The Ultimate Guide to App Store Optimization (ASO) [Including Pro Tips and iOS11 Updates]

There is one question that is repeated by app entrepreneurs quite a bit. The exact wording varies, but it mostly goes like this:

“I have published an app on the app store but it’s not getting enough downloads. It’s a good quality app and I have tried to optimize it but still, it doesn’t work. There are worse apps that are ranking higher than mine. I am so frustrated. What should I do to get more downloads so that my app ranks in the top 10 ?”

The answer is App Store Optimization or more popularly known as ASO.

What is App Store Optimization (ASO)?

The best way to understand it is the following analogy:

App Store Optimization (ASO) is to apps, what Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is to websites.

There are billions of websites on the internet. In such a case, what are the chances that a user lands on your website while searching on Google for the service you provide?

It depends on your ranking for that particular keyword in Google. Research shows that websites on the first search engine results page receive almost 95% of the web traffic, leaving only 5% for the remaining pages. Also, more than 67% of all those clicks go to the top 5 listings.

In such a case, if your website is not on the first page of Google search results you are doomed. That is where SEO comes, to rank your website higher in the search results.

The same is the case with apps. While SEO helps you to rank your website higher in Search Engine Result Pages (SERPs), ASO helps you to rank your app higher in app store search results.

The following image gives a good comparison between SEO and ASO.

aso vs seo

SEO vs ASO by App Radar

Why is App Store Optimization needed?

The number of apps on app store has grown from a modest 400,000 in 2010 to a staggering 5 billion (2.8 billion on Google Playstore and 2.2 billion on Apple App Store)  in 2017. In fact, 1600 new apps are being introduced to the Apple App Store every single day and around 2000 on Google Playstore.

In such a crowded market, if you just launch your app and wait for the people to discover it, it’s a sure shot recipe for disaster. Hence, comes the importance of App Store Optimization.

To the skeptics, I would like to point out 2 pieces of critical information:

1) As per Tunes 2015 survey, a staggering 67% of the users discover an app through the app store.

Tunes Chart on App Discovery

Tunes chart on App Discovery

2) As per Mobile Action data, a startling 82% of users never look past the top 25 search results. In fact, the top 3 results generate over 50% of the downloads (30% position #1, 17% position #2, and 12% position #3) for a given keyword.

When more than 2/3rd users depend on app store search and more than 80% don’t go beyond the first 25 results, ranking higher on the app store is extremely critical. And this is where ASO kicks in.

Here’s a step-by-step guide with amazing hacks from pros to boost your rankings and skyrocket your downloads on the app store.

Step 1: Understand Your Customers

You should treat your app store listing page as your landing page and optimize it for conversion or sales. And the first rule of sales is to speak in the language of your customer.

What is the major problem of your customers? How do they describe and search for it? How does your app solve their problem? What do your customers like about your app?

Most of the app developers feel that they already know the answers to these questions. But nothing can be further from the truth. As Bobby Gill of Bluecloud Solutions puts it, “As developers, we are often trapped in our own heads. And often the features which we thought were the most important, do not end up getting used.”

So, ask your customers don’t assume! Put yourself in your customer’s shoes and use that language to describe your app.

Step 2: Find the Right Keywords to Maximize ASO

From, the above step you already know the main keywords that your customers use to search for your app. You can also go to your competitors and see the keywords they are targeting. You can use App Annie for the same. It is a great tool for competitor research.

From the above process, you should target around 30 keywords. The next step is to analyze the competition on these keywords. You can’t rank in the Top 10 for all of those keywords. So, filter out for those keywords with good traffic but low competition.

For example, let’s say you have an app that provides coaching for baseball. Now, ‘baseball’ is a really hard keyword to rank for as there are thousands of apps targeting the same.

baseball keyword aso sensor tower

‘Baseball’ keyword ASO from Sensor Tower

On the other hand, ‘baseball coach’ is a good keyword as it has decent traffic with less competition.

baseball coach keyword aso sensor tower

‘Baseball coach’ keyword ASO from Sensor Tower

Use the above process, to narrow down your keywords from 30 to 10.

Pro Tip: Sensor Tower and Mobile Action are great ASO tools for keyword selection and competitor research. Their data on volume and difficulty is more accurate than other tools out there. Check out this case study by ASO expert Steve Young.

Step 3: Optimize Your App Title Based on the Above Keywords

App title and app icon are the 2 most important things that attract a user to your app’s store listing.

As per Tunes (earlier MobileDevHQ), just adding keywords in your app’s title can give you a boost of more than 10% in ranking.

keywords in mobile app title

‘Baseball Coach’ keyword ASO from Sensor Tower

For example, Amazon used the above strategy for its newly launched Amazon Shopping app to surge in rank from 300 to 1st place in less than two weeks. By adding the ‘Shopping’ keyword in its title, Amazon increased the traffic coming from this keyword, from 2.12% to 9.18% of global traffic for ‘Shopping’ keyword.

Amazon Shopping Title App Store Optimization Google Play

Amazon changed its app’s title to ‘Amazon Shopping’ to boost its ranking

Mostly, the title includes a short brand name followed by one or two keywords. For example, look at the app titles below:

Keywords in app title for aso

Keywords in App Title for ASO

All of them have one of two keywords in their app title

  • Whatsapp Messenger
  • TrueCaller: Caller ID, SMS spam blocking & Dialer
  • Google Drive – Online backup & cloud storage space
  • SoundCloud – Music & Audio
  • Bimoji – Your Personal Emoji.

There some restrictions to the length of the app title. While Google Play allows 50 characters in the title, Apple App Store has restricted it to 30 characters (earlier it was 50 characters) from iOS 11.

Pro Tip: In case, you can’t rank for short keywords due to high competition, go for long tail keywords which have considerably lower competition. For example, in the above image Google Drive chose ‘Online backup’ instead of just ‘backup’.

 Step 4: Complement the Title with App Subtitle (from iOS11 only)

App subtitle is a new field that has been introduced below the app title in iOS11. It complements the app title and is another area where you can use keywords to rank higher.

It is also limited to 30 characters same as the app title in iOS.

App Subtitle in iOS 11

App Subtitle in iOS 11

Step 5: Use the Keywords Field Wisely (in iOS only)

Instead of indexing the keywords in app description like Google, Apple has a specific field only for keywords. You should utilize all the 100 characters available in the keyword field.

Keywords field iOS11 ASO

Keywords Field introduced in iOS11. Note the rules mentioned in the image.

If you chose long tail keywords, enter individual words separated by commas as Apple indexes all combination of keywords. For example, for ‘baseball coach’ enter it as ‘baseball’, ‘coach’. In the 2

For example, for ‘baseball coach’ enter it as ‘baseball’, ‘coach’. In the 2nd case, all combinations i.e. ‘baseball’, ‘coach’, ‘baseball coach’ and ‘coach baseball’ will be targeted. Needless to say, the 2nd approach gives you higher traffic.

Pro Tip: Skip the keywords already used in app title, subtitle, and category, as that is already indexed. This way you can target more keywords.

Step 6: Design an Eye-Catching Icon

Alongside the app title, the app icon is one of the first things that attract the attention of the user. A good icon can double your downloads as Per Haglund from Super Puzzle observed.

App Icon change by Super Puzzle for App Store Optimization

Change in the app icon by Per Haglund from Super Puzzle doubled his downloads

Haglund observed that changing the icon from the dragon to the unicorn doubled his downloads, as 2/3rd of his users were girls.

Most icons have an image or a single letter representing the brand. Do not try to cram too many details into your icon, as it doesn’t look good when scaled down to a small size.

If you are not great at design, hire a designer to get it done. You can hire a designer for cheap at Fiverr or use a tool like Canva in case you are feeling creative.

For more inspiration on icons browse through iOS icon gallery or look at this great post by Michael Flarup on iPhone App Icon Design.

Pro Tip: A/B test your icon, because what you think is more appealing might not engage your audience. In fact, Split Metrics have observed A/B tests on icons can increase your conversion from 20% to as much as 560%.

Step 7: Update the Promotional Text to Tell Your Users What’s New (from iOS 11 only)

Similar to the app subtitle field, the app promotional text has been introduced in iOS11. It has a limit of 170 characters and appears on top of the app description field.

App Promotional Text iOS11 ASO

App Promotional Text and other changes in iOS11 app store page

Like the app description, the app promotion field is also not indexed. But the advantage is it can be changed without an app update.

Use it to communicate your marketing message, limited-time events, new features, announcements, offers, or discounts in order to entice people to download your app.

Step 8: Write an Appealing Description Keeping Keywords in Mind

After app title, description is the other place where your selected keywords can come in handy.

Only first 3 lines of description are visible above the more button. So, power-pack your content in the first 3 lines to immediately grab user’s attention. As per a study conducted by Peter Fodor from AppAgent, less than 1% users click on the more button.

App description keywords App store optimization

Insert keywords in App Description field for ASO

But both Google and Apple allow 4000 characters for app description. What about the remaining space?

Google indexes the entire description field for keywords to determine rank, so make sure they are present. The best way is to write for the customer first, and then make small edits for keywords.

Apple doesn’t index the description field as it has a separate keywords field. But nevertheless, description is important to convince users to download your app. Mention the advantage that a user would get from using your app (rather than enumerating app features).

Pro Tip: Add rave reviews from users in your app description. It provides social proof that can really boost your downloads. Also, add any awards or media mentions that your app has received.

Step 9: Add Captivating Screenshots with Text

Screenshots shouldn’t be just the screen capture of your app on mobile. Instead, it should be enhanced with features and advantages.

Also, put maximum focus on the first 2 or 3 screenshots that are visible without scrolling. Only 9% of the people scroll through the screenshots of apps. But use all the screenshots, 5 on iOS and 8 on Android to tell your app story.

Runkeeper app screenshots optimized ASO

Runkeeper app’s screenshots tell a story in the first 3 screenshots – Optimized for ASO

Also, A/B test your screenshots as that increase your conversion from 19% to as much as 654%.

Pro Tip: Add a graphic overlay to screenshots to make them more appealing to your customers. For example, Candy Crush adds a graphic overlay to its screenshots to promote its new update.

Candy Crush Screenshots graphic overlay for App Store Optimization

Candy Crush Screenshots use a graphic overlay for better conversion

Step 10: Create a Concise Preview Video

App videos are more powerful than screenshots as they allow users to see the full functionality of your app in action. As per StoreMaven, using a good preview video can increase your conversion by 20-35% and visitors who watch these videos are 3x more likely to install.

While Apple allows a limit of 30 seconds for videos, Google extends it to 2 minutes. But users barely go beyond the first 15 seconds. So, grab the attention of the user early. The image below clearly highlights the difference between Apple Preview and Google Play Promo Video.

App videos iOS Google Play

Difference between App Preview Videos in iOS and Promo Video in Google Play by Store Maven

Looking at the low percentage of users who were watching videos, Apple has decided to auto play the preview video on mute in iOS 11. This means your video should be able to convey their message even without the sound, through large sized text.

For inspiration, you can look at the list of great app preview videos by Apptamin.

App Preview Video for Sky Guide: View Stars Night or Day

App Promo Video for Jetpack Joyride

 

Pro Tip: A good poster frame (the preview frame when the video is not running) is crucial for increasing conversion, as it becomes your first screenshot in Apple app store. StoreMaven increased the conversion rate for Kabam by 66% using this technique.

App Preview Video poster frame Kabam apple

Storemaven increased the conversion rate for Kabam by 66% by choosing a good poster frame

 

Step 11: Focus on Getting More Ratings and Reviews

As per Apptentive’s consumer study, app ratings and reviews have the maximum impact on app rankings. This makes them the most important element in ASO.

App store rank rating relation

Positive correlation between app store rank and rating

Reviews provide unbiased information on how users perceive your app and generate trust among those looking to download. In fact, there is a direct correlation between app store ratings and conversions.

Apptentive correlation between app rating and conversion

Apptentive data shows that as rating increases from 2-star to 4-star, conversion increases by 80%

There are multiple strategies you can deploy to increase your app ratings and reviews:

  1. Use a rating prompt at the right moment
  2. Use an intelligent rating prompt
  3. Embed integrated rating request
  4. Delight your customers
  5. Use app update as an opportunity to ask for reviews
  6. Offer excellent in-app support

The crux of these strategies is to delay asking the user for a review until they have completed tasks a few times on your app. Send a prompt at the right moment (do not interrupt the user flow) and use an intelligent prompt to allow only positive users to the app store.

They are covered in more detail in this post, ‘The Next 6 Things You Should Do to Increase App Reviews’.

Step 12: Localize your App Listing to Get More Traffic

As per data from Statista, only 23% of the app store revenue was generated from Americas. A majority 62% was from APAC while the remaining 15% was from EMEA.

When majority of the revenue and downloads for the entire app store are generated from non-English speaking countries, it makes sense to translate the app in their local language. This includes app icon, title, screenshots, description, etc.

For example, have a look at the localized screenshots of Tinder:

Tinder app's screenshots for UK localization ASO

Tinder app’s screenshots for the UK app store

Tinder screenshots Japanese app store localization aso

Tinder localized its screenshots for the Japanese app store to get more downloads

Distimo did a research on 200 apps where they added a native language translation for every iPhone app. The following week downloads in that same country increased by 128% on average, with revenue increasing by 26%.

In another case study by David Janner of MakeAppMag, the localization of just app name, keywords and top line in app description increased downloads by staggering 767%!

Non localized app user distribution

User distribution for ‘Abe the Dragon’ before localization

Localized app user distribution

User distribution for ‘Abe the Dragon’ after localization – observe the increase in downloads from Russia and Europe

Suddenly, we can see that rest of the world is lit up! Apart from the US, we have other major loci of users, including France, Italy, Russia, Japan, China…   All of a sudden, we are getting traffic from all over the world and not just the US.

Put simply, without localization, we would have had around 3,000 downloads for that month.  With localization, we had 23,000 downloads – out of which only 2,300 users came from English speaking countries. An increase of 767%.

Step 13: Utilize the Power of App Indexing

App Indexing is a relatively new tool for ASO but has proven very effective. As per Sunder Pichai, Google’s CEO, 40% of searches now return app indexing results in the top 5 results.

App indexing is the future of search when it comes to apps.

But what is actually app indexing? Similar to web page indexing, app indexing allows users to see your app in Google search results.

Up until now, the only way for a user to discover your app was to go to the app store or the app’s website/ landing page. App indexing will index the content of your app and present the user with an install/ open-in-app button in Google search when related keywords are searched.

Google firebase indexing app store optimization

App Indexing search result for an installed app on the left and a fresh app on the right

Indexing, therefore, helps with both re-engagement and acquisition by promoting your content in new channels.

Step 14: Update Your App with the Right Frequency

Statistics from Business Insider and App Annie show a positive correlation between app updates and app rating.

Updating an app regularly shows to the user that the developers are concerned about improving the app and shows the app regularly in the app updates list on the app store.

It also improves your App Store Ranking as Google and Apple feel you are committed to improving your app.

But then the next question is how often should you update your app? The below chart can throw some light on it:

App average time between app updates iOS

Average number of days between version updates for top 25 ios apps by Sensor Tower

The above chart from Sensor Tower shows that the Top 25 iOS apps were updated on an average, every 30 days. So, the best frequency for update would be at least once a month and not more than once a week.

Also, don’t do an update just for the sake of it. Google and Apple recognize it and will penalize you for it. An update should be a new feature or a bug fix and should improve the app for your users.

Step 15: Keep in Mind the App Size

Google and Apple have set the limit for app size at 100 MB. However, these are not hard limits. For iOS, apps above 100 MB can’t be downloaded without Wi-Fi whereas for Android you have to include the extra resource in the expansion packs separately.

So, technically you can go beyond the 100 MB mark. But realize that if you do, your app can’t be downloaded on the move. Also, research from App Figures shows that ~98% of the top 100 free and ~62% of paid iOS and Android games can be downloaded are under 100 MB.

But this is true for only developed markets. For emerging markets, where the mobile data speed is still low a 50 MB app would still be difficult to download. A good thumb rule would be to limit it within the 20-30 MB space.

Candy camera app icon

Candy Camera by JP Brothers, Inc.

For example, Candy Camera increased their daily installs in India by 47% when they reduced their apk size by 55%.

Final Words

Finally, you have reached the end of this mammoth post!

Cheers!

That was 3000+ words of high-octane information on app store optimization. But remember ASO is not a one-time activity. It is a process of trial and error. And like all such processes, the more you do it, the better you get at it.

Also, any change in an ASO element might not produce results instantly. You would have to wait a week for the effects to kick-in in terms of app store ranking and downloads. So be patient!

Another important caveat if not to change too many elements at once. Then you won’t be able to determine what caused the change in ranking and by how much.

The best way to go forward is to set up the app store page once and then keep experimenting with keywords and different elements one by one. Wait for a week for the changes to show and then move on to the next element/ keyword.

Keep repeating the above strategy till you are ranked in the top 10 for your keyword. If you are not able to rank in the top 10, try a different keyword and repeat the process above.

Armed with comprehensive information on the science behind App Store Optimization and top ASO tips from the pros, go ahead and build your own phenomenal ASO strategy.

I can’t wait to see your app in the Top 10 for your keywords!

2 thoughts on “The Ultimate Guide to App Store Optimization (ASO) [Including Pro Tips and iOS11 Updates]

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