A few notes on App Store Optimization

We’re asked a lot about the concept of App Store Optimization (ASO) here at YUDU, so I thought I’d give a brief overview of what ASO is, how it currently works and relates to existing search optimization methods, what the best methods are and what to avoid.

In an environment of hundreds of thousands and in the case of the App Store, soon to be millions of apps, enhancing the discoverability of your content can potentially make a significant difference to the bottom line, so it’s unsurprising that ASO registers so much interest from existing and new customers.

But what exactly is it?

ASO is the name given to methods that aim to improve the visibility and discoverability of apps within the context of an App Store. It’s closely tied to the concept of Search-Engine Optimization (SEO) to the degree that it’s frequently referred to as “the new SEO”, but despite the fact the aims and principles behind both marketing methods are more or less the same (for example: improving your search ranking relative to the competition), the actual methods by which these are achieved are somewhat different and this distinction requires some elaboration.

SEO is a well-established marketing tool and as one would expect, the methods which underpin it are similarly well fleshed out. There’s a lot of documentation, literature and statistics on how to use these methods, which aspects of them are the most effective, how to produce concrete results and so on.

To this end certain de facto SEO standards have emerged, such as the robot exclusion protocol to give instructions to crawlers and robots, making use of coherent XML sitemaps to assist in indexing, strategically placing hierarchical HTML header tags to prioritize certain content above other types of content etc. As SEO methods are naturally all built around web-browser based content, these existing standards and methods cannot be transferred over to ASO strategies. In web-browser environments it is the page that is being crawled, in App Stores, it is the app itself, or more specifically, the App’s metadata (App Store crawlers do not index app description pages).

ASO is therefore something of a nascent field and as Marketers we’re dealing with variables, algorithms and so on that we don’t quite yet understand to the degree we understand the standards Google, Ask, Bing et al employ. Alongside that, the requisite analytical data to make firm conclusions about the effectiveness of very different types of ASO methods and strategies isn’t as well established.

This isn’t to say we have nothing; there is more than enough information currently out there to give prospective or existing digital publishers a broad idea of what you should be doing with your app to improve its discoverability and visibility. I’ll introduce a few of these methods below.

Given that App Store searches are the biggest driver of app discovery, you’ll want to make sure your app as high as possible when users search for keywords that are related to it, so choose an app name that’s explicit in its meaning. You’re also given about 100 characters (on the App Store) to use as metadata keywords by Apple and Google, so make use of all of them and make sure you research your competitors’ keywords too – As metadata it’s invisible to the end user, so this will require some trial and error searching on your part. Moreover, be inventive with what you pick, even start browsing a Thesaurus for synonyms if necessary.

With your metadata now optimized, it’s time to think about the end-user facing material such as the app description. Here the rules of common sense apply – Make it simple and coherent, list in bullet points what the reader themselves will be getting in terms of benefits. If necessary, reference any awards the publication has won, or if it holds status as an existing print publication and so on. Moreover, remember to keep the “What’s New” section regularly updated as nothing looks worse than apparent disinterest in the app and its content on the part of the publisher themselves.

Design aspects of ASO come to the fore in the case of the app icon. It’s incredibly important to keep its design consistent with that of the publication itself and test out how it looks against various backgrounds and with various types of borders, especially against the actual iTunes and App Store backgrounds it will be featured on. With regards to in-app screenshots, you’ll ideally want to be showing off the best aspects of your publication, so particularly aesthetic, vector rich images in say, a travel magazine, or pages that show off inventive in-house HTML content within a textbook. This is essentially a case of emphasizing of the particular selling points of your publication in bold, whichever those may be.

Always keep reviews in mind. Here at YUDU we’ve found the best way for publishers to discourage low review scores and encourage high ones is to always provide recourse for your readers to report bugs that we can then deal with on our end. Always keeping them in the loop about this process and ensuring them that work is being done to rectify any fault goes a long way. These processes have produced real and tangible results in improving ratings amongst many of our clients.

Finally, be aware of any marketers who promise easy results through black-hat marketing methods such as false review scores. Just as with SEO, there is no silver-bullet in this space and attempts to boost your discoverability through these sorts of methods is liable to end up getting your app removed from the App Store itself.

So in conclusion it’s worth repeating that the scope of what you can actually do with ASO is more limited than SEO, given that App Stores are very much a “walled garden”, so it should ideally constitute a smaller part of the overall marketing strategy for your app. Moreover, it’s worth bearing in mind that much of what constitutes ASO is more or less simple common sense. So keep things like keywords, concise app descriptions and good design work on the icon in mind, but these shouldn’t require a particularly large investment of time or resources to get right.

More general app marketing methods are fairly straightforward: Try to employ existing social media sites like Facebook and Twitter to generate buzz and “likes” for your app and try to use your website itself as an App marketing tool, redirecting existing readers to download the app (these people will be the most likely to positively receive it). Here we come full circle as you can employ the aforementioned, established SEO methods in attempting to market your app through your website.

But the bottom line is always the content itself. Ensure good quality content alongside solid marketing emphasizing its strengths and you stand a very good chance of expanding your readership and any associated revenue alongside it.

3 replies

    • Hi Vipool,

      Yes, that’s correct. The app download rate is a contributing factor to what your overall ranking will be, it ties into the whole concept of “trending”. Apps which successfully “trend”, combine a number of things which aggregate out to lead to a high ranking. For example, a pronounced app download rate for a given period of time (say, a week), combined with a smaller than usually expected number of uninstalls and a high number of users who opened the app regularly throughout this same period of time (in this case, a week).

      I’m describing what’s known about Apple’s algorithms here, but it’s more or less common knowledge that Google Play closely mimics this structure, albeit with some Google-specific variables like “+1”.

      Hope that helped,

      Nicholas.

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