ASO for dummies: The true and false app store optimization (ASO) facts

Demystifying ASO: Separating App Store Optimization (ASO) Myths from Real Facts

Excuse me for assuming you are probably not fully covered with ASO. Most mobile app pros aren’t. ASO is a relatively new discipline, even the masters have not been practicing it for that many years, and chances are that most of us need to work on our ASO muscles.. for our own benefit of course.

Living and breathing mobile apps, I meet with, talk to and serve quite a lot of mobile app developers. Some are indie developers, running one-man show, others are working in startups with (some) marketing budgets, and some are known brands or web services taking some baby steps in the mobile app arena. They all bitch about being buried in the app store dungeons. One just told me “if I can’t find my own app in the store, how can potential users find me?”. Right, they can’t. But there are some steps you can take to make this better.

The thing with you, dear app developer (well, maybe, just maybe it includes me too) is that you don’t like long cooked dishes. This is why we all like user acquisition so much. You start today, the charts are skyrocketing tomorrow. Lovely, you go out for a night out to celebrate! Only you have no money left to pay for the drinks. Too bad.

User acquisition, my old and loyal friend has its place of course in the mobile app marketing mix. But sometimes media buying is just not enough. Most of the time actually. Will you feel better if I told you it’s the same of our big bros, the online businesses? It is. This is why everybody learned to respect SEO so much. They are just a little more mature than us, mobile dudes, so they are smart enough to know they can’t just buy traffic all day, they gotta put some effort in creating a long-lasting love affair with their SEO agencies.

Let’s take a minute to whine about it. Yes it’s a long-term game, a frustrating ride in the dark, a trial and error kinda game. And…the minute is over.

Gladly, we are at a point where some proven ASO tactics and some nice and affordable 3rd party services to help with ASO start to emerge, and the horizon is bright with more and more providers joining the game, increasing competition and therefore offering advanced technologies, competitive prices and better customer support.

If you are interested in learning what this ASO is all about, get the basic (for dummies) how-to guidance, and then learn the advanced tactics and get to know the main service providers out there, you’ve come to the right place.

As members of appgo2market this training series will provide you with EVERYTHING you need to know for DIY ASO, according to your budget level, any budget level.

These are this ASO training building blocks:
Part 1 (the one you are currently reading) – ASO for dummies – why ASO, what it is exactly, and the operative steps you need to take.

coming soon:
Part 2 (for appgo2market members)- beginners’ steps – take concrete actions by order of execution
Part 3 – do and don’ts + advanced tactics and Tip
Part 4 and final – 3rd party services you should know of + competitive analysis (and no, we are not involved with any of them)
Shall we start?

ASO for dummies

Searching and freely exploring the App store / Google play an important origin of app installs:

Now, you know that there are over a million apps in each store. Now, you may be asking: “What do I care? They are registered under different categories than mine, and mine is not so crowded…” right? Wrong! If you don’t mind, I’ll just put here a table:

Don’t kill yourself over trying to find your category statistics, let me save you the effort – IT IS CRAZY ANYWAY!

What about growth? Easy question. Here you go:

My point is that unless you are Supercell, or a similar developer, with an endless acquisition budget (yup, endless, like no limit, like buy the whole freaking available inventory), with no proper marketing strategy in which ASO plays an important part, expect the app to be installed mostly by friends, family and some, hmmm, users from VERY weird places.

I will be clear: WITH NO PROPER MARKETING ACTIVITIES THAT INCLUDE ASO, chances are that your app will stay buried forever, as brilliant as it may be.

Please don’t give me the “Flappy bird” example, don’t even go there. We are not in the lottery business, we are here as we have (OMG, hopefully) bigger chances to see positive ROI. Closed discussion. Let’s proceed.

How come I am so sure? Look at the big picture- volume of installs most apps “enjoy”:

Right. Anybody who believes that app discovery is not a big issue, please raise your hand now.. No one? Perfect, let’s move on.

What is ASO?

Not me, Wikipedia, feel free to skip the obvious:

“App store optimization (ASO) is the process of improving the visibility of a mobile app (such as an iPhone, iPad, Android, or Windows Phone app) in an app store (such as iTunes or Google Play for Android). App store optimization is closely related to search engine optimization. Specifically, app store optimization includes the process of ranking highly in an app store’s search results and top charts rankings. ASO marketers agree that ranking higher in search results and top charts rankings will drive more downloads for an app.[1]”

Stop skipping now please. Start taking notes.

As marketers started focusing on appearing in top charts and in search results, a new discipline was formed, a new marketing objective was established.

ASO is about every tactic related to being discovered and installed. So, yes, it’s about keywords but more than that really. It’s about choosing the right category, designing the optimal icon and screenshots, using an optimal copywriting and generating positive reviews and high ratings. And yes, it’s also a lot about choosing the best keywords to compete for.

So, to keep things organized, here are the main parameters** that would define your discover-ability and rank:

  • The category you choose
  • ASO optimized title for the app page
  • Selected keywords (predefined or included in your copy)
  • User ratings – both quality and quantity
  • Localization – languages…
  • App Icon

** Additional parameters include number of installs, users engagement level, uninstalls, general performance as a publisher, etc.

Since both Google play and iTunes ranking algorithms are black boxes, and you can never know the exact parameters and their respective weight, I am focusing on the main ones that you can and should control, assuming you have a good quality app, no major uninstalls (in short you don’t have a really sh#$ty app)

There are additional ASP parameters you should invest in, to make sure views are converted to installs. I am talking here about:

  • Screenshots and video
  • Texts copy writing and localization

Yes, I will explain everything in detail and nothing will be left uncovered (in the next part of this training, yup, the paid one J), but for now, would like to say a few related words about each of the main discovery parameters above.

The Category

Some categories are more crowded than others. It means more competition. If you decide to find a less crowded category (which still makes sense), you might find it easy to be ranked higher in that category, but if your potential users are only browsing other categories (because these are the categories that make sense to them for this type of app), it may not be worth it…how will you know? Trial and error of course, like in so many other cases. Start with the main category, where your competitors are, measure your performance. The, when you update a version, switch. If it doesn’t seem to work, release another update and switch back.

ASO optimized title in the store

iPhone users will be exposed (on their mobile) to about 33 characters of the app name title. Still, you can make an impact with 33 characters. “Title” is the app name in the store. It does not mean the app name as it appears on the device home screen, as part of the app icon, of course.

Be as explicit as possible about your app’s main functionality in this title line. Also, words in your title act as keywords. Therefore, when you set your title, it’s better if it’s after you’ve done some ASO keyword research (I will teach you how in the coming trainings).

Why is title important for ASO? Apps with keywords in the title ranked on average 10.3% higher than those without a keyword in the title:

The app name / title will be part of your download page URL. Make sure not to include special characters.

Don’t make your title too long, and do not include “already taken” phrases that are trademarked. The Title “clash of houses” may be rejected, you never know. Care for an example?

Everybody gets what’s behind clash of clans, but I would never know what this “Moovit” app is all about, if it was not for the title

The battle for keywords

Nope, I am not gonna cover the “how-to” here, since there’s a lot to learn. I’m teaching our members the exact how-to steps here. Just a few words, remember? If you are not deep into ASO, you may be wondering why this is an issue at all. You can just define a huge, even endless list of keywords (keywords list is defined only in iTunes BTW, in Google Play keywords should be included in the app’s description and general copy), right? Well, wrong! First you have a limited space for keywords, so you should make sure you include the optimal ones for your app. Second, you are competing with other apps that have defined the same keywords, so keyword optimization in ASO is about finding the diamonds – those words that have a strong relation to the app functionality, and are likely to be searched by potential users, but have not been identified by competing apps – and therefore you should run and grab them. How? By using one or more of the amazing 3rd party available tools (like mobiledevhq, sensor tower, Appannie or more) – as promised I will cover the how in the next part of our ASO training.

Better be in the top results for a mid-searched keyword than in the top 100 for a highly-searched keyword. Still, you should be hunting for both.

Why keywords at all? Cause you cannot lean on rank only. Getting to the top of the chart is a great opportunity to be discovered by user who like to just explore the store… those who go on a window shopping tour, and may run into your app, just love the idea and install it. But you are also after users who need (or want) a specific something and search for it specifically, right? How? They use the search box and type keywords. If your app has defined the search term they used as one of its keywords, that’s great. Question is which other apps are in the game for that same keyworkd, and who is appears at the top of that search results screen.

And yes, it’s a constantly changing, dynamic game, a trial and error one, and a long-term one.

Ratings (and user reviews)

Apps with higher ratings are also ranked higher. It is a chicken and an egg question though, what comes first?

Apple, on its struggle to find the right balance for ranking, seems to have started focusing more and more on ratings, combined with the traditional download volume parameters.

It’s unclear whether or not historical rankings matter, but Fiksu says there is some evidence that ratings for the newest version have the most influence.

Why ratings are so important? Apple (And Google) wants the best quality apps to be on top, to ensure an optimal user experience. Giving the rating such a weight is a way to make sure app developers don’t cheat by paying for installs to boost their Top Charts rankings. This is a more objective element that can balance the impact of download volumes that can be manipulated (burst campaigns, user acquisition campaigns, etc.). It is very similar to link building in SEO. If many websites are linking to a certain site, that site must be credible. If a lot of users are rating and reviewing the app, not only do you know that downloads are coming from real people, but you can also measure overall satisfaction with the app – a clear quality indicator.

What does it mean? Leaving the ranking algorithm and the statistics aside for a moment. Considering your app is a quality one, and you want to be ranked as high as possible plus convert discovery to clicks and installs, you have got to make sure your app’s download page looks and feels as appealing as the (high) standard, at least. High ranked apps usually present high ratings + nice volume of user reviews as well. Therefore you should invest in generating volumes of quality ratings. Considering your app is valuable, it should be easy enough, using 3rd party SDKs like Apptentive (in app messaging focusing on high quality reviews).

Localization matters

I don’t mean your in-app localization (though it could be a worthwhile discussion as well) but localizing your name, icon and description in the store. Translation is a large (but not the only) part of it.

This section is relevant only if your app targets the global market of course. Of course, certain markets use several languages so you will may still need to invest in translating a LOCAL app, but only to relevant languages (e.g., English, German, French and Italian for the Swiss store)

If your app is relevant to a global audience, there are probably geographies that are more important than others for you to invest in (mainly because of volume of potential users from these countries). Popular languages include many times French, Spanish, German, Japanese, Korean, and Chinese, in addition to English of course. Some will install your app even though your app description and keywords are in English. Imagine the uptake if the vast majority of users in those markets could easily discover and understand the value of your app! With some localization effort you can achieve exactly that.

So yes, you can localize only keywords (as long as you have enough space left as Apple limits the number of keywords you can define and this limit is not extended for localization purposes, it’s all in one list), But the more you localize, the higher the impact is, so you should consider localizing your description as well.

Here to, you can use 3rd party services well, Codengo will help you not only with localization, but also with submission to multiple Android stores (some can be very popular, depending on the country). Another app localization service is Babble-On.

App icon

App icon should be relevant, bold, clear and beautiful. I am stating the obvious, I know. But I would like to emphasize three things:

  1. The app icon should be related to the app visual language. As obvious as it may sound, I witness a lot of mistakes here. The more related to the app your icon is, the better it serves your ASO efforts. But it also make is more convenient to find your app on the device home screen, once already installed.
  2. The app icon should be simple- so it would easily be remembered and identified. Do not use too many /too small/ too abstract elements.
  3. Last but most important – when you test your app (and that’s a must-use tactic experienced developers use – share a few options in social groups and ask for feedback), provide SOME CONTEXT. Take the time to create a mockup of not only your app icon, but also of the iTunes (or Google play) results screen with your potential icon planted among others. Create these mockups based on the right category or search results. This is context, and that’s the right way to judge the icon’s ability to stand out, look nice, be understood and be bold, compared to what else is out there.

Extracting the essence from this ASO for dummies training, towards an action plan, you might want to start with identifying the key ASO parameters you wish to invest in (out of the above mentioned ones). I would suggest starting with looking at the app title, icon, and keywords research (and prioritization). I would only then move to work on screenshots and description copywriting, making sure I have one optimal (though not localized) ASO kit that includes all these elements. Then I would move to work on localization (keywords and whole page localization if budget allows) and prepare a video I can add to my Google Play download page (and now, with iOs 8, my iOs page too). Coming next is the full training around ASO practices for keyword research.

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