit these categories to find this type of app.

If multiple categories accurately reflect the purpose of your app, you’re unlikely to run into any violation issues.

At this point, it’s more a question of which category matches the search and everyday use of your app – not only to maximize visibility but also to set the right expectations for users who install your app (think engagement and retention).

Keywords

While Google Play looks for keywords throughout your app listing (similar to how Google Search analyses web pages), the App Store provides a dedicated keywords field.

You can use up to 100 characters to add keywords (separated by commas – no spaces) to help users discover your app. Apple offers the following advice for choosing keywords:

“Choose keywords based on words you think your audience will use to find an app like yours.

Be specific when describing your app’s features and functionality to help the search algorithm surface your app in relevant searches.”

Apple also recommends considering “the trade-off” between ranking well for less common terms versus ranking lower for popular terms.

The most popular keywords may generate a lot of impressions and traffic, but they’re also the most competitive, which can impact CTRs and installs.

App Description

Your app description should provide a short, compelling – and informative – description of your app, highlighting its main purpose and benefits.

Similar to Google Play, you can use up to 4,000 characters in your app description, but users can only see the first two lines (and most of the third) without clicking to see more.

Apple suggests the following:

“Communicate in the tone of your brand, and use terminology your target audience will appreciate and understand. The first sentence of your description is the most important — this is what users can read without having to tap to read more.”

App Store Description ExampleScreenshot from App Store, February 2024App Store Description Example

If you want to update your app description, you’ll have to resubmit your app listing, so it’s important to try and get this right and only make considered changes.

You can also add up to 170 characters of promotional text to the top of your app description.

Crucially, you can change this text at any time without having to resubmit your app listing, making this a great place to share the latest news and info about your app – such as limited-time sales, the latest features, or fixes from the last update.

App Previews

App previews are the App Store equivalent of promo videos.

You can add up to 30 seconds of footage to illustrate the key benefits of your app and the experience of using it.

App Store App PreviewScreenshot from App Store, February 2024App Store App Preview

Again, Apple has strict guidelines and specifications for app previews – make sure you tick all the right boxes.

As with most things, if you’re listing your app in the App Store and Google Play, getting your app preview approved for the App Store first should mean you can use the same format for Google Play – as long as you include footage from the Android version of your app.

Screenshots

You can add up to 10 screenshots to your app listing for the App Store.

If you don’t have an app preview, the first one to three screenshots will show in search results, so make sure these highlight the core purpose of your app.

App Store ScreenshotScreenshot from App Store, February 2024App Store Screenshot

In your remaining screenshots, you can focus on the main features or benefits of using your app.

Try to stick to one feature or benefit per screenshot to communicate each purpose clearly.

App Ratings & Reviews

Once again, app ratings and reviews are important for maximizing visibility and installs in the App Store.

If anything, user reviews are more prominent in the App Store than Google Play, but we can’t say whether this has any meaningful impact on downloads.

App Store ReviewsScreenshot from App Store, February 2024App Store Reviews

The same general principles apply here: try to develop a regular stream of reviews and manage a positive app rating.

Again, you don’t need perfect scores, but you do need to respond to user reviews and address potential issues.

Prioritize negative reviews and respond as quickly as possible with responses that deal with issues – avoid generic, unhelpful responses.

Extra App Store Optimization Tips

App store optimization is an ongoing process that needs ongoing attention. Getting your listings approved for app stores is only the beginning.

Maximizing visibility and – more importantly – revenue from your mobile apps requires a complete product development strategy.

Here are some final, additional tips to help you drive long-term success from app store optimization:

  • Know your KPIs: Don’t get distracted by the wrong metrics and KPIs – know what you’re optimizing for and center every decision around your business goals.
  • Prioritize user experience: Visibility is one thing, but you’re not going to maximize it or take full advantage of it if people uninstall your app or rarely use it – so make sure quality product development and UX design are at the heart of your ASO strategy.
  • A/B test key app store elements: Test and optimize the most important elements on your app listings to increase visibility, CTRs, installs, and retention (descriptions, videos, screenshots, reviews, etc).
  • Master each app store’s analytics system: Google Play and the App Store both provide capable (albeit in different ways) analytics systems to help you improve visibility, revenue, and product quality – so make full use of them.
  • Promote your app with ads: Both Google and Apple provide dedicated ad systems for their respective app stores to get your app in front of more eyes.
  • Promote your apps outside of app stores: Use other marketing channels to promote your apps – social media, app directory websites, app review websites, affiliate marketers, tech publications, etc.
  • Localize your app listings: App stores can connect you with global audiences, but only if you optimize your listings for each target language and location (this is called localization) – with translated text, screenshots, videos, etc.

Conclusion

The mobile app industry still shows growth despite smartphone penetration being way past saturation.

Smartphones aren’t the only devices in people’s lives anymore, either.

Apple Vision Pro launched with over 600 compatible apps, opening another space for mobile experiences beyond the confines of traditional smartphones.

App store optimization (ASO) will become more complex as new devices and app stores emerge.

However, the rewards will also grow, and the companies already mastering ASO for today’s app stores will be first in line to benefit as emerging technologies bring new opportunities.

More Resources:


Featured Image: Billion Photos/Shutterstock

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My 5 Favorite Ahrefs Use Cases for Content Marketers

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My 5 Favorite Ahrefs Use Cases for Content Marketers

I’ve used Ahrefs since 2016. I thought I was a power user, but since joining the team, I’ve discovered a bunch more use cases that I can’t imagine living without.

Here are five of my favorite ways to use Ahrefs for content marketing:

Let’s be honest: we all snoop on our competitors to see what’s working (and isn’t). But today, a lot of the most exciting content strategies live outside of the company blog: free tools, app integrations, programmatic content, you name it.

For most websites, you can use the Site structure report in Site Explorer to quickly see how the website is structured, and which parts generate the most organic traffic.

In the example below, we’re looking at Copy.ai’s site structure. We might expect their blog to drive most of their organic search traffic, but according to the Site structure report, it only accounts for 4% of organic traffic. Instead, their /tools subfolder drives almost 60% of their traffic:

Click deeper into the site structure, and you can see the individual pages generating the most traffic. In this case, three tools alone account for an estimated 20% of the entire website’s organic search traffic:

1708502174 559 My 5 Favorite Ahrefs Use Cases for Content Marketers1708502174 559 My 5 Favorite Ahrefs Use Cases for Content Marketers

We can even compare metrics from today to a point in the past and see how their strategy has changed. Compared to a year ago, Copy.ai has grown traffic to its /tools subfolder but removed 195 pages from its blog:

1708502174 652 My 5 Favorite Ahrefs Use Cases for Content Marketers1708502174 652 My 5 Favorite Ahrefs Use Cases for Content Marketers

It’s easy to track the performance of any blog as a whole. Add the URL into Site Explorer, and a second later, you’ll see key metrics:

1708502174 4 My 5 Favorite Ahrefs Use Cases for Content Marketers1708502174 4 My 5 Favorite Ahrefs Use Cases for Content Marketers

But for big blogs (ours has some 2.5k indexed pages), it’s harder to answer questions like:

  • Which authors are driving the most traffic?
  • How does link acquisition differ between SEO content and thought leadership content?
  • Does updating our articles with an on-page SEO tool improve performance beyond just updating them normally?

Enter Portfolios. Portfolios allow you to group a list of URLs together and view their aggregated metrics. I use one portfolio for tracking the performance of my articles:

1708502174 611 My 5 Favorite Ahrefs Use Cases for Content Marketers1708502174 611 My 5 Favorite Ahrefs Use Cases for Content Marketers

And another for tracking recent articles published by my team:

1708502174 920 My 5 Favorite Ahrefs Use Cases for Content Marketers1708502174 920 My 5 Favorite Ahrefs Use Cases for Content Marketers

And another still for monitoring the search performance of some of the biggest “parasite SEO” publishers (to see whether or not Google is really doing anything to combat it):

1708502175 763 My 5 Favorite Ahrefs Use Cases for Content Marketers1708502175 763 My 5 Favorite Ahrefs Use Cases for Content Marketers

In every case, you can click into your portfolio and see the same detailed metrics you’re used to from Site Explorer:

1708502175 207 My 5 Favorite Ahrefs Use Cases for Content Marketers1708502175 207 My 5 Favorite Ahrefs Use Cases for Content Marketers

Portfolios has become my default way of using Ahrefs, and there are tons of use cases:

  • Compare articles written by freelancers, in-house terms, and (dare I say it) AI tools
  • See which article topics drive the most traffic
  • Analyze the performance of different content types (helpful for separating out the impact of search content and thought leadership content)
  • Monitor the performance of key competitor articles
  • Measure the impact of newly updated or rewritten articles
  • Track experiments (create one portfolio as a control and another for the articles you want to experiment on)

The hardest part of keyword research (at least for me) is always generating seed keywords.

When you have a few terms to explore, it’s easy to find long-tail variations, matching terms, related terms, you name it. But coming up with those first few topics? Not always easy, and it becomes even harder once you’ve exhausted obvious topics.

But now, we can just use a little AI brainstorming power to turn a blank page into dozens and dozens of seed keywords. In Site Explorer, just ask our little AI friend for help:

1708502175 13 My 5 Favorite Ahrefs Use Cases for Content Marketers1708502175 13 My 5 Favorite Ahrefs Use Cases for Content Marketers

Let’s use the bog standard keyword “content marketing” as an example. Here are technical and specialized terms related to content marketing:

1708502175 654 My 5 Favorite Ahrefs Use Cases for Content Marketers1708502175 654 My 5 Favorite Ahrefs Use Cases for Content Marketers

Here are emerging trends:

1708502175 42 My 5 Favorite Ahrefs Use Cases for Content Marketers1708502175 42 My 5 Favorite Ahrefs Use Cases for Content Marketers

And now controversial and debate-generating keywords (“quality vs quantity”—going right for the meaty topics):

1708502175 266 My 5 Favorite Ahrefs Use Cases for Content Marketers1708502175 266 My 5 Favorite Ahrefs Use Cases for Content Marketers

With our big list of seed keywords, hit “Search” and we’ll see the estimated search volume, keyword difficulty, and a bunch of other data points for our ideas. Click the Matching terms or Related terms reports and our list of possibilities will grow massively:

1708502176 245 My 5 Favorite Ahrefs Use Cases for Content Marketers1708502176 245 My 5 Favorite Ahrefs Use Cases for Content Marketers

Not every idea will be a home run in terms of significant search volume, but many will—and they might be ideas you wouldn’t otherwise have considered.

It’s pretty tricky to refine a list of 300 target keywords to a realistic selection of article ideas. Many keywords will have overlapping intent, others might be subtopics that make more sense to mention as part of another topic. Tricky!

Here we’ve used AI to brainstorm seed topics and used the Matching terms report to find even more ideas. We’ve wound up with 1,622 keyword ideas in about 30 seconds of research:

1708502176 487 My 5 Favorite Ahrefs Use Cases for Content Marketers1708502176 487 My 5 Favorite Ahrefs Use Cases for Content Marketers

Great, but also totally overwhelming. But we can make life much easier by using the Cluster by Parent Topic tab.

Parent topic aims to cluster keywords with similar or the same search intent, so you can target them all on one page instead of many.

If we wanted to target the keywords “content marketing audit” and “content audit definition”, we could instead target the parent topic “content audit”—and also rank for “content marketing audit” and “content audit definition”.

Three keyword rankings, one article.

In the image below our 1,622 keywords are grouped by their parent topic. We’ve gone from 1,622 keywords to just 162 clusters—much more manageable:

1708502176 236 My 5 Favorite Ahrefs Use Cases for Content Marketers1708502176 236 My 5 Favorite Ahrefs Use Cases for Content Marketers

Just one of these clusters, content audit, contains 43 keywords. So by writing one article targeted at content audit, we stand to rank for 43 of the keywords we were interested in:

1708502176 706 My 5 Favorite Ahrefs Use Cases for Content Marketers1708502176 706 My 5 Favorite Ahrefs Use Cases for Content Marketers

Competitive SERPs are usually a never-ending game of content optimization and updating. Competitors publish new articles, or update their existing ones, and you have to update your content to avoid sliding down the rankings.

When you formulate your plan for updating an article, it’s useful to see exactly how competitors have updated their articles.

Here’s the organic traffic graph for Zapier’s most popular blog post, How to Use ChatGPT. We can see a huge increase in organic traffic starting in November 2023:

1708502176 649 My 5 Favorite Ahrefs Use Cases for Content Marketers1708502176 649 My 5 Favorite Ahrefs Use Cases for Content Marketers

This begs an obvious question: what happened in November? What caused the massive traffic increase? Is it something that we can learn from?

Well, good news: we can use the Page inspect report to find out.

By default, you can see the current HTML and page text for your chosen URL:

1708502176 871 My 5 Favorite Ahrefs Use Cases for Content Marketers1708502176 871 My 5 Favorite Ahrefs Use Cases for Content Marketers

But more importantly, we can use Page inspect to compare the on-page text at specific points in time: like just before and after their big traffic surge in November 2023. In a couple of clicks, we can actually see if Zapier updated the page in a way that might have triggered the traffic increase.

In this case, we can see entirely new sections of text that were added to the article around the time of the traffic increase, like this collection of “how to” content:

1708502176 729 My 5 Favorite Ahrefs Use Cases for Content Marketers1708502176 729 My 5 Favorite Ahrefs Use Cases for Content Marketers

There are plenty of factors that can improve search performance, but this is a powerful way of isolating the impact of on-page changes. If we were writing an article on the same topic, or refreshing an article Zapier had dethroned, this is exactly the kind of section I would consider adding.

Final thoughts

I’ve used Ahrefs for keyword research, link building, and reporting since forever, but these new-to-me workflows have made my life much easier. If you’re a content marketer, they might help you too.

Got any interesting Ahrefs workflows to share? Let me know on X or LinkedIn!



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5 Questions Answered About The OpenAI Search Engine

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5 Questions Answered About The OpenAI Search Engine

It was reported that OpenAI is working on a search engine that would directly challenge Google. But details missing from the report raise questions about whether OpenAI is creating a standalone search engine or if there’s another reason for the announcement.

OpenAI Web Search Report

The report published on The Information relates that OpenAI is developing a Web Search product that will directly compete with Google. A key detail of the report is that it will be partly powered by Bing, Microsoft’s search engine. Apart from that there are no other details, including whether it will be a standalone search engine or be integrated within ChatGPT.

All reports note that it will be a direct challenge to Google so let’s start there.

1. Is OpenAI Mounting A Challenge To Google?

OpenAI is said to be using Bing search as part of the rumored search engine, a combination of a GPT-4 with Bing Search, plus something in the middle to coordinate between the two .

In that scenario, what OpenAI is not doing is developing its own search indexing technology, it’s using Bing.

What’s left then for OpenAI to do in order to create a search engine is to devise how the search interface interacts with GPT-4 and Bing.

And that’s a problem that Bing has already solved by using what it Microsoft calls an orchestration layer. Bing Chat uses retrieval-augmented generation (RAG) to improve answers by adding web search data to use as context for the answers that GPT-4 creates. For more information on how orchestration and RAG works watch the keynote at Microsoft Build 2023 event by Kevin Scott, Chief Technology Officer at Microsoft, at the 31:45 minute mark here).

If OpenAI is creating a challenge to Google Search, what exactly is left for OpenAI to do that Microsoft isn’t already doing with Bing Chat? Bing is an experienced and mature search technology, an expertise that OpenAI does not have.

Is OpenAI challenging Google? A more plausible answer is that Bing is challenging Google through OpenAI as a proxy.

2. Does OpenAI Have The Momentum To Challenge Google?

ChatGPT is the fastest growing app of all time, currently with about 180 million users, achieving in two months what took years for Facebook and Twitter.

Yet despite that head start Google’s lead is a steep hill for OpenAI to climb.  Consider that Google has approximately 3 to 4 billion users worldwide, absolutely dwarfing OpenAI’s 180 million.

Assuming that all 180 million OpenAI users performed an average of 4 searches per day, the daily number of searches could reach 720 million searches per day.

Statista estimates that there are 6.3 million searches on Google per minute which equals over 9 billion searches per day.

If OpenAI is to compete they’re going to have to offer a useful product with a compelling reason to use it. For example, Google and Apple have a captive audience on mobile device ecosystem that embeds them into the daily lives of their users, both at work and at home. It’s fairly apparent that it’s not enough to create a search engine to compete.

Realistically, how can OpenAI achieve that level of ubiquity and usefulness?

OpenAI is facing an uphill battle against not just Google but Microsoft and Apple, too. If we count Internet of Things apps and appliances then add Amazon to that list of competitors that already have a presence in billions of users daily lives.

OpenAI does not have the momentum to launch a search engine to compete against Google because it doesn’t have the ecosystem to support integration into users lives.

3. OpenAI Lacks Information Retrieval Expertise

Search is formally referred to as Information Retrieval (IR) in research papers and patents. No amount of searching in the Arxiv.org repository of research papers will surface papers authored by OpenAI researchers related to information retrieval. The same can be said for searching for information retrieval (IR) related patents. OpenAI’s list of research papers also lacks IR related studies.

It’s not that OpenAI is being secretive. OpenAI has a long history of publishing research papers about the technologies they’re developing. The research into IR does not exist. So if OpenAI is indeed planning on launching a challenge to Google, where is the smoke from that fire?

It’s a fair guess that search is not something OpenAI is developing right now. There are no signs that it is even flirting with building a search engine, there’s nothing there.

4. Is The OpenAI Search Engine A Microsoft Project?

There is substantial evidence that Microsoft is furiously researching how to use LLMs as a part of a search engine.

All of the following research papers are classified as belonging to the fields of Information Retrieval (aka search), Artificial Intelligence, and Natural Language Computing.

Here are few research papers just from 2024:

Enhancing human annotation: Leveraging large language models and efficient batch processing
This is about using AI for classifying search queries.

Structured Entity Extraction Using Large Language Models
This research paper discovers a way to extracting structured information from unstructured text (like webpages). It’s like turning a webpage (unstructured data) into a machine understandable format (structured data).

Improving Text Embeddings with Large Language Models (PDF version here)
This research paper discusses a way to get high-quality text embeddings that can be used for information retrieval (IR). Text embeddings is a reference to creating a representation of text in a way that can be used by algorithms to understand the semantic meanings and relationships between the words.

The above research paper explains the use:

“Text embeddings are vector representations of natural language that encode its semantic information. They are widely used in various natural language processing (NLP) tasks, such as information retrieval (IR), question answering…etc. In the field of IR, the first-stage retrieval often relies on text embeddings to efficiently recall a small set of candidate documents from a large-scale corpus using approximate nearest neighbor search techniques.”

There’s more research by Microsoft that relates to search, but these are the ones that are specifically related to search together with large language models (like GPT-4.5).

Following the trail of breadcrumbs leads directly to Microsoft as the technology powering any search engine that OpenAI is supposed to be planning… if that rumor is true.

5. Is Rumor Meant To Steal Spotlight From Gemini?

The rumor that OpenAI is launching a competing search engine was published on February 14th. The next day on February 15th Google announced the launch of Gemini 1.5, after announcing Gemini Advanced on February 8th.

Is it a coincidence that OpenAI’s announcement completely overshadowed the Gemini announcement the next day? The timing is incredible.

At this point the OpenAI search engine is just a rumor.

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