App Store Optimization: Trends and Challenges for 2023
With the start of a new year comes the customary time for predictions for the next 12 months. However, before discussing the potential changes for App Store Optimization in 2023, let’s review some of the trends we’ve observed in 2022.
Overall, 2022 began with the expectation that it would be a year for new beginnings in ASO and mobile growth, especially following the roll-out of custom product pages (CPP) and in-app events on iOS in the wake of App Tracking Transparency. A year later, it seems undeniable that ASO has significantly changed and expanded in 2022, fully growing past its fundamentals of keyword and creative optimization and embracing new trends that led us to call this the beginning of “ASO 2.0.”
Reviewing AppTweak’s 2022 prediction
Looking at predictions from January 2022, it seems that we made near perfect calls about changes that had already shown some early signs in 2021. At the same time, our bolder predictions have not all turned out to be true but did align with market trends. Let’s elaborate.
- Safest of all was probably predicting that ad networks would adjust their app install campaigns to allow clients to direct campaigns to custom product pages (CPP) on iOS. While this did take place over the course of 2022, it was in fact surprising to know how long it took. For instance, Meta only released an update to its app install campaign setup in late September. As a result, adoption of CPPs by marketing teams appears to have been uneven at best, with many only still testing their first CPP concepts in the second half of the year, and often only considering CPPs for Apple Search Ads so far.
Google reacting to iOS 15 and improving custom store listings and LiveOps felt also rather evident at the beginning of the year. Looking back, however, we believe that Google’s choices have been slightly surprising in how they not only replicated Apple’s logic of creating custom store pages accessible via URL, but also announced plans to also release custom store listings targeted at churned users.
On the other hand, despite scaling the LiveOps beta by opening it to large apps and announcing its future renaming to “promotional content,” it is somewhat surprising the feature has not yet been made available to all developers. The close of the beta on December 1 leaves hope that the fully rolled-out feature will arrive soon, but no date was officially announced for 2022 or 2023.
- A third prediction that was rather safe was about Google unveiling how they would set up a “privacy-friendly” policy and start restricting access to consumers’ Google Advertising IDs (GAID). Google unsurprisingly went through with the announcement, taking a much friendlier approach towards advertisers by announcing that it would look to collaborate with other stakeholders and not roll back GAID immediately. Nevertheless, UA consultant Thomas Petit did note during his intervention at App Promotion Summit Berlin (2022) that the roll-out of privacy sandbox is likely to start earlier than 2024, and apps should not wait for the full disappearance of the GAID to transition if they want to avoid another GDPR scenario.
- Last but not least, anticipating that Apple would add new inventories to Search Ads did turn out to be a good bet, though the new placements ended up in different places than expected. Apple introducing Today Tab ads and thus renouncing its long-standing tradition of presenting the Today tab as a space for human curation (allegedly) unspoiled by sponsorship did come as a relative surprise, though the opportunity for generating revenue made complete sense. On the other hand, the inclusion of ads in the “You Might Also Like” section came as a surprise in the sense that the position of the section in App Store product pages made little sense due to its lack of impressions. Nevertheless, the revenue from both new inventories will also determine how Apple decides to expand its advertising network further and which inventories will become available next.
Considering our bolder predictions, it was certainly a disappointment to not see any notable improvements around product page optimization (PPO) on the App Store. Optimists will give Apple the benefit of the doubt, considering the feature was only released on December 7, 2021, while pessimists have, for the most part, already insisted that PPO in its current form presents no benefits whatsoever for apps with a biweekly or weekly release cycle. However, we would still recommend you to heed to Marina Roglic’s advice from the ASO Conference about how some benefits can still be taken out of PPO if you can properly anticipate or cope with its shortcomings.
- More surprisingly, Apple did not make any sensible improvements to in-app events yet, despite Google’s expansion of LiveOps. In-app events seem to have been quite widely adopted, which may explain Apple playing things slow and not trying to immediately match Google’s approach, while this remains a possibility for the future.
- Finally, Google Play did not make changes to its search results UI in 2022, or at least not in Android apps. Japan and South Korea continue to be the only markets where Google shows screenshots for all apps in the search results. However, a few ASO players have reported that Google now displays the feature graphic of every app in the search results of Play Store’s web version, adding to potential hypotheses for the next year.
What is the state of ASO at the beginning of 2023?
Last year was a year of transition and new beginnings for ASO, and these trends will likely continue in 2023. More ad networks need to start fully supporting custom store pages for both the App Store and Google Play, while even more app developers are likely to embrace the rise of in-app events and LiveOps (promotional content).
As a result, 2023 begins with wide ASO perspectives:
- ASO “basics” (keyword and conversion rate optimization for default pages) remain fundamentals upon which to build the rest of your strategy.
- Localization remains a key, high-return lever for international growth and can help identify where to invest marketing budgets.
- Custom store pages and in-app content promotion tools now constitute a new layer of advanced ASO, which calls for more cooperation between organic and paid marketing teams.
What to expect for ASO in 2023?
Custom pages & in-app content promotion to have bigger focus
The first thing to expect for ASO in 2023 is a consolidation of ongoing trends, starting with custom store pages.
- With more success stories being shared across the industry, it seems almost unavoidable that more and more ad networks will start supporting both custom product pages on iOS and custom store listings via URL on Android.
- Furthermore, Google has already announced in late 2022 that it intends to release custom store listings for churned users, which would help developers improve efforts to win back users who have uninstalled their apps. Given these perspectives, it seems fair to assume that custom store pages will go from being an exploratory topic for most in 2022 to being a standard practice for most app growth teams in 2023.
- Last but not least, 2023 could also be a year in which more growth experts start experimenting with custom store pages as a user attribution and performance measurement proxy: web-to-app funnels or even out-of-home advertising have historically been hard to track traffic sources, and the possibility to create dedicated landing pages for at least some of them could turn into a potential opportunity for alternative attribution measurement.
As for in-app content promotional tools, their growing adoption rate by apps and games in 2022 is likely to continue in 2023 as well.
- First of all, Google has already announced the renaming of “LiveOps” to “promotional content” that will benefit from a dedicated tab on Google Play. At the moment, only developers who were accepted into the LiveOps beta can run promotional content. However, the fact that applications to join the beta were closed in December is likely a sign that Google will soon go through the official launch of promotional content and allow any app developer to promote events, major updates, and offers.
- Expectations for iOS are less clear, as Apple has not yet announced plans to expand in-app events. However, it is quite plausible Apple will expand the amount of in-app event “tags” (the name given to IAE categories) to allow developers to advertise timely special offers and discounts as is already the case on Google Play. Another possible scenario would be for Apple to grant developers the possibility to promote in-app events through Apple Search Ads, thus continuing their efforts to expand their ad inventory on the App Store. However, this is pure speculation at the moment and would not necessarily yield a high return for app developers.
Other announced changes to keep an eye on for ASO in 2023
Outside of potential improvements to custom store pages and in-app content promotional tools, Apple and Google have both given a few indications of what may come to their stores in 2023:
Apple is expected to release benchmarks in the Analytics section of App Store Connect early in 2023. Not much has been shared since the announcement was made during WWDC 2022, but Apple’s timeline of “early 2023” is just ahead and a feature similar to Google Play’s seems the most logical expectation to have. The main question is whether Apple may allow developers to create custom clusters to compile their benchmark, or implement a default benchmark per category system. All in all, developers looking for more competitor insights should at least keep an eye on their App Store connect until benchmarks are released.
- On the Play Store front, no public announcement has been made but a redesign of the search results page may still be a topic to keep an eye on. The probability is not extremely high, but a few items point to why we can’t rule out the hypothesis:
- Special search results user experience (UX) in Japan and South Korea
- Search results UX for computer that displays the feature graphic of apps in the search results in addition to their icon, title, developer name, and average rating
- A UX change reported by multiple members of the ASO community, in which the short description now appears in search results (Google has not indicated if this change is an A/B test or permanent).
Another change around Android that could affect ASO will be Google’s progressive unveiling of its Privacy Sandbox system. What could be the equivalent to Apple’s App Tracking Transparency (ATT) framework is supposed to roll out in full in 2024. Google declared that it will look to involve app developers in the process and would release a beta version for developers to be able to experiment and start preparing for the new system. Just like ATT, Privacy Sandbox for Android is not supposed to directly impact ASO. However, if history is to repeat itself, at least to some extent, we could see increasing interest in ASO capabilities.
Finally, among the expected changes for 2023 is Apple potentially opening iOS to third-party app stores in iOS 17. Several reports in December 2022 have stated that Apple is contemplating the possibility to allow third-party app stores for iPhone and iPad in anticipation of the European Union’s Digital Market Act, which would require Apple to do so by 2024. Whether the change would apply only in the EU or globally is one of many questions that surround the topic (we aim to cover this extensively in a future blog post). Nevertheless, it’s already important to underline that even if iOS 17 were to allow for third-party app stores, a lot will be necessary for them to gain traction and attract consumers and developers alike.
Additional topics that could be important for ASO in 2023
We considered a few other important questions for ASO in 2023 that have not been the object of particular announcements or rumors so far:
First is the recurring question of Apple adding third-party inventories to its Apple Ads services. Though no particular announcement or credible rumor has emerged recently, it’s always a topic to keep in mind given Apple’s efforts to increase its revenue and the limits of adding inventories on the App Store itself.
Secondly, the relaunch or improvement of user loyalty programs on the app stores. Google has yet to aggressively promote Google Play Points, though the program has been ramping up in past years. Apple, on the other hand, has not yet dropped Apple Arcade but has also not shown any signs the program was a success so far.
Third is the topic of user-tailored recommendations on the stores, which both Apple and Google have pushed through the angle of stories but could also attempt to expand towards search or push notifications, provided it would not cause too much friction. In the end, the main questions around this topic are not so much whether either Apple or Google would have the capabilities of doing so, but rather how to make changes that would improve the experience of either consumers or developers without hurting the experience of the other.
Lastly comes the question of how ASO practitioners may use Artificial Intelligence (AI) tools to their benefits. Ever since people have been able to start experimenting with tools like Dall•E 2 and ChatGPT, many professionals have started debating how such tools could benefit their specific industries. Neither has ASO escaped the trend. In practice, however, the answer to how efficient such tools are has usually been “it depends” (much like most ASO questions). Early adopters have pointed to the challenge of creating qualitative prompts for these tools to deliver satisfying results.For this reason, an important trend to monitor in 2023 will be successful (and failed) attempts to creating qualitative prompts for AI-generated ASO content, with 3 particular possibilities:
- Asking AI to enhance content initially created by a human operator;
- Using AI to generate early versions of a content, which will be reviewed and enhanced by a human operator; or
- Attempting to use fully AI generated content in ASO.
Conclusion: A year of possibilities for ASO
In conclusion, 2023 has the potential to deliver many different changes to the field of App Store Optimization and will certainly keep all ASO practitioners busy. More importantly, what will make the year different from the last two years is that multiple trends and topics to follow will not just depend on Apple and Google introducing new features to their respective app stores.
In any case, AppTweak will continue to monitor ASO trends and innovate for all practitioners. So don’t hesitate to regularly visit our blog and subscribe to our newsletter for more updates.