ASO Guide - Reach Your First 1M Downloads - The Comprehensive Guide to App Store Optimization
With app stores paying out billions of dollars to developers (Apple has paid out over $100 billion since inception) and seeing hundreds of billions of app downloads every year (more than 175 billion downloads in 2017 in places like Google Play Store), the mobile app market has become pretty attractive, and by extension, competitive for developers.
As of March 2017, there were 2.8 million apps in Google Play Store and 2.2 million in the Apple App Store, according to Statista. With these huge numbers and level of competition, how can you stand out or even dominate your niche as a developer or one who runs an app for your business?
Enter App Store Optimization (ASO).
App Store Optimization, by its simplest definition, is the process of optimizing a mobile app with the objective of maximizing its visibility in the app store, increasing traffic to its listing page, and improving its conversion rate to download.
This boosts the app’s position in the search results and top charts rankings within operating system-native stores like Google Play, Apple App Store, Windows Phone Store, and BlackBerry App World.
To understand better, take ASO to be to the app stores what SEO is to the traditional search engines. Thus, it is often referred to as App Store Search Engine Optimization (App Store SEO), App Search Optimization, and Mobile App SEO.
Ready to move in and supercharge your app downloads? Let's do it!
NOTE: There's an amazing 5-point bonus tip towards the end of this guide, which you can use to crush the competition in any app store. Ensure you read to the end to get it!
The Goal of ASO
The primary goal of any ASO strategy is always to generate the maximum amount of app downloads. However, there are other objectives and benefits to keep in mind, including:
Stable revenue (through app purchases, subscriptions, or ads)
Positive app reviews and ratings
Increased brand exposure
Improved app discoverability
Increase in organic installs
Improved Conversion Rate to Download (CRD)
Lower eCPI (Effective Cost Per Install — in case you run paid marketing campaigns)
When creating an ASO strategy, it's vital you focus not only on downloads, but on these other objectives also.
Why do ASO?
You know what happens to a considerable number of app publishers?
When launching their first app, they often think that because their app is “so awesome” it'll automatically get jillions of downloads. So they often don't pay attention to ASO, picking keywords and writing descriptions at the last second during an app’s submission process. Next, they would upload their app to the app store and then wait for the millions of downloads to pour in. And then wait some moe. But in reality, nothing happens other than a few downloads per day!
Frustrated, they turn to paid advertisement campaigns. But soon realize that paid ads are no child's play, especially for starters. For instance, on the Apple App Store, the cost-per-install of an advertising campaign can easily reach US$1 to US$5. In addition, you need at least 40k installs per day to get to the top 25.
But you know…
...you don't have to go through all that sticky wicket.
With the right App Store Optimization strategy and execution plan, you can join the league of smart, growth-conscious devs who are getting literally millions of hits every other months. ASO becomes even more imperative when you realize that SEARCH is currently the #1 way users discover new apps in the app stores.
Again, in a recent Google I/O, Ankit Jain said that search actually makes up the vast majority of installs for the average app.
If you’re not doing ASO, you’re missing out on the biggest discovery channel available to your app. In short, it could be likened to running a website without plugging into the astronomical traffic opportunity offered by the traditional search engines through SEO.
App stores are a kind of search engines, and there are in fact quite a few overlaps in approach between SEO and ASO.
The ASO/SEO Overlap
The fact is that there are more overlaps between ASO and SEO than there is a direct competition. In other words, some of the traditional search engine optimization tactics that work for SEO gains can also be directly applied to ASO.
For example, app ranking algorithms use some of the most popular ranking signals as standard search engines:
User value signals (e.g., reviews, ratings, engagement)
Metadata descriptions (app name, title, subtitle etc.)
Context (personalized/localized content)
These are all important ranking signals in SEO. And yes, they also matter in ASO.
Just take a look at the top 5 most influential ASO factors as found in the ASO Factors & Trends for 2018 expert survey by TheTool.io and you'll understand better:
The study surveyed 60+ international experts in ASO and app marketing, who were asked to evaluate the effect of different on-metadata and off-metadata factors on Search Rankings and Conversion Rate of mobile apps and games. Beyond these signals, there's also the mobile nexus. In recent times, we've witnessed mobile devices overtaking desktop as the primary channel for accessing the web.
But mobile is not just about web browsing. Mobile has redefined the software industry, and apps have become one of the most intuitive ways to reach customers these days. A study found that 26 percent of all mobile searches start within a branded app.
And then, there's the web traffic integration.
As with SEO, traffic has a direct impact on app rankings — the more traffic an app listing receives, the better its ranking will be in app store search results. Thus, it'll be a big mobile app marketing mistake to overlook the role of your website in driving volumes of referral traffic directly to your app store page. In essence, you ought to treat your website as a mission-critical tool for leading and guiding people all the way from being mere information-seeking, undeciding visitors to engaged, download-ready prospects.
Typically, content levels are limited within the app stores (Apple App Store allows only 100 characters, for instance). But that should be an opportunity for you to leverage your website content to increase app awareness, external app authority, and visibility.
How to Optimize Your App Store Page
Let's now get into the meat of this guide:
To successfully optimize your app store page, you will have to focus on the key factors that influence ASO (as we've discussed).
With that in mind, here are the key steps to concentrate on:
Researching and Optimizing Keywords
Improving Conversion Rate to Download
Tracking KPIs to Improve Performance
Let's discuss each one in greater detail:
Researching and Optimizing Keywords
To gain high visibility, you need to target the right keywords for your app. Hence, keyword research is the first essential step in ASO. According to a research by MobileDevHQ (now Tune), using keywords in your title can result in up to a 10.3 percent boost in rankings.
How do you find the best keywords?
Step #1: Carry out a market research
The first thing is to get a basic understanding of the market you're getting into.
What are you offering?
Who are your target users?
Who are your main competitors? What category do they belong to? What keywords are they ranking for?
Step #2: Create an initial keyword list
After your market research, brainstorm for the initial list of keywords based on your market research findings.
Here are some tips:
Describe your product and the tasks it performs, and find the hidden keywords in your description.
Think about your audience and the words they use.
Check out your competitors and steal the keywords that are bringing them the most business.
Get help with a keyword suggestions tool.
Step #3: Define the final keyword set
After you've created a large set of keywords, it’s time to analyze and prioritize them, identifying the most important ones. You'd want to pick high-visibility keywords with a good balance between high traffic and medium difficulty (not too competitive).
Integrating keywords the right way
Once your keywords are ready, the next step is to integrate them into the textual elements of your app store listing. While most of the strategies in this guide apply across the board when it comes to the different app stores, Apple App Store and Google Play Store have two very different approaches when it comes to ASO keywords.
Why? Because they operate entirely different search algorithms.
Let's explore the keyword approaches for each store:
In ranking apps, Google Play Store takes an approach similar to standard SEO. First, there is a provision for 4,000 characters for you to describe your app in a natural, user-focused language. From that 4k provision, Google will scan your app store page to extracts relevant keywords from your app description to rank your app.
But don't be tempted to try to game the search engine just because you're given 4k characters. Don't try to stuff your app description with lots of keywords. Instead, try to sprinkle relevant keywords where they naturally make sense.
Aim for 2 to five repetitions. A recent study by Sensor Tower discovered that the max number of times to repeat a keyword in an app store product page is simply five. That's the number of repetitions at which point you will maximize the likelihood of ranking prominently for that keyword.
Put differently, don't write your description for the search algorithm, but for the user first...just as with modern web content.
After first writing for the customer, you can then make small edits for keywords.
Apart from the 4k long description, Google Play also provides an 80-character field for “Short Description.” The Short Description is meant to be used to give a brief emphasis of what your app is about. Try to include your main keyword here.
Apple App Store
The iOS App Store approach is different from that of Google Play Store.
It provides you with a 100-character keyword field and then exclusively uses title and whatever keywords or keyword phrases you include in these 100 characters to determine which search strings your app will show up for. With this in mind, it’s pivotal to use all of the character space provided and carefully add your keywords to maximize your organic traffic.
In the place of Short Description, Apple provides a 30-character space for subtitle. This was recently introduced with the iOS 11 to highlight your app’s top functionalities and features and it has an effect not only on search rankings, but also on the conversion rate of your app.
Optimizing Conversion Rate to Download
The whole point about ASO is to increase your app downloads. So after optimizing the app product page for search results, you would want to improve Conversion Rate to increase your download. Without this, your app listing may be receiving thousands or even millions of visits but not much downloads.
For best results, it's good to optimize for Click-Through-Rate (CTR) or Tap-Through-Rate (TTR) and Conversion Rate to Download (CRD). CTR or TTR measures the number of users that see your app in Search, Top Charts and Featured AND actually tap to view its product page. CRD measures the number of users that visit your product page and end up downloading it.
Now, when it comes to app store conversion rate optimization, there are factors that determine whether or not users will click download. These are:
If your app rocks 1 out of 5 stars ratings, users will automatically think it's a low quality app or people simply don't like it. And so they'll pass. Aim for 4.0 - 5.0 stars ratings.
Visuals probably has the strongest grip on conversion. If your visuals are bad, your whole package will turn down users and ultimately conversion. Below are some of the most important visual elements to keep an eye on:
Icon: Your app icon is probably the first thing users see when searching or navigating the stores. Create a great first impression by making your icon stand out beautifully. Be creative and unique.
Videos: You've heard how that action speaks louder than words, right? Videos are a powerful opportunity for you to “show” users what your app can do versus “tell” them. Videos are displayed differently in the two main app stores. On Google Play Store, your video (YouTube link) is displayed on the top of the product page. On App Store, your video previews will autoplay on mute and appear in search results and the product page.
Screenshots: App screenshots help you put a spotlight on your app key features. They help you display pictures of how useful your app can be. On Google Play Store, you can add up to 8 different screenshots while on App Store, you can add up to 10.
If you make efforts to improve these three elements — app size, user ratings, and visual content — your apps CTR and CRD will be impacted positively. One thing you can do is to A/B test the visuals until they stick. For Google Play, there's an A/B testing tool right in the developer console (with Google Experiments). For Apple App Store you will need to integrate third-party tools.
In any case, A/B testing will help you find the best marketing elements to use on your mobile app marketing through a data-driven approach. What's more, to take your app’s overall performance to the next level, tracking and improving key performance indicators (KPIs) is just what to do:
Tracking KPIs to Improve Performance
Let's jump straight into the most important KPIs to track and improve for your app store listing:
Conversion Rate metrics
Given that the primary goal of ASO is to increase downloads, it's only smart to track your conversion rates to know how to improve them. The key metrics to track in this group include CTR/TTR and CRD
The metrics to track in this group include keyword ranking in search results, top charts rankings (including Free, Paid and Grossing), category rankings, and featured rankings.
App Monetization metrics
The monetization metrics to track include Average Revenue per User (ARPU) — obtained by dividing the total revenue by the number of users, Lifetime Value (LTV) — a prediction of the amount of revenue that a particular user will generate, and Revenue — total income generated by your app.
User feedback has a great impact on both search rankings and conversion rates. It's an extremely important ASO factor. Tracking and measuring user feedback will help you find the best ways to create a product perception that supports growth.
Bonus: Let's crush the competition!
Here are the 5-point bonus tips we talked about earlier. They'll help you take your app marketing game to the next height:
Localization: If you look at the TheTool expert survey we cited, you will notice that “localized product page” is considered the top two most influential ASO factor for both Google Play and Apple App Store. If you want to really scale your app, localization is necessary. Reason is that there are nearly 5 billion unique mobile users who search for apps using local elements like their own language. Why not use the opportunity to turn them into customers? It's advisable to work with an extensive list of keywords — at least 60-120 per country. Many times the users would rather carry out specific, local searches than broad ones.
Backlinks: You probably already know that backlinks are the most important Google ranking signal for web search results. But did you also know that backlinks are also very powerful when it comes to app rankings especially on Google Play Store? Ensure you build backlinks for your app page and your competitors will be surprised at your results.
Relevant keywords by users: We already gave you some methods of discovering relevant keywords for your app. Here's one we didn't mention: Check user reviews to find interesting keyword ideas. On Google Play, keywords in reviews are also taken into account by the ranking algorithm.
Video indexation: Your Google Play Store video does get indexed by Google and can help you gain high positions in Google web search results. Also, the views from Google Play Store count as YouTube views. This is great for getting an edge over competitors with no videos.
Categorization: App categories also influence app rankings. You may find you rank higher in one category than the other. That's why it's important to tweak your categories, or if your app does more than one thing, you can choose more than one category.
Just as SEO is necessary for top web search rankings, App Store Optimization is also necessary for your app to gain high positioning in result pages of app stores. With a working ASO strategy, effective execution plan, as well as consistent tracking and improvement of performance, you will be able to stand out in the app stores.
But do keep in mind that ASO, just like SEO, is a constantly changing phenomenon. App stores keep updating their algorithms and so, you need to stay abreast and continually tweak and test things. For the tools to work with, see our freemium toolkits for search engine optimization.
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