Top ASO Lessons to Learn From Monitoring Your Competitors
Competition monitoring is a vital part of any app store optimization (ASO) strategy. In this blog, we first explain how you can effectively identify and classify your competitors. Next, we present the valuable insights you can find through monitoring your competitors’ launches, metadata updates, reviews and ratings, and social media strategies. Finally, we highlight the pitfalls you should avoid when competition monitoring on the app stores.
The contents of this blog were first presented by AppTweak’s Head of ASO, Simon Thillay, during Pocket Gamer Connects Digital #4 on November 9, 2020. Watch the talk here!
Identify & classify your competitors
Elements to consider when identifying competitors
The first step of competition monitoring is identifying your competitors. This analysis should begin with your product research and the competitors that you already know of (these initial competitors will most likely be apps or games offering very similar products).
You should also consider more distant, indirect rivals that may impact your store traffic and consumer attention. Despite perhaps not offering similar features, these apps may still impact your ASO goals.
So, how can you easily identify your more obscure competitors?
- First, take a look at your category rankings. For example, the games Hearthstone, World Series of Poker, and Uno all rank within the Card-Game category. While the games may not immediately come to mind as competitors, each game affects the others’ possibility to rank high in that category.
- You should also consider the Google tags attached to apps and games on the Play Store. Monitoring other apps that use the same tags can give you an idea of with whom you are competing for visibility.
- We recommend conducting keyword research to help identify your indirect competitors. Taking the example of the Card-Game category, monitoring the keywords “card games” and “online card games” could help you spot competitors you had not originally thought of.
- Finally, be sure to monitor the Similar Apps section of app product pages, alongside collections on the app stores. The Similar Apps section can show you apps that are associated with your own. Similarly, collections contain groups of apps that have been featured on the stores; monitoring the collections most relevant to your app can also highlight with whom you compete for consumer attention.
Classify competitors in comprehensive tiers
Once you have identified all your possible competitors, you should determine which are the most important to monitor and understand the kind of information you hope to learn from them.
To classify your competitors, we recommend using a comprehensive index such as AppTweak’s App Power. The index assigns a weight to each category, accounting for the total downloads each category brings to the app stores. As the index is quantitative and ranges between 0 and 100, it provides a straightforward method of identifying your rivals, threats, market leaders, and distant rivals.
Having selected Hearthstone’s main competitors, analyzing their app powers allows us to further differentiate them:
- Rivals: Yu-Gi-Oh has a higher app power than Hearthstone; however, this app power is not completely out of reach. We can therefore consider Yu-Gi-Oh as one of Hearthstone’s main rivals. The game is also quite active in terms of ASO and may target a similar market to Hearthstone.
- Threats: The games GWENT and Legends of Runeterra may represent Hearthstone’s threats – they incorporate similar gameplays but have lower app powers. Therefore, Hearthstone should keep an eye on these games and monitor their movements in the app stores.
- Market leaders: We can consider the games Raid: Shadow Legends and Mortal Kombat as market leaders. While constituting more distant competitors, they target similar audiences to Hearthstone. These games also have very high app powers and may represent learning opportunities to understand how these games optimize their product pages and the best practices Hearthstone could also follow.
- Distant rivals: Other distant rivals include The Elder Scrolls: Legends. This game incorporates very similar gameplay but has a much lower app power than Hearthstone and so does not need to be monitored at a high frequency. The app is not yet in a threatening position, but it remains important for Hearthstone to watch out for any significant changes.
How often to refresh your competitor research
Regularly refreshing and renewing your competitor list is essential to keep your research relevant. In general, we recommend doing this at least once or twice a year. However, you should certainly make sure to refresh your competitor list:
- Right after a competitor launch: You should add the new competitor to your list and be sure to check whether any other competitors have entered the market.
- After a store algorithm update: Investigate how your visibility has changed and who has benefited/lost from an algorithm update.
- When adding new countries to your list of target markets: Identify the scope of competition in this new country. For example, when we compare Strategy games in the US and France, we see that only 4 games are present in the top 10 of both countries, suggesting that preferences differ from country to country.
- For major seasonal events (e.g., Christmas, Valentine’s Day, etc).
Find valuable insights from competition data
React to competitor launches on the app stores
Category rankings on the app stores are driven by download velocities which allow AppTweak to estimate the number of daily downloads an app receives. Below, we discuss a use case from a client who wanted to prepare for the launch of a new competitor. This client knew in advance that the competitor would be very successful in the stores, and would also be very active in terms of paid user acquisition (UA) efforts. As a result, our client aimed to outperform this competitor while also adjusting their UA costs on a daily basis (they wanted to avoid spending too much on trying to outperform the competition).
In response to this challenge, AppTweak created and sent a comprehensive report to the client every day, allowing the client to adjust their strategy daily. The results were as follows:
- In their secondary App Store category, our client moved from the bottom of the top 10 to the #1 spot. This position was ahead of their targeted competitor and also ahead of other distant competitors that they would not have usually challenged.
- In their primary App Store category, our client’s app became much more competitive. While they used to rank between #100 and #200, by the end of the study, the client’s app ranked at #11.
These results confirmed that paid UA can incite an organic boost in category rankings and traffic. As no metadata update occurred during the timeframe (our client did not change their title, subtitle, etc), we saw that simply increasing money spent on UA generated a 10% visibility increase in the month that followed the competitor launch. We also observed that new installs were primarily driven by generic keywords rather than branded terms.
Keywords & creatives: Understand app store presence strategies
Monitoring metadata and creative updates can help you identify the best moments to react to changes your competitors make in the stores. Doing this not only allows you to highlight your competitors’ store focus and strategies but also to consider reasonable hypotheses regarding the marketing channels and tactics they rely on.
Taking the example of games in the Racing category, AppTweak’s Update Frequency Benchmark allows us to understand how often games have updated their App Store pages in the past year. In particular, we note that Need for Speed No Limits changed its App Store icon 10 times and its screenshots 7 times. As the game did not update any other element in its metadata, this suggests that the team is more focused on creative optimization and increasing the game’s conversion rate. From this, we can also conclude that most of the game’s traffic comes from either UA or brand traffic.
On the other hand, CSR Racing 2 updated both its text and creative elements on the App Store. This demonstrates a more global approach to ASO, combining keyword optimization with creative optimization.
Hashiriya Drifter is more active than most of its competitors in almost every field. In particular, we see that the game updated its iOS promotional text 4 times in the past year. As such, monitoring Hashiriya Drifter’s metadata updates can reveal valuable information about the live-ops that are often run in racing games.
The promo text does not serve keyword optimization as it is not currently a store ranking factor. Its impact on conversion also depends on what exactly an app is promoting. Games typically use the promo text to promote live-ops (live-ops provide a twist or new perspective on a game’s existing features, such as sales, challenges, or rewards).
Reviews & ratings: The voice of customer intent
Reviews and ratings are often overlooked but can be extremely insightful as they represent the voice of customer intent. Reviews and ratings left for your and your competitors’ apps can disclose what customers expect from your product and how/why your competitors are appreciated in the stores. Conducting a sentiment analysis on your competitors’ reviews can help you identify:
- Positive reviews: What are the strong features and benefits that customers enjoy about competitors’ apps? Having identified your competitors’ strengths, you can then decide whether to implement similar features or to stay away from them if other apps are very successful already.
- Negative reviews: What are some weaknesses and customer expectations that you might want to target? Addressing your competitors’ shortcomings can help differentiate your app and increase your competitive advantage.
For the Google Play Store, you should also be sure to monitor your competitors’ Android device product page. This can reveal the tags and topics that Google associates with other apps.
Social media advertising: Understand your competitors’ user acquisition strategies
AppTweak’s Market Intelligence can help you determine who among your competitors is most active in UA. The tool allows you to discover which creative formats your competitors favor in their advertising strategies so you can analyze their visuals, evaluate their value propositions and understand the elements (calls-to-action, gameplay, characters, art, etc) that are the most efficient in promoting their app.
For example, within the Strategy category, we see that Lords Mobile is very active in running its creative campaigns. The game predominantly focuses on dynamic creatives (i.e., videos) and concentrates less on images. However, every game has a different approach. For instance, neither Clash of Clans nor Plants vs. Zombies run UA campaigns on Facebook-related channels. Monitoring your competitors’ social media ads can therefore help you decide whether to replicate certain activities or to take a different approach.
Pitfalls to avoid in competition monitoring
Misinterpreting data and forcing “best practices” on your product
Wrongly identifying how market leaders reach the top positioning can push you to follow the wrong examples. As a result, some apps and games follow too many best practices and forget to either assess the relevancy of these practices or leverage their own unique selling points for their product. Such behavior can lead these apps to blend in rather than stand out in the stores.
Looking at some of the top racing games on the market, we see that most games incorporate a video and use landscape creatives. The risk of observing such a trend is then believing that this method is the only one!
However, Mario Kart Tour displays its creatives in portrait format. This practice is more relevant because the game is played in portrait mode; landscape creatives would not make much sense in the context.
In general, be careful to not misinterpret the plethora of data available to you. Focus on what would be good for your specific app or game, and what elements could perhaps be different. To stand out in the stores, think about the context in which you apply best practices.
Not looking at the whole picture
Before drawing conclusions from your observations, make sure you have considered the full implications of the choices your competitors have made. For example, some games incorporate ‘fake ads’ in their store creatives. These ads depict mini-games that don’t accurately represent gameplay. As a result, the creatives do not match customers’ expectations and we see many users complain about being misled by that particular game. Therefore, be sure to understand the risks and implications of following your competitors’ store practices!
Monitoring your competitors on the app stores can provide you with a number of valuable ASO lessons. In this blog, we have discussed how to:
- Identify your competitors
- Classify your competitors into comprehensive tiers (rivals, threats, market leaders, distant rivals)
- Regularly refresh your competitor list
- Draw valuable insights from competitor data (store launches, metadata updates, reviews and ratings, social media ads)
- Avoid misinterpreting competition data
Ready to monitor your competitors and unlock your app’s full potential?