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Why ASO is not SEO (but looks like it)

Laurie Galazzo by ,  Chief Revenue Officer at AppTweak Start ASO

App Store Optimization is absolutely essential in any app marketing strategy. It can drastically help apps to stand out from the crowded App Store that today counts more than 1.5 million apps. The principal goal behind ASO is to increase app rankings and organic downloads.

ASO is often compared to SEO (Search Engine Optimization), aiming at optimizing the website’s visibility in search engines. However, if both of these rely on the same core principle, they do not work in the exact same way and some particularities need to be pointed out.

The mobile app ecosystem is eating the world

Since 2008 and the arrival of the first smartphone, the iPhone, along with the Apple App Store, we have observed an increasing shift from desktop and mobile web to mobile applications.

Mobile applications are surrounding us. They are part of our daily routine and often make our life much easier. The app ecosystem grew, grows, and will keep on growing considerably, faster than any other ecosystem has ever before.

On average, there are 41 apps installed on a smartphone. According to Flurry, apps usage continues to increase. In 2014, users spent 86% of their time on mobile apps while 14% was dedicated to mobile web.

Plus, Tim Cook announced at the WWDC15 that a new milestone has been reached: the App Store has passed 1 billion apps downloads. And the App Store is growing by 1,000+ apps a day.

Consequently to this, the market is suffering from an increasing saturation. Nowadays, there is almost a mobile application for everything. Actually, there are hundred of apps of the same type. How is it therefore possible to stand out and actually succeed?

Using a strong marketing strategy that will implement App Store Optimization.

Having a great app is not enough anymore - although it is compulsory. Now, developers and marketers not only need to come up with a unique concept and a perfectly crafted-app: they also need to focus on optimizing each of its ASO elements.

ASO was born after SEO

iPhone Screen

The goal of ASO is the same as SEO’s: to increase apps’ visibility and organic downloads. This will improve the quality of the users and hopefully increase app retention.

Almost ten years ago, search engines were built to simplify web experiences by providing valuable answers and content to any questions or requests.

Search engines have two main functions. First, their robots crawl all the interconnected documents on the web. The purpose is to create an index in order to sort web pages and to be ready for the next step.

Then, they provide answers to users’ requests. To respond to a query, search engines like Google scours their monstrous amount of data and only return relevant information. What’s extremely convenient to users is that this information has also been ranked: results will be listed in order of popularity.

Search engines work with algorithms comprising hundreds of variables, all having a certain weight. Over the years, engineers worked hard on these ranking factors in order to give more and more relevancy to search results.

This is how Search Engine Optimization was born. SEO has revolutionized the way companies optimize their websites’ visibility.

A few years later App Store Optimization became the “SEO of apps” but works differently. With 63% of apps that are being discovered by general browsing or search within the App Store, working on app store discoverability and visibility became a high priority.

How does ASO work?

As we previously mentioned, search engines’ algorithms are composed of multiple elements called “ranking factors”. Each of these factors has a certain impact on a website’s ranking in the search results.

Since mobile apps and websites come from two different universes, they both deal with different data and information. Therefore with different algorithms and variables.

Also, just like various search engines don’t work in the exact same way, different app stores have their own algorithm. Thus, app store search engines and algorithms differ based on the platform.

It is important to note that, unlike for the web, where everything is now pretty much transparent (especially for Google), general app store search results mechanism remains quite a mystery. Therefore, we can only try to “guess” how the algorithms work.

If the exact equations will probably never be publicly revealed, some factors have been proven to influence the algorithm. Keywords are, just like for SEO, one of the key elements to gain traction.

Mobile applications have on-metadata and off-metadata ASO, which can be compared to on-page and off-page SEO. On-metadata (or on-page) factors are factors over which the app publisher has total control. On the opposite, app publishers don’t have control over off-metadata (or off-page) factors but can still have a certain influence on them.

On-Metadata factors

  • App Name

_Definition:_The app name is an important ranking factor in the app store. Its SEO sibling is the <title> tag in HTML.

_Optimization: _The app name needs to be descriptive enough and should preferably contain some branding. It is also highly recommended to include 2-3 of the app’s strongest and most important keywords.

  • The publisher name

_Definition: _To publish an app on the store, it is required to have a publisher account which publishers can name as they want.

_Optimization: _Keywords from the publisher name is also taken into account by the algorithm. It might therefore be interesting to use a strong and relevant keyword here.

  • In-App Purchases

_Definition: _Typically, when an app is free, it gives the possibility to buy some extra features through In-App Purchases (IAPs). Publishers also chose to use IAPs to enable their users to remove ads from their apps.

_Optimization: _The names given to In-App Purchases are taken into account by the algorithm, but only if the search query matches the exact IAP name. If an IAP is called “big red cross”, users will need to type in “big red cross” for the app to appear 1st in the search results, and not “big cross red” for example. Here as well, it is interesting to use some relevant keywords not too technical.

  • Keywords

_Definition: _As mentioned previously, keywords are extremely important in ASO, as they are in SEO. Apple provides a Keyword Field of 100 characters. Keywords could be compared to the <h1> tag in SEO.

_Optimization: _Keywords should be carefully chosen. Ideally, the best keywords are the ones with a high volume of search, low competition, and of course high relevancy regarding the app. The point is to match the most appropriate keywords in order to be found by users.

It is also extremely useful to find keywords that can make a lot of different combinations since users usually type in more than 1 keyword in their query.

It is advised to use single words only separated by commas (no additional spaces needed). Most importantly, keywords already used in the app title or publisher name should not be repeated.

Google Play Store algorithm takes keywords from the app description into account since there is no Keywords Field provided.

  • App Description

_Definition: _Each app has can be described in a few lines. App publishers can therefore use this space to convert users and convince them to download their apps. App descriptions can be compared to the <p> tag zone of text of a website in SEO.

_Optimization: _As mentioned, app descriptions in Google Play Store are extremely important in terms of ASO since their keywords influence the algorithm.

However, the app description should not be stuffed with keywords. It is advised to use the same keyword only 5 times maximum.

The first 2 or 3 sentences should be extremely engaging and descriptive because the majority of users don’t read app descriptions entirely (or at all).

Keywords from Apple app descriptions are not taken into account by the algorithm. But Apple’s app descriptions are still important in terms of marketing and actually in terms of SEO (not ASO this time) since Google and other search engines rank the iTunes Page of the app.

  • Screenshots

Definition: Users rather prefer to look at screenshots than read descriptions. This often happens with images on websites. Screenshots are a great opportunity to showcase an app through visual content. On the Apple App Store, publishers can upload up to 5 screenshots. For Google Play, up to 8.

_Optimization: _Screenshots should be carefully crafted, like promotional posters but without being too pushy. A great screenshot would be an actual screenshot of an app coupled with a short sentence describing the feature shown. It is advised to show one single feature per screenshot and to use all the available screenshots slots.

Since Apple App Store displays the first 2 screenshots in the search results, it is important that they are reflecting the most important app features.

  • Icon

_Definition: _The app icon is what defines an app along with its name. App icons are displayed on any device’s wallpaper and will be tapped by users who want to open the app.

_Optimization: _Just like screenshots, the app icon is very important because it is visual and people love visual content. In order to be effective and converting, app icons should be well crafted and not overloaded with details.

  • App previews

_Definition:_Already present on the Google Play Store and allowed by Apple along within iOS8, app previews are short videos that allow publishers to convince users to download their apps.

_Optimization: _Some theories claim that the total number of views has an impact on the algorithm. In order to convert users, app previews must showcase the app and its best features in a clear and easy way.

Off-Metadata factors

  • Reviews and Ratings

Definition: Users can rate and review any app they’ve downloaded. They can score the app from 0 to 5 stars and are able to write a few sentences on how they liked the app or not.

Optimization: The overall rating of an app weighs a lot in the algorithm in order to determine its ranking. Reviews and ratings are considered to be extremely important since they attest to the authenticity and the quality of the app. Well-rated apps will therefore be highly ranked in the app store.

This way of impacting the algorithm can be compared to the way multiple websites can attest to the quality of another website by linking it.

Also, positive reviews increase the conversion rate since users trust other users. It is recommended to use push notifications to encourage users to rate apps (after at least 8-10 uses).

  • Link building

_Definition: _Actual links to an app are actually taken into account on Google Play Store. The more websites point out to an app’s page, the higher this app will rank. It is not the case for iOS apps, but link building can increase their visibility on the web (as mentioned above).

_Optimization: _It is recommended to get the maximum publicity on big publications or app reviews websites. Here is the Ultimate List of App Review Websites.

  • Total Downloads

_Definition: _The total number of downloads of an app represents the total number of unique installs of an app. This number has a huge influence on the algorithm and on the rankings of an app.

_Optimization: _The biggest goal of any app publisher is to achieve the highest number of downloads possible. It is therefore sometimes preferable to have fewer downloads but more engagement than the opposite. It all depends on the business objectives that have been set. Optimizing each of the ASO elements mentioned above will certainly increase the app traffic and downloads of any app.

This list is not exhaustive but it gives already a good idea of how an app can be optimized. Then, just like for a website, it will be important to measure the app’s performance by tracking its global and category rankings.

Another great way to measure the ASO effort is to track rankings on a specific (and important) keyword compared to how the main app competitors rank for this same keyword.

Of course, measuring the total number of downloads and revenues will give powerful insights into the app’s success, without forgetting about the retention and engagement rates.


ASO is often referred as Mobile SEO. However, it is important to make a clear distinction between these two disciplines, fundamentally different.

SEO changed a lot the way companies optimize their websites, but it took time to become a common practice.

ASO is still in its early days, although it’s becoming increasingly popular. More and more ASO tools, like AppTweak, have been launched to help app developers or marketers in ASO, especially in keywords Optimization. These tools are all using their own algorithms and try to provide the best volume and competition estimation possible.

Although ASO can certainly give a big boost to apps, it’s not a miracle pill. App Store Optimization is extremely important but should only be a part of a powerful app marketing strategy.

What do you think about this article? Do you think that ASO will have the importance of SEO? Drop your comments below, thanks!

Laurie Galazzo

by ,  Chief Revenue Officer at AppTweak

Laurie is CRO at AppTweak and joined the company in its early stages. She's passionate about new technologies and mobile marketing. Oh, and also about sushi.