How to do App Store Optimization in 3 Easy Steps

Many app store optimization experts claim they have own, unique methods of optimizing app store metadata. In general, all their methods follow a similar pattern. Below is a brief 3-steps summary...

What is App Store Optimization?

App Store Optimization (ASO) is the process of optimizing mobile apps to rank higher in an app store's search results. It also improves an app’s overall and category rankings by boosting app downloads and conversion rates. Because of its similarity with Search Engine Optimization (SEO), ASO is also referred as Mobile App SEO or App Store SEO.

Why App Store Optimization is so important?

If you have deep pockets, you can ignore ASO and buy your way up to the top app ranking chart instead. In that case, here is the deal for you: The cost-per-install of an advertising campaign can easily cost you US$1 to US$5.  And you need at least 40k installs per day to get to the top 25. Now, you can do the maths. And this is how I feel...

app store optimization free

But you may still be wondering: "I know advertising is expensive, but how much can optimizing app store search ranking really help?"

Here is the thing: Apple states that over 65% of app downloads come directly from searches on the App Store. It means app store search is the single most important way for users to download your app. It is even more important than being featured on a top chart, or on Apple’s featured screen.

mobile app download by search

But how about Google Play?

“For the average app,” said Ankit Jain, the Head of Search & Discovery at Google Play, “search actually makes up the vast majority of installs.”

Fiksu has stated that search represents 80% of high-quality organic downloads on Google Play store.

app store optimization google play search

In other words, app store search is the key to app marketing in both Apple's App Store and Google Play.

Now that you know the importance of app store search, the question is: how can you improve your app's search ranking using app store optimization?

There are tons of app marketing guides out there about App Store Optimization. To beginners, it is just too confusing to decide which ones to follow. To help you understand the app store optimization process in a manageable way, here are the 3 easy steps that you should remember...

How to do App Store Optimization?

Step 1: Find the right keywords

To improve your app's search ranking, the quality of your app’s keywords is a huge deciding factor. This is why your app store optimization effort should start from your keywords.

a) Getting Keyword Ideas

To begin with, try and come up with at least 50 keywords. Here are some great tools that help you with the keyword ideas. All you need to do is to provide a keyword. These tools will then give you many keyword ideas to consider. And they are all free!

apple search ads keywords

You can also use Google Trends to check how popular a keyword is in different countries. This is very useful if you want to launch your app in specific countries.

Remember that your keywords must be relevant to your app. Don't be tempted to use a keyword just because it is popular, but not relevant to your app. You want your app to be found by users who will really download and enjoy your app.

Pro Tips: More Keyword Ideas Need even more keyword ideas? Check out this article 7 Ways to Find New Keyword Ideas for more inspirations. Use Time-sensitive Keywords Let's illustrate the idea by an example: using "Rio" and its related keywords during the Olympics 2016 would greatly help the exposure of your sports apps. Your app would also have a better chance to get into the app store's feature lists too.

app store optimization keyword ranking strategy b) Refining Your Keywords With your initial set of keywords, you have to pick a strategy on how to filter for the right keywords. There are some keyword research tools that help you with this filtering process. They provide the difficulties (or chances) and traffic of your keywords. In any case, choose about 25 keywords carefully for the next release of your app.

Pro Tips: Keyword Filtering Strategy For a new app, choose keywords with low difficulty and reasonable traffic. They help your app gain the initial momentum. After gaining the initial momentum, start using keywords with higher traffic and reasonable difficulty. They help your app stack up more downloads. Work your way up gradually as your app gets more popular. Use Long-tail Keywords Use longer keyword phrases (aka long-tail keywords) to outrank the competition. For example, it is hard to outrank Zynga Poker by the competitive keyword “Poker” (high difficulty). But you have a better chance to outrank it by the keyword phrase “Poker Casino”. It is because “Poker Casino” is less competitive (lower difficulty).

App Store Optimization guide

Step 2: Put the keywords in the right places

Now that you have chosen the keywords, you are ready for the step 2 of app store optimization: putting the keywords in the right places.

There are a couple of metadata where you must fill in the text with your keywords.

a) App Name

Name your app in a creative and searchable fashion. Not only it is the first piece of the clue telling your potential users what your app is, but it also gets your app in the search results.

According to research by MobileDevHQ (now renamed Tune), using keywords in your title can result in up to a 10.3% increase in rankings.

app store optimization keywords title

Image courtesy of MobileDevHQ via John Rampton on Forbes

Both Google and Apple’s search algorithms scan the app name for keywords when a user performs a keyword search in the app markets. It is a good idea to include a few keywords in your app name. It is because both platforms give quite high priorities to apps with app names that contain the search input.

But don’t stuff every keyword into your title or your app will look spammy. You need to find a good balance between keywords and branding.

Also, Apple limits the app name to a maximum of 50 characters since September 2016. So you have to make good use of every character in your app name.

Pro Tip: App Name Format Keep the actual brand name short and sweet. You can then append this short brand name with a few keywords, typically preceded by a dash or a semicolon.

Here are some real examples:

Google Maps — Real-time navigation, traffic, transit, and nearby places

Amazon App: shop, browse, scan, compare, and read reviews

eBay: Buy & Sell Electronics, Fashion and More

Pandora — Free Music & Radio

The Weather Channel — Temperature, Local Weather Alerts, Warnings & Radar

It’s also important to use only URL-friendly characters in your title, particularly in the App Store. It is because Apple uses the app name to create your app URL. Also, avoid any special characters in your app name, like the trademark or copyright symbol. They will cause iTunes to refer to your app’s numeric ID to scan for relevant keywords instead of your app name.

b) App description (for Google Play Store)

Android developers need to be careful with the app description in Google Play Store. It is because Google pulls keywords from your description to be your app’s keywords. Incorporate your keywords in the description in natural and sensible sentences. Note that keywords in the above-the-fold section (the first few lines) carries more weight than the rest of the description copy in Google’s ranking algorithm, so remember to put your main keywords in this section. Also, Play Store allows rich formatting and emoji in your app description. Make good use of these features, spacing, and bulleted lists to make your description stand out and easy-to-read.

c) App description (for Apple App Store)

Apple App Store does not search for keywords in the app description, but that does not mean iOS developers can be lazy with it. Mention the unique features in the first three lines, so that visitors can catch them even from the description preview. If possible, list out all the social proofs, awards, and honorable mentions your app has received. Also, try to keep the complete feature list there for new visitors all the time, and don’t forget to include your app’s social media links.

Pro Tip: Short Description Text According to StoreMaven, only an average of 5% users will click the "read more" button below the short description on Google Play. This number is further down to only 2% on Apple's App Store. So make the short description text count! An effective way to improve your short description is to include a call-to-action text. It encourages visitors to install your app.

d) Keyword field (for Apple App Store)

This metadata decides how your app gets discovered. Fill in the keyword metadata with your selected keywords. Follow the rules below and make every character counts!

  • Use all 100 characters
  • Separate every keyword by a comma and avoid space
  • Use singular OR plural, the easier one to rank for
  • Don’t repeat keyword
  • Use numbers instead of spelled out words
  • No need to include the words in your company name, app name and app category names.

Pro Tip: How To 5X Your iOS App Store Keywords Do you want more keyword space for your iOS app? You can get up to 500 characters for your iOS app store keywords using this hack. That is five times more!

ASO service - App Conversion Rate

Step 3: Convert visitors to users

After keyword optimization, optimizing the app detail page is another core step of app store optimization. The ultimate goal of app store optimization is to increase the app installs. To this end, the app detail page has to be persuasive enough to convert the app detail page visitors to app users. There are a few things related to the app detail page that developers have to look out for:

a) App Icon

A better icon can increase your downloads up to 560%!

To design a good icon, keep your design simple and eye-catchy. Do not cram the small space with many items or words. You want people to remember the icon after the first impression. Also, make sure your icon will still look good when it is scaled down to the smallest size required by App Store / Google Play.

To get more design inspirations, browse the top-rated apps in your category and Apple/Google’s top picks. Also, make sure your icon is different from your competitor’s to avoid brand confusion.

Pro Tip: Branded vs Functional Icon If your app is a functional app, use one object to describe your app. If your app has a brand, use the logo to make your brand and your future products recognizable.

ASO - Branded App Icon Uber
Branded App Icon

App Store Optimization service - App Icon  7 Minute Workout
Functional App Icon
7 Minute Workout

b) Screenshots

According to StoreMaven, 60% of users won’t swipe past your first two screenshot images. A better version of your first two screenshots can increase your conversions by 25%!

To make better screenshots, make sure each screenshot is telling a single message about your app. Show your strongest messages in the first two screenshots. Add text on a clean background into your screenshots and create a positive impression in the viewers’ mind.

Pro Tip: Vertical Screenshots Keep the screenshots vertical. The users can see more screenshots on the narrow screens when the screenshots are vertical.

ASO - Cookie Jam Match 3 App Screenshot

Screenshot from Cookie Jam

c) Preview Video

Making a video may be difficult but it can increase install rates by more than 23% according to StoreMaven. Don't forget to use a good poster frame (iOS) / feature graphic (Google Play).  This graphic has a big impact to whether your visitors would watch your video.

Pro Tip: App Marketing Video Here are some of the essential elements of an effective app marketing video. They are recommended by Apptamin, a company well-known for its app videos and trailers:
  • Use the first 5 seconds to grab the viewer’s attention
  • Focus on the best features, instead of all features
  • Your video should make sense even with the sound turned off
  • Include a call-to-action

d) Ratings & Reviews

Ratings and reviews have a great impact on your app downloads. Check out this infographic:

app rating infographic

But how can you get more 5-star ratings for your app?

Delay asking for a rating until there’s a likely moment of constructive feedback. For instance, ask when the user completed a reservation, finished a mission in a game, etc. When the time comes, ask nicely, and don’t beg.

What does that mean? Circa News app is a perfect example. It got 90% 5-star ratings for every major version. Here is a flowchart of how it asks users if they would like to provide feedback:

App Store Optimization Service - Cicra News feedback flowchart

Image courtesy of Circa News

The key is to encourage satisfied users to leave positive reviews and deflect negative reviews by using a “send feedback” option.

To do this, you can either develop your own version of rating and feedback flow or simply use the tools like Apptentive's Ratings Prompts.

Pro Tip: The Right Paths To A Review Direct only positive reviews to App Store, and negative reviews to support.

Plus, remember to reply the app reviews and feedback! Only the ones who care about your app will spend the time to leave a comment. Show them you care about them as well! This is a great way to let the visitors know that the developer is active too.

On Google Play Developer Console, there is a "Reply to a review" option for you to do just that. But this option is not available on Apple's iTunes Connect.

Luckily, Redditor amirrajan shared some awesome tips about how to sweep bad reviews under the rug. He also tells you how to give a positive first impression about your app by making good use of the five-star reviews.

e) Update Frequency

Statistics show that there is a high correlation between high ratings and app update frequency. In fact, Releasing regular updates has many benefits. It improves user loyalty and keeps an app top of mind because your app will show up in the updates list in the app stores. Apple and Google also like to see app updates because they show you're committed to the app and that it's still being maintained.

How often should you update your app?  Check out this chart first:

app version update frequency chart

For these 25 top iOS apps, the average was about 30 days between updates. I'd recommend at least an update a month, and up to once a week.

Of course, you shouldn’t do an update just for the sake of doing an update. Your updates should always improve your app in some ways, either by bug fixings or enhancements.

f) App Localization

App localization gives you a larger audience to download your mobile app. But localizing the whole app to many languages can be a daunting task.

Before doing a full localization of your whole app, consider localizing your app listing first. It means translating your app name, keywords, screenshots, etc.

David Janner of MAKE APP Magazine conducted a localization experiment. In his experiment, he only localized the app name, the keywords, and sometimes the top line in the app description. After this simple localization, his app received a massive 767% increase in downloads. Before localization, the downloads were mainly from within the US. After localization, his downloads looked like this:

ASO App Store Optimization Keyword Localization Keyword Translation Image courtesy of MAKE APP Magazine

According to OneSky, only 31% of the world’s total app revenue came from the U.S., while 41% came from Asia, and 23% came from Europe. In particular, China has already surpassed the U.S. by both iOS app download and revenue. If your app only has an English version for the U.S. market, you are leaving a lot of money on the table.

Pro Tip: App Localization Localize your app listing first to see how well your app performs in different countries. You can then decide if you should perform full localization of the whole app for the best performing countries.

g) Conversion Rates

Track the number of impressions of your app preview, the number of app page visitors, and app installs. Identify the step where the most people leave. For example, are there more than 90% users who didn't make it to the app page after seeing the app preview? Are there more than 50% users who didn't install your app after seeing the app page? Once you have identified the step where people leave, make appropriate changes and see if there are any conversion improvements.

Pro Tip: Conversion Rates Find out how to improve your conversion rates in this post The One Secret To Effective App Store Optimization.

Putting it all together

Here is a cool infographic produced by Y Media Labs. It sums up the most important points about app store optimization.

App store optimization strategies increase visibility

Also, if you wonder what are the differences between Apple's App Store and Google Play on app store optimization, here is a great summary: app store optimization apple vs google

After you have published the changes, keep an eye on the keyword rankings. The rankings change right after you published the new version. Target to make your app rank within top 10 of all keywords. If your new keywords are too hard to rank, you might have to replace them with your old keywords. Repeat the three steps every three weeks or four because that is when big trends of keywords change. Don’t give up if the results of first few optimizations are not turning out well. App marketing takes time and app store optimization needs many observations to master.

Good luck in your journey!

Here’s what to do next…

If you find these steps useful, go Get the FREE App Store Optimization Report of Your App here. In less than 30 seconds, we will apply our ASO know-hows on your app, and tell you how to increase your app downloads without spending a penny.

app seo increase app downloads what  


This post originally appeared on Meatti 

Marcus Kay

Marcus Kay

Marcus is the founder of Meatti - a platform that helps mobile app developers increase app downloads and revenue using data science. Find him on TwitterLinkedIn and his blog.

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