Your application can be installed due to numerous app marketing strategies, including:
- App install ads running on social media and other online platforms
- Influencer marketing
- In-app advertising
- App deep links on search engines
- Social shares by existing users
Apart from all this, 40% of users directly head to app stores to browse for apps – making discoverability on app stores a critical aspect that adds to a mobile app’s success.
And being “discoverable” on app store search results is made possible with app store optimization (ASO). In simpler terms, ASO does good to mobile apps the same way SEO helps websites – but it’s more than that.
In this ultimate app store optimization guide, we’ll discuss every critical aspect of ASO, how it’s different for the top app stores, how to perform it, and some secret tips you can readily use.
What Is App Store Optimization?
App store optimization, famously known by its acronym ASO, is the process of improving an app’s visibility on the app stores. It is also known by a few other names, including app store SEO and app store marketing.
ASO is performed by adopting specific strategies that will help in optimizing an app (more precisely, an application’s app store product page) to rank higher in search results. The higher an app ranks in an app store’s search results, the more likely a user will click on it.
Another way users discover applications on app stores is via Explore. It’s the various sections (Top charts, Featured, and Related) you see when you open the app store. ASO plays a critical role here as well for visibility.
In short, ASO maximizes your app’s visibility in Search and Explore.
ASO is a top priority app user acquisition strategy. And just like search engine optimization (SEO), to succeed with ASO, you need to be aware of the keywords your potential customers might use.
Along with ranking higher in app store search results, ASO also focuses on improving the click-through rate (CTR) – meaning along with enhancing your app’s discoverability, ASO aids in clicking and installing it.
Also, if more people download your app, its visibility will naturally increase as the algorithms that list apps on search results will label your app to be useful and relevant.
Since Android and iOS are the dominant mobile operating systems in the world, we’ll be discussing how to do app store optimization for App Store and Google Play.
As you might have guessed, Google app store optimization has notable differences (and similarities) when compared to that of Apple’s App Store. Before going any deeper into the execution part of ASO, let’s look at how it is different from SEO.
ASO vs SEO
As previously mentioned, ASO is often referred to as the SEO of app stores. The primary goal of both the process is the same – acquire organic traffic. In terms of ASO, marketers aspire to gain traffic to the app store product page, whereas in SEO, it’s website traffic.
Both ASO and SEO have a lot in common – backlinking, keyword optimization, and conversion optimization, to name a few.
Now, let’s look at how the two processes are different.
|For app stores (Apple App Store, Google Play Store, etc.)||For search engines (Google, Bing, Yahoo, etc.)|
|Search queries are related to specific features of an app.||Search queries can be related to anything that ever existed in the universe.|
|ASO ranking factors include, ||SEO ranking factors include, |
|It takes nearly 5-6 weeks to see any results.||It takes nearly 5-6 months to see any results.|
|Increase in organic downloads is the end goal.||Increase in traffic, sign-ups, and purchases are some of the end goals.|
Difference between ASO and SEO.
Why Is ASO Important?
Together, there are nearly 5 million apps available in the Google Play Store and Apple App Store. Unless your app has gone viral, the competition to stand out will be intense. Adopting proper app store optimization strategies is one of the best ways you can solve this problem.
If you are still sceptical about the importance of ASO, here’s an example.
Suppose Ethan – a typical smartphone user – wants to install an app that lets him quickly store notes. He would probably search “notes app” in the app store (Play Store in this example).
If you’ve developed such an application, you can perform ASO to rank for that keyword and increase the chances of Ethan installing your app.
The concept is pretty simple here. The higher your app ranks, the more likely an individual will discover and install it.
Although word-of-mouth is still the top method by which users get to know about new apps, 48% of app discovery is associated with browsing app stores. Here’s a graph that shows the top methods of app discovery.
Top ASO Benefits
1. It Improves Visibility
If your app isn’t discoverable or searchable, users can’t find it and won’t be able to download it. No matter how excellent your app is, all your efforts as a mobile app developer will go down the drain if users fail to find it. ASO is the best way to ensure that your app doesn’t go unnoticed.
2. It Increases App Downloads Without Harming the Retention Rate
Unlike other app marketing strategies, ASO brings the right users who are more likely to retain for a longer period of time. That’s because certain users might install your app out of curiosity after viewing app install ads on online platforms.
But in the case of ASO, users discover your app on Search or by browsing their favourite section in Explore. This will allow you to attract relevant users with higher customer lifetime value (CLV).
3. It Reduces User Acquisition Costs
ASO is an organic way of acquiring more downloads and ultimately, users. Unlike app installs ads or in-app advertisements, the effects of ASO don’t end once you stop performing it.
Although you have to continually monitor and update your ASO strategies, you don’t have to regularly invest resources (for example buying ad spaces) in it.
App Store vs Google Play ASO
In principle, the ASO for both the App Store and Play Store are almost the same. The difference comes in the execution part and in the factors that affect the ranking. Also, iOS app store optimization is performed within App Store Connect, whereas in the Play Store, it’s Google Play Console.
Here’s a table that shows the factors that influence app store ranking in Google Play and App Store.
|Google Play Store Ranking Factors||Apple App Store Ranking Factors|
| || |
The App Store Optimization Process
Although Apple App Store and Google Play Store have different ranking factors and algorithms, there are many standard processes for both. Before looking into that, you need to be aware of the nature of the ranking factors.
The app store ranking factors can be divided into two – on-metadata factors and off-metadata factors.
On-metadata factors are those components of the app store product page that can be modified to improve rankings, increase visibility, and downloads. These components are entirely under the control of the app developers.
Examples of on-metadata factors are app name/title, description, icon, screenshots, developer name, and keywords field.
Just like off-page SEO, off-metadata factors are those external components that affect the ranking and visibility of an app and aren’t under the control of the app developers.
Examples of off-metadata factors are reviews and ratings, user engagement, number of installs, and download velocity (discussed later).
As you probably have guessed, both on-metadata and off-metadata factors are essential for ASO.
Now let’s take a look at the app store optimization processes that are similar for both the App Store and Google Play.
1. Keyword Research and Optimization
In short, the app store keyword optimization process can be described as four critical actions as follows.
- Research – List all possible keywords and their combinations related to your app.
- Prioritize – Analyse and prioritize the keywords based on their relevance, search volume, and competition.
- Target – Optimize the app store product page by targeting specific keywords.
- Measure – Track, A/B test, and find room for improvement.
Let’s look at these in detail.
The first step of keyword research must be to brainstorm all possible keywords related to your mobile app. You can look at the app category, features, problems it solves, similar apps, and user reviews to create a vast list of keywords.
You also need to be completely aware of your app’s target audience to know the keywords they are more likely to use and the regions for which you have to perform localization. If you’d like to learn more about it, we recommend you to check out our guide on finding the perfect target audience for mobile apps.
Check Out Your Competitors’ Keywords
The best way to find the right keywords for your app is by directly looking at what your competitors use. The majority of ASO tools let you find competitors’ keywords with ease. If you can’t afford one right now, you can perform this manually.
Make a list of your competitors and check out their app store product pages. Check how they use the target keywords on the app title, description, and the frequency of each keyword.
Check Out Autocomplete and Suggestions From the App Stores
Type in your app’s critical features on the app stores and see what the autocomplete and suggestions are.
For example, if your app contains a feature that lets users convert JPG to PDF, then try searching for something similar to “JPG to PDF converter” on the app store and list the autocomplete and suggestions.
By now, you will have a gigantic list of keywords. But all are not worth targeting, and so, you need to sort them based on search volume, traffic and difficulty to rank.
If you’re just starting out with ASO, then it’s always recommended to go for mid and long-tail keywords. As 70% of all search queries are long-tail keywords, their conversion rates are usually higher as users end up finding exactly what they were looking for.
2. Optimize for Visibility and Conversion
ASO is all about optimizing the app store product page for better visibility and conversion rate. We’ll discuss the optimization part in detail for the two dominant app stores in the next section.
Before that, you need to be aware of another term – conversion rate optimization (CRO). It is the strategies adopted to improve the conversion rate – which is an important ranking factor.
The goal here is to A/B test listing elements such as images, screenshots, and videos in order to convince the user to install the application once they are on the product page.
3. Track and Monitor
App stores are continually evolving with new features and updates, and so, you must regularly track and monitor your efforts to make the best out of ASO.
Along with A/B testing elements such as screenshots and videos, you need to experiment with keywords by replacing the ones that fail to bring any traffic.
Localization is a crucial part of app store optimization that lets you customize your app store product page for other languages. You can perform localization in both the App Store and Play Store.
Localization will help you rank higher in countries where users search using a different language. Localization can boost app downloads by a whopping 300%. In the App Store, you can perform localization for 40 languages, whereas in the Play Store you can do it for 77 languages.
For both the app stores, you must localize the following listing elements:
- App preview
How to Perform Android App Store Optimization
1. App Title
The title is one of the most critical on-metadata factors that have a profound impact on both the application’s search ranking and conversion rate. You can include up to 50 characters in the Title. You can also try including some of the most powerful keywords along with the title.
You can even try including emojis to grab the users’ attention. Your title must be easy to spell, short and memorable. Here are a few ways you can optimize your title.
- App name – keyword(s)
- App name: keyword(s)
- Keyword(s) – App name
- Keyword(s): App name
2. App Icon
The app icon is the initial visual element the user sees. It is an on-metadata factor that affects the CTR and conversion rate. The app icon must be distinctive and must immediately communicate what the app does.
Google Play’s requirements for an app icon are as follows.
- Dimensions: 512px by 512px
- 32-bit PNG (with alpha)
- Maximum file size: 1024KB
Here are some easy tips you can follow to create an app icon design that will turn heads and win hearts.
- Check out how your competitors have created their icons and make an improved version.
- Always A/B test to find the design that brings more traffic.
- Keep up with the recent mobile app design trends.
- Refrain from including text in the icon.
- Ensure the icon reflects the core features of your app.
- Try adding a border to grab more attention.
The URL can also be an important ranking factor for search and so, try including keywords in it. Unlike other elements, you can’t edit the URL once you publish the app.
4. Short Description
Short descriptions in Google Play Store affect both ranking and conversion rate. You can insert up to 80 characters in this field. The short description must be concise and must consist of some of the keywords you wish to rank for.
You can use an emoji or two to grab the users’ attention. The short description must clearly depict the key highlights of the app and tempt users to tap and expand to see the long description.
5. Long Description
The long description is where you can experiment the most to rank in the app store search results and to improve the conversion rate. You can include up to 4,000 characters in this field, and it is known that Google’s search engine crawls it.
The first and last five lines are the most important and try including keywords as much as possible. But, just like in SEO, never go overboard with it. Keyword stuffing will be penalized by Google and will reduce the conversion rate due to poor readability.
The description must be well-structured and must contain all the information a user will ever need about the app. You can use bullet points to improve the readability and emojis to make it engaging.
It must be actionable and must tempt the reader to install your application. The key is to use the description as a tool to add more value to the user journey and don’t forget to include a powerful call-to-action (CTA).
Videos are excellent means to give users a glimpse of what your app offers. You can upload one in YouTube and paste its link in the Promo Video field of the Google Play listing, and the video preview thumbnail will become a feature graphic. Interestingly, views from the Play Store are counted as YouTube views.
Screenshots can directly affect the conversion rate. By looking at the screenshots, users will judge your app UI design and UX and will decide whether your app is worth their time. To make the first best impression, make sure you showcase your app’s best features in the first two screenshots.
In Google Play, you can upload up to 8 screenshots with two being the minimum. Here are its requirements.
- JPEG or 24-bit PNG (no alpha)
- Minimum dimension: 320px
- Maximum dimension: 3840px
8. Developer Name
The developer name is a critical on-metadata factor. You can try including keywords in your developer name for better ranking. Also, Google keeps track of developer history – meaning, developers who have previously published successful apps tend to rank higher.
How to Perform Apple App Store Optimization
Unlike in the Google Play Store, not all text fields are indexed by the search engine in the App Store. More precisely, only five text fields impact your app’s ranking:
- App name
- Keywords field
- Developer name
- In-app purchases
Unlike Google Play, the App Store search engines don’t crawl the description, and so, it is more for the user than the algorithms. Instead, the App Store lets developers include the desired keywords on a dedicated 100-character keywords field.
Also, app store reviews and ratings are extremely important for both app stores. Users will read them before installing your app, and the app stores always appreciate positive feedback from users.
Now let’s look at how to optimize the ranking factors in the Apple App Store. Do note that the majority of best practices listed for optimizing the listing elements of Play Store can be applied for their App Store counterparts.
1. App Name
App name is a critical ranking factor and is responsible for both search rankings and conversion rate. You can include up to 30 characters (20 characters less than in Google Play). Keywords included in the app name tend to perform twice as better as those included in the keywords field.
The subtitle is located right below the app name and is used to highlight the key features of the app. It’s a 30-character field, and including keywords can affect the rankings. It has a profound effect on both the CTR and conversion rate.
The icon is an on-metadata factor that directly affects the CTR and conversion rate. The App Store demands developers to supply icons of varying sizes to be displayed on the Home Screen, Spotlight, Settings, and Notifications.
Here are some tips to create the perfect app icon.
- The icon must clearly depict what your app is about.
- Avoid using text.
- Use simple shapes and elegant colours. The last thing you want to do is confuse the user with complexity.
- Even if you’re revamping your app icon design, leave bread crumbs for returning users to recognise your app – meaning, the app icon must not have a 180-degree change in design – unless it becomes ubiquitous like the Instagram icon.
- Test the icon design against multiple backgrounds to see if it’s clearly visible.
- Remain consistent with the design even with varying sizes.
Here are the App Store icon sizes.
- iPhone: 180px × 180px (60pt × 60pt @3x) / 120px × 120px (60pt × 60pt @2x)
- App Store: 1024px × 1024px (1024pt × 1024pt @1x)
- iPad Pro: 167px × 167px (83.5pt × 83.5pt @2x)
- iPad, iPad mini: 152px × 152px (76pt × 76pt @2x)
Just like in Google Play, you can include up to 4,000 characters in the description field. It’s essential for conversion – especially the first three lines – as users have to tap to read more. As previously mentioned, the description doesn’t have any effect on keyword rankings.
Since the description is critical for conversion, here are some quick tips you can follow.
- Be clear and concise and convey the core features of the app in the first few sentences itself.
- Mention the awards you bagged, if any.
- Localize your description with the help of professionals and not online tools.
- Use bullet points for enhancing the readability.
- Refrain from mentioning the prices as it might differ based on the region.
5. Promotional Text
The promotional text doesn’t affect the ASO keyword rankings, but can undoubtedly improve the conversion rate. It’s a 170-character field that can be used to include promotions, upcoming features, and special offers.
6. In-App Purchases (IAP)
IAP can appear in the App Store search results page and can also be featured on the Today, Games or Apps tabs. You can include up to 20 elements – each one having its own name, description, and icon.
7. Previews (Video)
Previews are useful for engagement and are located before the first screenshot. You can add up to three video previews, and they can be up to 30 seconds long. You can use previews to showcase the best features of your app and give users more reasons to install your app.
Here are some best practices you can adopt to create app previews that matter.
- Showcase 3-4 of your best features.
- Since users check previews to know what to expect from your app, try including real footage without graphically enhancing it.
- Make the first few seconds of the video as compelling and engaging as possible.
- Since the videos will be muted by default, try including witty copy and explanation of features.
- Localize the app preview content for better conversion rate.
- Put more effort into the first video as only the users who updated to iOS14 can see the rest two.
To know more about how to create videos for app previews, check out this article from Apple’s Developer Support.
Screenshots are on-metadata factors that can directly impact the CTR and conversion rate. You can include up to 10 screenshots, and they are displayed right after the preview. Screenshots are also visible in the search results and so, try making them as attractive as possible.
If your target audience is spread across multiple countries, you must consider localizing your screenshots as well. Again, don’t blindly translate the words. Instead, with the help of a professional, create copy that will resonate with the potential users.
Also, apart from the language, don’t forget to change other content types such as symbols, maps, and currencies based on the country.
Here are the App Store screenshots requirements:
- 72 dpi, RGB, flattened, no transparency
- High-quality JPEG or PNG image file format
Since there are a number of iOS devices with varying dimensions, you need to submit screenshot images for each device type. Checkout App Store’s screenshot specification to know more.
Here are some tips you can follow to create convincing screenshots.
- If you have any awards, try including information about them.
- Make use of all the screenshot slots to create an interesting narrative.
- Use original screenshots without any external manipulation.
- Display the app’s best features in the first two screenshots.
9. Developer Name
The developer name is located below the description, and users need to scroll to see it. Therefore, it doesn’t have any direct effect on CTR or conversion rate. Developer names can appear in search results, and developers with a positive history tend to rank higher.
App Store Optimization Tips
1. Choose the Right App Title
Your app’s title serves two purposes. It helps with brand recognition and also with ranking higher. App titles with keywords experienced a 10.3% increase in ranking as opposed to titles without keywords.
But you shouldn’t change your title often to accommodate the trends in searches. If you do so, individuals who were referred by existing users will have a hard time finding your app. You also don’t want to stuff keywords as it’s a sin just as in SEO.
2. Design a Memorable Icon
Just like the name, app icons form a strong and lasting impression. With numerous options to choose from, the app icon can be one of the prominent reasons why users may feel tempted to click and check out your app.
And as you probably have guessed, the guidelines regarding app icon design are different for Play Store and App Store. Check out Google Play icon design specifications and App Icon guidelines of App Store to know more about creating the perfect app icon.
3. Be Aware of Your Customers and Competitors
To win the app store optimization game, you need to be aware of
- The keywords your potential users naturally use.
- The keywords the competitors target and the strategies they use.
- The top features of your app the customers are most likely to search for.
- The reasons why users download your app (and add more reasons).
In short, to successfully perform ASO, you need to put yourself in your user’s shoes and continually check out how your competitors are doing the same.
4. Try Improving App Conversion Rate
App conversion rate significantly affects the app store ranking. That’s because users convert (make an in-app purchase or sign up for a subscription) only when they enjoy using the app – notifying the respective app stores that your app is safe to be recommended further.
App stores need to showcase the best apps first. If they accidentally place apps with poor user experience, users might churn and go for alternative app stores like Amazon App Store or Cydia AppStore.
To enhance your app’s conversion rate, offer discounts and deals, the users will find too hard to resist.
Another way you can increase your app’s conversion rate is by making the most out of app store reviews. Even if a user discovers your app via Search or Explore, they’re highly likely to check out your reviews and ratings before installing.
To make sure you don’t get much (or any) negative reviews, try including a feedback section in the app. Otherwise, users might end up posting reviews regarding performance issues (which might have a negative tone) to get your attention.
5. Download Velocity Is Critical for ASO
Download velocity is the number of installs your application gets within a specific time. The higher the download velocity is, the higher your mobile app will rank in the app store. This means, along with ASO, you must invest in other mobile marketing strategies to boost installs to ultimately improve app store ranking.
6. Craft a Compelling Description
The app descriptions must not be entirely aimed at satisfying the search engine algorithms. Instead, they must hold more information about the application, how it can help a user, what are its unique features and more.
The key is to give users enough reasons to install your app. You can creatively format the description and improve its scannability as well. Just like your app, its description must be frequently updated.
Any changes you make on your app must be reflected in the description as well. Also, don’t forget to quickly communicate the value of your app via the description. With many alternatives to consider, users are the least patient.
7. Frequently Release Updates
Apps that are frequently updated tend to rank higher in the app store search results. That’s because developers who often try to improve their app and reduce crash rates are the ones who are concerned about their customers’ satisfaction.
Apps with high crash rates, poor user experience, and infrequent updates will have lower rankings or may even be removed. With the ever-increasing number of mobile apps, sorting apps based on the crash rate and frequency of updates is one way the app stores can highlight the best and ignore the rest.
8. Keep Your App Under 100MB
Although the majority of smartphones have an enormous storage capacity and processing power and are coupled with a reliable internet connection, there will always be users using the exact opposite of this.
For them, mobile applications bigger than 100MB will be a nightmare. And even if they install your app, chances are high they will uninstall it – unless your app is as integral as the Whatsapp or Emailing apps.
9. Make It Bug-Free
This may seem like a no-brainer, but the app’s quality can be considered as an on-metadata factor that will undoubtedly affect the engagement and retention rate. If the user experience is intact and the app delivers what it promises, more users will recommend your app and leave positive reviews.
As an app store optimization best practice, try to test your mobile app as early and often as possible. If you’d like to know more about the testing strategies you can adopt and the tools you can use for automation, we recommend you to read our killer articles on mobile testing and mobile testing tools.
10. Think Local to Win Global
Your mobile app’s target audience, especially in the case of mobile game apps will be spread all around the world. It would be extremely naive if you stick to just your native language or English for ASO – hence localization.
However, localization doesn’t mean you can just translate your app’s title and description to a country’s native language. Instead, your app must consider the sentiments, likes and dislikes of the target audience. More than ASO, localization must happen within the app for better conversion rate.
11. Be Careful While Choosing the App Category
Categories help users discover apps that suit their interests and needs. Rightly choosing the category is incredibly important as it will affect your app’s discoverability. It will also decide whether your app ends in the Apps tab or Games tab.
Also, if you fail to choose the most relevant primary category for your app, your app can be rejected from the App Store. Check out Apple’s post on selecting the right category.
Top 5 ASO Mistakes to Avoid
1. Using the Same Formula for the App Store and Google Play
Although the concept of ASO is the same for both app stores, the algorithms that govern each app store is entirely different. What works for Google Play will rarely work for the App Store.
Apart from the differences in on-metadata factors, the keywords used will also be drastically different. Copying and pasting a common list of keywords won’t do the trick. Instead, the keyword research process must be individually performed for each app store.
2. Thinking Only About the Keywords
ASO isn’t just about keywords.
As you know, for ASO to work you need both traffic and conversion. Although keywords may help you gain traffic, they certainly won’t guarantee conversion. The visual assets play a crucial role in improving the conversion rate.
App icons, screenshots, and video together work to entice the user. They are the on-metadata factors that can directly affect the conversion rate.
Along with investing more time on crafting better visual assets, you need to A/B test them (including the app icon) to see what works the best with your target audience. It’s an ASO sin if you consider ASO as a one-time job or don’t A/B test.
3. Taking the Easy Route – Black Hat ASO
Black hat ASO refers to any illegal practice aimed at boosting the app store search rankings. Fake reviews and ratings and fake installs are some examples. Some developers even pay to place negative reviews on a competitor’s app store page.
Both app stores are strictly against such practices. Even though they don’t have a rigid system to identify the fake ones, occasionally, both app stores are known to flag developers following such malpractices. If you care about your app, follow the tougher route of experimentation.
4. Changing the On-Metadata Factors Often
Although A/B testing and experimenting with different visual assets and keywords is an excellent strategy, you don’t want to overdo it. Changes in on-metadata factors such as app title and description take a couple of weeks to show results. If you frequently change them, you’ll have a hard time knowing the full effect of different combinations.
5. Not Responding to (Negative) Reviews
Reviews, either negative or positive, are gold mines. The positive ones will give more confidence to a potential user and increase the conversion rate. The negative ones will give you more ideas on how you can improve your app.
Either way, try responding to each and every review. Consider the suggestions (if viable) and introduce those improvements in the next update. Doing so can dramatically improve loyalty, retention and engagement rate.
As you can see, app store optimization isn’t just about, including the right set of keywords. With app store rankings depending more on the user experience and performance of your app, you need to put more effort right from the start of the mobile app development process.
If you’re unable to keep up with deadlines, you can always hire freelance app developers or outsource your development requirements. You can also use application performance monitoring (APM) tools to fix issues before they affect the users.
The key is to offer an uninterrupted, quality experience to users, and that will positively impact your app store ranking. And, of course, ASO is a process that needs to be continually monitored and updated to reap the best results.