App Store Optimization in 9 Steps

There are approximately 1.3 million Android apps in the Google Play store and 1.2 million apps in Apple’s App Store, used by nearly two billion smart phone users worldwide.

These are enormous and staggering numbers, especially if you’re a developer trying to get your app noticed. How do you stand out in a crowded field of competitors? And perhaps more importantly, how do you get your app to rank high in an app store search?

App Store Optimization to the rescue

Just like internet marketers use search engine optimization, or SEO, to get their webpages ranked high in Google’s search results, app developers must use app store optimization, or ASO, techniques to get their app at the top of app store search results.

Unfortunately, the true algorithms for ranking in both Apple’s App Store and the Google Play store for Android apps, just like the true algorithm for SEO, are not actually known.

However, we do know that certain things affect rankings more than others.

By taking advantage of this knowledge, your app could rank higher, be seen by more people, and be more successful.

Here are nine steps you’ll want to take to improve your ASO in both the Apple App Store and Google Play.

1. Start With a Descriptive Title

What’s in a name? Plenty, especially when you’re talking about the name of your app and ASO.

A good name not only identifies what your app does to prospective users, but it can also improve your rankings.

In fact, including a keyword or two in your app’s title can help you rank at least 10% higher than not including one. Of course, both the Apple App Store and Google Play handle titles and keywords differently, so how you approach your title should depend on if you’re marketing to Apple or Android users.

The Apple App Store

The Apple App Store gives you 255 characters for your title. So, while a short, pithy title can help with your branding efforts, it will do you no favours if you’re trying to boost your Apple ASO.

Take the time to come up with a creative title that is unique, descriptive, and keyword rich; it’s not a bad idea to create a title and then a subtitle with your keywords. Doing so will help you both establish market share and improve your ranking.

The Google Play Store

Titles are handled a bit differently in the Google Play store. There, you get a paltry 30 characters for your title, so you have to be extremely concise.

However, you don’t have to be as concerned about keywords in the title with Android apps; for Google Play, the keywords should go in the description, as we explain in step two.

2. Use Keywords Wisely

Just like with app titles, how you should handle app keywords differs from the Apple App Store to Google Play.

With Apple, you get only 100 characters for all of your keywords, so obviously, you need to choose wisely; it should go without saying that you should get as close to this 100 character limit as you possibly can.

With Google Play, though, there is no specific keyword field. However, the app description is searchable, and you have a comfortable 4000 characters to work with.

For the best ASO, you’ll want to put your most important keywords in your description five times.

Keyword Research

Before you actually publish your app with the keywords you have selected, though, you will want to do some research to learn about the traffic, difficulty, and demand for those keywords, as well as how many apps are already using it.

Keywords with high traffic and a low to moderate number of apps will be best for your ASO.

It’s also a good idea to take a look at what the top apps are for each keyword to get an idea of what people are looking for when they search for that term. If your app does something completely different than the top apps for that keyword, you may not have as much interest as you’d like. Tools like SensorTower can help you evaluate your keywords and much more. We’ll discuss more tools in step #8.

Finally, here are a few other tips to help you pick the best keywords for your app:

  • Try to put your top keyword in your app name.
  • Use words rather than phrases, unless a phrase is an absolutely integral keyword (such as “tug of war”).
  • When researching keywords, look at singular versus plural and choose the one with the best numbers.
  • Try to avoid using conjunctions and prepositions as keywords.
  • Use commas rather than spaces to separate keywords.
  • Use digits instead of spelling out numbers.

3. Describe Your App Well

For both Apple and Android apps, your app description is like your landing page. If you’ve brought your potential buyer this far, you want to be able to close the deal and make the sale.

Start by assuming that users know very little about your app besides, its name, and then think in terms of bullet points:

  • What does your app do?
  • What problem does it solve?
  • How will it make the buyer’s life easier?
  • And, of course, why is it worth the price?

Be persuasive yet pithy, saving the more extensive write-up and how-to for your app’s website.

And, as we mentioned in step two, you’ll want to pay extra attention to keywords for your Google Play description.

Visually, you’ll want to include useful screenshots that look appealing in your app description. These should showcase the key parts of your app, making it look approachable to encourage downloads and, in turn, boost ranking.

4. Pick the Right Category

Placing your app in the proper category on both the Apple App Store and on Google Play is not only helpful for users who are browsing apps by category, but it is also a “best white hat ASO practise”.

If you feel like your app fits into more than one category, there are a 3 ways to approach your problem:

  1. First, and most obviously, you’ll want to pick the category that describes your app best.
  2. Next, it’s a good idea to check out just how many apps are in each category; choosing the least competitive category gives your app a better chance of ranking closer to the top.
  3. Finally, look at the estimated app worth (EAW) of the apps near the top of those categories. Put your app in the one with the lower numbers may be to your advantage as well.

It’s also important to remember that putting your app in a category that’s blatantly wrong can lead to trouble.

Apple reviews apps before publishing them to the App Store, and sticking your app in the absolute wrong category for ASO purposes will probably mean a reject stamp.

As for Google Play, users can report violations for review, and if you’ve got a major error like a sports app in the Medical category, it’s only a matter of time before someone points that out.

5. Focus on Icon Design

There’s a direct correlation between downloads and ranking: the more downloads your app has, the higher it’s ranked.

And, since it’s been demonstrated that icon design plays a significant role in how many downloads an app gets, it definitely pays to spend some time and energy coming up with a great one.

You can argue all you want about the injustice of judging a book by its cover (or an app by its icon), but at the end of the day, that’s exactly what a lot of people do.

Simply put, your app’s icon should be engaging, eye catching, and not too similar to others.

Of course, that’s easier said than done, which is why it is worth the investment to bring in a trusted and experienced designer to develop a few icon options. Try to choose the one that is most visually appealing and most representative of what the app actually does.

Remember, if browsers are drawn to your app icon through simple browsing, they’ll take a look and may decide to download it. Make sure you’re staying on the safer side in regards of explicit content though.

6. Encourage Positive Reviews

Positive ratings and reviews, both in terms of quality and quantity, have a huge impact on ASO, so it’s in your best interest to get as many as you can.

Of course, they need to be honest reviews from people who have actually downloaded the app.

You can encourage users you know through word of mouth to leave a good review of your app on the App Store or Google Play, but there are other ways to go about doing this.

You might send a push notification to encourage users to review your app (as long as you’ve gotten permission to send push notifications).

You can also have an in-app pop-up notification asking the user to leave a good review if he or she liked it. Mobiloud includes this features in your apps for you and the results are encouraging, with a 4.5 average rating for Mobiloud customer apps.

Maybe have the notification appear after a certain number of times the app has been opened; if a user is opening the app frequently, chances are that they like it and will put in a good review.

7. For Android Apps, Use Google+

If your app is in the Google Play store, it’s a good idea to use the Google Plug-in to make a Google+ profile.

The more pluses you get in Google+, the higher your visibility and ranking in the store. Although G+ didn’t get as much traction as, say, Facebook, Google Play and Google+ are both Google products, so the connection between the two is probably inevitable, as long as G+ is here to stay.

8. Bring in the Analytical Big Guns

Just like Google Analytics for web page marketing, there are a number of powerful app store analytics tools that are designed to help you market your app, see where your app stands in relation to the competition, and boost your store ranking.

Just to name a few, there are:

  • AppAnnie,
  • Sensor Tower,
  • MoviledevHQ,
  • AppRankCorner,
  • Appstatics,
  • Appnique,
  • APPlyzer,
  • and a number of others.

These are helpful because they give you hard data about all sorts of measurements related to your app. They can show you what you’re doing wrong in marketing your app, what you could be doing right to improve your app’s ASO, and much more.

9. Re-evaluate Regularly

If it’s been a few weeks, and you’re not pleased with your app’s ranking, it’s time to take a look at your data, make some assessments, and change some things around:

  1. Maybe the keywords aren’t right.
  2. Maybe the description isn’t persuasive enough.
  3. Maybe it’s in the wrong category.
  4. Maybe the icon needs some fine tuning.

All of these things and more can be improved upon to get higher ranking.

When you do make changes, it’s important to make them one at a time, and then wait a week or so to see if there’s any impact.

What you want to avoid is changing everything at once; doing that won’t give you any idea what the initial problem was.

Conclusion

If you want to have a successful app with lots of visibility and downloads — and income-generating potential — you’ve got to pay close attention to your app’s ASO.

While Apple and Google do not share their exact methodology for establishing app rank, it has been established that there are certain things that will have a positive impact on how high up your app appears in the rankings.

By following the nine steps explained here, you stand a good chance of improving the ASO of your app and even standing out among the over one million apps on both of the major app stores.

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Pietro Saccomani

Pietro is the founder of MobiLoud, where he helps site owners grow their audience on mobile with their own mobile apps.