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Dmitry Semenov, Unilead CEO

If you want to compete for top spots in app stores, be it Apple’s or Google’s, but lack the big boys’ budget or don’t have an established brand, then App Store Optimization (ASO) is something you may have heard of. This field is still relatively new: the first full-sized book on the topic, The ASO Bible, was published in 2014. ASO is a set of measures aimed at making your app more visible, increasing the number of downloads, raising the loyalty of you customers and, ultimately, making more money.

Just like SEO, ASO works differently on various platforms.

For this two-part article, we’ll focus on two main stores: Apple’s App Store and Google Play Store. There are other app stores in China and Europe, but we will omit them for now.

App Store

The competition here is fierce: to reach the top-10, your app must be downloaded at least 100,000 times. Considering the average CPI of $3-$3,50, the budget becomes unreal for many, especially for indie developers.

This is where ASO steps in: having optimized your app, you’ll have a shot at competing with the big guns. Apple’s ranking algorithm is largely based on app installs, but it doesn’t mean there is no other way. Let’s talk through each key factor.

Keywords

There is no secret to research: it is exactly the same for both SEO and ASO. Just use Google Keyword Planner. If you want specifics, you can look into services such as Sensor Tower, Mobile Action, App Annie. Those are also good if you are already familiar with keyword research. The general rule is to look for highly-sought but low-competition keywords.

Now let’s dive into specifics. Apple isn’t very generous in the keyword field and only provides 100 characters to fill. It’s not as bad as it seems, though.

Dmitry Martynenko, Head of Business Development at Mint Publishing:

“In reality the limit is not exactly 100 characters, because you can use the app’s title as well. What’s more, the weight of the keyword in the title is bigger than in the keyword field. That’s why you should place your highest-priority keys in the title. Be careful and don’t overuse your keyword: Apple manually checks every title and will mark as spam anything that looks like one. One more thing to add: the closer your keyword to the start of the line, the higher weight it holds. For instance, a title like “Tinder dating” will attract less users searching for dating than “Dating — Tinder”.

You should also try to increase your semantic footprint. You can do this by combining your keywords. For example, your dating keys can look like this: guys, girls, men, women, followed by some extra parameters: Russian, German, Indian and so on. Thus you will get the combinations of all the words, meaning your 100-character limit can grant you 100 key phrases.

Lastly, it is important to understand what stage your app is in and to promote it correspondingly. For unknown brands it is best to aim for low-frequency keywords and to get to the top there. It is far better to hold the first spot in “dating in Albany, New York” than to be in the hundreds in “dating”. If you are a behemoth like Tinder, the strategy will be completely different”.

Even if your app has made it to the top 10, you’re still only halfway there. You have another 9 apps to compete with in the list. At this stage, the icon plays the biggest part, because the users will judge the quality of your entire app by it. Apple’s guidelines are pretty strict: your icon has to be 1024×1024, so that it will look nice on any screen. There are plenty of recommendations on the icon’s look: no text, no tiny details, faces generally work well and attract attention. You can check out Apple’s own opinion on icons’ style.

Having created a good icon, you will boost your conversion rate, now it is up to app’s page to persuade the user to install it. The average time spent on this page is 5 to 7 seconds. It is enough for the users to see the app’s rating, first few screenshots, the first paragraph of the description and the first couple of reviews.

Let’s look into each point.

App rating should be above 3,5 at the least, 4+ is the desired number. You can find a lot of cases on how to achieve high ratings, which moment is best for asking for a review. Now defunct Circa’s is one of them. Those cases may or may not work for you, but Dmitry Martynenko holds a different opinion.

“This doesn’t work. The schemes where user has to perform a set of actions for pop-up to appear have one major downside: the selection becomes far less wide. What you need is the widest selection possible and conversion to reviews. Build a beautiful and high-quality pop-up asking for a review. Show it as soon as 2-3 days after the installation. If the user opened your app 4-5 times already, there is a good chance they like it. If your app is a game, never block levels or other in-game stuff unless they leave a review – this is not only irritating for the players, but also a red flag for Apple, who loves bans. Still, pop-up has to be shown relatively often—not at every launch—but treat it like any banner on a website. Sooner or later the user will give in and give you a review. The risk of getting 1-star review from an angry gamer is very low”.

One more thing: Apple resets all the reviews with each app update, so you will have to ask for them once again.

Screenshots and video: if you want to add video to your page, the most important detail is the thumbnail. If you choose it wisely and the video itself is under 15 seconds, you’re good, your users will check it out. The thing about videos, though, is that they don’t really affect your conversion rate. What’s more, if the thumbnail is bad/boring and the video is too long, the conversion rate will actually sink.

That is why we need to focus on screenshots. They are not just screenshots, think of them like promo images. People got used to seeing text on these images, explaining what the app does and why do they need it. You message should be clear, well-designed with colours that go well together. Avoid complicated sentences that may take time to understand. And it goes without saying that the text must correspond with the image.

Description: App Store only shows 5 strings of text 40 characters each, without hyphenation. In this short paragraph you need to persuade the users that they have found what they need. Tell them how your app will help solve which problems. The full description under “More” button is read by 2-3% of viewers. You can highlight the key features of your app there, but the most important part is still the short description.

It should be said that it is impossible to predict which image or description will work best. Every designer and developer has their own taste, and the only way to determine will appeal to your viewers is to run A/B-tests. Test everything: from app icons to descriptions.

App Store has no built-in tools for this, there are third-party services like SplitMetrics instead. A good, free and easy alternative is Google Play, which allows A/B testing.

In the second article we will look into Google’s store and spot the key differences in ASO in both Apple’s and Google’s marketplaces.

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