How to Get Started with App Store Optimization
In this blog, we will highlight practical tips, tricks, and best practices to help you get started with App Store Optimization (ASO). We will first highlight what ASO is (and what it is not) before describing why ASO is crucial to your app growth strategies. We will also provide you with a step-by-step approach to getting started with ASO, including how to optimize your keywords and creatives on the App Store and on Google Play. Finally, we will present how you can set your ASO goals and monitor your methods to get the most out of your work!
The contents of this blog were first presented by AppTweak’s Head of ASO, Simon Thillay, during the Reimagine Growth 3 Masterclass on February 24, 2021. Download the slides or watch the talk!
What is App Store Optimization?
Understanding the common misconceptions of ASO
There are a number of misconceptions that can give app marketers a distorted idea of what to expect from ASO. Before getting started with your ASO strategy, it is first necessary to understand what ASO is (and what it is not!).
- The first common misconception is that ‘ASO is the SEO of mobile apps’. While the two practices do share a fundamental philosophy, implementing ASO differs greatly from SEO. Concerning their similarities, both ASO and SEO aim to optimize a page with the goal of increasing visibility. To do this, both systems target specific search behaviors and combine a content focus with a technical focus. However, there are many crucial differences between ASO and SEO:
- On the one hand, ASO efforts are limited to one page per store per region. This means that you can only have one app store page in India and another in France, for example. On the other hand, with SEO, you can have as many landing pages as you like for each country. As a result, your communication is more limited for ASO.
- Regarding ASO, you only have partial control over your app listing and what store visitors will see on your app page. App store page templates are defined by Apple (for iOS) and Google (for Google Play) and so store pages will not vary wildly between competitors. Furthermore, you cannot completely control certain ASO elements, such as the reviews and ratings left on your product page. Despite not being under your complete control, these factors will still affect whether people download your app or not.
- Customers also behave differently on the app stores compared to the web. On the app stores, search queries are typically shorter and include more branded keywords and fewer questions – on the app stores, people generally know more about what they want.
Learn more about the differences between ASO and SEO
- The second common misconception is that ‘ASO works just like User Acquisition (UA) because ASO increased my installs by X%’. There are many great case studies that explore the relationship between ASO and UA. However, people often believe that ASO efforts will always result in an immediate increase in app installs. And, while there is a lot of potential to grow your app through ASO, this may not be easy!
In fact, ASO and UA are complementary processes but they do not work in the same way. Not all apps, categories, or markets have the same growth potential. As a result, ASO growth must always be considered within its context. For example, Turkish music apps have a better chance of ranking in the top 5 of the Turkish App Store’s Music category than in the US App Store’s Music category. As the market for US music apps is more saturated, ranking highly in this category would be more difficult.
Defining App Store Optimization
ASO (App Store Optimization) is the process of improving an app’s visibility on the app stores (i.e., Apple’s App Store and the Google Play Store) throughout its lifetime. ASO works to maximize an app’s appeal to store visitors with the main objective of driving downloads.
Breaking down the above definition can provide a clearer picture of ASO:
- ‘Improving an app’s visibility’ pertains to getting more traffic on the app stores; a basic goal of ASO.
- ‘Throughout its lifetime’ highlights that ASO is not a one-time action, but an iterative process.
- As we try to ‘maximize an app’s appeal to users’, ASO aims not only to ensure that more people see your app, but that more people also eventually download it to their device.
ASO starts by optimizing your app’s metadata (title, subtitle, description, keyword field (iOS), category, developer name, tags (Google Play), or product ID). It also involves optimizing your store creatives (e.g., icon, screenshots, or videos) to boost your app’s conversion rate (CVR) and transform store visitors into actual customers. ASO extends to improving your app’s reviews and ratings, monitoring product metrics (particularly on the Google Play Store), and supporting inorganic traffic, amongst many other activities.
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Why is ASO important?
ASO benefits your user acquisition strategies
One crucial element to remember regarding ASO is that all acquisition funnels lead to the app store. Acquisition funnels may include web searches, web ads, Search Engine Advertising (SEA), Apple Search Ads (ASA), in-app ads, or referrals from partners. As a result, ASO requires you to improve your app product page so that its visibility and appeal are maximized in the store; doing so will benefit all traffic sources.
According to AppTweak estimates, on average, doing ASO can generate a 35-40% uplift in organic downloads to your app over time, across all markets. This is extremely valuable as the lifetime value (LTV) of organic app users tends to be 3-5x greater than for paid users. In this way, ASO efforts will heighten your chances of increasing revenue and retention.
Apple stated that 65% of all apps are discovered through App Store searches. While Google does not disclose the same data, in our experience, Explore traffic is typically the most important channel on the Play Store. Understanding such consumer behaviors can help optimize your app for relevant markets and unlock your app’s true potential.
ASO can support paid UA
There are a number of ways in which ASO can support paid User Acquisition.
- First, aligning your creative designs across channels can improve your ads’ conversion rates. In the image below, we see that UberEats aligned the communication between their Facebook ads and Play Store screenshots. Keeping a consistent message on all channels (‘order to your doorstep’) benefits the conversion rate of paid UA, which can ultimately reduce an ad’s cost per install (CPI).
UberEats aligned the communication between their paid UA campaigns and ASO strategies on the App Store to maintain consistency.
- Next, your app’s metadata and conversion metrics can also impact your ads’ performances on the app stores. In particular, Google Universal Ad Campaigns (UAC) and Apple Search Ads (ASA) are ad channels native to the app stores. They consider your metadata and conversion metrics which have the potential to lower the price of your bids. Regarding ASAs, Apple has stated that “your app’s relevance to the user’s search query, among other factors, determines if your ad is the one shown”. In other words, the Apple Search Ads algorithm considers your app’s metadata and whether it matches what app store visitors are searching for. If so, your bid becomes more relevant and the chances of your ad being displayed increase.
- An even more advanced way of getting your ad shown is to use certain features in the stores, such as creative sets in Apple Search Ads. These features allow you to contextualize your app’s value for different customer intents, which, in turn, helps you maximize your app’s conversion rate. In particular, experimenting with different creatives through ASO will help you address different user requirements. If you have a specific ad group, Apple will be able to show them the best, most relevant creatives possible.
For example, the fitness app shown below has 3 screenshots displaying its default unique selling proposition. However, the app also incorporates more workout-focused screenshots to target these more specific search queries. This allows the most relevant screenshots to be displayed earlier in the screenshot gallery and ensures that people searching for a ‘workout’ query are exposed to ‘workout’ screenshots. This helps to maximize your app’s conversion rate by aligning ASO and UA and contextualizing what store visitors are shown.
The use of creative sets in Apple Search Ads can allow you to target more specific search queries on the App Store.
Be careful when measuring the impact of ASO on app performance
It is important to remain cautious when measuring the impact of ASO on your app’s performance, as this is more complicated than for other channels.
- First, with ASO, there is no way to track your organic users in a similar way to tracking paid campaigns.
- You should also keep in mind that store algorithms react to all user signals at the same time. ASO metrics, such as total download velocity, conversion rate, or retention rate, may change in accordance with all sources of traffic. This can include UA traffic that did not necessarily result from ASO but from paid campaigns or referrals. For example, if you suddenly stopped running Facebook campaigns, this would negatively impact your download velocity, an important ranking factor considered by the store algorithms.
AppTweak’s ASO Impact Graph can help you measure the impact of your ASO efforts. The feature helps you determine whether a change in your app’s metadata (e.g., a title change or being featured) affected your download estimates or category ranking, among other key performance indicators.
How to build your ASO strategy
The fundamental equation of App Store Optimization (ASO) is traffic x conversion rate = downloads. As a result, increasing your app’s traffic and/or conversion rate will have a positive effect on driving downloads to your app (remember, this is the ultimate goal of ASO).
If your goal is to increase traffic, we recommend you first determine the origin of the traffic you want to stimulate. You should consider whether your goal is to heighten store traffic or referral traffic:
- If you want to focus on store traffic: do you mean Search Traffic, or Browse Traffic? And will this be organic, or paid traffic?
- If you want to increase your referral traffic, what placement types will you establish? Will they be from online ads? Ads from other apps? Influencer referrals? Organic referrals, such as word-of-mouth? And again, will these referrals be organic, or paid?
To increase your app’s conversion rate, you should consider:
- Lead quality: How likely store visitors are to become actual customers? For instance, a store visitor searching for a brand name (e.g., ‘PayPal’) will require less convincing to download that brand’s app compared to a store visitor using generic keywords (e.g., ‘send money’).
- Consistency between your acquisition funnels: Will you highlight the same app features across all channels, or will you accentuate differences (and will these differences create any confusion between customers)?
- Your creatives: To persuade store visitors to download your app, your creative assets should appeal to your audience and be optimized for a variety of geographic, demographic, and behavioral markets.
- How to influence user ratings and reviews: This is vital to ensure potential customers develop a positive impression of your app, based on the opinions of current customers.
Optimize your keywords for the App Store & Google Play
Keyword optimization mainly applies to organic traffic, but can also apply to paid search UA. On the app stores, the discoverability of your app (in both Search and Browse Traffic) depends on how your app is perceived by indexing and ranking algorithms.
- Indexing algorithms index your app’s metadata. This means that every keyword you include in your title, subtitle, description, etc, helps your app be considered relevant for specific topics.
- The ranking algorithm is based on user search queries and interests. It considers information about store visitors, such as what they typically search for, or previous apps they have downloaded.
The ranking algorithm studies the list of indexed apps and determines which will be shown to store visitors first, second, third, and so on. As a result, keywords that are strategically placed in your app’s metadata will influence your app’s discoverability.
In the image below, we see how different elements of your metadata can impact your app’s visibility and conversion in the store. For example, an app on the Google Play Store would get the most visibility from keywords in its title, and these keywords would also impact conversion. However, while the long description plays an important role in terms of visibility on the Play Store, less than 5% of store visitors actually choose to ‘read more’ of the long description. This makes the long description on Google Play less influential regarding conversion.
How different elements in your app’s metadata can impact visibility and conversion rate on the App Store and on Google Play.
To optimize your keywords, we have outlined 3 practical steps to follow:
First, you should undertake extensive keyword research. You should build a list of keywords (a semantic dictionary), based on:
- The keywords you already use
- Your competitors’ metadata
- Your top-ranked keywords and those of your competitors
- Ad keywords (Google UAC, ASA)
Keyword research will help you identify which keywords already convert best and should be included in your metadata. You can then build keyword clusters. For example, the Google Maps app may include keyword clusters about other Google apps (‘Drive’, ‘Chrome’, ‘Slides’), navigation (‘GPS’, ‘traffic’, ‘car’) or other related functionalities (‘restaurant’, ‘bar’, ‘local’).
Second, you should select and prioritize which keywords will be included in your app’s metadata. To do this, we recommend you identify those keywords with the most potential to drive traffic to your app. This process can be made a lot easier with AppTweak’s Keyword Research & Suggestion tools that highlight metrics necessary to understand the potential of each keyword. For example, you should consider:
- Keyword volume: the amount of traffic the keyword can drive to your app
- Chance: the possibility of reaching the top search ranking positions
- Current rankings
- Opportunities to create mid- and long-tail keyword combinations
- Relevance: how relevant the keyword is to your app
Discover 10 useful tips to find the perfect keywords for your app
Finally, after you have identified the highest-priority keywords and updated your store listing with those with the most potential to drive traffic, you should measure the impact of your changes and iterate the process.
Factors to measure include:
- keyword movements
- top keyword ranking positions
- keyword download gains and losses
- overall visibility score uplift
You can then decide how to adapt your previous methods and consider how they could be improved in the future.
Optimize your app creatives for the App Store & Google Play
Refining your creatives goes further than driving traffic and more towards improving your app’s conversion rate. This is because store visitors are most sensitive to creatives when deciding whether to download an app or not. As a result, you should start this process by upgrading your most prominent visual assets – your app icon and screenshots. According to a study by A/B testing platform Splitmetrics, changes to the app icon and screenshots have a maximum average CVR uplift greater than 20%. Therefore, they are the most efficient assets to update to boost conversion.
Make sure to follow these size and format guidelines for your creative assets on the App Store and on Google Play
Optimizing your app creatives follows a very similar method to keyword optimization:
Conduct creative research. We recommend that you investigate what content and format to focus on, according to:
- Your brand guidelines: Your brand tone should remain consistent across your app’s visual assets.
- Your competitors’ creatives: What messages are your competitors trying to convey to users? Are they also relevant to your app? What design tricks are they using that work well?
- Industry best practices: Some categories are more active in creative optimization than others.
- Other assets that you employ, including mobile ads.
- Next, you should evaluate which creatives are most likely to generate a conversion uplift, based on:
- The scale of these changes against your current assets.
- The overall impact of changing the creative asset on your app’s conversion rate. For example, changing your app’s preview video will have a lower impact than changing your icon or screenshots.
- Your design schedule: How much time your design team needs to work on these assets will determine when you will be able to test everything, and in which order.
- Finally, you should run tests to measure the uplift generated by these creative changes and draw conclusions from any wins and/or any losses. We recommend running A/B tests on Google Play to examine your audience’s responses to each version of your visual asset. At AppTweak, we have also developed a new method – A/A/B testing – which increases the reliability of your results and helps get the most out of your creative changes.
You should confirm your results with sequential analyses before drawing your final conclusions. Whether your test was successful or not, you should always determine exactly what went well, and why. Understanding your positive results will allow you to successfully test the same things in other markets, while findings from negative results will help you avoid making the same mistakes.
Importance of app ratings & reviews on the app stores
When trying to improve your app’s conversion rate, it is also important to consider your app’s ratings and reviews, as these elements may determine whether app store visitors become actual customers.
- You should make sure to reply to negative customer reviews. Addressing an unhappy user and publicly committing to improving the issue shows your community that you engage with your market, and can even encourage users to change their star rating.
- You should also upvote detailed positive reviews, making sure these are the first reviews your potential customers see.
- Finally, you should prompt existing customers to leave a review when they are most satisfied with your product. Using in-app prompts when users have just completed a level of your game, for example, increases your chance of receiving a positive rating or review.
We would also recommend mining reviews to improve your app’s message and marketing. Analyze the reviews you have received to determine your customers’ favorite, and least favorite, features. This will allow you to pass feedback on to the product team as elements to maintain or improve. AppTweak’s Review Sentiment Analysis tool provides the necessary data to identify the most positive and negative keywords found in your reviews section. Pinpointing these keywords can, in turn, demonstrate those you should target in your metadata which can further drive traffic to your app if optimized well.
Understand Browse/Explore traffic on the App Store & Google Play
It is important to not forget about Browse traffic in your efforts to increase conversion rate. Browse traffic is dependent on the app store curation systems, with Top Charts and Similar Apps becoming less and less prominent as the stores evolve.
- On the Google Play Store, Explore traffic is mostly derived through algorithmic curation. This means that elements in your app’s metadata – keywords, app category, Google tags, etc. – will impact where your app appears in different browsing groups. App groupings also rely on matching algorithms based on user behavior. For instance, the matching algorithms will account for app ratings, install preferences, and the other apps a user has installed. These elements will determine whether your app is displayed in certain categories or not.
- On the App Store, Browse traffic is mostly derived through human curation. The App Store editors prefer product pages to focus on storytelling and they also consider any business interests your app might satisfy. Apple’s editors want to promote apps that can generate a lot of traffic on the App Store while also satisfying App Store visitors’ user experiences. As a result, we would recommend preparing a pitch with great storytelling devices to help editors better understand your app. This can make their decision – choosing whether or not to feature your app on the store – much easier.
How to set your first ASO goals
1. Identify priorities using App Store data
So, how should you start setting your ASO goals? ASO is a multidimensional process, making it challenging at times to know how to get started and where to add value. Therefore, you should start by investigating app store console data to identify what your goals should be:
- First, you should review a variety of key performance indicators (KPIs) to help you determine which one you want to focus on improving (and how to go about this).
If you want to increase traffic to your app:
- On the App Store, this would mainly entail increasing your impressions (the number of times your app was viewed). This is because App Store visitors are able to download your app directly from search results or Browse tabs, and are not required to actually visit your product page. Therefore, you should examine your total impressions, identify whether they have improved or not, and also classify your impressions by market and by channel.
- On the Play Store, improving traffic would mainly consist of increasing your product page views. On Google Play, store visitors are required to actually visit your product page in order to download your app.
If you want to increase your app’s conversion rate:
- On the App Store, you should determine your installs ÷ impressions. The closer the result of this calculation is to 1, the more store visitors who see your app actually download it. The closer the result is to 0, the lower your app’s conversion rate.
- On Google Play, you should focus on your installs divided by page views, following a similar logic as presented above.
If you want to improve the quality of your app:
- On the App Store, you should try to improve your ratings and reviews. As previously mentioned, we recommend addressing negative reviews, upvoting positive reviews, and strategically requesting the opinions of satisfied users.
- On the Play Store, you should also focus on improving your ratings and reviews. Alongside this, we recommend you to use Android vitals to improve your app’s performance. Android vitals highlight metrics regarding your app’s stability, startup time, and battery (amongst others) which, if used correctly, can help improve your user experience.
Update: With a view to raise the bar on technical quality, Google Play updated its core vital metrics with more user-focused metrics that are a better reflection of user experience. Google also introduced a new bad behavior threshold that is evaluated per phone model (e.g. Pixel 6). At launch, this threshold will be set to 8% for both user-perceived crash rate and user-perceived ANR rate. So, if your title exceeds the device bad behavior threshold on any core vital for a given phone model, Google Play may reduce the visibility of your title for users on that phone model.
On the topic of quality, as of February 2023, Google Play apps are required to have a minimum 3.0 star rating to get featured in the top charts.
The new quality metrics are live in Android vitals, and any overall or per-phone technical quality issues will be shown there. Google recommends that you review Android vitals regularly in Play Console, or that you integrate with the Play Developer Reporting API to incorporate data directly into your own workflows.
- Second, once you have decided on a KPI to improve, you should break it down to define a possible course of action. For example, if you choose to improve your search traffic on Apple’s App Store, you would concentrate on increasing search impressions. You would then identify:
- Whether to focus on paid or organic impressions
- Whether to focus on generic or branded keywords
- How many keywords you are already ranking for
- The volume of traffic attached to each of these ranked keywords
- The difficulty of improving your ranking for your current metadata or for new keywords you would like to target
- Clusters of search intents
- Finally, you should prioritize your tasks according to their expected results and your available resources. You should identify which are most important to you and create an order of precedence. It is important to not make multiple changes at the same time – especially if you want to measure impact – so as not to combine all your observations.
2. Spy on competitors to discover new opportunities
Tracking your competitors’ actions and results can help you decide whether you should follow similar procedures or not. When setting your first ASO goals, it can help to identify and classify your competitors:
- Direct rivals and threats: These competing apps may have a similar app power, provide a similar service, or target a similar market to your app. Spying on them can demonstrate weaknesses to avoid or opportunities to seize. Using AppTweak’s Competition Monitoring features can give you an edge over your competitors!
- Market leaders: You will not be able to compete with market-leading apps immediately; however, we would recommend drawing inspiration from the industry’s best practices.
- Distant rivals: These apps may not be a big threat now, but you should keep an eye on them in case they change their metadata and suddenly become a threat.
Monitor & adapt your ASO work
1. Set up iterative processes
Once you have established a course of action, identified your KPIs, and started applying changes to your metadata, you should not forget to monitor and adapt your methods. We recommend following a metadata & creatives optimization loop:
Following a metadata and creatives optimization loop helps you monitor and adapt your ASO efforts.
2. Monitor app store changes
At this stage of your ASO strategy, you will also have the opportunity to monitor elements that may unexpectedly impact your app’s performance:
- Algorithm changes can affect your app’s visibility as keyword rankings and Similar Apps change with new algorithm updates. For example, if you notice that you and your competitors all experience a visibility dip at the same time, this could suggest an algorithm update has occurred. Moving forward, you should determine exactly what has changed and how you can react and adapt.
- Store redesigns can also impact your ASO strategy. User experiences on the store determine the relevance of your KPIs, and so design changes will affect the impact of your creatives.
For example, Apple started displaying visual assets in App Store search results with iOS 11. As a result, conversion became much more important in search results. Recent redesigns on the Google Play Store included the feature graphic disappearing from the top position on app product pages, becoming instead the poster image for promo videos. As a result, the placement of screenshots changed and they only became visible to visitors that scrolled across. Thus, the feature graphic was not only the first image store visitors saw, but sometimes the only image they were exposed to.
3. Align ASO priorities with other teams
Finally, be sure to align your ASO priorities with the other teams in your organization. In particular, sync regularly with the product team, user acquisition teams, and engagement teams who all have a stake in ASO. For example, the product team needs to understand the direction of their product features; UA teams affect everything related to CVR, and engagement teams control customer reviews and ratings. Aligning each team with your ASO efforts can facilitate your ASO strategy as ‘teamwork makes the dream work’!
To get started with App Store Optimization (ASO) and boost your app visibility & downloads in the app stores, you need to:
- Understand the common misconceptions of ASO
- Learn the definition of ASO
- Discover why ASO is important to help grow your app or game (hint: it supports your User Acquisition strategies)
- Be careful when measuring the impact of ASO on your app’s performance
- Understand the fundamental equation of ASO (traffic x conversion rate = downloads)
- Optimize your app’s keywords
- Optimize your app’s creative assets
- React to your app ratings & reviews
- Understand the importance of Browse traffic on the app stores
- Identify your ASO priorities using app store data
- Spy on your competitors (hint: use AppTweak’s Competition Monitoring features for this)
- Monitor, adapt, and iterate your methods
- Align your ASO priorities with other teams in your organization
Ready to unlock your app’s full growth potential? Sign up for a 7-day free trial with AppTweak and discover unique features that can take your ASO strategy to the next level.