App Store Optimization – A Crucial Piece of the Mobile App Marketing Puzzle

With over 2 million mobile apps in the major app stores, getting your app discovered is one of the biggest issues facing mobile app publishers today. If you’re in the mobile app space, it’s important to understand the various methods for marketing your app. We’d like to share with you one very important technique that continues to be overlooked by most – app store optimization (or ASO for short).

New Mobile App Discovery Methods

More apps are discovered through search than any other method

So, what is ASO?

ASO is the process of optimizing mobile apps to rank higher in an app store’s search results. The higher your app ranks in an app store’s search results, the more visible it is to potential customers. That increased visibility tends to translate into more traffic to your app’s page in the app store.

The goal of ASO is to drive more traffic to your app’s page in the app store, so searchers can take a specific action: downloading your app.

Also, the ASO process requires a crucial understanding of your target customer base, including the keywords your potential customers are using to find apps similar to yours. When you learn more about which keywords are being used, you will have a better understanding of the language of your potential customers – a crucial piece of any marketing plan – and you can home in on your keyword choices.

Why is ASO important?

According to Forrester, 63% of apps are discovered through app store searches. This makes search, in the app store, the most used method for discovering and downloading new apps. Recently, at Google I/O, Ankit Jain reported that “For the average app, search actually makes up the vast majority of installs.” Simply put, this means that:

If you’re not using ASO to increase your app’s search ranking, you’re missing out on the largest discovery channel available to your app.

With hundreds of thousands of apps in each app store vying to rank above one another, the amazing reality is that the majority of publishers are not investing in app store optimization. So here’s our gift to you: ASO is your secret weapon. Spend time every week improving your ASO, and you will meaningfully impact your app’s ranking and overall success.

What are the mechanics of ASO?

Let’s start by breaking down the various components that can affect your ASO:

Main Factors:

  • Title – The keyword placed in the title should be the one with the heaviest search traffic. Spend time researching which keyword that is, because changing your title often to include different keywords can be detrimental. As your app begins to rank higher and gain more reviews, news of your app will begin to spread by word of mouth. Changing the title can make it difficult for word to spread about your app.
  • Keywords – To improve your search rankings, you need to know which keywords are relevant and used most often by your target audience. It is helpful to monitor competitors in order to realize how you compare week to week.

In addition to being the most important factors for ASO, the fact that the title and keywords can be modified easily means that you can regularly optimize them.

Secondary Factors:

  • Total # of Downloads – Your number of downloads are extremely important to ASO, but you don’t have complete control over them.
  • Ratings and Reviews – Also important and difficult to control. However, there are ways to incentivize happy users to rate and review.

Let’s Talk About Keywords in the Title: Worth It?

With a sampling of keywords, they looked at the top 25 ranking positions and calculated what percentage of apps had the keyword in the title vs. those that did not. This provided a total aggregate score for the apps with the keyword in the title and the apps without the keyword in the title.

Keywords in title

Based on this test, apps with keywords in the title ranked on average 10.3% higher than those without a keyword in the title.

So, is a keyword worth placing in your title? Yes.

Do apps with higher ratings rank higher in search results?

This test was done by taking a random sampling of keywords and categorizing them by difficulty as related to result count. An “easy” keyword results in fewer than 25 apps trying to rank for that keyword. “Medium” keywords are those that are included in 25-100 apps, and “competitive” keywords are those in 100+ apps.

How app ratings correlate to search rankings

Based on this test, there is a clear trend showing that apps with higher ratings also rank higher for keyword difficulty.

Do apps with better ratings rank higher? Yes.

(But don’t beg for them; earn better ratings for your apps the right way.)

Do more downloads correlate to higher app store search rankings?

Only the developer and the app store know the number of times an app has been downloaded. Since we do not know the number of downloads, we took the number of ratings instead. The belief here is that, averaged out, the download-to-rating conversion rate is more or less similar across most apps. Therefore, it is fairly accurate to look at the number of ratings as a proxy for the number of downloads.

How downloads correlate to search rankings

Again, the results of the test are clear. The trend, regardless of difficulty, showed that apps with more downloads also rank higher.

Do apps with more downloads rank higher? Yes.

It is important to notice the difference between “competitive” keywords and the other difficulties. If your keyword falls into the “competitive” category, you need a significantly larger number of downloads to rank higher.

Keep in mind that ASO takes time

ASO is a process that needs to be monitored and constantly tweaked over a period of time. Your optimal set of keywords rarely is the set that you first opt to put in the app store.

Today, the most common approach to ASO is no approach at all. Developers often pick keywords and write descriptions at the last second during an app’s submission process. In most cases, little or no research on keyword searches occurs before the app submission, leaving most apps hidden and the likelihood of discovery quite low.

We had a moment to sit down with Ian Sefferman, the CEO of MobileDevHQ, and he told us how investing time in ASO has affected their customers. He said:

“ASO is having dramatic effects on our client apps. For those who put the time in to understand, iterate, and test, we’ve seen many apps increase their downloads by a factor of 2x-10x, and an increase of revenue by a similar, or bigger, rate due to the increase in engagement of users earned by ASO. ASO is not a simple process, and you might not see the impact overnight, but if you’re willing to invest in it, the outcome can be incredibly worthwhile.”

App developers need to consistently track their own rankings and the rankings of their competitors over time. More apps are published every day, and the constant stream of new ratings, reviews, and downloads can affect your search rankings. Keep testing and experimenting with your keywords in order to consistently rank well and drive more traffic to your download page.

Tips for improving your ASO

To recap, let’s look at the ASO factors and the methods you can use to improve in those areas.

Main Factors

  • Title – Having a keyword in your title can improve your app’s search ranking for that keyword by an average of 10.3%. As a best practice, you want to place your most relevant keyword, regardless of the keyword difficulty, in the title.
  • Keywords – Constantly tracking your own keywords and the movement of your competitors takes time and effort. In order to have the time to focus on your app and not solely on ASO, use a service such as MobileDevHQ to track your search rankings, analyze your keywords, choose better keywords, and get updates about your competitors.

Secondary Factors

  • Total # of Downloads – Now that our gut feelings have been proven with data, what can you do to get more downloads for your app? Improving your ASO is a great place to start. Beyond that, it is about marketing your brand and app to improve recognition, awareness, and appeal, from app store description to images, ratings/reviews, and social media presence. For a great place to start, check out these three inbound marketing strategies for mobile apps.
  • —

  • Ratings and Reviews – As we saw above, apps with higher ratings also ranked higher. This raises a tricky dilemma: you want more ratings and reviews but not if they are negative. So, you need a way to connect with your customers inside your app, giving them a place to vent and talk directly to the developer. On the flip side, you want to guide happy customers to leave positive reviews for you.

To reap the rewards of ASO, you need to invest time and effort. If you do, you’ll have a consistent channel driving traffic to your app. Being found is one of the most difficult challenges for mobile apps, but it is a problem you can actively solve.

About the Author: Robi Ganguly is the CEO of Apptentive, the easiest way for every company with an app to talk with their customers. When he’s not at the office, you can find him running, reading, cooking, spending time with friends, or hanging out on Twitter (@rganguly).

  1. Localization makes a huge huge difference. For iOS, universal apps do well for ASO. Why? Ratings and reviews come from both iPhone and iPad, and I think they are counted together for the separate iPhone and iPad charts.

    • Thanks for the comment Mark. You’re right, localization does make a very big difference, it can really broaden the audience you are able to attract and while most large apps target English markets, the competition in other markets is not as significant.

      • Robi, Thanks this was super useful. We’re just about to launch our first native app so very timely. One question – when you’re talking about localisation with Mark Johnson, are you referring to whether it is available to download in one vs multiple countries or can be used in one vs multiple countries? So for example a travel app for let’s say London can be downloaded everywhere but I guess only used properly in London.

  2. I think one of the important points to understand also is that reviews have a freshness period…. also in the same way with downloads. So in theory an app that has a healthy grow can outrank an old app with tons of downloads and a tons of reviews… is not about the number is also about the freshness and relevance . Good article.

    • Yes, that’s definitely true. Apps that go dormant will drop down the rankings – if they haven’t been updated in a while and people aren’t downloading it or leaving reviews, that lack of freshness will play into the rankings. Thanks for the comment.

  3. You can see the entire talk by Ankit Jain that you referenced at https://developers.google.com/events/io/sessions/326335584. I found it very helpful. You guys might want to link to it in your blogpost.

  4. Just a developer Jun 24, 2013 at 4:55 pm

    ratings and reviews don’t help keyword rankings, no correlation.

    • Actually, as pointed out in the piece, that’s not true. Search results are impacted by an app’s ratings and reviews. As you can imagine, many apps do rank for the same keywords so it stands to reason that the results are impacted by other data points, like ratings, reviews and downloads

  5. Nice article. All the tips will work well for iOS. But in case of Android Play Store, there is no option to add your keywords.

    • Thanks for the comment. Keywords in Google Play are a bit different, that’s true, but your keywords are determined by your app’s descriptions, the title and other data you input, so the effect is similar.

  6. I believe that the best always rises to the top.You do not even need to market your app.It only takes a man to download your app and get the ball rolling.If your blog is interesting and useful,you don’t need to do much else.Example of this is the popularity of Instagram.

    • Hi Ryan, thanks for the comment. I think that Instagram is clearly an outlier here – the vast majority of the almost 2 million apps in the app store don’t benefit from that perfect storm of adoption and awareness and need to do work in order to make sure that they’re discovered by customers. If you’re focused on building a successful business, you need to be thinking about how to market to potential customers and in the app space, ASO is crucial.

  7. Hi,

    I believe you have an error in the caption of the first image: “More apps are discovered through search than any other method”. The chart shows that only 14-16% of apps are found by search and it’s one of the least important sources of information for the users.

    Thanks for the awesome post! :)

    Michal

    • Hi Michal, sorry for the confusion here – the general browsing in the app stores is including app store search activity, whereas the general internet search through browsers is that smaller percentage you’re seeing.

  8. Internet Marketing techniques also plays an important role in promoting the mobile apps. It creates the awareness about an app throughout the web.

  9. Good post. I agree with the fact that these things can help but I saw many people spamming their description with so many keywords . Does it affect ranking?

    • Well, yes, in some cases having keywords in the description can help with your search rankings. However, gibberish descriptions lead to far lower conversions. Much like great SEO, the real value comes for accomplishing both the keyword goals in the description as well as providing value to customers so they can make the decision to download your app. The more you are able to add real value, the better.

  10. ASO is a company challenge – SEO is easier cause its just Google – I guess everyone agrees. But it seems to be pretty similar in AppleStore and GooglePlay – thats good news. Read also a good post about ASO in moz (you know moz otherwise google it)
    So when we make apps we have to focus on ASO, when we make websites we have to focus on SEO. I am actually working on some Webapps – so this was a helpfull post for me. I hope posting ASO in my Comment helps this side to be found and increase your ASO density – I know thats not all and not working like most people think about it…

    • Thanks Bitskin, glad you found this useful. You’re right, there is a bunch of good news here and ASO is something to emphasize as you spend more time in the mobile apps space.

  11. I am about to launch the first app of mine and I am very excited. This stuff is definitely useful, and I hope to use some of this once it’s out.

  12. A crucial piece analysis no matter how well conceived is a peripheral representation on its reality. Your blog is great. Great job Sean.

  13. I have 3 word appname e.g. Word1 Word2 Word3, in the initial release I also had these 3 words in the keyword list and was ranking very high on each of them (#1 or #2).

    In the first update I removed these three words from the keyword list as they were already part of title. Immediately after the update was made public my ranking for all of three words sunk (below 100).

    Question: Should I repeat the keywords in the title also in the keyword list? Has there been any changes in this regard to Apple’s ASO algo ?

    • max your keyword rankings changed because in 1st week of the release every keyword is ranked higher.As 1 week gone every keywords started decreasing their rankings.thats why your rankings for these 3 keywords dramatically.i think your word1 word2 word3 is highly competitive!

      Thanks,
      Tasnim

  14. Good post. I agree with the fact that these things can help but I saw many people spamming their description with so many keywords

  15. I have noticed that apps with names starting with numbers or letter A get favoured. If you click “See All” on a list, like “Free” or “Paid”, you get the top 100 by release date. If user then shooses to list by Name, they get it in alphabetical order, but again ONLY THE FIRST 100 ! There is no means to get to the next page, like B titles, C, etc…

  16. No doubt app store optimization is really help to stand your app out of crowd. It is one of the best cost effective technique to promote your app.

    You may read more about ASO best practices here http://appsintally.com/app-store-optimization-aso-best-practice

    Thanks

  17. Very insightful post, and I do also believe that ASO is determined by ratings and reviews at some point. For example, if two apps are the same keyword… they need other metrics to determine which ranks higher..

    I launched a campaign at appwinn.com and got some okay results, ended up going from #204 on a keyword to being #4. Ratings DO MATTER!

    Thanks to the guys here and the campaign over there, recommend appwinn, tell em I sent you!

  18. Thanks for the article. As a developer I was following all the tips sadly AFTER app launch.
    I can say that one big mistake is just taking ASO into consideration as an optimization technique. It should be taken seriously even during the first phase of development, design of the app/game.

    Today Apple approved the third update of our board game for iPhone, TapTapGo, Last (https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/tap-tap-go!/id693143941?l=es&ls=1&mt=8) and I would like to share some tidbits:

    - Translate title and keywords to biggest 5/6 markets (English, Spanish, French, German, Simplified/Traditional Chinese).
    - Update often. Apps go up in the rankings just when they’re freshened.
    - Search for app reviews! They must be counting a lot when deciding ranking positions.

    I’m starting to think that investing in advertising on web sites is a waste of time and money. They may be giving you just a 1-2% increase in downloads…

    Finally, I think Apple should improve AppStore. For example:

    - Allow to hide apps from the listings I already have downloaded (why insist in showing apps that I have already installed and using? I go to AppStore to discover NEW apps).

    - Allow to hide apps from the listings I’m not interested (why insist in showing apps I’ll NEVER want to have in my iPhone?).

    These two suggestions will prevent lot of scrolling down and will allow other apps to get discovered…

    You can contact me at taptapgo[*at*]kronnect[*dot*]com.

    Regards,

    Rob.

  19. Most app dev companies dont bother , or perhaps not enough awareness is there about ASO. Interesting post!

  20. Great post.
    What about Google Play?

  21. hello,
    i can’t find an seo/aso tool that can tell me where my app is located on google play.
    for example if my app is on games/ casual i would like to know where my app is located on a free search.
    Is it located on number 200 or 1000?
    my question is there a way to find out what is my app position ?
    Thanks

    • Bharath Patel Feb 03, 2014 at 10:53 pm

      Yes you can find using ASO tools .. and also get keywords which will help your apps to rank better, considering competition apps.

      If you want this service, please let me know, I can help you regarding this.

      Thanks,
      Bharath Patel
      bharathptl@gmail.com

  22. Only title and meta description for app store SEO? Is it possible to do SEO of apps by natural seo tactics like backlink building, social media submissions, forums/wiki links?

    Can I rank my app if I use this strategy?

  23. Hey Guys you conversation is very helpful, I have a question for you is there any app which is compatible for blackberry, iSO and for Android ? and have you any information about myyello.com ? Please Guide

  24. Updating the apps and following the best practices of ASO can definitely draw a major chain in the app rankings. There is a clear distinction between the Apple & Google Playstore App store optimization. To know more on this, click on – http://blog.zco.com/how-to-optimize-apps/

  25. A crucial piece analysis no matter how well conceived is a peripheral representation on its reality. Your blog is great. Great job Sean.

  26. ASO is a big help for the apps developer. So that they will know what is the standing of their apps in the apps store. And my favorite game want to download is jigsaw puzzles. I hope there will be another version of the game.

  27. As Robi mentioned that keyword is the single most important factor in app store ranking. Now question is that how we select the right keyword ?

    In normal keyword research we use different tools like Google Keyword Planer, LongTailePro etc… to get the search volume and competition.

    Now Question is that is their any tool available to get the search volume in app store and competitor. Luckily Answer is yes.

    There are different tools available in the market which helps you to find the right keyword for you like SensoreTower, MobileDevHQ, AppCodes etc…

    Now again another question arise which is the best tool for selected best keyword for you. I used almost all tools, every one has its own importance, but SensoreTower works fine with me.

    You can read more about best app store optimization tools and their importance here http://theappmedia.com/5-best-app-store-optimization-aso-tools/

    I hope so above guide helps you to find best ASO tool for your app.

    Thanks

  28. Hmm very interesting article. Little apps are doing any ASO but it will definetly start to become more important, similar to how SEO started back in the day, now SEO is essential to even rank in Google.

    I found another great article regarding ASO for those who are interested: http://www.amongtech.com/what-is-app-store-optimization/

  29. Have you noticed that when it comes to iOS “General browsing” and “Reading blogs” combined gives 23%. That’s how brands (including YouTube) drives the Installs of their mobile app… right from their websites http://blog.presspadapp.com/youtube-drives-installs-mobile-app/

  30. Great choice of the topic and great article! Design plays a key role in the app store acceptance process. Publishing an application it can be a complex and frustrating process to carry out because of the amount of restrictions and guidelines set by each store. Speaking of how to design a perfectly user-friendly interface compliant with Apple requirements, I also found this webinar very insightful. It focuses on the main design principles to keep in mind when creating your app icon and splash image. Check it out!
    http://www.apps-builder.com/pag/resources/webinar/app_icon/0

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