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Google Play and App Store Optimization (ASO)

     
By on November 3, 2010 - 10 Minutes

Do you believe in miracles? Have you been guilty of believing “if we build it, they will come?”  We’ve seen countless of great apps that never get downloaded for no other reason than poor visibility in the app stores. Even if miracles do exist, we need to make sure that when we create something awesome people can actually find it. For that reason alone we need to implement an ASO (App Store Optimization) strategy that can be tracked, analyzed and improved upon as we expand our reach. In order to help you get started, we have provided some app store guidelines to take into account, but if you need more information don’t hesitate to ask us.

Lets start with some basics to find out what ASO is all about?

App Store Optimization (ASO) is the process of improving the visibility of a mobile app in an app store (such as iTunes for iOS or Google Play for Android). In other words, ASO attempts to make it easy for users to find our app in the app store, whether by a simple app search or by checking the rankings in different categories and countries.

First, let’s be clear on one thing:

If you’re listed as app #782 nobody is going to scroll that far. Ever.

It’s also important to understand that the algorithm that both apps stores use:

  • is unknown
  • it changes
  • and there are some tactics that have a positive influence on the ranking, therefore we should apply them and keep monitoring the results so we don’t fall behind on the latest in algorithm evolution.

What are the main ASO strategies to employ today? Keyword optimization and asset optimization. It takes two to tango.

ASO Guidelines

App Title

As a general rule it is recommended to use relevant keywords in your app title as there is a correlation here that will improve your rankings.
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Nevertheless some apps perform very well in the Appstore with no keywords in the title.
Nevertheless some apps perform very well in the Appstore with no keywords in the title.

Keywords

For each new release, you can define your keywords using up to 100 characters. This means that you need to be very sure about the keywords that will work for your app. Remove spaces between words and use commas instead.

Remember that you won’t be able to change the keywords until you release a new version. You will be able to localize your keywords, but you may want to consider using English in the localized versions as well depending on your market and core demographic.

In general, don’t include both the singular and plural versions of each keyword on your list, unless they have different “meanings” or bring differentiated traffic.

However, defining your keywords is not enough on its own. You will need to use various software programs to track the results and monitor changes. No one said this was going to be easy.

There are several free app analytics tools available like Google’s Mobile App Analytics, MobileDevHQ, and Distimo Analytics. Dozens more paid solutions include programs like AppCodes, AppTweak, Sensor and Tower.

App Description

From a pure ranking perspective, your app’s description is not as relevant as it once was. In the past, we could achieve a great deal through a powerful, keyword-laden description, but now this approach is significantly less effective. We are entering an era that everything caters to the emotional and visual, so, if you need to choose between spending your time on your text or on your screenshots, then screenshots are the way to go.

Still, we need to remember that a big percentage of the “less” techy users are very rational when downloading apps and they may read everything carefully before considering whether or not to download your app.

The first 3 lines (header) are crucial as those are the ones people see first and are “not cut”. Make sure to include any awards, major achievements and key features here.

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While the app descriptions are not indexed on the App Store, Google as a search engine is indexing them! This is very important because many apps are first discovered online rather than in the app stores themselves.

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Within the description we also have the section reserved for “What’s New”. Keep in mind that the copy in this section is a marketer’s job and not a developer’s job!

Some good examples
Some good examples

Poor examples would be one sentence update like:

  • Important bug fixes – TouristEye
  • Bug fixes and performance improvements – HomeAway
  • Minor Bugfixes
  • bugfix – Endomondo

Remember, you are talking to your customers so don’t treat them like robots.

Number of Downloads

The number of downloads that your app has in a specific app store, for a specific market, and for the global number of downloads will have an impact on your ranking. This means that if your app is extremely specific it will be hard to use this variable to help you in the overall ranking. In general, you need to make use of traditional marketing techniques and digital marketing techniques to promote your app so it gets more downloads, especially at the beginning during the app launch or a new release. If you’ve done the proper legwork upfront, you should receive organic downloads and social sharing referral downloads with much less effort post-launch.

The curve of your downloads chart and the app usage afterwards will be what defines your popularity in the market.

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Rating/Reviews

Many people believe that their app ratings don’t matter, however, if your app appears in a search result among similar apps, these ratings play a key role. Here are some tips to maximize your ratings:

  • Primarily, it’s important to receive good ratings in the first place.
  • It’s much harder to repair a destroyed reputation than to build a new one.
  • Be creative in reaching out to people in the Google Play store who gave bad reviews. Unfortunately, there’s no direct way to do this in the iOS App Store yet
  • Choose carefully when to ask users for a review.
  • Be careful not to interrupt the user experience.
  • Ask after the users have accomplished something in the app.

Examples:

  • “Help us make the XING network larger. Send a review to help our ranking.”
  • “Want more relevant connections? Send us a review.”

There are many tools out there that help you ask for reviews so find the one that is best for your app. The timing of when you ask them to leave a review will be your most powerful weapon. Try to ask them after they accomplished something within the app, not when they just logged in to complete a task, but of course this varies based on the type of app you have.

One of the most creative ways that I have seen to request feedback
One of the most creative ways that I have seen to request feedback

App Icon & Screenshots

This is a very important aspect of launching a new app as users are seduced by appearances, so it is critical that you keep the branding consistent across icons and screenshots, in addition to a compelling story that binds everything together.

Icon

This may seem insignificant but in fact it is very important. Read our guide to App Icon Best Practices here.

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Be sure to test your icon in different contexts and situations, such as:

  • How does your icon perform against different backgrounds?
  • How does your icon perform against other app icons in your smartphone? Which one will catch the user’s attention and be clicked first?
  • How does your icon perform when a user is searching for your specific keywords? Which icons does s/he decide to click on based on the offer available? Test this on the mobile apps stores as well as on the desktop versions.
  • Conduct A/B testing on different devices. What users think and say is important but what users do is EVERYTHING! You want to make sure the icon is seductive and representative of your brand to keep them engaged.

App icons are very important for games and for apps with a very unique value proposition that the user needs, while sometimes for enterprise apps this is less relevant and they can use their logo.

Screenshots

Even if the app store input asks for “screenshots”, you can’t just snap some screenshots and call it a day. You need to develop a storyline that the screenshots follow in order to help the user understand how the app works. One app that does this very well is Foursquare.

As you see Sam is selecting his preferences then looking for a place for dinner, choosing one of the higher rated restaurants, which appears to be 1 min away from him.

If you want to add text to your images then do it like this. On the other hand, try your best to avoid doing this.

It is not considered a best practice to include the iPhone in the screenshot (read Apple’s guidelines) and on top of that looks great on desktop but on mobile the screens ends up being way too small. Screenshots are there to show the user what they will encounter in the app so they don’t install and then delete it after realizing it’s not what they were searching for (this will definitely hurt your ranking!).

App preview video

For both the Google Play and the iOS App Stores, having a video will help your ranking and it’s relatively easy and inexpensive to make one. The idea in both marketplaces is to create a short video that works as a preview for your app (remember the storyline concept?), however this is NOT the place to create an advertisement. That type of ad content should be reserved for your website, your YouTube channel and for social media.

Localization

Remember that if your app is available in different languages you should localize your marketing materials (including all the things we just mentioned) to match the target audience, which will also give your ranking a boost!

One of the interesting things about the apps stores in this early stage is that they are still heavily impacted by sneaky marketing techniques to seduce customers into products or services that don’t add value to the user. So one things that I love about the apps stores is that they are genuinely trying to find an algorithm that makes sure that users find what they need faster. In the long run, the winners will be the apps that genuinely add value in the following ways:

  • Your app is good and solves a need, whether this is a game or a solves a challenge or problem.
  • Your app marketing materials are a reflection of what you really are
  • Your app keeps your users engaged over time and your app is used
  • You app gets promoted by their users

Stay updated on the app stores announcements and new search features, continue to use these best practices and focus your energy on creating create products and I promise, you will be absolutely fine!

If you need an expert opinion or simply want to put your idea into an actionable framework, feel free to contact our experienced engineers, designers, marketers and mobile business strategists at Mobile Jazz. We’ve launched more than 50 successful applications, many of the them with 10M+ downloads, some of them even above the 100M mark holding top positions in the App Store and Google Play Store. To learn more about our work, check out our full range of services on our Mobile Jazz website.

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