There are 2,000,000 apps and counting on the iOS App Store. There are thousands of similar apps overwhelming every single category and subcategory.
With so much competition out there, not doing everything to get your app featured higher in the App Store’s search function means that you are losing money hand over fist. This is where App Store optimization (ASO) comes in…
What is App Store optimization?
ASO is the name of the process of increasing the visibility of your app.
It is similar to SEO for websites, in that it will boost your rankings. And, if you rank well in the App Store you’ll be higher up in the search results, which will make you visible to more potential users.
More visibility usually translates into more traffic, and potentially more downloads.
Why do it?
According to research by Forrester, 63% of apps are discovered through App Store searches. This makes App Store searches the most popular way of discovering an app, and therefore the most important method to consider when thinking about how to increase your downloads.
To put it simply, if you’re not using ASO to boost your search rankings, you’re missing the best opportunity you have to grow your app’s popularity. It’s surprising, considering there are two million apps all competing to be number one, how few developers spend time and resources on ASO.
If you put aside time every week to work on improving your app page and analyzing your data, you’re automatically putting yourself ahead of your competition.
How to do it?
ASO can be overwhelming at first, so we’ve put together a comprehensive guide full of advice from leading authorities in the app world.
Our tips are ordered to follow the process of adding an app to Apple’s App Store, and they and are broken down into five sections:
- How to choose your app title
- Choosing your keywords
- Making the most of your app page
- Marketing, marketing, marketing
- Dot your I’s and cross your T’s
How to choose your app title
Pick a title and stick with it
The title is the most important piece of metadata in your listing when it comes to ASO, so you’ve got to get it right first time. It might be tempting to switch it to something else once you’re up and running and have spent some time analyzing searches, but this is only likely to harm your ranking rather than benefit it.
As the popularity of your app grows, the aim is for it to spread by word of mouth, and if you keep changing the name potential customers won’t be able to find the app that their friends were telling them about.
Once your app’s got a name, it’s got it for life: better make it a good one.
Keep it short and sweet
A title needs to be short, snappy and memorable: nobody is going to remember an app that has a 300 character title.
Make it clear what the user is downloading, and try to pick a name that covers the core functionality of your app. Evernote, for example, is a smart way of using the note taking function of the app to create a name that stands out in people’s minds. Pinterest does the same thing, combining two words to summarize what the app does.
As a general rule, follow the lead of the top free apps and keep your title below 50 characters.
Avoid generic terms
If you’ve got a photo app, try not to call it “photo…”. To see what we mean, do a quick search of the app store using that word and see how many options come up with “photo” in the title.
You also need to avoid looking shady, so always avoid giving your app a name that’s similar to an existing app. Doing so could result in you being accused of creating fake copycat apps, and Apple could ban you.
Add keywords to titles
Adding descriptive keywords in titles will increase your app’s discoverability by 10.3%, according to an analysis.
Have a bit of fun with your app name, if it’s stale and functional nobody’s going to talk about it. Consider viral apps from the last couple of years such as Candy Crush and Angry Birds; even if you haven’t played the games you know the names, and that’s what you want from your app.
Make it so that your potential customers remember the name once they’ve seen it or heard it, so they can search for it more efficiently in the App Store.
Utilize your subtitle
The option to add a subtitle was introduced in iOS 11 and is limited to 30 characters. This is the perfect place to add a little more information about your app: a short summary of the app’s key USP is ideal.
Bear in mind that Apple indexes the subtitle for app store searches, so try to get some keywords in there. You can see where it sits on the app page in the below image:
Choosing your keywords
Take advantage of Apple’s 19 bonus keywords
In a recent study, Incipia analyzed App Store descriptions and found 19 keywords that you can safely ignore during the optimization process.
The list features keywords like iPad, iPhone, free, primary and second category names, and stop words like for, by, of, and etc.
This information is super useful as it saves you wasting precious keywords, and it’ll help give you the edge over your competitors.
Use trending topics as keywords
Keep your app relevant by using trending topics as keywords. For example, during the US presidential race a search for “Trump” showed 2,109 results and a search for “Hillary” showed 334 results in the App Store.
While most of these apps had nothing to do with the candidates, their developers got creative and focused on seasonal events, optimizing their keywords and driving search traffic towards their apps.
You can try this trick too. For instance, if you have an exercise app you could add the routines of the star players during the Super Bowl and use related keywords to get high rankings.
Use tools like App Radar to track trending keywords.
Source: The Ringer
Use competitive keyword research tools
When you’re getting started with app store optimization and keyword research, find out which keywords your competition is using.
These app intelligence tools will help you understand user intent and keep your competition from blindsiding you.
Use humans to find unique keywords
While there are enough tools out there that do a stellar job of identifying high value keywords, the problem is that your competition is also using them.
Instead, ask people to describe how they would search for your app by setting up Human Intelligence Tasks (HIT) in Amazon Mechanical Turk, and analyzing the responses to find appropriate keywords.
Monitor keyword ranking regularly
Just as you would with a new website, keep an eye on the rankings of your keywords, as well as any new keywords that might pop up.
Use SEMRush to see how other apps rank using your chosen keywords, and replace any that are performing poorly with new, less saturated keywords.
Target keywords with lower search volumes
By going after keywords with less competition first, you’ll be the big fish in a small pond instead of a small fish in a big pond.
Use keyword research tools like the one mentioned in the previous point to find keywords that have lower search volume and lower competition. You’ll rank well for those, and once you’ve built up social proof and credibility, you can move in and attack the bigger boys for better keywords.
Don’t use celebrity names or trademarks in keywords
There is a strict policy in the App Store developer guidelines about not using celebrities, protected names, or trademarks as keywords unless you have permission to do so.
Unless you can show that your app is an official app, or has some kind of affiliation, just don’t do it. Apple will straight up reject your app which is an unnecessary headache for you.
Keep keywords within 100 characters
Apple allows you to add keywords to your App Store listing, and you can use up to 100 characters for each one.
Don’t use long tail keywords, plurals, name of your app, or misspellings in the keyword field. Separate keywords with commas, and don’t use spaces.
Making the most of your app page
Optimize the first few lines in your description
When you scroll through apps in the App Store, what do you see? You’ll only be shown the first couple of lines of the description for each app, so you need to make sure that you’re using those lines wisely.Think of your text like an upside down pyramid and keep your copy top-heavy, which means that important messaging goes first, with the rest following in order of priority. Think about it, what one thing do potential customers need to know about your app? Then, what would be the second thing they’d need to know?
Keep your app description user friendly
App descriptions are important for telling people what your app actually does, so you need to get your message across as well as possible. Here are a few tips:
- Use bullet points and break up paragraphs
- Use social proof (press coverage, user testimonials)
- List benefits and use case studies where applicable
- Add information about version number, changes made in the new update, bug fixes etc
- Include links to relevant websites or support pages
Instagram’s description is a great example of a well laid out description:
Create first two screenshots which show off your best features
According to research by Storemaven, 60% of users won’t swipe past the first two screenshots included in an app listing. So, you’ve got to make those two screenshots count.
Always follow these pointers when selecting screenshots:
- Show off the key features of your app
- Use overlay text and annotations to improve messaging
- Use a plain background for better readability
- Avoid login screens or anything too ‘admin focused’
- Submit hi-res screenshots to make your app look high quality
Your publisher name needs to match your app
According to Apptimin, the publisher name is also used by the App Store’s algorithm, and mixing keywords between the app name and the developer’s name works well.
This trick will only work if your company creates apps in a single industry, so if you focus on cooking, travel, exercise or any other specific sector, your publisher name should reflect this.
If you work across several fields you’re probably at a disadvantage here, so keep your publisher name nice and neutral instead.
The main color of your brand will be hugely important, as it’s one of the key factors involved with drawing in your target audience.
There’s a whole science behind how to choose the best color for your app, so ensure that you go with one that conveys your message nicely.
Create an iconic icon
Considering the fact that users remember your app on the App Store by how the icon looks, it’s absolutely essential that you get this right.
According to an analysis of app icons by Incipia, simple icons with limited color palettes outranked gaudier icons. Users also tend to remember apps whose icons have a polished look and have effects like shadows and transitions.
When you are designing your icons, check out Apple’s iOS Human Interface Guidelines for inspiration and best practices.
Choose your category wisely
The App Store’s search algorithm looks at categories while displaying results to users, so you need to choose yours smartly. While choosing categories, focus on the core functionality of your app and not on the secondary functions, so it’s as easy as possible for potential users to find.
For example, Instagram is categorized in Photos and Video, while Facebook is categorized as Social Networking. Both sites have a significant overlap in functionalities, and users consider Instagram to be a social network now, but they both stick to what they’re best at, regardless of what their secondary functions might be.
Include a video
Apple recommends adding a short video (15-30 seconds) in your app listing, to show different functionalities of your app. This can make a serious difference to downloads: a survey by App Annie showed a conversion lift of an impressive 25-30% when video was added to the main page.
A good video will also drive down install costs, give you more loyal users and drive feature discoverability.
Make sure you choose a good thumbnail for your video, that it’s a clickable as possible, and that it shows the features of the app as per the below example:
Price it right
With so many free apps available it can be difficult to determine how much your offering is worth when comparing them directly. It might also be tempting to make yours free, so you can compete, and adding any kind of price tag might make you feel like you’re shooting yourself in the foot.
But, if you want to have any chance of featuring in the “apps on sale” section of the App Store or any “apps gone free” lists, you must first put a price on it. Be sensible about how much you’re charging, and experiment with driving sales by launching with special offers and at peak times of the year when people are more likely to spend.
According to Statista, the average app price is 88 cents, so bear that in mind when coming up with your magic number.
Average prices for apps in U.S. dollars
Average overall price
Average game price
Average app price
Localize, localize, localize
Listen up, this one is important: only 31% of app revenues come from North America, while 41% comes from Asia. So, if your app listing is only in English you will be locking your app out from a vast percentage of mobile users worldwide.
Internationalize your app’s codebase by following these guidelines, and then start by changing the language of the following things:
- App title
- First few lines in the description
Once you begin to see a lift in conversion (one app developer saw a 767% lift just doing this) change other parts, like:
- Currency and date formats
Source: Product Coalition
Request ratings and reviews from happy users
Reviews and ratings play a very important role in how an app is perceived by users, and Apple also pays attention. A study found that all else being equal, 59% users will download apps with high ratings.
While the vast majority of your users will not leave a rating or a review, a tiny minority will leave negative reviews if something has crashed, so you’ll need to find a way to maximize positive reviews and minimize negative ones.
Top rated apps almost always follow these three steps to get positive feedback:
- Monitor in-app user behavior until they’ve received some kind of value from the app
- Ask a yes/no question to users about whether they like the app
- Prompt the ‘yes’ users to rate and review, and offer the ‘no’s’ the option to leave internal feedback
Apple indexes the names of in-app purchases (IAP) in the App Store search, and each one has a display name, description and promotional image of its own. IAP’s can also feature in the ‘Today’ section, and can be searched for seperate to the actual app, so by adding them to your listing you’re vastly expanding your chances of being discovered.
You can display up to 20 IAP’s, so get creative with your ideas, add some keywords into your new listings, and expect to see an upswing in search results for your app.
Marketing, marketing, marketing
Change your revenue model or marketing strategy
To increase the velocity of downloads in the short term you can engage in some targeted marketing. The following ideas have been successful for many apps:
- Give deep discounts on your premium apps for a limited period of time
- Collaborate with AppSumo for an one time giveaway
- Give special discounts to members of online communities, listeners of podcasts, bloggers etc.
These one-time activities can boost downloads and app store rankings of apps, provided they are well planned for and there is a proven demand for the app.
Enable Spotlight Search
Apple’s Spotlight Search is a tool which allows users to search their devices for installed iOS apps. 35% of the top 20,000 apps in the App Store have this setting enabled, and you really should, too.
Developers love this feature as it helps them to engage with their existing users more frequently, which strengthens their relationship with their customers and assists towards longevity.
It’s really easy to put this setting in action, just enable Core Spotlight and NSUserActivity for your app. Once you’ve done this you’ll see improved user engagement which can really boost your App Store ranking.
Getting hunted on Product Hunt can give a huge boost to your app’s visibility. Because of its highly engaged community you’re likely to get new installs, and if you are featured on the Product Hunt homepage, you can expect to see a significant leap.
For freshly launched apps, the Product Hunt effect can help you avoid Apple’s infamous 7 day cliff which will see ranking and downloads experience a sudden drop; it’ll go some way towards maintaining your rankings because of the initial burst in user activity.
Adding your app is easy, just follow the steps here.
Run search ads in the App Store
According to recently released App Store search ads data, conversion rates on search ads are averaging at 50% for both major and indie app developers. This translates to a cost per install of 25 cents, which works out to be 80% cheaper than ads on other platforms.
With stats like this, if your marketing plan includes advertising, the App Store is where you should be doing it for the best ROI.
You can sign up for the Apple App Store ads platform and start driving traffic with a $100 credit.
Dot your I’s and cross your T’s
Check your app size
You may not realize it, but size matters when it comes to apps. This is due to the fact that users can’t download more than 100 MB using their cellular service, so if you weigh in at more than that you risk missing out on potential customers.
Think about it, if someone is on a train and can’t download your app right now, how likely is it that they’ll make a note of the name and do it later when they have Wi-Fi?
Appfigures wrote this post on the subject, and concluded that 98% of the top 100 free and 62% of paid iOS and Android games are under 100 MB.
If you’re coming in above that right now, think about compressing your graphical assets or making it so that users can download additional assets at a later time. Don’t think it’s possible for your app? Check out Clash of the Clans: it’s a miniscule 85.3 MB.
If you want to see how the size of your app compares to your competitors, this tool will show you where you sit in the ‘reasonable size app’ range of the top 100 apps.
A/B test everything on your app listing
Every single element of your App Store listing matters when it comes to ASO: icons, screenshots, descriptions, keywords, videos. Everything.
The below conversion study by App Annie shows that changing videos and screenshots seem to deliver a 25-30% conversion lift, followed by icons and description.
It might seem overwhelming to test everything all at once, so do it in stages. To begin with, test the highly visible aspects – titles, description, images and videos – then move on to other sections in your App Store listing.
Use your promotional text for tests
Although not indexed, promotional text is still a useful tool for monitoring engagement.
Located at the top of the description, you can edit your message whenever you want, and without releasing a new version; so you can A/B test to see what gets the best engagement without publishing.
When you’re satisfied, you can add the contents of your promotional text into your App Store keywords.
Keep an eye on your competition
As the old saying goes, keep your friends close and your enemies closer. In the app world, this is definitely the case, and the best way to learn what works and what doesn’t is by seeing what your competitors are doing.
First, identify your main competitors and start with the ones with the highest rankings. Then, consider the following points:
- Are you missing important keywords?
- Is your branding up to standard?
- Is there description catchier than yours?
- Could your interface use work?
Go through each aspect of their listings, identify how theirs is superior to yours, then use this intel to improve your own listing. We’re not saying you should copy the competition, and as we’ve already covered, originality is key. Simply use it as a tool for comparison and inspiration.
Update your app regularly to comply with Apple’s policies
Apple isn’t fond of apps which aren’t updated in a long time. Like Google, which rewards sites that are adjusted frequently, regularly updated apps tell Apple that the developer is committed to providing a better user experience.
ASO is the ideal way to update your app, as you’re killing two birds with one stone. Not only are you improving your ranking using the techniques listed in this article, you’re giving Apple what they need in order for them to boost you.
Apps that are either obsolete or abandoned face deletion from the App Store, so keep adjusting and improving to ensure that this doesn’t happen to you.
This is important data to track and you’ll have the best success by tracking impressions of your app preview, app page visitors and app installs. With this information, you can see where your app experiences the biggest drop off.
As an example, if 80% of users don’t make it to your app page after seeing the preview, you know you need to update it. If only 30% of users download your app after making it to your page, ask yourself why that might be.
Identifying why people lose interest in your app will allow you to make meaningful changes to your listing; just be sure to keep checking those conversion rates to see if your fixes are working.
Keep doing your market research
Just because your app is ready for launching doesn’t mean that the market research should end. You need to know how your own app is performing and you also need to keep track of who else is out there doing what you’re doing.
As we’ve already mentioned, App Annie is your go-to for monitoring usage and retention, as well as total downloads and revenue. You can also see details such as the demographic of app users, and you can track ASO and advertising. Other useful sources include Priori Data, App Monsta and Metrics Cat.
The work is never done here, so keep market research in your marketing plan for the long term to avoid falling behind on developments in your sector.
The App Store optimization process never stops, and it never becomes less important: no matter how successful your app becomes.
By following our tips and tricks, you’ll have all the App Store Optimization tools needed to make your app a huge success.
Have you had success with ASO? Let us know in the comments.