App store optimization
App store optimization (ASO) is the process of improving the visibility of a mobile app (such as an iPhone, iPad, Android, BlackBerry or Windows Phone app) in an app store(such as iTunes for iOS, Google Play for Android, Windows Store for Windows Phone or BlackBerry World for BlackBerry). Just like search engine optimization (SEO) is for websites, App Store Optimization (ASO) is for mobile apps. Specifically, app store optimization includes the process of ranking highly in an app store’s search results and top charts rankings. ASO marketers and mobile marketing companies agree that ranking higher in search results and top charts rankings will drive more downloads for an app that this way is different from SEO but in some plan is the same as SEO.
Apple’s iTunes App Store was launched July 10, 2008, along with the release of the iPhone 3G. It currently supports iOS, including iPhone and iPad. There is also a non-mobile app store for Macs. Google’s app store, Google Play, was launched September 23, 2008. It was originally named Android Market and supports the Android operating system. Since the launch of iTunes App Store and Google Play, there has been an explosion in both the number of app stores and the size of the stores (amount of apps and number of downloads). In 2010, Apple’s App Store grew to process USD$1.78 billion worth of apps. iTunes App Store had 435,000 apps as of July 11, 2011, while Google Play had 438,000 as of May 1, 2012.
As the number of apps in app stores has grown, the possibility of any one app being found has dropped. This has led app marketers to realize how important it is to be noticed within an app store. As marketers started working on ranking highly in top charts and search results, a new discipline was formed and some app marketers have reported success.
The first use of the term “app store optimization” to describe this new discipline appears to have been in a presentation by Johannes Borchardt on November 4, 2009. It began to take hold as a standardized term not long after, with outlets such as Search Engine Watch and TechCrunch using the term by February, 2012.
As app publishers became more interested in and engaged with App Store Optimization, tools began to emerge to help them understand and optimize their success with app store optimization. For example, TechCrunch wrote about MobileDevHQ’s App Store Optimization keyword volume tool on February 29, 2012, and AppCod.es’ keyword tool on March 12, 2012.
App store optimization marketers, such as SEO marketers, work by optimizing their content so the search engine position it higher on the search engine results page, driving more traffic to this content. While making their content achieve the first position on targeted search terms can sum their objectives, it’s not required to evaluate the optimization’s success. ASO marketers try to achieve goals such as:
- Being found more easily by users on the app stores, due to the fact that App Store Search is the No. 1 source for people to discover new applications
- Rank higher compared to competitors
- Rank higher for specific keywords
- Rank higher in Google´s semantic search for applications
- Create appealing graphics (icon, screenshots and promo video) to increase the chances of being downloaded
Unlike SEO, app store optimization is still a young and evolving field. Some methods for optimizing an app’s visibility are known, but the exact ranking algorithms are not known. Some ASO marketers streamline their work by dividing ASO in two distinct processes: keyword optimization and asset optimization.
Keyword Optimization (KWO)
“Keyword Optimization” (also known as keyword research) is the act of researching, analyzing and selecting the best keywords to target and drive qualified users from app stores to your app.
App store optimization tools provider MobileDevHQ and Mobile Action broke App Store Optimization into three distinct parts: finding the right keywords, ranking highly for those keywords, and converting visitors into users. Sensor Tower also has a three-step process, but they emphasize (in order of importance): keyword relevance, ranking difficulty, and then traffic.
Asset Optimization (AO)
In order to improve the downloads of an app, the icon, preview video and screenshots of an app have to be optimized. Screenshots can be tricky part and require a lot of time but with the help of Davinci Apps service or Sketch tool this can be simplified. It is recommended to measure the effect of these changes by changing one element at a time and measuring the impact on downloads. Taking into account that none official app store (Apple, Google, Samsung, etc.) provides any data on user behaviour on the page (impressions, clicks) the only way to predict the effectiveness and conversion rate of a page is to a/b test all variations using pages that look similar to app store pages.
Asset Optimization through A/B testing is provided by SplitMetrics (self-service tool) and StoreMaven (self-service + agency). Both Apple app Store and Google Play are supported. It has been announced by Google to release A/B testing tool for Android developers at the Google I/O conference in May 2015.
Use of Keywords in App Title
Having relevant keywords in your title can certainly improve the search rankings of your app for such keywords. As per MobileDevHQ report, there were around 84% apps in the app-store which did not have keywords in their titles. On the other hand, only 16% apps used keywords in the app titles. While the app store search algorithm is always changing, some have suggested that keywords in the app title may have more impact on rankings than those entered in the Keywords field.
Using keywords is not sufficient. One needs to constantly track the keywords to check where the app stands. There are various free app analytics tools available like Google’s Mobile App Analytics, Apptopia, MobileDevHQ, Distimo Analytics, Mopapp. Paid solutions include: Gummicube, Mobile Action, AppCodes, AppTweak, Sensor Tower, and Searchman.
- Number of Downloads
The number of downloads has great impact on the performance of any app. App ratings/reviews, effective social media presence are must to promote any app and increase its downloads. Most of the users download any app after considering the reviews as well as popularity (which is reflected from number of downloads).
Ratings/Reviews are also very important aspects which one should consider. As mentioned above users look for reviews of the app before downloading it. Make sure your app gets genuine reviews. In case you get some negative reviews, try to work on user’s issues and recommendations. Encourage your happy customers to put reviews for your app. Again, there are tools available to help you track and analyze reviews. Appbot allows you to track iOS, Google Play and Amazon reviews and post them to Slack, Trello, Zendesk, HipChat, or have them sent to you daily via email. Appbot also helps you to analyze the user sentiment in app reviews, so that you can identify issues and feature requests and improve your app constantly.
- App Icon
The app icon is the first visual element that people see when they view an app store listing. An icon should immediately convey what an app is about, in the simplest manner possible. Complex icon designs can be difficult to distinguish on smaller devices and should be avoided.
Screenshots are also one of the first visual elements that people see when viewing an app listing. Each screenshot should convey a specific benefit of the app and supplemental text should be used, whenever possible, to clarify what each screenshot is about. All available screenshot slots should be used to maximize visibility. The first 2 screenshots are the most important as they are the ones seen when scrolling through search results.
Both Google Play and iOS App Store permit the use of a short video to highlight the key features of the app.
Translating an app into different languages can greatly increase downloads and expose an app to a larger potential audience. In one study, localization increased the downloads of an iPhone app by 767%.
White hat versus black hat
Many app marketers attempt to perform ASO in a way that most app stores would approve of and accept. This is called “white hat” ASO and publicly covered by presentations, conferences and case studies. Developers also use different platforms available to get their peers to rate their apps for them which provides great feedback. Some app marketers, however, engage in what many call “black hat” ASO and are practices which the app stores do not condone.
Black hat ASO includes falsifying downloads or ratings and reviews, perhaps by using bots or other techniques to make app stores (and their users) believe an app is more important and influential than it actually is. A Sensor Tower study discovered that a high average rating and reviews with similar characteristics, such as a similar number of sentences and similar character counts, where the primary indicators that a reviewer account was being used to game reviews.
Apple has been proactively fighting against black hat ASO. In February, 2012, Apple released a statement as reported by The New York Times “warning app makers that using third-party services to gain top placement in App Store charts could get them banned from the store.”
Beginning in 2013, Apple has also improved the search algorithm as reported by AppTweak.com “Apple’s new algorithm pushes forward apps with high ratings. 4 stars and 3 stars apps are now more inclined to grow steadily in the top rankings despite being less popular than some trendy apps.”