App store categories are bullshit.
OK, not total bullshit – when we’re talking non-gaming they’re more or less relevant, and in terms of discovery, choosing an app category requires some strategic thinking. But overall, the categories as we know them are these broad and overlapping groups that don’t *really* tell you all that much.
Consider the three apps below, all of which are in the same category – Role Playing (Games).
Do these apps target the same users? Answer the same need? Follow the same play structure? Do you think you’ll find these 3 apps all on the same phone? Do I need to keep asking these rhetorical questions to prove that these apps probably shouldn’t be in the same category? As I said…it’s BS.
Let’s backtrack for a moment and start by understanding why category matters:
- Discoverability. Apple and Google use categories to rank and surface apps they believe users will find relevant, through top charts, through Featuring, through similar and related apps, etc.
- Industry & Competitor Research. Understanding who you’re up against, what does/doesn’t work for them, what differentiates you from the rest, is essential to creating smart growth strategies and designing powerful creatives. The platform categories are woefully inadequate at helping you isolate your actual competition (see above example, would you tell our cartoony joyful My Talking Tom to learn how to market from hardcore RAID: Shadow Legends? Methinks not.)
- Audiences. All apps do not, of course, have the same audience. Categories help you understand who it is you can expect to be interested in your app. Perhaps more importantly, you want to be able to understand why users want your app, what it is they’re looking for, so that you can, you know, meet those needs. Here, categories are most criminally underused because you don’t have the right categories to work with.
The reality is most of us have been using other categorizations in our work for years – we look at Match 3 instead of just Puzzle, Midcore instead of just Strategy/RPG/Action/Simulation/Action, IP in addition to any other category there is. Because we need these additional groupings to understand where we fit in and how we strategize from here. The annoying thing is, you gotta manually assemble these category lists since you can’t just click “IP” in the stores and see a list of apps that have an external IP. And you sure as hell can’t find “Midcore IP” in one clear list.
And sometimes you just can’t manually create your list. Maybe your category is granular enough that there’s not a lot of big-name apps that anyone can recite off the tip of their tongue, or your categorization is sort of vaguely known but not classified by any helpful blogs or Reddit posts (yes, I use Reddit posts almost daily in my work and yes, even on Reddit there are many categories not adequately represented…Hypercasual Combat, which is very much a category in my book, yields nothing good for example.)
Introducing: Storemaven’s Taxonomy
This is why we began creating our own Taxonomy – so that we could speak the same language when we spoke about real categories, and so that we could easily and painlessly find apps of a feather for our research, compare their creatives, identify trends, and design growth strategies accordingly.
(Haven’t heard of our Taxonomy? Reach out to your favorite Maven for more info. If you don’t yet have a favorite Maven start here.)
Now let’s return to our previous example. RAID, Choices, and Talking Tom 2 were all in the same category. Here’s how they should actually be categorized:
RAID – Turn-based RPG (under class: Midcore).
Here it is alongside other apps in the same category
Choices- Interactive Story (Class: Casual)
My Talking Tom 2 – Pet Simulation (Class: Casual)
Other than looking so much more….right, being able to look at apps of the proper category we can already start spotting creative trends to highlight and hypotheses to make. Characters are critical in Interactive Story – but what gender should they be? One character or 2? The ability to choose is highlighted in some apps, whereas romance is highlighted in others. Which is more powerful for our audience? You get the idea.
Ok, so that’s why we started the Taxonomy. But then we understood that there’s way more power to that punch. You might have noticed that sometimes apps that are not direct competitors send you really excellent users – for example, let’s say you have a social casino app, and you suddenly see a great chunk of users coming in from an ad that was placed in a Match 3 game. You want to be able to do 3 things with that information:
- Advertise on other Match 3 apps. There’s a wellspring of untapped users to be had there!
- Understand why Match 3 users are performing well in your app. This information is critical to action number 3….
- Design marketing creatives and campaigns to these users to maximize performance.
Now unfortunately I am running out of space in this post (Our content team runs a tight ship), but number 2 is a whole ‘nother topic in itself. So I promise you dear readers I will have a follow up on this, but in the meantime let me leave you with this:
Behind every download, there is a motivation. A reason to play the game. I open Candy Crush Soda Saga at 2 am because I need something fun to do while I rock my sleep-averse offspring for 95 min on end. My brother downloaded Wordle to flex his superior vocabulary muscle over all his nearest and dearest.
Just because your app might not be in the same category as another, doesn’t mean your users aren’t looking to fill that same need. And that’s the real magic behind understanding why some categories give you profitable users. But more on that whenever they’ll let me back at a keyboard…