The Importance of App Store Optimization (ASO) for indie developers

Katerina Zolotareva

This is a guest post from Katerina Zolotareva. Katerina is Marketing and Customer Success Manager in The Tool, the first Performance-Based ASO tool. She loves to read and write about Mobile Growth and spend her free time out in the nature.

In this post we will learn what is ASO and why all developers should do it.

This post is not for marketing gurus. Not for companies with huge marketing budgets. This post is for you, developers. The ones that managed to generate an idea and develop an app or game around it. Now you want it to stand out. What’s next?

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You publish your app on the Apple App Store or Google Play Store. And it lives there happily until it dies or disappears after 10-14 days. Why? Because there are more than 5 million apps in the app stores, and each of them wants to be seen, downloaded and used / played.

The number of apps is growing each and every day, app stores are evolving, changing the game rules and their algorithms. You need a strong app marketing strategy if you want your mobile app to make its way to the top and get visibility and downloads.

This strategy is called ASO - App Store Optimization. It is one of the key elements of mobile marketing and it stands on 4 pillars: Search – Conversion – Top Charts – Featured.

App Store Optimization is the process of optimizing the visibility and conversion rate to install of a mobile app or game in the app stores.

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If you still are not doing ASO, start now. Because your competitors have already started.

Benefits of ASO

  • Increase visibility. When your app store listing is optimized, it will start ranking in the Search Results. You will likely get noticed by the users who are looking to try an app like yours.

  • Get FREE organic installs for your app. By improving the visibility of your app in the app stores, you get more organic visits (from Search, Top Charts, or Featured) and the best thing is that you don’t need to pay for this! Therefore,

  • Lower acquisition costs. You won’t need to invest in user acquisition to get more installs. If your app or game is ASO-optimized, the users will find and download it.

  • Stable cash flow from downloads. When your app is optimized and has a great visibility and good conversion rates, you will have a solid and stable number of downloads and thus, stable cash flow if you monetize your app in any way (ads, in-app purchases / subscriptions, etc.).

Optimizing for App Store Search: The key elements of ASO for developers

App Store Optimization is a cycle that consists of these 3 processes:

  1. Keyword research and optimization
  2. Conversion rate optimization & A/B testing
  3. Monitoring and improving

There are 2 types of factors that have effect on ASO strategy: on-metadata factors and off-metadata factors. They are similar to web SEO on-page and off-page factors:

ASO On-metadata factors

These factors are directly under the control of developers, they are: App Name / Title, URL / package, Keywords field (only App Store), Short description (only Google Play), Description (both App Store and Google Play), Category (?), Developer name, Graphic elements: Icon, Screenshots, Video preview, and App Size.

ASO Off-metadata factors

On the other hand, off-metadata factors can not be directly controlled by developers, but they do have a heavy impact on search rankings algorithm, app visibility and conversion rate. They are: volume and velocity of installs, user engagement, volume of ratings and average rating, user reviews. Developers can’t change these factors, but can influence them with right ASO and marketing actions.

In this post we will cover a full cycle of App Store Optimization to see which on and off-metadata factors play the most important role in ASO and what developers can do to optimize them.

1. App Keyword research and optimization

This part of the ASO process is essentially the first one to be implemented and often goes even prior to launch of the mobile app or game. Keyword research and optimization belongs to on-metadata factors, and, similar to SEO for web, the keywords play a crucial role in search discoverability.

Follow these steps to optimize and get most out of your app keywords:

Brainstorm

First of all you need a good brainstorming. Think about all the possible keywords and keyword combinations that best describe your app or game, its main features and tasks that it performs. Keep the scope wide, there are many different reasons and ways that the users will find your app.

Look for keyword suggestions

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There are many ways to find suggested keywords, starting from any search engine, where you can type a word and see all the suggested searches related to this word, this is called Auto-complete keywords. There are also different tools to find these suggestions: generic like Google Keyword Planner Tool, SEMRush, or specific, like Keywordtool.io or TheTool keyword tool. In TheTool dashboard, select a keyword to see ALL the suggested keyword combinations related to this search.

Monitor your competitors

You are not alone in the market, and it is very important to keep an eye on your competitors and what they do to promote their apps. There can be apps that are similar to yours, so you should study the keywords that your competitors are ranking for to get some ideas about the optimization of your own app.

Check user reviews

User reviews can give some valuable insights on how to improve the product, and they also indicate the keywords users employ to describe and talk about your app. You can get some inspiration for your keyword research and communication strategy to work on the user sentiment along the way. A positive user sentiment will be a favorable trigger to improve the conversion rate to install of your app or game, and at the same time will improve the rankings of your app, because the app stores gives more value to the apps with more positive user reviews.

Use the right keywords...

Avoid useless keywords with little traffic - instead, pick the keywords or keyword combinations that have a lot of traffic but are not too competitive (long-tail keywords). Revamp your keywords often and remove the ones that are not performing for you. In terms of visibility it is much more effective to rank Top 5 for a less-competitive keyword, than to enter a competition that you can never win.

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… and put them in the right places

Once you have selected the optimal keywords for your app, place them in the right textual on-metadata fields. Try to place your top keywords to your app title and URL / Package:

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IMPORTANT: For Android apps on Google Play, once the URL is set, it can’t be modified. So in this case try to make a research prior to publishing an app in the store, and include the main keywords in the URL / Package.

In Google Play there is a short description (80 char), which plays a great role in search ASO and conversion rate optimization, and a full description, which is indexed by Google and affects heavily the search ASO. Use all the space provided in the description (4000 char) to include your app keywords, and especially in the first and last paragraph of your description. TIP: Repeat main keywords 4-5 times all over the full description.

In Apple App Store the description doesn’t affect search ASO (but it does affect the Conversion Rate). There is a 100-characters field just for the keywords in iTunes Connect. When entering your keywords there, don’t use spaces between words and use digits instead of numbers, to save the available space for the important keywords.

Developer name is also an important factor for search ASO (mostly on Google Play Store), and app stores give more weight in rankings to those apps whose developers have a positive history of apps on the store. Curiously, you can place keywords in your developer name, and in some cases, developer name contains ONLY keywords (a bit spammer :P) and becomes a strong ASO instrument:

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ASO EXPERT BONUS: Localization

Don’t ignore localizing your app store listing. In many ways the localization is not only translation, but making changes in different listing elements, they way of showing them and adapting to different customer behavior in other countries. Even simple spelling can differ in english-speaking countries. Make your app available in as many geos as possible to multiply your app’s visibility, experiment by localizing app store listing to see where do you get the most customers from (and improve conversion rate to install), and then localize the whole app, if needed.

Localization is vital for a strong organic growth of your app and its global visibility.

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Source: Appshots

2. Conversion rate optimization (CRO) and A/B testing

Another bigger part of App Store Optimization process is related to the optimization of Conversion Rate to install. Conversion rate is mostly affected by on-metadata factors, and it is an indicator of an overall appeal of your app store listing, which is measured as the ratio of total number of installs of your app divided by total number of visitors of the listing (app page). Graphic elements, user ratings & reviews, short description (only on Google Play) and app size play the biggest roles in making an app attractive.

Graphic elements

The first thing that the user sees when he comes across your app is the graphics: icon, screenshot, feature image or video. This is the place where you need to be really creative and stand out from the rest of the apps with attractive graphic elements. Visual assets make the difference!

Icon is the most important element identifying your app. An icon should stand out first of all in search results, being a trigger an increase in installs volume, and besides that, a good icon can improve the CTR (Click Through Rate) / TTR (Tap Through Rate).

Your icon should be simple, vibrant, and descriptive in order to make it clear what is your app or game about. Read this great case study from Incipia to find out how to pick the best icon and a few tips on A/B testing.

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Screenshots are another way to present your app and show how it looks from inside. The users rarely look at more than 2 first screenshots, in case they don’t like the content, so it is crucial to catch the attention from the first sight. For example, using storytelling. Always showcase first your TOP feature, and provide an explanation to each screenshot. And just as any other graphic element, you can test your screenshots (changing form, colour, copy and order of appearance) to determine the best working combination for your app or game.

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Feature graphic (only on Google Play), either it is an image or a thumbnail of a video, can tell a lot about your app or game and should be powerful to convince the users to download it. Center the most important information in the middle of an image, and use large fonts to make the copy readable. It is always a good idea to experiment with changing the feature graphic for a new season or holiday. And if you use a video, check out the Apptamin’s ultimate guide to video in app marketing!

You can use video in Apple App Store too, there it will act as the first of the screenshots.

Short description

This field is only available for Android apps and Google Play. Add relevant keyword (max 80 char), tell what your app or game is about and convince users to download it.
TIP: You can use this free Google Chrome extension to spy the short description of any mobile app in Google Play.

Description

The description is (mostly on the Apple App Store) one more way to impact the users. Use bullet points to organize the information, talk about the virtues and the best features of your app or game, and in case of Google Play, take full advantage of rich formatting and emoji in the text of your description.

App Size

Mind the App Size, too, because the archives that are more than 100MB weight, can not be downloaded using cellular service (3G / 4G), and it might be hard to make the user return later to download your app using WiFi. You can optimize the size by providing a lighter version of your app, combined with more highweight in-app purchases and content upgrades.

Do A/B testing like a pro

When it comes to evaluating the results of your optimization and measuring the impact on the conversion rate, A/B testing is used to compare 2 different version of app store listing with a change in one element (in order to have a clear vision of which element has caused the improvement). The 2 versions are compared against each other in an experiment, and the traffic is separated equally between the 2 options to determine which one has better results in terms of the conversion rate.

In App Marketing and ASO, A/B testing is an indispensable tool, making it possible to find out which version of the listings the users will like the most. Try to test out all the elements of your listing, and mind the country specifics - something that works very well in one country, might not work at all in the other ones.

Some great tools for A/B testing are: Google Play Experiments, SplitMetrics, TestNest, among others.

3. Monitoring and improving

What is not measured, can’t be improved.

There are plenty of tools that can help you monitor or track anything related to the ASO of your mobile app or game: keywords rankings, top charts rankings, user ratings and reviews, conversion rate to install, downloads, revenues, competitors, etc.

Use one of them to measure the impact of your ASO strategy and see whether it’s working, or not.

App Store Optimization Cycle

Initially after the first steps of ASO optimization, the app would need a leap of installs in order to start ranking in Search. The more downloads - the better ASO, and more visibility - the more organic installs - the less user acquisition costs. Sounds great, right?

This is why it is important to constantly monitor and improve your ASO strategy. Tweak the different store listing elements, work on user experience and improve your product to keep your ratings high and user sentiment positive. The app stores have already confirmed that they give more weight in rankings to the apps with better user experience and engagement, so take care of the users, encourage positive reviews and update frequently to fix bugs and introduce new features to your app. Check out your competition, because if they succeed in their ASO, it could change the situation in your niche completely.

ASO is a long-term strategy

Probably one of the most challenging part in App Store Optimization is the frequent changes in the algorithms or in the way stores work. For example, when Apple reduced App Name from 255 characters to 50, the developers and marketers had to respond with a quick switch in their keyword strategy to adapt to this change. This happened in September 2016, and was followed by a change in Google Play Store algorithm in February 2017. User engagement and retention started affecting rankings considerably in Google Play, and again, the apps had to adapt.

This is why it is important to know that ASO is never a single action, but a long-term process. Experts recommend monitoring keywords, top charts and rankings frequently and always be up-to-date with trends and changes on the markets. This way you can have a consistent and steady App Store Optimization strategy that will keep your app stable and resistant to market changes.

Are you already doing ASO for your apps or games? Start now!

Katerina Zolotareva

Marketing and Customer Success Manager in TheTool, the first Performance-Based ASO tool. She loves to read and write about Mobile Growth and spend her free time out in the nature.

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