App store optimization (ASO) is the process of optimising mobile apps to maximise its visibility, and rank higher in the search results of an app store.
The overall objective is to drive traffic to your app’s page so that searchers can download your app.
Just like SEO, ASO has on-metadata and off-metadata factors.
- On-metadata factors – such as the app title or description – are under the control of the publisher.
- Off-metadata factors can’t be controlled, but may be influenced by a developer. Examples of these include user reviews and ratings, as well as download volume.
With app store searches being the most widely used method to discover and download apps – a Forrester report indicates that 63 percent of apps are discovered through app store searches – startups and businesses are neglecting an important channel if they aren’t implementing ASO tactics to boost their app ranking.
1. Market research
Conducting in-depth market research is the starting step towards developing an effective ASO strategy.
In order to increase your downloads, you’ll need to have a clear understanding of your customers, who your competitors are, the strategies they’ve employed and how they’re perceived by your target users.
Start off by stepping into the shoes of your customers. Here are some questions to guide you through the process:
- What language and terms do they use?
- How would they describe my app?
- How would they describe their needs?
- What are factors that prompted users to start searching for my app?
Next, you’ll need to understand how your app compares within the competitive climate. Ask yourself these questions:
- What is my competitive advantage?
- What are keywords that are targeted by my competitors?
- What are my chances of competing against other apps on the same keywords?
2. Keyword optimisation
While the App Store features a 100-character keyword field, Google Play Store adopts a more SEO-like approach – you’re allocated a maximum of 4,000 characters for your app description, and the text is scanned through for relevant keywords.
When it comes to app ranking, the conversion rate is also taken into account – and a poorly written description with irrelevant keywords will fail to draw customers into downloading your app.
Keep in mind that keyword optimization is an ongoing process. With numerous apps being published daily, your app ranking will be affected by new reviews, ratings, and downloads – so you’ll need to test and try out different keywords constantly.
It’s also about playing the long game, so take your time.
In an article for TUNE, app store optimization expert Patrick Haig advises:
“It’s important to realise that not all of your competitors may be equal, so don’t target your most popular competitors at the outset.
Take a graduated approach to keyword targeting and optimisation, and as your downloads and user engagement increase, you’re likely able to graduate to more competitive (and often higher volume) keywords.”
3. Ratings and reviews
Ratings and reviews are often viewed as cornerstones to helping your app rank well.
But Robi Ganguly, co-founder and CEO at Apptentive suggests otherwise. Ratings need to be about the customer, and app developers can reframe how they think about the review processes with the question:
“How can I make my customers’ lives better by asking them to rate my app?”
Ganguly shares that reviews are about “giving customers a voice”, and that developers should build upon this, hear their customers out and view these as feedback that can help improve their app. He elaborates on several ways in which ratings and reviews can serve as learning tools:
- What are specific factors that users love about your app?
- What are users unhappy about? What can you learn from their comments? Are these comments coming from users who don’t make sense for you?
- How often are your users rating or reviewing your app? If you’re seeing spikes in the volume of ratings or reviews, check this against changes that you may have implemented recently.
It’s important to follow up with a timely, polite response – particularly when you’re communicating with customers who have provided negative feedback.
Let them know that you’re listening, and are working towards making improvements to address their comments; in most instances, providing a prompt response to unhappy customers is sufficient to alleviate their frustration.
Leverage your social media channels by publishing posts to inform your users of product updates, and let them know that their feedback helped spark off these changes.
4. App updates
In the ever-changing mobile environment, app development isn’t a one-off task – rather, it’s an ongoing process that requires constant tests, experimentation, and changes.
The process isn’t that much different from a business cycle, where priorities and strategies shift over the course of the year due to changes in the competitive landscape and seasonal demands.
Similarly, an app needs to be updated so that it stays relevant to the needs of its users.
How often should an app be updated then? Apptentive recommends an update frequency of between 30 to 40 days – a figure the team arrived at after checking through 500 top-ranked apps to find out the average update frequency.
Once you’ve published an update, you’ll need to follow through with strategies that’ll encourage users to download the update: update your app description, as well as the ‘What’s New’ section on your app product page to highlight changes that customers can look forward to, and notify current users through push notifications or in-app messaging.
How you communicate app updates will depend on the complexity of the changes, as well as the type of user needs your app serves.
At Slack and BuzzFeed, an editorial team undertakes the task of transforming a list of technical features and bugs into engaging release notes. And at InVision, product announcement emails contain clear, concise copy and animated images – a visually appealing format that strikes a chord with the app’s design-savvy target audience.
For other apps, communication takes place in more subtle forms. Smule, a developer of music apps often tweaks its app icons to indicate to users that updates have been published.
Jeannie Yang, Advisor at Smule, says:
“Even if it’s just a little pop of something, it tells the users there’s something new.”
This also serves as a re-engagement tactic that encourages users to launch and explore the app after they’ve seen a new icon.
A recent report from App Annie indicates that download growth on Google Play was heavily fueled by emerging markets. The largest contributor was India, while Vietnam and Indonesia were also key sources of Google Play’s year over year download growth.
Both countries saw double-digit growth rates and were ranked 4th and 7th respectively.
On the other hand, consumer spend on Google Play was fuelled by mature markets.
In Q3 2017, South Korea generated the largest quarter over quarter gains in absolute downloads and market share, followed by Canada and Germany. But it is the Chinese mobile market that wields immense potential – it has over one billion mobile devices, and a total yearly spend on mobile that amounts close to $800 billion.
All these statistics point out the importance of localization – if your app only has an English version, you’re missing out on numerous opportunities.
Here are some tips on how to get localization right:
5.1. Identify areas of opportunity
Tuyen Nguyen, former Head of Mobile Publisher Partnerships at Google outlines two factors you need to consider when deciding on the languages to prioritise: languages that are most widely used on the web, as well as those that are used in markets with the highest revenue potential.
5.2. Assess your competitive landscape
Tap on tools like Google Analytics or Mobile Action to find out markets where your competitors have localised. In doing so, you’ll be in a better position to assess markets that are less competitive, and where you stand a better chance for growth.
5.3. Pay attention to the visuals
In addition to translating text that is included in your graphics and using localized screenshots, remember to change the context of your content to make it localized to the market you’re targeting.
One way to do so is to use names, pictures, locations, and addresses for different versions.
For example, an app released for the US market would include cities like New York City, along with western names, while a version for China would list destinations like Beijing or Shanghai, along with local names.
6. A/B testing
With mobile apps, even the smallest of changes – such as making tweaks to an icon – can have significant impacts on the conversion rate.
Angry Birds 2 is a case in point: the Rovio Entertainment team stated that it received 2.5 million more downloads due to rigorous A/B testing of different combinations of icons, screenshots, app description, video preview and cover.
Rajeev Girdhar, former ASO expert at Rovio explains the importance of A/B testing for user acquisition:
“Having appealing screenshots, icon and description is very important. No matter how great your game is – if your app store page doesn’t appeal to the users, it doesn’t appeal to the people who want to download it.”
If you’re new to A/B testing, Kyle Humphries, Director of Product Marketing at Everyday Health has a valuable tip: “Map out your funnel in excruciating detail.”
With an endless list of elements to test in a mobile app, it can be a challenge figuring out which ones will create the largest impact.
Humphries elaborates that most apps have a funnel or flow that is critical for achieving their key business objectives, such as a checkout funnel or a signup flow.
Once you have all the stages clearly charted out, you can pinpoint the conversion rate at each stage, which then lets you immediately identify which are the most important stages to focus on. With this, you can then plan out tests for optimising the entire flow.
Lastly, keep in mind that A/B testing is an ongoing process. Developers often don’t take into account seasonalities, changes in the competitive landscape or shifts in market trends when they think about A/B testing – yet, these factors can have an impact on results.
Instead of seeing A/B testing as a one-time measure, developers should view it as a continuous process where you optimise as you go along.
7. App indexing
The total page visits and product page backlinks are believed to be factors that affect your search ranking. What this means is, the more traffic you drive to your listing, the better it’ll rank in search results. And to drive traffic, you need to look at boosting the online presence of your app.
One way to do so is through app indexing. It refers to the process of making app content searchable from a web or mobile web search. Users who come across your app in a search result can then arrive at your product page, or to a specific page in your app.
Here are a couple of tips for getting your app to rank better in search engine results:
7.1. Focus on the nouns
Users typically search for an app using a noun, such as ‘video downloader’ or ‘weather tracker app’, as opposed to terms like ‘downloading videos’ or ‘tracking the weather’.
So when you’re planning on keywords to optimise for, focus on a noun, rather than the activity or purpose that your app performs.
7.2. Optimise for app-related keywords
While users searching through the Google Play Store won’t use the word “app” or the name of the mobile operating system in their search terms, there’s a greater tendency for them to do so when they’re using a search engine (an example of a possible search query would be “Android music downloader app”).
Optimise for these terms by including it in the title and app description.
Summing it up…
While gaining exposure for a new app isn’t easy, I hope these tactics, expert insights and examples will help you in mapping out an effective ASO strategy. I’ll round this up with a recap of the article:
- Market research: This is the jumping-off point for developing an effective ASO strategy. There are two areas to focus on: getting a clear picture of the competitive landscape, and knowing your users inside out.
- Keyword optimization: Focus on writing for your users, and avoid keyword stuffing. Your targeted, or ideal set of keywords isn’t likely to be the set that you start off with, so take a graduated approach towards more competitive keywords over time.
- Ratings and reviews: Reframe how you think about ratings and reviews. Ask yourself: “How can I make my customers’ lives better by asking them to rate my app?”
- App updates: With a recommended update frequency of between 30 to 40 days, updating your app is an ongoing process that requires repeated testing and experimentation. Follow up with communicating the updates to your users, and employ strategies that encourage them to download the updated app.
- Localisation: To get localization right, make sure you identify areas of opportunity, assess your competitive landscape and pay attention to the visuals.
- A/B testing: Mapping out your funnel in detail is a great way to get clear on the elements you need to prioritize for your A/B testing strategy. Keep in mind that A/B testing isn’t a one-time measure, but a continual process where you optimise as you go along.
- App indexing: To get your app indexed, optimise your content for app-related keywords and focus on the nouns.