ASO stands for App Store Optimization, and is the practice of optimizing the visibility of your app listing in the app store rankings (just like SEO for your website). Also similar to SEO, ASO is one of the most crucial components of a mobile app marketing strategy because it is a method to gain free downloads.
In fact: App store search is the #1 method by which people discover and download apps.
The App Rankings algorithm
These algorithms are the secret sauce in determining which apps to display and in which positions, each time a person searches a keyword in the App and Play stores. While the exact workings of these massive algorithms will forever be unknown, app marketers have pieced together an understanding of their workings from a variety of sources, including what Apple and Google indicate in official documentation, what is known of similar algorithms like Google’s PageRank and a whole host of A/B testing. The below list is a combination of generally accepted factors, as well as my own interpretations of the factors which influence the Apple and Google app rankings algorithms:
Factors influencing Apple App store app rankings
Positive factors :
- Downloads: more downloads indicates an app is more popular. But unlike SEO, paid downloads do influence app rankings.
- Velocity of downloads: 1,000 downloads in the span of a day improve rankings better than 1,000 downloads over 7 days. This means that ASO marketing campaigns that drive more simultaneous traffic are more effective than over time.
- 4 and 5 star reviews: better reviews means better rankings.
- Retention rates relative your app category average: because Apple can see data on whether or not users actually use apps and how long for, they use this data as a factor to determine which apps users find more valuable than others, and adjust rankings as such.
- App store keyword CTR: if many people search your app and do not click or download it, this is a signal that your app is not what they are looking for and can reduce your rankings.
- App index engagement (spotlight searches + clicks): the new spotlight search indexing ability in iOS 9 allows developers to drive searches and downloads from phone spotlight searches, which most likely has implications for app store rankings, similar to how Google factors web page rankings into connected app rankings.
- Keywords in title: the title is the most important place for identifying keywords that your app will rank for.
- Keywords in keywords space: the keyword space data is a significant factor in determining what your app ranks for.
- Popular keywords from your category & subcategory, competitors and keywords that people who have downloaded similar apps search: per below, a late 2015 algorithm update uses data about similar apps and popular category descriptor keywords to influence which keywords an app will show for.
- Keywords in description: the description has 0 importance for keyword ranking.
Negative factors :
- 1 and 2 star reviews: indicate the app provides less value for users.
- Uninstall rate relative your app category average: similar to retention rates, uninstalls can also be seen by Apple and are used in rankings.
Keep in mind that an app’s ranking is relative downloads and reviews from the same country; downloads from an ASO marketing campaign in India will not affect the ranking of an app in the U.S. In November 2015, an app store rankings algorithm update occured, wherein the keywords space became less relevant, apps began to rank for related keywords, and the app rankings algorithm began to match partial words and competitor/brand keywords.
Factors influencing Google Play store app rankings
Positive factors :
- Velocity of downloads
- 4 and 5 star reviews
- Retention rates relative your app category average
- SEO power of website connected to your app: websites that point to apps will transfer some of their ranking power to that app(s).
- Keyword CTR
- Keywords in title
- Keywords in description and short description – Google does use keywords from an app’s description to influence rank.
- Keywords in reviews while it can be confirmed that keywords in iOS reviews do not impact rank, it can neither confirmed that keywords in Android reviews affect an app’s rank.
- Keywords from your category, competitors and keywords that people who have downloaded similar apps search
- Engagement of Google + account connected to app(s): Similar to SEO, Google+ remains an important signal in ranking for Google algorithms.
Negative factors :
- 1 and 2 star reviews
- Uninstall rate relative your app category average
- Keyword stuffing/irrelevancy: trying to “game the system” is something that Google frowns on in ASO and SEO.
Your App Listing
This is what people see when they search a keyword and come across your app; however users won’t see all of the information in your store listing at the same time and they won’t give each element of your store listing equal weight when deciding whether to download your app or not. Here is a diagram showing an Apple App Store listing from a prospective user’s view. Consider the following tips and tricks:
- Perhaps the single most important detail is your rating. Not only does it have significant bearing on your rank, but also people will download high rated apps and will not download poorly rated apps. Be aware that until you have 5 ratings, your app will not show with a rating.
- Your app icon also matters a lot. It’s the the first thing users see, and also what they will see in their home screens, which can have an impact on your app retention rate.
- The first 2 screenshots in your app listing are the most important ones. Do not forget to order your screenshots accordingly.
- Your app title will truncate after a certain character limit, but it is one of the most important signals for app ranking, so strike the right balance between putting relevant keywords in your title and keeping it short enough to read.
- Your app description isn’t even a consideration until people scroll down, and even then your text is truncated behind a “more” link after the first 1-3 lines. Again, order matters: put your hook and key selling points before the truncation point.
- Your app size and update history are important, too. Bigger apps are a bottleneck to getting downloads due to bandwidth and phone storage limitations; 25MB is a good rule of thumb to use to know what’s a standard vs large app. And if your app hasn’t been updated in quite some time (6 months or more), it’s a signal to users to stay away because your app appears stale and no longer supported.
- People can also see other apps you developed, which can be a boon for app cross-marketing and a potential signal in for your credibility as a developer.
- Just because you can record a video, doesn’t mean you should. Videos are not just a marketing tool, but also an opportunity for users to decide they dislike your app before giving it a try. So if you do make a video, be sure that it’s polished and represents your app well.
- Additionally, be aware that there is a so-called “7 day cliff” of visibility when a new app is launched. For 7 days, Apple will artificially boost your visibility, causing you to get more searches and downloads, but resulting in a sharp decline in visibility at the end of the boost week.
Do research on keywords that are as high in traffic and low in competition as you can find, and put those keywords into your title, keywords (App Store only), app description and short description (Play Store only). Then check to see that you are ranking well for the keywords you want to, and adjust your keyword mix and density as necessary. Keep these 3 app store keyword optimization tips in mind:
- Try to find keywords for which you can rank top 10 for. If you rank in place #2,319, it doesn’t matter how high of search volume exists for that keyword; you’ll never see the light of day. Look for keywords that have a high chance % (Mobile Action) or a low total number of competing apps.
- Do a live search for your app store keywords before you use them to ensure people using that keyword are who you want to get in front of. Look at the other apps that pop up and use their presence as a proxy for what types of apps those searchers are looking for. For example, while “goal app,” may be taken as an app to help people track their personal or professional goals, doing a simple search reveals that this is not the main intent of people looking for “goal apps.”
- Remember that having a good search-to-click ratio AND click-to-download ratio will affect your overall app rankings: optimize your keywords over time for those that you see improvements for in app rankings, and divest from those where your app rankings fall.