App Store Optimization 101: How can you rank with your app?

App Store Optimization (ASO) is pretty much SEO for app stores. Search is still one of the most important sources for an application to be discovered and downloaded, so getting ASO right is vital. So how do you do it properly? How do you rank well for the important searches?

In 2013, 63% of apps were discovered through app store searches. In the app store, this metric has made search the most popular way to find and get new apps.

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. - Kissmetrics.

According to Google's Mobile App Marketing Insights 40% of smartphone users still browse for apps in app stores. Even though

app discovery doesn't just happen in the app store anymore.

1 in 4 users discover an app through search. Basically it means you have to make sure your app is available and discoverable in app stores.

The better you can rank for a search query, the bigger chance you have for your application to be downloaded. The importance of App Store Optimization cannot therefore be questioned.

App Store Optimization

While there are several app stores , there are a few common rules that can be applied for them all. Just like search engine optimization, app store optimization can be divided into 3 main categories:

  1. Basic rules of ASO,
  2. On-page optimization,
  3. Off-page optimization.

The two most well-known app stores are Apple's App Store and Google Play. While the App Store is acknowleded for its closed system, Google's is far more open. And that's not only true for developers, but for marketers and application owners.

As it's harder to submit your applications to the Apple App Store, there are fewer apps, making it easier to rank for specific keywords than with Google Play. In Google Play the competition is much higher than in the App Store.

This means it's currently easier to rank in App Store than on Google Play using mainly on-page and a little off-page optimization. As competition grows it will be more difficult to perform, though. So it's definitely worth spending some time on all parts of ASO.

First up, however, are the basic requirements of ASO.

Basic rules of app store optimization

Just like search engine algorithms, app stores' try to clone their users' behaviour. After all, their first priority is to give their users the best user experience possible. Which also means that you should keep your users' needs in mind.

Know what your customers need and what your competition offers.

A conscious app store optimization strategy starts with putting yourself in your customers' shoes. Your application has to serve the needs of your customers. At the same time it has to have a unique selling proposition (which is different to or better than your competitors) in order to target a specific niche market.

Size of the app

Keep your app's size below 100MB

Apps larger than 100MB have a warning before downloading.

Downloading a large app message in Google Play

It consumes a lot of extra data while downloading, causing higher churn, and isn't great for users' smartphone storage. It's definitely worth keeping an eye on this.

Appfigures' interesting statistics shows that most of the top applications are under 100MB. No matter if they're free or paid.

Additionally, it's not only about the size of the app, but other factors like the decision between native and mobile web apps. According to CCJK,

mobile users spend 2 hours, 19 minutes per day with native apps, while they only spend 22 minutes with mobile web apps.

More on Native apps' and mobile web apps' pros and cons.

Update your app frequently

Regular updates allow you to fix bugs, add features and make improvements to your app over time. Which is great, as it not only gives a better user experience, but shows users their feedback is listened to.

Regular updates can result in better reviews. However, beware pushing out updates without running in-depth user tests, user onboarding and bug fixing. If your update breaks your app, it will result in a dramatic drop in user satisfaction.

Ashlef Sefferman made a point that it's not enough to push an update out, but you have to encourage existing customers to download the update. She mentions 3 strategies to acheive this:

  1. Entice customers within your app
  2. Update the app description and the “What’s New” field
  3. Maintain a large volume of five-star reviews

Localize app

41% of total app revenue globally came from Asia, while North America generated 31% and Europe 23%.

Because of this, it can be worth thinking about different language versions of an appif it fits your target or existing audience.

Both the big app stores allow you to localize your listing to make your product easy to discover for users in different regions. If you do so, you can increase your discover- and download conversion rates.

On-page optimization

Just like SEO, on-page optimization is essential. And there are a few different factors to help your app be discovered.

App title and the primary keyword

As the app stores are full of apps, it's more and more difficult for users to find the perfect one. And for developers it's tougher to stand out from the crowd.

Your first consideration is your app's name. Not only should it be catchy, but your app should probably contain a primary keyword.

Your app title is basically the same as <title> tag in SEO. In term of keywords, the app name has the biggest weight. Even the big players often have keywords in their app names, not just the brand name.

For example, Spotify doesn't simply use their brand name, but additional keywords. On iOS it's name is Spotify Music while on Android it's Spotify: Free Music Streaming.

Your title should also be shorter than 50 characters.

App Icon

Users see your app's icon at the same time as, or even before, your app's name. As the first visual point of contact, it needs to stand out.

This is it's crucial to be catchy, memorable while meaningful and descriptive. Users have to be able to connect the icon to your service and it has to persuade them in the first place about the usefulness of your app.

App Description

But finding an app is not enough. You need to convince your potential users that this is the right app for them. And that's where the description comes in.

It helps users decide whether your app is useful.

There are two parts to your description: above the fold and below the fold. ATF has to be optimized wisely for the maximum effort as users see it first.

Spotify app store description

You only get 1-2 sentences ATF before users have to click on read more. All the other details have to go to the BTF part.

If you want to know how to write a great description, this article by Sylain is perfect.

Keywords

In both your app's title and description keywords are essential. But you can also add your keywords as tags.

You have 100 characters for this . Back in time it was 100 bytes, but there are characters that took 3-4 bytes so they changed it to 100 characters.

Start with keyword research. When choosing your keywords, pay attention to these 3 main factors:

  1. Search volume
  2. Relevancy
  3. Keyword difficulty

There are several apps to discover and track app keywords. SensorTower or SearchMan are two good apps for this. You can find keywords based on other, similar apps' existing keywords and performance.

You don't need to combine your keywords. "Free music" and "music streaming" can be added as "free,music,streaming".

Also important to note that you don't need to add the keywords that are already in your title.

Thanks for the tips, Gabor.

Screenshots

In-app screenshots are essential parts of your apps listing. They help your future users understand your app, why it's benefitial for them and how it works.

You have 5 slots for screenshot uploads.

Important to note that you should upload screenshots for all ratios your app supports.

App Type & Category

While your app's type and category is less important than it used to be, you should optimize the type and category for user experience. If your users can find your app easier, it's better for everyone.

Off-page optimization

Off-page or off-metadata optimization factors are the ones you cannot modify yourself. External users and influencers are important here.

Number of downloads

Put simply, the more downloads you have, the better.

It's not about exact numbers but scale.

App and app version rating, review

The more positive ratings you have, the better your app ranks. Users can see your program is trustworthy thanks to social proof.

When a user rates the app, it rates the version they actually use. When new users come to your app store page, they will see the most recent release's rating. So if your newest version is worse than previous ones, it can have a negative effect on your download ratio.

The app store also shows national ratings to users. So if you are a German located in Germany and you downloaded the app from the German app store, you will see ratings by other Germans in Germany.

Links pointing to your app

Just like in SEO, good quality links support your rankings. There are two main factors in connection with links:

  • number of links
  • link authority

The more links and links with higher authority, the better ranking you will get. To check these factors, use the same tools as with competitor website analysis.

App marketing

In recent years, thanks to high competition, ASO became more important and app providers are using new solutions in order to be found by users. People don't just search for applications (pull market) and if they do, they don't only search in app stores.

Social media, websites and blogs, and preinstallments to new phones are more and more popular. This is the new trend. And this is no longer app store optimization but app marketing.

To be succesful, you have to find your own Mobile Growth Stack. For the most up to date information, check out their 2017 edition. If you are interested in the topic, a great place to start is this article about how to implement the Mobile Growth Stack in a tech startup.

Next steps

In 2017 app store optimization is a must. You need to understand how it works as well as how users behave and why. But even that is not enough anymore. You simply have to treat your application as a product and develop your app marketing.

Do you have any story to tell in connection with ASO? A great success or huge failure? Let me know in the comments!