March 12, 2014 Last Updated 9:31 am

Wednesday column: How to win at app store optimization

Each Wednesday, Talking New Media invites digital publishing leaders to discuss industry topics, or explain and demonstrate the latest solutions involving digital media. In this week’s column, Nick Kleanthous, Marketing Analyst and Webmaster at YUDU Media, talks about app store optimization

What ASO is: App Store Optimization (ASO) is the name given to methods, both proven and purported to help your app rank higher in various app store ecosystems. More broadly, it’s perhaps one of the most important pieces of the mobile marketing puzzle as a whole, as Forrester estimates that 63% of apps are first discovered through app store searches.

For the purposes of clarity we’ll be concentrating on how best to optimize for Apple’s App Store algorithms unless explicitly stated otherwise. Note however that aside from a few special features (+1’s being a key example), Google Play’s methods of weighting apps is very similar and that most of what is discussed is transferable between any app-based ecosystem (for example, visual design elements such as iconography).

What ASO isn’t: ASO is not a strategy to “trick” both users and app stores into ranking bad content highly. Your first area of concern should always be the quality of the content you are putting out to market. Beyond that, ASO is merely adding value on top of what should be an established foundation. Not building it outright. If you feel content is not up to scratch, be more rigorous with your QA of it until it is.

The 8 key factors:

Text and Metadata
Keywords
Firstly, bear in mind that “keywords” as a term applies to all text-based data and metadata you attach to your app (i.e. the title and description too), not just the keywords field in iTunes Connect.

As opposed to the now largely deprecated “keyword” attribute in HTML, App Store keywords still have significant relevance as far as app ranking works.

There are a wide variety of tools for the explicit purpose of analyzing what apps are ranking well for what keywords, find one that suits you and use it. You’re going to want to use these tools regularly to acquaint yourself with competitors in your space, and what keywords they are ranking well for as well. Make sure to examine not just global keywords, but keywords as they relate to regional app stores and particular categories and subcategories within it too.

seo_cw_productIdeally you’ll want to exploit avenues of opportunity such as relevant, trending search terms that aren’t necessary being widely employed as keywords. Always try to avoid common words and phrases, singular words are generally believed to work better.

Overwhelmingly the most important thing here is experimentation to see what works, don’t be disheartened by initially poor results.

Title
Apple weights the app title heavily. Indeed many ASO experts claim that they emphasize keywords in the title above the keywords section itself.

Given the extra weight afforded to the title, you’ll want any premier keywords you identify to appear in the title space rather than the keyword space. Remember not to replicate keywords across both the title and the keywords section and try to communicate the intent of the app in 30 characters or less, as this is the cut-off limit for visible characters on the Desktop iTunes store.

Description
Social-proofing is of key importance in the description. Are any achievements you can underscore? Do you rank particularly highly in any regional app stores, or across any particular categories? Any particularly glowing reviews you can single-line excerpt?

Marks of legitimacy, when properly emphasized, are extremely important. SignNow’s description on the app store is an excellent illustration.

As with any marketing material, prioritize brevity above lengthy exposition. The first paragraph your window for attempting to engage the user so this is where you’ll want to place your unique selling point. More detailed information should follow beneath this. These aforementioned points of interests (social proofs) should make use of bullet points underneath the introductory paragraph as a result. Short sentences are key here.

This space should also be used as a way of keeping potential users aware of recent updates, as with Facebook’s app. Be aware that linking to your website and other relevant channels at the bottom is generally considered best practice.

Facebook-description

Visual:

Icon
The icon is, literally, the first thing anyone encountering your app will see. It’s hard to understatement its importance, however much it may seem like a simple branding exercise.

Words shouldn’t be employed in the icon unless absolutely necessary. That’s what the title exists for. Maintaining consistency between the design of the app itself and the icon is of utmost importance. The user needs to have clarity about what the icon corresponds to on what may be a cluttered home screen.

MyTravelBag-iconOne of the best encapsulations of this design philosophy is My Travel Bag.

Screenshots
This is the most straightforward aspect of ASO. Screenshots should aim to clearly exhibit what it is that the app actually does. Remember to use crisp imagery from the best parts of your app to achieve this.

Other factors affecting ranking:

Total app downloads
Total app downloads have an impact not just in terms of the mathematical weight they lend to an app’s rank, but in terms of what they psychologically convey to a potential user. The higher the total number of downloads, the more urgency will be felt. It’s hard to really identify specific areas of ASO practice by which total downloads can be prioritized as it’s more a case of this metric being an aggregation of all ASO methods mentioned as well as the quality of your own content.

Reviews
Reviews are extremely important, not just in terms of the weight they add to your ranking but also from the point of view of your chances of converting prospective app store browsers, otherwise interested users may shy away from a poorly reviewed app. Naturally there’s a limit to what optimization can do to optimize actual review scores from real people, but there are workable approaches nonetheless.

For example, if you have the necessary development skills you may want to issue a review prompt after it has been opened five or more times, maximizing the potential of good reviews from regular users. Providing a feedback channel for bugs with a clear workflow for debugging on the development side also minimizes potentially impassioned one star reviews.

TimeOut-iPhone5-lgInstall/Uninstall metrics
One of the methods by which both the App Store and Google Play store rank apps is by assessing the install to uninstall ratio of apps within a given time period.
Try to minimize potentially reflexive uninstalls of this kind by not overselling the app in the description field (honesty is key), oversold users will invariably abandon something that doesn’t measure up to expectation.

Sensible use of push notifications can also be important here in that high-frequency “spamming” of the feature can engender uninstalls while on the flipside, a lack of perceived new content can do the same, so try to keep users regularly up to date on a weekly, bi-weekly or even monthly basis.

Conclusion:
ASO should ultimately be about helping interested parties discover your app more effectively. A good way of imagining it as a kind of middleware that sits between the ecosystem and associated metrics that Apple and Google provide and your target market.

Try to set out with a clear idea of who it is you want to convert into long-term users in mind and, as mentioned, don’t be afraid of experimentation. Moreover, try to analogously imagine ASO as a method of refinement to an existing foundation. To put it more simply, it should be the varnish and the polish, not the table itself.

As mentioned in the introduction, this very brief treatment of ASO was written with Apple’s App Store in mind. As a result there’s a good treatment of the major differences between the App Store and the Google Play Store in the external links section below.

External Links:
Sensor Tower’s differences between App Store and Google Play blog – – A rundown of some of the key points of distinction between the App Store and the Google Play store as far as ASO methods go.

MobileDevHQ: – One of the most widely used app analytic packages out there at the moment.

iTunes Connect: iTunes Connect is Apple’s tool for editing many relevant ASO fields like the App Description and tracking revenue made on the app.

Nick Kleanthous is
YUDU’s Marketing Analyst and Webmaster. A published writer on all things related to the state of the industry he has worked on a number of publishing and web design projects

  • […] Wednesday column: How to win at app store optimization For the purposes of clarity we'll be concentrating on how best to optimize for Apple's App Store algorithms unless explicitly stated otherwise. Note however that aside from a few special features (+1's being a key example), Google Play's methods of … Read more on Talking New Media […]

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