App Store Optimization: The Definitive Guide31 min read

by Cihan Ilter

Are you ready for some mind-blowing numbers about the mobile app industry (and later on about app store optimization)?

Here it goes:

According to Allied Market Research, Apps, the ones you are using on your smart devices, are a whopping $300 billion industry!

This figure doesn’t include the profit businesses indirectly get from apps. If it is, then that number is no doubt much, much higher.

No doubt: mobile apps are a huge business — so big that a lot of companies from various industries are turning to apps right now to expand their reach and generate more income.

With an estimated 2.8 billion people around the globe who are using smartphones, it is not difficult to see that the app business is expected to continue its massive growth in the following years.

Right now, there’s a reason why you are here reading this article. You are probably thinking of using apps to promote your company, sell your services or products, or simply make apps as your main business.

Whatever your reason might be, you must be familiar with the main marketing strategy used in the app industry.

This is what most people call the App Store Optimization.

App Store Optimization tips are something you can never ignore if you are planning to make your app a great success.

That’s why, if you want people to be raving about your app, downloading and using it non-stop, then you got to learn what App Store Optimization has to offer.

This post aims to satisfactorily answer the following questions:

  1. What is App Store Optimization?
  2. What are app stores?
  3. How to Successfully Perform App Store Optimization?

If you are ready to discover what it takes to successfully launch, run, and manage your app, you got to continue reading this post.

person holding a smartphone

What is App Store Optimization?

In simplest terms, App Store Optimization (ASO) refers to the steps, strategies, and processes of designing mobile apps to increase its visibility and discoverability.

Goals of App Store Optimization

Here are the five main goals of App Store Optimization:

  1. Maximize app visibility in app store search and web search.
  2. Increase traffic to the app store page.
  3. Improve the volume of organic downloads.
  4. Reduce user acquisition costs.
  5. Increase in revenue.

These goals would further be discussed below and presented as benefits of ASO.

Difference between ASO and SEO

Some may think that ASO is the same as SEO or search engine optimization. Some even think that ASO is considered an app SEO. Nevertheless, the two terms are different.

The main difference between ASO and SEO is that ASO is focused on apps while SEO is on web pages

Difference between App Search Optimization (ASO) and Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
Difference between App Search Optimization (ASO) and Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

However, both are used to increase searchability and visibility of the things they are promoting. Moreover, ASO uses Apple App Store and Google Play as its search engine while SEO uses Google, Bing, Yahoo, and other similar websites.

Why use App Store Optimization?

The main reason you need to use ASO is to ensure the success of your app. In fact, no mobile app today could ever achieve success without performing some kind of ASO strategies.

To give you an overview of what ASO can do for your app, here are some benefits that you need to know.

1. Increased visibility

Consider this: 

There are more than 3.5 million apps in existence in Google Play Store while there are more than 2.6 million apps in Apple App Store.

With so many mobile apps out there, how can you be so sure that people would find yours? 

The answer is through App Store Optimization. By using ASO techniques, you will dramatically improve the searchability and visibility of your app.

Increased visibility leads to a myriad of business opportunities for your app that include the benefits mentioned below.

2. Increased traffic to the app store page

Increased visibility leads to increased traffic on your main app store page. When people are now on your page, you get more opportunities to sell and promote your mobile app.

3. Improved volume of organic downloads

People are now seeing your app and visiting your app store page. This increases your chance of having more users downloading your app.

It is worth noting that people who found your app through unpaid searches tend to be more relevant and high-quality. This means that they have more chances that they will not simply download your app, but also spend money on it.

4. Reduced user acquisition costs

The best thing about ASO is it gives you organic traffic and downloads. Organic traffic refers to natural and unpaid search results

With ASO, you don’t need to pay advertisers to promote your website. You also don’t need to rely on app store editors to select and feature your app.

The good news is that organic searches lead to higher and sustained traffic volume. Once your app hits the first page of search results, you get more people seeing your app and it is all completely free!

5. Increased revenue

So, what will happen if you have increased traffic and downloads and more people using your app? 

Inevitably, you will have increased revenue. 

Not only that, but you can use your app to promote other services and products that you may have. 

As you can see, ASO will not only improve your app’s ranking but also your revenue and profit in the grand scheme of your business.

What are app stores?

To completely understand what App Search Optimization is, you need to first understand what app stores are and how they work.

There are two major app stores today. 

These are the Apple App Store for iOS users and Google Play Store for Android users.

Let’s take a deeper look at each of them.

Publishing

Generally speaking, it takes a longer time to publish an app on the Apple Store compared to Google Store. If you have a target day and time for your app launch, be sure to at least have three days of allowance.

Keywords

Keywords are highly important in Apple Store and Google Store. However, each app store evaluates keywords using different parameters.

Understandably, Google Play Store uses almost the same indexing process as the Google search engine. So, this is an advantage for people who already know SEO techniques. With this in mind, you’ll want all your textual elements to conform to Google’s standards.

On the other hand, Apple Store optimization provides a specific field or option where you can specify all your relevant keywords. Apple Store would then just primarily focus on the keywords you have provided rather than the words you use in various areas of your app store.

Ranking Factors for app search optimization

Both Google Play and Apple App Store don’t tell you exactly what affects their app ranking. They use complicated algorithms to give you search results. 

Nevertheless, through experience and research, the following are believed to be the ranking factors app stores consider:

  • App name (Google)
  • Short description (Google)
  • Long Description (Google)
  • App title (Apple)
  • App URL (Apple)
  • App Subtitle (Apple)
  • Keyword field (Apple)
  • In-App purchases 
  • Ratings 
  • Reviews 
  • Updates 
  • Downloads 
  • Engagements
  • Other unknown factors

Here’s a quick look at the Apple App Store listing elements and where you can typically find them on your mobile screen:

Apple App Store listing elements for App Store Optimization

On other hand, this is how the listing elements on Google Play Store looks like:

Google Play Store listing elements for App Store Optimization

If you want to efficiently perform ASO, you need to take note of these ranking factors and carefully consider them as this will affect how your app will appear on app stores. 

Ranking factors can also be divided into two: on-metadata factors and off-metadata factors.

Basically, the difference between the two is the level of control. 

On-metadata factors include elements that you can change, modify, and control. Examples of these would be your app title, descriptions, updates, and keywords. 

The off-metadata factors are those that you don’t have control of. These include ratings, downloads, reviews, and user engagement, to name a few.

How to Successfully Perform App Store Optimization

Now, you know what App Store Optimization is and why it is important for your app success. 

The next question now is, “How?”

How are you going to not just do ASO, but to do it successfully? Here’s how. Let us share with you the best ASO practices you should never ignore if you want to improve your app ranking.

a. Know your audience

If you want to lay a solid foundation for your app success, you should know your audience very well. 

A lot of app developers today tend to work from inside to outside — meaning, they first look at what they are interested in before they check what their target audience likes.

As an analogy, when you go fishing, you don’t use ice cream as your bait simply because that is your favorite food. You would first consider what the fish like and that would be the worm.

In the same manner, you got to know what your audience needs. Know what problems they want to solve. Check what their deepest desires are. Identify the one thing they are willing to pay for.

Here are some of the questions you may ask to know your audience better:

  • Who is your specific audience according to age, gender, location, income and education level, occupation, and other demographic criteria?
  • What do you want your target audience to do?
  • How do they behave?
  • What are their concerns, challenges, needs, frustrations, and problems?
  • How will your app help your audience?
  • What will convince them to download and use your app?

Once you know the answers to these questions, you will have a better idea of what app you are going to develop. 

It would be easier for you to promote your app because you know there’s a demand for it. This makes ASO a lot easier as well because it has already positioned your app for better visibility because there is an established audience waiting to use and download it.

b. Choose the right keywords

Now, here’s where things get technical. This is among the crucial elements of effective App Search Optimization. So, you need to carefully pay attention to what you are about to read.

What are keywords?

Keywords the words or phrases that people use when searching for something on the Internet. In relation to ASO, keywords are the words used to look for specific apps in the Google Play Store and Apple App Store.

Here’s what you need to take note of: 

70% of app store users utilize the search functionality to find their needed apps! 

What’s more, 65% of downloads made in app stores are a direct result of app searches.

No doubt: if you want people to discover your app, you get to be on the first page of app search results.

This is where the importance of keywords comes in. If you have the right keywords infused on your app store page, there’s a good possibility that your app would appear on searches. If not, then your app would drown down to obscurity.

Finding the right keywords

Here’s the challenging part: how do you find the right keywords?

The last thing you want to do is guess the keywords your target audience is using. You don’t want to aimlessly punch the air and hope for the best. You got to perform data-driven keyword research.

Thankfully, there’s no shortage of keyword research and app store optimization tools available today. 

While it is true that you can do keyword research for free, be ready to set aside a budget for this if you are serious about keyword research. It’s a good investment considering that you can never create a viable ASO or app store optimization strategy without the right keywords.

Here are some of the best keyword research tools that you might want to check out, you can also check our post Best Free & Paid App Store Optimization Tools – 2020:

  • Mobile Action
  • Apptweak
  • Sensor Tower
  • App Annie

Here’s a pro tip that could come in handy. If you are launching a new app, chances are, you already have competitors who are well ahead of you. 

So, how do you beat them? 

Choose keywords that are highly popular but have a low usage rate. This can be tricky, but if you get it right, you’ll instantly get results even during the first weeks of your app launch.

How to use keywords for app search optimization

Once you have a list of keywords, the next thing you need to figure out is where to place them.

App name

Do you know that using the right keywords in your app name can increase your ranking by 10.3%? That’s according to research done by MobileDevHQ

So, you definitely want to add keywords in your app name.

However, you need to remember that your app name is like your brand. You want to add keywords in your app name but at the same time, make your app name sound and look professional.

So, what should you do? Balance is the key here.

That’s why, most popular apps today don’t simply use the name of their app, but they also include a description in the name itself.

Google Play Store and Apple App Store differ in their way of handling and indexing keywords. So, it’s best to discuss these two separately.

Google Play Store

Google Play Store is owned by Google and so, it’s not a great wonder that they would also use the same algorithm in ranking apps.

In Google Play Store, keywords should be added in the App name.

Here’s an example:

Zoom Cloud meetings for adding keywords on app name for ASO

If ZOOM has been a new app, you won’t easily know what this app is for. However, they used the keyword “Cloud Meetings” as part of their app name. That makes it easier for people to recognize ZOOM’s main function.

Here’s another one:

Messenger text and video chat for adding keywords on app name for ASO

Messenger knew very well that for it to rank higher, it needed to add keywords such as “text,” ‘video chat”, and “free” keywords.

Here’s a third example:

Canva graphic design video collage, and logo maker for adding keywords on app name for ASO

Canva is already a good name for a photo editing software as it reminds people about canvas where artists paint their masterpiece. However, Canva didn’t stop there. They still included keywords “graphic design,” “video collage,” and “logo maker,” which are common popular keywords.

You get the point. 

Add keywords to your title and you should already have given your app a competitive edge over other apps that don’t use this technique.

Apple App Store

While there are some who argue that the Apple App Store does not consider keywords on the app name, others would think otherwise. In spite of these conflicting views, Apple won’t officially tell whether or not they consider keywords from the app name when ranking apps.

For this reason, to be on the safe side, it won’t hurt to include keywords on your app name. This has also been a practice by some of the most successful and popular apps in the Apple App Store.

Here are some examples:

YouTube image for adding keywords on app name for ASO

YouTube, though already a popular website and app, they still included the keywords “watch,” “listen, “stream.”

Amazon image for adding keywords on app name for ASO

Amazon also included “shopping made easy” as part of their app name.

Afterlight image for adding keywords on app name for ASO

Afterlight is among the top paid iPhone apps. It didn’t simply call itself as Afterlight in its app name, but it also includes the keyword “Photo Editor.”

It is true though that some other popular apps don’t have keywords on their app name. However, if you want to compete with the established apps in the Apple App Store, you can’t afford not to get included in a search result simply because you didn’t add a keyword in your app name.

More tips on choosing the right app name

Obviously, your app would be known by its name and it is one of the first things that people will be seeing when they do a search on the app store. 

The importance of choosing the right app name can never be overemphasized.

Aside from adding the right keywords to your app name, you also need to have the following elements:

  • Easy to read
  • Memorable
  • Unique
  • Catchy
  • Descriptive

Remember, you can use up to 50 characters in your app title on Google Play and 30 characters long for the Apple App Store.

App description

One of the best places to add your keywords would be on your app description. Here’s how Google Play Store and Apple App Store check keywords on app description.

App Description for Google App Store

Your Google App Store comes with a short description field and a long description field. Each of these fields allows you to use up to 80 characters and 4,000 characters respectively. 

Please note that the short description appears on mobile devices. You can then click on it to expand the short description and read the whole long description. 

If you’re viewing Google Play Store on your computer, you automatically see the long description.

Add up to 5 of your keywords in these description fields to further improve your app ranking. 

App Description for Apple App Store

iOS has a description field as well. However, the Apple App Store does not consider keywords in this field. 

So, on iOS, your main goal is to write compelling app descriptions without bothering too much about stuffing keywords. If you create an effective app description, it will have a huge impact on your conversion rate, which of course has a positive effect on your app ranking.

More app description tips

Your app description gives you the opportunity to showcase what your app is all about. It allows you to discuss what it can do for your users. This is the perfect time for you to convince your app store visitors to download your app and eventually turn them into loyal users.

Thus, make sure you devote enough time, energy, and resources to compose a high-quality and engaging app description. At the end of the day, your description is not just written for the app store algorithm, but primarily for your real human beings.

Here are some examples of impressive app description from the popular game, Clash of Clans:

Example of good app description on Google Play Store showing for app search optimization

This one’s from Facebook:

Example of good app description on Google Play Store showing for app search optimization

As you can see, these app descriptions are easy to read and understand, informative, scannable, and persuasive. If you are still in the process of writing your app description, read some examples in the app store to get inspiration and ideas.

App subtitle (iOS)

It was only during the rollout of iOS 11 that the app subtitle was also introduced. This gives you another opportunity to improve your app’s ranking through ASO.

Gmail image for adding keywords on app name for ASO

The subtitle appears under the name of your app and is limited to only 30 characters. So, be sure to wisely add your keywords in this field. At the same time, be descriptive enough for people to know what your app is all about. Remember, repeating keywords is not needed.

App Store keyword field (iOS)

The Apple App Store treats keywords differently. Instead of checking all textual elements in your app store page, it focuses on the keywords you provided in the keyword field.

Image showing app store keyword field for app search optimization

This is your golden opportunity to rank better in your chosen keywords. So, be sure you make the most out of the keyword field.

Here are some tips you need to remember:

  • Maximize as much as possible the available 100 characters
  • Don’t use space, but rather use a comma to separate keywords
  • Aside from space, don’t use prepositions and articles
  • Never repeat your keyword
  • User number figures, not spelled out numbers
  • You can use either singular or plural words
  • Don’t include your app name, company and category names

c. Choose the right category

One of the ways app stores systematically organize the apps on their platform is through the use of categories. Categories include business, books, dating, events, finance, productivity, health & Fitness, lifestyle, photo and video, shopping, and a lot more.

Be sure to choose the right category. If you are not sure, take the time to explore the most relevant category for your app. When you hit the right category, people who really need your app’s functionality can find your app more easily, thereby improving your conversion rate.

d. Get the right app icon

Words are great, but images are better. If you are going to convince people to download and use your app, you need to give them a glimpse of what your app is all about.

This is where the importance of app icons comes in.

When people search for an app, your app icon is one of the things they will see. Thus, you need to have an app icon that has the following attributes:

  • Simple
  • Memorable
  • Intuitive 
  • Descriptive

Here are some examples of great app icons. Observe how they exhibit the vital attributes you just read above.

Google Meet as an example of good app icon for app search optimization
Google Meet.
Instagram as an example of good app icon for app search optimization
Instagram.
Inshot as an example of good app icon for app search optimization
Inshot Photo and Video Editor.
Youcut as an example of good app icon for app search optimization
Youcut video editor.

Selecting the right app icon for you can be complicated at times. Hence, you need to make sure that your app icon really works. 

But how would you know? 

Use A/B testing. 

You have the option to create various icon variations and designs. You can then test each of them and see which get the most clicks and engagements.

e. Choose app screenshots

Part of App Search Optimization is the conversion of your app page visitors. Remember, it is not only traffic that you are after in ASO, but also to convince people in downloading your app.

People are visual creatures. 

According to research, around 50% of app users base their decision on what they see on your app store page. Thus, you need to grab your audience’s attention in the first few seconds from the time they landed on your page.

Choose the right screenshots and place your best shots in the first and second featured slots. Not all are going to swipe through your slideshow. So, make sure the first two screenshots immediately grab attention.

Great screenshots have the following attributes:

  • Highlights your app’s important features
  • Tells a story visually
  • Illustrate your app’s functionality

Here’s a good example of high-quality screenshots from Google App Store.

A good example of app screenshots for app search optimization from Google Play Store

There are a few technicalities you should remember when using screenshots for Google Play Store optimization. Use dimensions between 320px to 3840 px. Photos should be in JPEG or PNG format. 

Here’s a good example of screenshots from Apple App Store:

A good example of app screenshots for app search optimization from Apple App Store

For Apple App Store, you can only add 10 images to serve as your screenshots. However, there might be some complicated specifications when it comes to the quality and size of your images.

So you, app publishers have to go through the tedious work of adding screenshots of different sizes for different iPhone models. For example, screenshot size is different for a 6.5-inch device compared to a 5.5 inch device.

Here’s a table to help you get a general idea of the device size and their corresponding screenshot size and requirements.

A table showing the device size or platform and their corresponding screenshot size for Apple App Store

To see the full table of device and screenshot sizes, please check this Apple guide.

f. Use high-quality videos

If screenshots are great in telling a story, how much more would videos be able to promote your app?

Videos work like charms. In fact, apps with featured videos get more downloads compared to apps that don’t have.

Google Play Store and Apple App Store have different ways of using videos. So, let’s discuss them separately.

Comparison of Google Play Store and Apple App Store
Comparison of Google Play Store and Apple App Store

Google Play Store

As a product of Google, you can expect that your videos on Google Play Store can be played from YouTube. 

The promo video is a great way for you to showcase the features, look and feel, and capabilities of your app. A promo video is especially helpful if you’re endorsing a mobile game.

Adding a promo video to your Google Play Store page is quite easy. All you need to do is add the YouTube URL of your app in the “Promo video” field. Save your setting and that’s it. You’ll have your promo video live on your page.

An image of how videos on Google Play Store appears

Here are some tips to remember:

  • Use the video’s YouTube URL and not a YouTube channel URL or YouTube playlist URL.
  • Avoid using age-restricted video as this will limit your viewers.
  • Use the best video preview thumbnail to elicit curiosity and therefore, more views.
  • Add a transcript in different languages to localize your video.
  • Don’t add timecodes in your YouTube URL.
  • Don’t use a shortened link. Use your video’s full YouTube video instead.
  • You need to disable ads on your video.
  • The privacy setting of your video should be public or at least, unlisted.
  • Keep your video short. Aim for not exceeding 2 minutes.
  • Your video should be in landscape orientation.
  • Your video should set the right expectation for your users. Don’t get too overly promotional because your brand name will ultimately suffer when you do. Just showcase the core features of your app and you should get a more engaged audience.

The best thing about adding videos is that views are counted in your YouTube channel. The more views you get, the higher your ranking would increase on YouTube, which in turn would add more traffic to your app store page.

Apple App Store

On Apple App Store, promo videos are called app previews and you can add up to three of them. Having multiple app previews is helpful when you are trying to promote your app for various languages.

An image of how videos on Apple App Store appears.

Please note that your app preview can only be 30 seconds long. Like the promo videos, app preview should focus on the core content, features, and experience of your app.

The app preview on Apple App Store automatically plays. Thus, it is a must that you get your primary points all laid out in the first few seconds of your video.

Uploading your app preview on your Apple App Store page is simple. Before anything else, your app status should be editable. If not, you won’t be able to add an app preview.

If you got all things ready, you can simply go to iTunes Connect, select the language and platform version. From there, you can simply drag and drop your app previews.

Uploading videos to your Apple App Store might get a little complicated when it comes to some technical requirements. Therefore, you need to read the following before uploading:

g. Reviews and ratings

Both the Apple App Store and Google App Store put a lot of importance on what users are saying about a particular app. ASO requires you to give importance to your reviews and ratings.

Unquestionably, the higher ratings and the more positive your reviews are, the more people would be convinced to use your app. Not only that, but app stores would even rank your app better.

An image of how reviews and ratings are featured on top apps for Google Play Store

Positive reviews are no doubt exhilarating to receive as it tells you that you’re doing something right with your app. 

However, don’t detest negative reviews completely. Though negative feedback and criticisms can hurt, they are great tools for you to further improve your app by listening to your users. 

An image of how reviews appear on Google Play Store

Not only that but when you take the time to reply to your users, other people would get the impression that you truly care about them.

h. Localize your app

This may sound additional work, but if you want to tap into a larger market, you need to localize your app. 

Yes, English is no doubt the most popular language out there. However, that doesn’t mean that you simply have to focus on this language. 

In fact, if you do so, you are restricting the growth of your app and even missing great business opportunities.

Here are some numbers to inspire you to go and localize (data comes from Onesky):

  1. Half of the top 10 apps with the highest downloads and revenues are from non-English speaking countries.
  2. 80% of the top 5 apps with the highest downloads and revenues are from non-English countries.
  3. More than 92% of the top 25 iOS apps with the highest revenues use Chinese names.
  4. 41% of total app revenue in the world is generated in Asia, 23% in Europe, and 31% in North America.
  5. Asian countries have seen more than 150% growth in revenue every year while only 46% in North America.

If these numbers won’t convince you to go local, I’m not sure what else would.

i. Evaluate, evaluate, evaluate

It’s hard (if not impossible) to successfully perform ASO without evaluating your work.

Here’s the truth:

Most of the time, you won’t get it right the first time you do ASO. 

It would take a few trials for you to figure out what works and what doesn’t work. Even if you already figured it out, you suddenly realize that there’s a better way to do things.

In short: ASO is a continuous process and evaluating your work is as crucial as ASO itself.

However, how do you evaluate your work? How would you know if your ASO strategies are working or not? Finally, how can you identify the strengths and weaknesses of your ASO efforts?

Well, one thing for sure: you don’t want to blindly guess about what’s happening with your ASO.

That’s why it is super important for you to have the right App Search Optimization tools. Chief among these tools is called Metrikal.

Metrikal takes away all the guesswork from your ASO and simply leaves you with detailed, insightful, and accurate data. Metrikal serves as a one-stop-shop for all your marketing, reporting, and analytics needs.

An image of Metrikal an app store optimization ASO) Tool

When it comes to studying data, you want to quickly visualize the impact (or lack thereof) of your app’s ASO efforts. With Metrikal, you don’t need multiple tools and pieces of software just to get all your data in place. 

Metrikal serves as your central database that includes various data sources such as:

  • Apple Search Ads
  • App Store Connect
  • Mobile Action
  • Google Play Developer Console

Once you have Metrikal in your arsenal, no more guessing, but only data-driven and data-inspired decisions for a more successful ASO campaign.

Execute the best app search optimization strategies now!

App Search Optimization is not that easy to do. 

It needs time, hard work, and most of all, technical skills. 

However, with the right knowledge, tools, and execution, you can successfully perform ASO and dramatically improve your app rankings. 

Whatever your ultimate goals may be, ASO is there to take you to a whole new level of success.

Try Metrikal for 14 days!

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