ASO Conference 2023 Part 2 Recap: Advanced Topics in ASO
While our first blog in this series on the ASO Conference in Berlin focussed on some interesting insights regarding the fundamentals of ASO, this second post will take a closer look at the emerging topics that various speakers brought up.
Emerging hot topics in App Store Optimization
This, of course, starts with Artificial Intelligence (AI) in ASO, but also touches on topics like the differences an app category can make in the way to approach ASO, or particular niches like Apple Arcade games or ASO for crypto platforms, as well as speculations about what may change once third party app stores are allowed on iOS.
Artificial intelligence (AI) in ASO
Ever since the release of ChatGPT, AI has become a massively scrutinized field and a fascinating new topic of expertise (especially on LinkedIn). ASO has, of course, not been exempted from the litany of posts regarding “How to use AI in your industry.” The ASO conference brought a panel of several ASO professionals, as well as a keynote presentation by Marina Roglic (Popcore), to help stir the conversation towards actionable insights.
- Early on, the top use cases that were shared in both the panel and Marina’s talk regarded how AI is a great tool to speed and facilitate communications with professionals who do not share similar backgrounds. The most striking testimonies for such use came from Max Ostapenko, a senior product manager formerly at Opera. He highlighted how a conversational AI like ChatGPT can help build stories for different profiles and roles, thus making it much easier to explain the data you’ve extracted. On the other hand, Marina Roglic, Senior ASO Manager at Popcore, presented how she uses image generating AIs to brainstorm and work with designers on creatives for the App Store and Play Store.
Where opinions differed a bit more was in the value of using AI for direct ASO tasks:
- Skylar Grabecz, ASO Team Lead at Picsart, shared his satisfaction from using ChatGPT to build comprehensive lists of ideas to pick through with his team during brainstorm sessions, as well as to speed up keyword research.
- Nataliia Drozd (UA Lead at Fabulous), on the other hand, recommended using AI for repeatable tasks but keeping human operators for intellectual tasks. She also asked to always check the output of AI work before uploading them to the stores, noting that: “ChatGPT can lie and make up features your app doesn’t have” as well as make grammatical mistakes (which you can ask Grammarly to spot for you).
- Max and Nataliia also brought up the challenge of remaining unique and true to your app brand identity with AI models that train themselves to replicate what others do and, therefore, having to ponder in which circumstances to use them.
- Marina also shared how her experience with multiple image-generator AIs (including dream studio, dall-e, nightcafe, getimg.ai, and more) was great to streamline graphics creation. However, it resulted in generic outputs that lacked identity and needed additional work from designers to solve that problem.
- Nevertheless, all speakers recommended trying AI in different parts of your company’s processes and sharing use cases to inspire different types of uses. It is also important not to get discouraged early and to be willing to spend time experimenting and training any model to do what you envision. This was true for everyone, even though Natalia and Marina recommended more cautious approaches due to the legal challenges of AI regarding intellectual property and data privacy. Whereas Skylar suggested that some app developers will be more likely to adopt a “wild west” approach until the dust settles.
Differences in ASO according to the app category
Though not as a trendy topic as AI in ASO, the ASO Conference also brought two different on-stage presentations on the topic of what comes with different store categories.
Differences between apps & games not to be overlooked
Jessica Pettie, Head of ASO at Flo Health, shared lessons from her experience switching from mobile gaming at King to health tech in her current position at Flo Health.
While Jessica confirmed that there are more similarities than differences in the conduct of ASO between apps and games, she still noted some major differences that shouldn’t be overlooked. Similarities in her opinion include:
- The need to work to extract granular data and educate different stakeholders around the value and vision set for ASO in any company
- The challenges to define clear frameworks especially around creative testing to maximize the value of insights
The most important differences she highlighted were:
- The user mindset that needs to impregnate how you conduct ASO is vastly different between categories. This is important, at least, when comparing casual gaming, where everything revolves around capturing users’ attention through bit-sized messages, as well as health tech, where the decision to download an app is much more personal and requires more information.
- She also shared that the relationship with store operators is very different – there is less of a systematic engagement with health as with gaming. At the same time, specific platform compatibility can also bring more in-depth partnerships.
Impacts from switching store category
The second presentation on the topic of store categories came from Claudia Trujillo, ASO Expert at Gameloft. She shared a case study for Gameloft’s Gangstar New Orleans game.
- Claudia explained that significant wins can be achieved from switching your game’s main store category, provided the new selected category is relevant for the game (or app). Otherwise, the store may oppose the change. In the case of Gangstar New Orleans, switching from Action to RPG helped change the app’s comparative performance in terms of conversion vs. category peers, going from below benchmark conversion rate for all sources and most countries to above in the vast majority of cases.
- Possibly as a result of this comparative improvement, Claudia noted a considerable improvement in category ranking, along with an increase of 64% in Play Store featuring occurrences, and a 40% increase in downloads coming from featurings.
- Last but not least, Claudia also concluded that the category change did not appear to have any particular impact on search visibility, with keywords not being influenced by the category of apps in search results.
ASO for “niche” apps: Examples from Apple Arcade & crypto
Another advanced topic that was introduced at ASO Conference this year regarded the conduct of ASO for specific types of apps, namely Apple Arcade and crypto platforms respectively.
ASO for Apple Arcade games
When it comes to Apple Arcade, Isak Strom from Bandai Namco was able to lift the veil on Apple’s gaming subscription service and throw light on the similarities and specificities with ASO for “regular” games.
- The most important difference he highlighted was the impact of the lower quality of traffic for Arcade Games in the App Store. Since all App Store users have the possibility to browse the Arcade tab in the App Store, but only a fraction are subscribers able to download what they see, performance metrics will often look much lower than with a “regular” game, no matter the quality of your ASO. With that being said, being part of the Apple Arcade programs brings many additional opportunities with Apple’s editorial team through both dedicated and general featurings.
- In terms of operational conduct of ASO, Isak shared that the only considerable difference in product page layout comes from the fact that Apple Arcade games require an in-game footage video to appear in the header of the page and in portrait mode (no matter the orientation of the game itself). On the other hand, the app icon and name appear centered on the page, with all other information appearing below the fold.
- That is not to say that optimizing creatives does not have an impact – although Apple does not offer product page optimization (PPO) or custom product pages (CPPs) for Apple Arcade games. As a result, his practice was to rely on crosscourt creative testing using Google Play or even non-arcade versions of games available on iOS to get directional information of what improvements may be available. Through this, he was able to drive consequential conversion uplifts to several of Bandai Namco’s Arcade games, and presented two case studies to the audience, respectively for Galaga Wars and Pacman Party Royale.
ASO for crypto apps
On a different end of the App Store spectrum, Edward Protzel (Director of Organic Search at Bitpanda) shared his experience with conducting ASO for a crypto app.
What made crypto a particular space for ASO in 2022 was the nature of the product available through the apps, which contradict regular economical functions. That’s because people take an interest in crypto when prices are increasing, while they lose interest when prices decrease.
The crypto industry took hits after some big names went under and demand decreased in the past 12 months. In the face of this, a key challenge for Bitpanda was to decrease its reliance on paid acquisition channels. That was when sticking to ASO fundamentals helped them weather the storm. Thanks to short turnaround time and efficient creative experiments focused on user priorities, such as risk prevention and secure trading, as well as capitalizing on their brand in their home market of Germany, Bitpanda improved their store conversion rate and continued to grow.
Third party app stores: What to expect from sideloading in iOS
For the final topic of the conference, I was invited to take the stage to share thoughts about the future of third party app stores – after reports in December 2022 pointed to Apple preparing to allow app sideloading (the possibility to download an app on iOS outside of the App Store) in iOS 17.
This fundamental change to how app installation works on iOS devices is indeed a legal requirement the European Union has approved as part of its 2022 Digital Market Act, setting a deadline for Apple on March 1, 2024 – thus between Apple’s likely releases of iOS 17 and iOS 18. While Apple has not officially communicated on the topic (and is not expected to do so at WWDC 2023), expectations are that the change will only be made available in EU territories. These regions represent an important market by themselves, as Apple disclosed there are over one hundred million monthly active users of the App Store in this part of the world.
As a result of the upcoming change, many expect major players in the app and digital industries to introduce their own third party stores. Though only one company (Microsoft) has publicly mentioned their intention to do so, we consider Epic Games, Valve (Steam), Amazon, Huawei, or Meta to also be likely suspects, as they all have experiences in building marketplaces for digital products, some having even built a third party store for Android already.
However, things gets more interesting as you examine the motives such stakeholders would have to introduce an alternative to the App Store, and how those align with the interests of app developers and consumers:
- The most discussed reason regards the 30% commission fee Apple takes on in-app purchases via Apple Pay for all developers that are not part of the small developer program. Epic Games having gone to trial against Apple on this specific fee, it seems likely they would take an interest in having a third party store, where they don’t need to pay a commission and would potentially offer the same or at least a lower rate to other developers.
- Additionally, the growth of Apple Search Ads could inspire other players like Meta to release a competing app store that would serve as an ad network for them. This would be a relevant logic for many more players, especially with considerations of how an app store could potentially help bypass certain limitations imposed by App Tracking Transparency, as it could help recreate a single identifier through a store ID.
Such considerations could potentially appeal to other app developers. However, they fail to answer what would the appeal of new app stores be for consumers. In fact, both developers and consumers should first consider how any new store would be an improvement of the existing one when it comes to the core missions any app store needs to fulfill:
1. allowing apps to be discovered and purchased
2. defining standard for the organization of information
3. ensuring user safety against fraudulent apps and malwares
If no clearly perceptible improvement could be made, the only other reason a third party store could have to receive consumers’ attention would be offering exclusive products. But while this is a likely route at least some of the future stores will take, it is also inherently a sub-optimal strategy. In reality, app stores are a type of network goods, which increase their marginal value for every new user they have. The more consumers can be reached through a particular app store, the more app developers will be interested in offering their apps there. Whereas, the more apps can be purchased via a particular store, the more consumers will turn to it.
This conclusion calls for rather negative perspectives on third party stores. However, it does not mean developers should abandon all hopes to make their apps available on more stores.
- Pragmatically, developers should engage in conversations with any would-be third party app store to nudge their product roadmap towards something more qualitative than the app store. They should also consider negotiating better revenue conditions than with Apple, even if only to gain some sense of leverage to later call for Apple to make new improvements to its App Store.
- Additionally, enthusiasts may even want to discuss the ideal of app developers as a community coming together to promote an “app store framework,” which could be licensed to any phone manufacturer. This would mean that any developer could have but a single store listing to curate while making their app available to as many platforms as possible.
Over the past two articles, we’ve shared insights and ideas from the main stage presentations at the ASO Conference 2023 – from the foundational topics at the core of ASO, to new stories that developed since the last ASO conference. As we wrap up this series, we once again want to congratulate Phiture for organizing this great event for the ASO community and giving us the opportunity to enjoy many qualitative conversations around the event as well.
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