2018 ULTIMATE App Store Optimization Guide for Android and iOS

2018 aso guide

The Significance of App Store Optimization in 2018’s Mobile App Market :

Chances are, you may already have an idea on what app store optimization (ASO) is. Still, there are things about this niche-specific discovery and marketing strategy that may confuse you. That’s nothing new. App store optimization isn’t just a single strategy and it’s certainly not as simple as saying that it is just an “app store SEO”.

That is why this app store optimization guide is compiled, to help you go through the different aspects, implementation, and factors that make up a successful ASO strategy. A simple ASO strategy may help your app rank higher in the app store search result page but it can’t lead to app installs if you just wing it – ASO is that important.

App Store Optimization and the Ever-Persistent App Discovery Problem :

As of March 2017, there are more than 2 million apps available for download in both the Google Play Store (2.8 million) and Apple App Store (2.2 million). Though the total forecasted app downloads this year is 197 billion, a huge percentage of these downloads are of popular apps.

number of mobile app downloads worldwide
number of mobile app downloads worldwide

On average, smartphone owners use 9 apps daily and 30 apps monthly. Add to how there are about 700 apps that go live every day (in the Apple App Store alone!) and you have a discovery problem where anapp that goes live in the last week will be virtually buried by hundreds of more new apps.

This is where ASO comes in. Without ASO, an app would hardly appear in app store search results. App Store Optimization is that important in app discoverability especially in places where it matters. A survey from Google revealed that 48 percent of app discovery happens while users browse the app stores and 28 percent happens through search engine result pages (SERPs).

There are two specific places where users search for apps within and outside the app stores: app store charts and curated lists from authority sites. There’s one big caveat though, apps need to be highly discoverable in order to be featured on these charts and lists. To forego ASO means that you need to double on your marketing efforts namely, paid advertisements.

Since last year advertising costs had been on the rise. Cost per thousand impressions (CPM) increased by 26 percent in iOS and 6 percent in Android. Cost per purchaser (CPP), on the other hand, increased by 40 percent on iOS and 65 percent on Android. These figures are significant, especially if you take into account how high the baseline costs were in the first place.

In order to even have a chance in reaching the top charts and earning the maximum revenue possible, an app needs to reach a certain number of downloads – thousands of downloads actually, every day.

top charts downloads

The acquisition cost alone would set you back. This is especially true if you aren’t getting any organic installs because let’s face it, your app isn’t optimized. Instead of using ads to augment downloads, you are solely relying on it.

Though ASO isn’t the end-all discoverability strategy, its contribution to the overall package of the app is undeniable.

What You Can Learn from this 2018 App Store Optimization Guide ?

So, app store optimization is important, that’s given but what do you need to learn about it? In this app store optimization guide, you’ll learn the basics and even learn a trick or two. This guide isn’t all-inclusive, though. There are lots of things to consider in ASO including advanced strategies that cannot be fit into one post.

As with other app store optimization guides, you’ll learn about steps in ASO implementation andbest practices. But before we go further, please take note of the different types of app store optimization tools. There are specialized tools and there are package deals. It all depends on your needs and preferences. It is necessary though, that you familiarize yourself with the tools of the trade so to speak.

Types and Examples of App Store Optimization Tools :

There are two ways you can optimize your apps: asset optimization and keyword optimization. Asset optimization involves tailor-fitting the app’s graphical and multimedia assets like app icon, screenshots and app preview video. Keyword optimization, on the other hand, does not only include keywords you chose to target but also all textual aspects of your app’s page and how you present them.

Now, to the types of ASO tools. ASO is relatively new but as you will soon find out, there are lots of ASO tools and services in the market. These tools and services offer different specializations and combinations of functionality. The examples below are just that, examples you can check so that you can further inspect how they work. We are not affiliated to any of these tools and services.

Keyword Suggestion and Tracker Tools :

These tools let you search for keyword ideas and track the performance of said keywords. Examples of these tools and services that offer this functionality are:

  1. App Radar : The App Radar ASO Tool provides keyword suggestions, trending keywords, keyword performance tracking, competitor ranking comparison, and much more.
  2. AppTweak : This ASO and mobile SEO company offer keyword suggestions and recommendations (top ranking keywords, competition and category keywords, auto-suggestions, etc.), keyword localization, and personalized keyword performance monitoring reports.
  3.  Mobile Action : The company’s Keyword Intelligence feature enables you to see an app’s top keywords and the total organic downloads for those keywords. The App Store Optimization feature also enables you to find the right keywords.
    It’s important to take note, though that using keyword tools for SEO may not yield desirable results. ASO keyword tools are geared specifically for app store search and keyword competition.

App Store Intelligence and App Analytics Optimizing Tools  :

It is important to have access to data from the app stores. Aside from monitoring app trends, volatility, and just keep track of the immense app directory, you can also learn a lot of things from observing competitor performance in comparison to your own.

  1.  App Annie : A leading app analytics and market data company, App Annie lets you track your app’s performance including downloads, app store ranking, revenue, user insights, advertising analytics and of course, access to both Apple App Store and Google Play Store data and insights.
  2.  Sensor Tower : The company’s App Intelligence solution offers organic growth drivers like app monitoring and competitor analysis features. The App Profiles feature offers comprehensive app store data. There are also Review History, Featured App History, Sales Metrics & App Analytics, and of App Store Optimization features.
  3.  Apptopia : The company provides worldwide app data and insights, including daily app download data in about 50 countries. There are revenue breakdowns and active users tracking. There are user acquisition and product strategy data that you can use when it’s time to scale your app business.

ASO Testing Tools :

As you are implementing your ASO strategy, it’s best to test out elements to see what works and what needs improvement. Having a reliable A/B testing tool is important, whichever part of your ASO strategy you are working on.

  1.  StoreMaven : This is A/B testing made easy. Multiple app store pages can be tested simultaneously with a targeted traffic directed to the app store pages. Aside from the usual capability to test page creatives, StoreMaven has a dedicated design studio you can access with ease.
  2.  TestNest : A self-service A/B testing platform, TestNest claims to increase an app’s CPI by 40 percent. TestNest has an added feature of optimizing an Apple App Store page description and name. You can also test price tiers for in-app purchases. It also has an advanced A/B testing metrics that track visitor behavior on to of visits, conversions, and CTR.
  3.  SplitMetrics : Available for both the Apple App Store and Google Play Store, SplitMetrics had helped about 5000 app developers lift their conversion rate to up to 15 percent. Features include a Free ASO Audit Tool, behavior tracking, benchmarks and insights, support for 14 languages, and much more.

Steps in Proper Implementation and other App Store Optimization Tips :

If you are familiar with SEO, the backbone of ASO is similar, it still hinges on one thing: keywords / backlinks / Uer experience. There are just more aspects to pay attention to in ASO. SERP ranking is still considered but the priority is ranking in searches within the app store. ASO is also more dynamic compared to SEO since there are multimediaaspects to consider.

Some of the areas that need thorough attention in ASO are:
• Keywords (of course)
• App store page creatives (app icon, screenshots, and preview video)
• Secondary conversion factors (ratings and reviews, app size, update frequency and app localization)
• SERP ranking (app indexing)
• Analytics (conversion rates and performance benchmarks)

If you may have noticed, App Store Optimization is more than just ranking in searches. ASO also enhances an app’s conversion performance. It’s a package. The app becomes highly visible so would you just stop there? The end goal had always been conversion – app installs and retention.

This is what this app store optimization guide boils down to. You should be able to successfully implement these ASO strategies. In order for this to happen, we must divide this somewhat daunting task into parts with easy-to-follow steps from searching keyword ideas to tracking these keywords’ performance.

Part 1 Keywords :

Keywords play a vital role in App Store Optimization. They should be: a) the right keywords, b) in the right place, and c) at the right amount.

Step 1: Gather/search for keyword ideas. Things to take note are:

1. Use an ASO keyword tool :As stated earlier, these tools can give you keyword suggestions. Make sure that the keywords are relevant to your app.

2. Perform a market search or a competitor analysis to determine which keywords have more weight than the others. Some keyword tools can provide you with trending or seasonal keywords. You can use this to temporarily boost visibility. There are also other places which you can search for keywords. App store reviews are a gold mine, especially in gauging user sentiment. There are even tools for this very purpose!

Step 2: Create a keyword list and filter the best 15-25 keywords. The factors you should consider in this process are:

1. Traffic and difficulty : Start with keywords that are on the lower end in terms of traffic (in the low thousands) and difficulty (20-30 difficulty score). The keyword difficulty scoring is the same as in SEO. Your app and in turn your app page is relatively new and unknown. It’s quite difficult for the app to rank much more for high traffic-high difficulty keywords.

2. You will notice that most of the keywords that have lower traffic and difficulty are long-tail keywords.

long tail keywords
long tail keywords

Even if short tail keywords fit the bill, use the long tail ones. It is more advantageous to do so. Long tail keywords are very specific and most of the time a perfect match to what the searcher is looking for.

Step 3: Place the keywords in strategic locations. Keywords should be found on all the app’s metadata including in the:

App title – place the primary keyword on the title since it is given more weight. Take note there is a 30 character limit for Apple apps and 50 character limit for Android apps.

App subtitle (Android 80 chars, and ios) – a feature introduced in iOS 11 update and only appears in App Store listings. The subtitle appears under the app title and also has a 30 character limit.

App description –In Android, keywords in the above-the-fold have more weight but Google can consider random words or phrases as the app’s keywords if it sees it fit. So the keywords should be contextual. In the Apple App Store, on the other hand, the content of the above-the-fold is very important. Though Apple doesn’t assign keywords from the app description, keywords need to be used in such a way that it strengthens the descriptions persuasive voice and not just act as a filler. So make sure that your primary keywords are in the 252 characters of the description in both app stores.
Promotional text (Apple) – This feature was also rolled out in iOS 11. This body of 170-character text appears above the app description and acts similar to a “mood message” that you can edit any time and use for promotion purposes. The promotional text isn’t indexed so it won’t count as a ranking signal but if used effectively, it can act as a call-to-action.

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Keyword field (Apple) –Has a 100 character limit so avoid using fillers like articles, prepositions and even your company name (if they aren’t part of the keyword of course). You can even do without spaces and use figures instead of spelled out numbers. You can make the most out of the keyword field by using a keyword localization hack where you can add keywords for different languages.

Names of in-app purchases – These are indexed by both Apple and Google. There’s even an added bonus of a description field in iOS 11,so make the most out of the keyword placement.

Please take time to watch this Step By Step Mobile App keywords research :

Part 2 App Store Page Creatives :

The app icon, in-app screenshots, and preview video make up your app store page’s creatives. These creatives are in frontline on the app’s bid for conversion. So the main goal for optimization is to increase app installs.

Step 1: Optimize app icon.

app icon optimization
app icon optimization

Eye-candy is the first word that comes to mind but there is a list of other things to take note of:

1. A regular brand logo styling may or may not work for your app.
2. Browse the app stores for icon inspirations but make sure that your app icon doesn’t closely resemble another app’s icon to avoid confusion.
3. The icon should not look crammed, especially not of words. It should also retain its appearance once scaled up or down.
4. Also, pay attention to the icon’s color palette. There are certain colors that are associated with each app category. This isn’t just about industry appeal but also psychology. This color science can be applied to all of the app’s creative elements.

Step 2: Create quality in-app screenshots. Don’t forget:

1. The first two screenshots should be able to strongly convey the app’s concept and function. Most visitors won’t bother swipe for more images. Some even base their judgment on the screenshots they can see on default, which after the iOS 11 update is now increased to three.
2. Only include “action shots” and exclude the splash, login, and similar screens. Also, show real screenshots, not a poster.
3. You can freely add short captions and graphical elements to aid in conveying messages or just adding character to the screenshots.
4. Follow conventions. Screenshots are vertical. For Apple, you can upload screenshots with dimensions of 1242 x 2208 pixels.

Step 3: Upload a preview video. This is probably the most difficult step but it can really pay off in the end. But in creating a marketing video for your app make sure that:

1. The video should be high quality both in resolution and execution.
2. The thumbnail should be attention-grabbing. This is the first thing visitors notice about video previews.
3. Showcase the gameplay or screen flow of the app, explaining the mechanics and features along the way. The first 5 seconds is crucial, so instead of walking the audience through all features, showcase the best features. By the 10-second mark, you should be already showcasing social proofs. You can build excitement about one feature or element of the app. Visitors should want to try out the app after watching the video.
4. Add text as visual guides and to summarizewhat is happening on each screen. The video should be understandable even without audio.This is important, especially that in the iOS 11 update, the first video preview autoplays – muted.You can also use these texts as a call-to-action especially in vital parts of the video just remember to make them large and readable but not in the way.
5. Keep it short but sweet. The video length limit in the Apple App Store is 30 seconds while it is 2 minutes in the Google Play Store (minimum of 30 seconds). Don’t go beyond the 30-second mark as much as possible. And since up to three video previews can be shown in the Apple App Store search results, you can just showcase the app’s best features in parts.

Part 3 Secondary conversion factors :

App Store Optimization also covers the technical aspects of the app. Sometimes though, there’s not much room for optimization especially on elements you have no control of. But do not fret. You can actually perform concrete steps in order to turn uncontrollable factors like app ratings and reviews into positive ranking signals.

Step 1: Optimize ratings and reviews. How? It’s more about attracting more positive reviews and high ratings. This is first achieved through positive user experience – something that you can easily control.

1. Time review prompts to appear during key moments. Don’t ask for a review 15 minutes after the user downloaded your app or after every 5 minutes while they are using your app. This won’t certainly end favorably for you. Ask for a review or rating only when the user finished a session or two. And this should be after positive in-app experiences, like finishing a level or a transaction.

2. Target users that would most likely give positive reviews. Apple no longer allows custom APIs for review prompts. You can only send these prompts three times a year. It can be quite a setback but you can somewhat circumvent this limitation by using other channels to gather user feedback. You can use in-app surveys or just a simple feedback option to gauge user sentiment and later on use the data to target users with positive sentiments about your app and deflect negative reviews to the app support channel.

3. Reply to reviews, especially to correct misinformation and appease users that are having problems with your app. But do not engage trolls. This will have a positive impact on your app’s average ratings in the long run.
4. When the reviews get too bad, reset. Starting from the iOS 11 update, you can reset your app’s overall rating – not just the current version’s rating. You can start with a clean slate, especially if you already addressed the issues of the app’s past updates.

Step 2: Optimize app size. Storage is one issue that deters a lot of app users from downloading good apps. The ideal app size is below 100 MB. Just the prompt that they should connect to a Wi-Fi network to download the large app seems to scare even avid app users. This may seem almost impossible for some apps but there are things you can do:

1. Compress creatives.
2. Make some elements (levels, gated features) downloadable at a later date. The user should either unlock levels as they go or unlock a special feature after reaching certain levels.
Step 3: Regularly update apps. App updates improve app reviews. This had been proven.

App Updates
App Updates

Users see app updates as a positive signal especially if they see that their complaints are addressed. Updates are also great opportunities for reengagement and keeping up with the competition. Update your app at least once a month.

Step 4: Localize your app. A keyword localization hack was mentioned earlier. Localization goes beyond keywords and translations, though. You need to localize your entire app and it should be designed with localization in mind from the very start. Aside from that, there are other things you should consider.

1. Do a market research. If there is no demand for your app in other countries, especially non-English speaking ones, then localization would just be a waste of time and effort.
2. You can use localization to scale to larger and more competitive regional markets like Asia (that is the source of 41 percent of the global app revenue.
3. Human translation especially done by native speakers are much preferable.
4. Make sure that no graphical element (especially colors and symbols) are offensive to the cultures of the region you want to localize. You also don’t need to change everything.
5. Only continue localization in regions where your app performs well.

Part 4: App Indexing to rank in SERPs :

This is a quick one, but as important as other aspects of ASO nonetheless. As mentioned, app discovery mostly happens through search. This search isn’t limited to the app stores. Apps can appear in Google search results as “app packs” but it’s not the only way.

Step 1: Have your app indexed in Google. Google is said to have indexed more than 100 billion app content links through its Firebase App Indexing. This deeplinking capability was originally used as an incentive for enterprise apps. But now it is available for all Android and iOS apps. Apple also introduced app indexing for their apps on the iOS 9 update.

Step 2: Enable indexing for iOS apps only. There are three APIs that you need to enable to have your app content appear in Apple Spotlight Search. These are:

1. CoreSpotlight framework that enables the indexing of app content including user-generated content.
2. NSUserActivity objects are used to index app states and navigation points that users can search and return to.
3. Web Markup API you can use markups from your app’s website to redirect users to your app’s content as it appears on search results.

Part 5: Analytics :

Analytics is something you cannot do without in ASO – this and A/B testing. They go hand in hand and gives you insights on how well your ASO strategy is working and what should be done if it isn’t. But which part – what metrics on the app’s analytics report is vital in the context of ASO?
Step 1: Visits and impressions. Monitor app page visitors and any impressions they make especially on the app preview video. Determine which part of the page visitors last viewed before leaving (without installing). Analyze the trend and you will soon see weak points in your ASO execution.
Step 2: Do the same with installs. Determine if more visitors install the app after watching the preview, reading the description, etc., or if it is the opposite.
Step 3: Benchmark conversion rates. One formula for determining the conversion rate of an app store page is Conversion rate = installs/page views.

median app store page conversion rate

App Store Optimization Guide Conclusion :

Is it going to take effect immediately? And can it take your app to the top charts?

App Store Optimization works, the question is when you can see the result you desire. It’s not a one-time thing. It needs constant monitoring and tweaking especially if you are still getting to know your target market. Also, you should not solely rely on ASO in terms of visibility. It’s very helpful for app users that haven’t heard about your app yet. Traditional marketing efforts are still important, especially if you want to target a broader market.

There are no guarantees, but ASO surely helps – a lot. The same survey from Google mentioned earlier revealed that the top factors that motivate users to install an appinclude aspects that we discussed in this app store optimization guide.

app install motivations
The description is 71 percent, memory used is 66 percent, reviews 61 percent, and so on. MobileDevHQ CEO Ian Sefferman has this to say about the implementation of ASO that can sum everything up:

“ASO is having dramatic effects on our client apps. For those who put the time in to understand, iterate, and test, we’ve seen many apps increase their downloads by a factor of 2x-10x, and an increase of revenue by a similar, or bigger, rate due to the increase in engagement of users earned by ASO. ASO is not a simple process, and you might not see the impact overnight, but if you’re willing to invest in it, the outcome can be incredibly worthwhile.”


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