You’ve transformed your brilliant idea into a mobile app and tested it thoroughly. But with millions of options available on the Apple App Store and Google Play Store, how will users find yours?
When you create a website, search engine optimization helps your site rise to the top of search result listings. There’s a similar concept at play within mobile app stores. By practicing the art of app store optimization, or ASO, your app can reach the right audience and generate mobile brand buzz. Below, we explore everything you need to know about ASO.
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Complete guide to app store optimization
What is app store optimization?
App store optimization is a mobile marketing technique for improving the visibility and appeal of your app within various app stores. The right mix of textual and creative assets help your app rise to the top of unpaid (otherwise known as “organic”) search results within the store. Carefully optimized content also immediately communicates your app’s value and ease of use, both of which are critical to convincing users to download and try it.
ASO is a close cousin to search engine optimization (SEO), which relates to increasing visibility within web search results. Both practices are types of marketing that help your offering stand out in a vast sea of content. There are currently more than seven million apps for iOS and Android, the two main platforms for mobile development, according to Business of Apps. Another similarity: just as users don’t scroll through multiple pages of web search results, the majority of app store visitors don’t scroll, either. Around 60% of visitors won’t look beyond their first impression.
However, ASO does have its own tools and best practices that set it apart from SEO. For starters, ASO requires optimization for two major platforms—the Google Play Store and the Apple App Store—whereas SEO focuses on just online search results, primarily through Google.
Once a developer changes the app's metadata (the textual asset in the app store), the algorithm begins the process of keyword indexing, and it takes about a month for the rankings to stabilize and reflect the impact of the change. Because of this, the best practice is to adjust and optimize your content roughly every four to six weeks. At the same time, less data is available on overall search volume. So, the ASO process involves a lot of testing and tweaking of your existing content, versus the upfront research capabilities available in SEO.
Benefits of app store optimization
Given that ASO requires learning a unique set of standards and rules, it may be tempting to put it on the back burner. But if you have an app, its success depends on people finding and using it—so ASO is a must. The benefits of ASO are concretely measurable, and include:
Improved organic traffic: Searching the app store outranks every other way users find new apps, so your app needs to show up immediately when they’re searching for relevant keywords. While you could buy paid listings to boost visibility, a prominent spot in organic results is more cost-effective. Ranking well organically also ensures your visibility won’t spike and fall depending on your ad budget; you can count on steady reach and, as time goes by, reliably predict user growth.
Higher conversion: Currently, just 3.9%.of users install an app after viewing the listing, according to AppTweak. It’s important not just to be seen, but to reach the users who are seeking what your app offers and are likely to download. Using accurate descriptions and visuals also helps set expectations for the app experience so that users who download your app keep using it. Across most categories, fewer than 5% of downloaded apps are still in use after 30 days. ASO is critical to reducing this dropoff and maintaining a connection with your audience.
Increased revenue: Presumably, you created an app because you plan to generate revenue from it—whether by creating a more frictionless shopping experience for retail customers, building a robust customer loyalty program, selling in-app ads, offering in-app purchases or monetizing subscriptions to app content. ASO drives more qualified traffic to your app and helps convince those visitors to download, which in turn generates in-app revenue. If you run ads, ASO increases the likelihood that users following the ad link will go on to download, boosting effectiveness of your paid ad spend.
Growth in new markets: According to Business of Apps, the U.S. isn’t the country with the highest app usage. In fact, it’s number three, behind China and India. Mexico comes in at number seven, ahead of all countries in the EU. Given this potential international reach, your app can be among the marketing strategies you deploy to introduce your brand to new markets. Both the Android and iOS app stores enable you to localize your content by territory and language, which should go beyond simply running the text through Google Translate to include adapting visuals and substance to reflect local tastes. Successful ASO in new markets can help you grow new revenue streams and build the global value of your brand.
Important ASO ranking factors
App store algorithms reference specific elements of your app store content to determine its relevance. Your app’s position within organic search results listings is based on how the algorithm interprets your offerings. Fine-tuning the images, video and words you use to describe your app can impact its visibility.
While the Google/Android and Apple app stores assign different weight to specific elements, both major app stores pay attention to these broad categories of content.
These elements are part of the app itself or the content you manage; they’re within your control. They include:
Textual fields: These are sections of the app store listing such as the app’s name, short description or subtitle, and keywords. Thoughtful use of descriptors for these fields will give your app the best chance at ranking well.
Localization: This is the extent to which you customize your app store listing and the app’s features themselves to accommodate different languages. This not only helps boost visibility in localized app store listings, but can also potentially increase the rate of downloads in targeted regions.
Off-app elements aren’t directly within your control in the app store content or within the feature set of the app itself. Although you may be able to indirectly influence some of these factors, they’re ultimately determined by user behaviors. For example, your app’s retention rate may be influenced by the quality of your offering, but in addition, it could be affected by new competition or a change in consumer habits overall. Examples of off-app factors include:
Download volume and velocity: The overall usage of your app helps the algorithm determine its popularity. The number of downloads over time indicates whether your app is trending or experiencing a spike in popularity. If an app takes only a week to accumulate as many downloads as others manage in a year, for example, it’s likely to rank higher based on its rapid adoption.
Customer reviews: Positive reviews can improve app visibility, while a slew of negative reviews can downgrade your ranking.
Uninstall rate: Users who try your app, then decide to uninstall it, affect your app store ranking negatively, whereas strong user retention signals that the app is valuable enough to keep on users’ phones.
Engagement: Frequently using an app and making in-app purchases signal that the app is viable for those who’ve downloaded it.
Backlinks: For apps listed in the Google Play Store, links from high-quality, authoritative sites to your app suggest that it’s popular enough to earn an endorsement.
App crashes: Frequent bugs or app crashes can lead to a high uninstall rate, negative reviews and poor keyword rankings. Make sure you quickly resolve technical issues with your app to prevent this negative impact.
Optimizing for Google Play Store vs. Apple App Store
According to Business of Apps, Apple and Google together dominate 95% of the app store market outside of China (where Google Play isn’t available). By optimizing your app store content for both platforms, you have an opportunity to reach the majority of app users. Since the two app stores use different methods for ranking and indexing content, however, you’ll need to invest time and effort learning the ins and outs of each platform.
ASO features and terminology
The two app stores prioritize different elements of your app store content when determining which results are relevant to users’ search queries. A summary:
App store algorithms
The algorithms for these two platforms operate completely differently. Below is a brief comparison of the two.
Google Play Store
Android’s app store exists as part of a larger ecosystem driven by the leading search provider, Google. As such, Google indexes all the text fields of your app store listing and considers keyword density and frequency when determining relevance. You should repeat the most important keyword descriptors for your app throughout your app store content, and use precise terminology. For example, if you want to rank well for the term “portfolio maker,” use those exact words, not “portfolio and blog maker.”
When it comes to off-app ranking factors, backlinks to Play Store apps affect the algorithm as they do in web SEO; that is, more authoritative and popular link sources help boost your app store rankings.
If you localize your app store listing for other territories, Google Play indexes that content separately. In other words, content you provide in Spanish only helps improve your rankings in Spanish-speaking locales. Google also offers a built-in machine translation function, so users in regions where you opt not to localize your content can see auto-translated content—which may or may not help you rank well.
The top three ranking factors for Google Play Store include:
Apple App Store
Apple’s algorithm is arguably less sophisticated than Google’s and relies on the designated keyword field to match your app with relevant searches. Keyword density and semantic context aren’t considered, so you should completely avoid repeating keywords.
Precision matters less than in the Google Play Store; the term “portfolio and blog maker” is sufficient if you want to rank well as a “portfolio maker.” Apple doesn’t consider backlinks as a ranking factor.
Apple’s platform does enable localized content to affect ranking in multiple locales. If your app marketing ideas include reaching multilingual and multicultural audiences, this crossover capability is especially valuable. AppFollow provides a helpful list of cross-localizations for ASO in the App Store.
The top three ranking factors for the Apple App Store include:
5 tips for effective app store optimization
Effective ASO is a comprehensive practice that goes well beyond choosing the right keyword combinations for your app store content. The functionality of your app, the competitive landscape and your marketing practices can all help your app rise in the rankings and maintain healthy visibility and engagement. Whether you're listing your app on Apple's App Store or Google's, these tips are universal.
01. App quality comes first
Usage, crashes and uninstall rates all factor into your app store rankings, so test your app thoroughly before launch to ensure it works as advertised. Update your app regularly to repair bugs and respond to user requests for new features. Not only does refreshing your app improve your rankings, but improvements can help garner positive reviews and boost retention.
02. Research keywords extensively
Use the tools available to determine which keywords you should use in your app store content. Look up the keyword score within external tools like AppTweak, MobileAction and Sensor Tower, and try different keywords to see which apps show up at the top of results for each. Studying competitors’ offerings can help determine which keywords are popular.
03. Cross-promote across your digital channels
Quick adoption by a large number of users can help establish a solid app store ranking. As you prepare to launch, make a marketing plan that includes promoting the app to your existing customers by all the means at your disposal, including via social media, your flagship business website and email newsletters.
04. Use A/B testing
Both Google and Apple provide built-in tools for A/B testing, which allows you to experiment with different app store content and measure which is more effective at engaging and converting visitors. Small adjustments in icons, visuals and descriptions can make a big difference. To hone in on what works, make just one change per experiment and give the test time to run before drawing conclusions.
05. Encourage (the right) reviews
A large number of reviews can help boost your rankings, so be sure to follow up with users who download your app and ask them to provide a rating. But because negative reviews can cause your ranking to drop, devise alternative channels for users to report problems. Provide in-app access to customer service and live chat, and follow up promptly whenever complaints arise.