Beginners Guide to ASO

Introduction

Mobile has eclipsed desktop as the primary method of web search — with users spending over three hours a day on their smartphone phones. A majority of this time is spent within a user’s 5 or so favorite native apps. This creates increased value and competition for a brand to have a popular app.

Many companies mistakenly hold a ‘build it and they will come’ mentality with their app. In reality, even the best built apps will get lost in app-space if developers and ASOs don’t make sure ‘discoverable’.

The three core ways users discover new apps (beyond direct word of mouth) are App Store Search, general (Google) search, and or the company website. It’s important to to consider an apps discoverability across all three of these areas. Plus, the better optimized an app is, the more likely it will perform better with word of mouth recommendations.

Anatomy of an App Store Listing

Every element of your App Store product page has the power to drive downloads of your app. Before we jump into optimization recommendations, it’s important to understand where each of element appears within the app store listing.

Optimizable Elements

1) Icon: 

Creating a unified look and feel throughout a user interface adds value to your product starting with the app icon. Though not a direct rating factor, App icons are a vital component of brand awareness, as it’s often one of the first things users see in the App Store. Icons are shown in several places throughout the platform, at several sizes. Therefore, it’s important to ensure that your creation is:

  • Scalable.
  • Well-designed. Best practice is to use unique shapes, bright colors, simple imagery, and avoid text.
  • Aligned to in-app color palette (3 colors, 60-10-30 rule)

2) Title, Subtitle, Keywords: 

App titles and subtitles are the most valuable and direct ranking factors in the App Store. It can only be changed when submitting a new version of the app. Best practices include:

  • Title: Brand name and target keywords
  • Subtitle: Describe app’s unique value proposition.
  • < 30 characters

Unlike app titles and subtitles, iTunes app keywords aren’t seen by users. They are meant exclusively to support Apple’s algorithm / understanding of what to rank the app for. Best practices include:

  • < 100 characters, separated by commas and no spaces.
  • Don’t repeat terms that are already used in your app name or publisher name it’s a waste of space!
  • Perform keyword research to learn how users are searching for your type of service, and specific search volume of relevant terms to know to optimize all app elements.

Apps that follow these meta data best practices are known to rank 10.3% higher than those that don’t. It also increases the likelihood they show up for single snippets on mobile search.

3) Descriptions and Promotional Text:

App descriptions are an indirect ranking factor in ASO, being key players in driving downloads. They explain to users the app’s unique value proposition, features, and benefits. Best practices include:

  • Lead in with why you made this app, how this app will revolutionize your target demo’s life by downloading, and then talk about what features it has.
  • Followed by how, and ending with what (the app). It’s called the “golden circle”, made famous by Ted Talk speaker Simon Sinek
  • Use calls to action, and long-tail keywords, especially within the first five lines of text.
  • Bulleted or numbered lists of top features, and (tasteful use of) emojis to keep users engaged.
  • < 4,000 characters.

Promotional text is displayed in the same field as the description at the very top — though it doesn’t count toward the 4,000 character limit. Unlike the description, it can be updated at any time.

  • < 170 characters
  • Use it to call out new features, in-app promotions, or the app’s core feature.

Listen to his full Ted talk here: https://www.ted.com/talks/simon_sinek_how_great_leaders_inspire_action

4) Screenshots: 

App screenshots help you to generate a good first impression, allow you to unveil the most important features of your app immediately, and helps the user feel like they are making a better informed decision.

In early 2018, Apple quietly released an update to allow app developers to upload up to 10 screenshots (up from previous cap of 5).

  • Showcase your app’s best feature first, and only showcase one feature at a time. Use calls to actions in text banners above each screenshot.
  • If you want your app to break into other markets, you’re going to need to localize it.
  • Test, test, test!

5) Preview Videos: 

App preview videos are the brief videos that can accompany app store listings. There are many documented benefits of incorporating a trailer to your app listing, including:

  • Increase install rates by more than 25%
  • 54% of the top 50 free apps utilize video.
  • 48% of the top 50 paid apps utilize video. 84% of the top 50 grossing apps utilize video.

Best practices include:

  • Your Poster Frame (thumbnail) is the most important part of your video — use a strong visual, a snappy caption, and your best app unique selling proposition.
  • Keep in short (~15-30 seconds) — every 5 seconds 10% of your video watchers drop.
  • You can have up to three previews / language — target your top languages/countries
  • Only use captured footage of in-app usage.

6) Version Updates: 

App updates are a direct rankings factor in the app store. Best practice is to update 1-4 times a month — ironing out any known kinks or adding new features. Frequent updates help:

  • Build a stronger, more loyal fan base, by showing you care about routine maintenance.
  • Amplify top of mind awareness, by showing up in the ‘updates’ section of the app store.
  • Stay competitive, given that competitors are likely making iterations of their own apps as well.
  • Improve App Store Listings, with new “What’s New” section.

7) Ratings and Reviews: 

Ratings and reviews are direct ranking factors in ASO. They are also helpful for identifying user pain points or features they most admire. Not to mention, they act as UGC to persuade others to download as well! Common strategies for earning high quality reviews include:

  • Installing pop up plugins (with user incentives)
  • Improving in-app customer service functionalities.
  • Social media contests.
  • App review websites

8) Internationalization and Localization: 

Internationalization refers to the enablization of easy app localization for target audiences that vary in culture, region, or language. Localization refers to actual adaptation of a product, application or document content to meet the language, cultural and other requirements of a specific market. The two biggest benefits of localizing an app is that it opens doors for new customers, and improves user experience for native v. Second language speakers to choose their native language.

It is more than “just translating,” as even people who speak the same language have different expressions (e.g., Mexican Spanish v. Spain Spanish). For this reason, it’s important to take care in what professional/third party tool is used to translate and perform keyword research.Elements to optimize include:

  • App title and description
  • App trailer and screenshots
  • In-app content

9) Backlink Profile: 

Backlinks from highly authoritative domains are a direct app ranking factor, and a great way to boost the organic visibility in general (website landing page + app stores). The chart at right show how many backlinks and referring domains the website landing page, iTunes Store listing, and Android Store listing have currently.

10) Website Landing Page: 

A website landing page dedicated to promoting your app is an invaluable marketing element for several reasons:

  • Offers another platform on the internet for your app to earn backlinks and rank for keywords.
  • Offers a much more customizable platform for hyping the app up than app stores.
  • Acts as a valuable resource for app store referral traffic — mobile visitors can tap and download the app instantly!
  • Great for outreach efforts — versus ‘which app store link should I share with them?’

The best app landing pages are mobile friendly, meaning:

  • Responsive design (scalable for all device types)
  • Legible font sizes (Google recommends 16 px)
  • Fast pagespeeds
  • Appropriately size tap targets
  • Configured viewport
  • Not overly copy heavy in above the fold content.

11) Deep Link integration: 

Deep links are links which, when tapped, send users to an app instead of another web page. This allows users to move between the web and apps seamlessly. In other use cases, deep links can also send users to specific pages within an app, or an app store (if the app is not installed). Benefits of deep links include:

• Drive more app installs

• Simplify the on-boarding process

• Enhance UX

• Easier campaign tracking

Both Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android provide their own standards for how to implement deep linking. Apple calls their version ‘Universal Links’ and Google calls theirs ‘App Links’, but they are roughly the same thing.

12) Smart Banners: 

A mobile smart banner uses a fraction of the screen on a mobile website to inform and encourage users to open the native app, or install it if they don’t if they don’t have it. They are a useful way to generate more app installs — which is a direct ranking factor.

While Google Smart Banners are limited to only iOS Safari (by adding a short meta tag in the header), there are several third-party vendors that offer Universal Smart Banners that can be used across any mobile device or search engine.

13) App Packs: 

One in ten mobile searches in Google now include a suggested App Pack. Branded and non-branded searches alike, app packs in mobile search provide prime real estate to showcase your app!

An App Pack can include 2 to 6 applications that are relevant to the search keyword, and will only show apps that are compatible with your device. They link directly to the corresponding app store listing in the App Store.

Showing up in app packs is more an outcome of good optimization than a ranking factor themselves — though getting featured does drive install rates (which is a ranking factor).

Qualities of Apps that get featured:

  • Keywords in App Store URL string, title, and description
  • User ratings/reviews
  • Page listing authority and backlinks
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