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Case Study: How to Grow a Mobile Game by 1478% in less than a month

Is App Store Optimization (ASO) really powerful enough to grow a mobile game's download count? Check out this case study to find out...

Marcus Kay, Blogger

July 29, 2016

7 Min Read

Let's dive right into it...

Happy Taiwanese Mahjong was a dying app that only had a few daily installs in the China's App Store. Our objective was to resurrect the app with App Store Optimization (ASO).

But is App Store Optimization really powerful enough to save a dying app like Happy Taiwanese Mahjong? Let’s find out…

To make it more challenging, there were a few more conditions:

  1. We could only optimize the Simplified Chinese version for China market. At that time, there were just a few daily downloads in China market because users there normally don’t like the Taiwanese Mahjong rules;

  2. We could only optimize the app title and keywords, but not the icons, screenshots, reviews, etc;

  3. and we could neither spend a cent on any other marketing campaigns nor could we change any app contents.

In less than a month, we were thrilled by the results.

Here’s how the journey began…


Before doing ASO, the monthly downloads in China was just 83, which means an average of less than 3 daily downloads.

After various analysis, we came up with a new set of keywords for the app. These new keywords were then added to App Annie ASO module for tracking purpose. Before the new app version release, these keywords were mostly “out” of the ranking. We also planned to add some keywords to the Chinese app title as 麻将 — 台湾欢乐麻将(单机麻将游戏).



The 1st round ASO was released on Oct 13:

Downloads in China

  • 1 week before 1st ASO: 18

  • 1 week after 1st ASO: 68

  • Growth: 378%

Downloads in China

  • 2 week before 1st ASO: 38

  • 2 week after 1st ASO: 142

  • Growth: 374%


Though the numbers are small, the growth rate is consistently over 370%.

Here were the app rankings of the new keywords sorted by highest ranking:


  • The new version was submitted on Oct 12 and approved on Oct 13. It just took one day this time. However, this should not be considered standard.

  • For iPhone, we only got in the top 10 of 3 keywords:

  1. 胡牌 rank: 2, difficulty: 1.7

  2. 台湾麻将 rank: 6, difficulty: 3.6

  3. 川麻 rank: 10, difficulty: 2.2

  • For iPad, we only got in the top 10 of the same 3 keywords:

  1. 胡牌 rank: 2, difficulty: 1.6

  2. 台湾麻将 rank: 5, difficulty: 3.3

  3. 川麻 rank: 9, difficulty: 1.7

Note: The difficulty is an index provided by the third party ASO tool Sensor Tower.


  • The difficulties of most keywords are too high for this app. That is why the app got in the top 10 of only 3 keywords.


  • Perform second round ASO to replace the non-performing keywords.

  • At this stage, the ideal difficulty should be (1.7 + 3.6 + 2.2 + 1.6 + 3.3 + 1.7)/6 = 2.35 or less



We researched another set of keywords. However, there were too few keywords with difficulty below 2.35 while having meaningful traffic. In the end, We selected the set of keywords with difficulty below about 3.5. We also further optimized the app title as 台湾麻将 — 欢乐麻将单机版游戏.

The 2nd round ASO was released on Nov 3:

Downloads in China

  • 1 week before 2nd ASO: 59

  • 1 week after 2nd ASO: 266

  • Growth: 451%


Though the numbers are small, the 1-week growth rate is over 450%.

Here were the app rankings of the new keywords sort by highest ranking:


  • This time, the new version was submitted on Nov 3 with a bunch of error because iTunes Connect has a major upgrade. The app was approved on Nov 10 (a week later). Nonetheless, the keyword rankings were already updated on Nov 3 in the first submission.

  • Out of the 15 keywords, the app got on the top 10 ranking of 9 keywords (60%), compared to only 3 keywords in the first round.

  • For the remaining 6 keywords, the app got on the top 30 ranking of 5 keywords.


  • The difficulties of the keywords in this round are already very low (below 3.5). Unless there are other marketing campaigns and promotion, the current keywords are optimal for the time being.


  • To review again after 2 more weeks



Let’s compare the 1-week download count before and after the whole ASO process.

Downloads in China

  • 1 week before 1nd ASO (Oct 6~12): 18

  • 1 week after 2nd ASO (Nov 3~9): 266

  • Growth: 1478% in less than a month!

The downloads had improved by 1478% in less than a month! This was achieved purely by ASO of title and keywords only. During this period, there were no other marketing campaigns or changes of the app content.

Surprised? It had exceeded my expectation too considering it was a dying app with just a few daily downloads!

In fact, we believe our the growth rate could have been even much higher if we had run marketing campaigns in concert with our ASO recipe.



Are you still doubting ASO? Check out these 15 ASO Case Studies. If you haven’t optimized your app yet, you really need to get started!

But be careful…

Some western developers, who practice ASO outside China, translate the title, keywords, and description directly into Chinese and hope it will work in the Chinese market. ASO DOES NOT work this way.

Let’s look at this example — Candy Crush Saga:

One of the keywords that Candy Crush Saga uses is “bejeweled”. This makes sense in its English version as Bejeweled is also a popular match-3 title in the English-speaking countries. However, the keyword 宝石迷阵 (i.e. “bejeweled” in Chinese) is not a popular term as that game is never popular in China. That’s why the keyword is not a common search-keyword.

We hope this case study can give you a better idea of the power of ASO, and the things you need to know about keyword optimization in China and other non-English speaking countries.

If you are interested in knowing more details, feel free to leave a comment below.


This post originally appeared on Meatti 

Marcus is the founder of Meatti. He helps mobile game developers and marketers enter China's mobile market. Find him on Twitter, LinkedIn and Medium.

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