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Anish Dalal

Top 25 ASO Tips for 2018

App Store Optimization Tips

The app market is one of the most competitive spaces in the world. And it’s crowded — with approximately 2 million iOS App Store apps and 2.5 million Google Play Store apps . Between the sheer number of apps and the skyrocketing costs of advertising, successfully acquiring and retaining users is more challenging than ever. As an app marketer, your job is to cut through that clutter and get in front of the right audiences. Increasing exposure for your app helps increase downloads, boost store rankings and ultimately drive revenue for your business.

A highly valuable strategy to increase long-term exposure is app store optimization. App store optimization, or ASO, can be defined as the ongoing process of testing and measuring updates to app store marketing assets, with the goal of increasing visibility and driving more downloads.

For many app publishers, the first thing that comes to mind when they think about ASO is building out a keyword strategy. While certainly an important component, optimizing your app for organic discoverability goes well beyond keywords. ASO is much more robust and strategic than many may think, comprising research, testing and a lot of creativity.

In this playbook, we’ll equip you with best practices for improving app discoverability and downloads among quality users. In addition to App Annie’s expertise, we’ll share insights from the industry’s best and brightest, and offer actionable advice and tips you can apply to your own ASO efforts.

App Store Keyword Optimization

1. Choosing Keywords

With millions of apps available between the top app stores, choosing keywords that will move the needle for your business is no easy feat.

Your keyword strategy should neither exist in a vacuum or be static — it must be uid and continuous, taking into account competitor and cultural changes plus the impact on your app’s ranking, downloads and revenue.

So how can you select the right keywords to start with? Let’s dive into the most effective methodologies.

  • Categorize Yourself for Discoverability: In addition to keywords, you’ll want to consider the categories where you want to compete. Your category strategy should take into account where you’ll be most competitive as well as where you can organically attract the most relevant users.
  • Pay Attention to Competitors: Finding the best keywords means closely tracking and monitoring competitors. By analyzing how a competitor ranks for a speci c keyword, or determining which other apps rank for your app’s keyword, you can strategically select keywords to help your app rank higher.
  • Leverage User Reviews: One of the best ways to describe your app uses language from user reviews — their words may resonate better with prospective users than the ones you had in mind. Additionally, reviews can provide new cultural and geographic insights into certain user segments.
  • Stay on Top of Your Ranking: Once you’ve selected a group of keywords, it’s important to review how these keywords will impact your ranking. In addition to monitoring keyword impact on key performance indicators (KPIs), you should also pay attention to other factors that will affect ranking, such as:
  • Download levels
  • Download velocity

2. Categorizing Your App

There are two ways to be ranked in the app stores: by category and overall. Every app publisher is responsible for choosing how to categorize their own app; it’s important to choose a category that is relevant to your app, but also one where you stand to best the competition.

On the iOS App Store, you can choose a primary and a secondary category. The primary is most important as it’s where your app will be displayed in search results and the top charts. However, your app will be listed under both categories in the Explore tab.

So how should you choose your primary category? Things to keep in mind:

  • Where you believe your app naturally fits
  • How target users will search for your app
  • How competitor or similar apps are categorizing themselves
  • To improve discoverability, some publishers recategorize their apps to move into less-cluttered territory. For instance, in April Twitter was recategorized from Social to News, effectively moving back to a top-ranked position.
  • For iOS, publishers can select up to two categories for apps, and three categories for games. Remember that you’ll want to select categories that will be both relevant for your app, but not overly saturated.

For Google Play Store, publishers can only choose one category for their app, so it is even more critical to choose carefully.

3. Keeping Tabs on Competitors

Before you dive into selecting the categories for your app, you should rst research what your closest competitors are doing. This will help you determine the competition in that category and show how users are searching for similar apps. Choosing a less competitive category could improve discoverability for your app.

In addition to the primary category, Apple introduced subcategories as part of its iOS 8 release, which divides the App Store into micro segments and allows developers to rank highly in speci c elds. For example: Yelp, which could be categorized in the cluttered Social Networking category or in Food and Drink (where its competitor Foursquare is listed), is categorized in Travel, where it maintains a secure spot in the top 10.

4. Creating User Feedback Loop

Now that we’ve gotten the more well known ASO tactics out of the way, let’s focus on lesser-known tips.

You probably know that positive ratings and reviews affect your app’s performance in the app store, but did you know you have more control over them than you think? Optimizing for higher ratings and reviews can improve your app’s ranking as well as the amount of organic traffic it receives.

5. Encourage Positive Ratings

An app’s initial debut rarely goes off without a hitch. There may be persistent bugs, performance issues on different devices, or features that don’t yet exist but users would like to see. This can lead to some very low ratings and reviews in the beginning. Don’t get discouraged — even unfavorable reviews may be rife with information on how to update your app. As long as you’re swift and take user feedback seriously, changing public opinion can go smoothly.

Social dining app Down to Lunch launched in May 2015 and attained viral growth across the US in Spring 2016. However, a few components within the app received negative feedback from users. For example, during initial account setup it wasn’t immediately clear that users could invite their entire contact list to download the app. When the team addressed this concern, Down to Lunch’s rating started to climb to a 4.0 while growing its ranking in the competitive Social Networking category on iOS.

6. Prompt Users for Direct App Feedback

Similar to prompting users to provide a rating after great moments in the app, you can also ask if they are enjoying the app experience. Your next prompt should re ect their answer: If a user currently likes the app, ask them to submit a review; if they’re unhappy, direct them to give feedback on ways to improve.

7. Gain Honest Reviews

Reviews show potential users the pros and cons of downloading and using your app. What can be more troubling than bad reviews are no reviews at all, and when an app goes live the review section on your app page will be barren. Rather than waiting for an unknown user’s rst impression, ask your trusted network to submit reviews documenting their honest thoughts.

If your app has beta testers who know the ins and outs of the app, ask if they’re willing to submit a review. Their experience will be more credible than a new user’s, whether or not the feedback is positive or critical. Another good avenue is to approach professional peers whose opinions you trust — people who have made similar apps or are experts on the app’s content — to see if they’ll download and review your app.

8. Quickly Improve Ratings

Turning negative ratings and reviews into positive ones will take time and consistent action. The faster you respond to user feedback and update your app, the happier users will be. In the end, more and higher reviews will result in better ranks and more downloads. Knowing just how and when to gain ratings and reviews is also important: key interactions are a great time to gain 4- and 5-star ratings.

Depending on the platform you develop on, the way you address user reviews may be slightly different. For instance, Google Play allows developers to respond to user reviews. Having a visible record of positive developer-user interactions may factor into a prospective user’s decision to download an app.

One of the best ways to collect user feedback is through custom forums. For teams that don’t have a dedicated engineer for that (or the additional budget), third-party software development kits like UserVoice are a good alternative.

9. App Icons

Tips For Designing the Optimal App Icon

  • Keep It Simple: Complex icons can be difficult to distinguish on smaller devices (or when nested in folders on a smartphone or tablet) and should be avoided.
  • Design for Scalability: One of the most important aspects of an icon is scalability. Because the icon is going to be shown in several places throughout the platform — and at several sizes — it’s important your creation maintains its legibility and uniqueness. Overly complicated icons often fall victim to bad scalability.
  • Be Recognizable: Your icon will be vying for attention among thousands of other icons with the same 1,024-pixel canvas. While scalability is a huge part of recognizability, so is novelty. Try out several variations on your design. Line them up in a grid and glance over them, seeing what design aspects catch your eye.
  • Check the Competition: Make sure you’re up to speed on what your direct competitors — plus top apps — are doing. Having an icon that’s too similar to another app can cost you valuable brand awareness.
  • Stand Out From the Crowd: This almost goes without saying, but try to make something unique. Mimicking a style or a trend is perfectly ne, but make it your own. Your app icon is constantly competing with other icons for the users’ attention, and standing out can be a perfectly valid argument for a design.
  • Test, Test, Test: The quickest way to nd the app icon that will perform best is through sequential A/B testing; however, note that the way you can execute on this will vary by app store. Android developers have it a bit easier, as Google Experiments allows you to easily set up tests and collect results. iOS developers will have to use a third-party option. Of course, sometimes you need to balance science and intuition in order to create an iconic app icon.

10. Screenshots

While your app icon may pique attention, the screenshots drive home the core features and benefits. Each screenshot should highlight a speci c bene t and use supplemental text, whenever possible, to help explain key features to the user.

Get the Most Bang For Your Buck With Screenshots

  • Use All Available Spaces: You can include up to ve screenshots in the iOS App Store and eight in the Google Play Store to promote your app. Use them all to maximize visibility and sell your app’s value.
  • Prioritize Key Messages: The rst two screenshots are the most visible; in fact, they show up in search results for the iOS App Store. Make sure your more important selling points are featured in these screenshots.
  • Tell a Story: Screenshots are your opportunity to tell an engaging story to your target audience before they interact with your app. Make sure your screenshots address their needs.

11. Video

Both Google Play and iOS App Store permit the use of a short video to highlight the key features of an app. This is your chance to give users a sneak peek into the in-app experience. Videos are no small investment, so make sure you take a few tips into consideration before committing to video.

Pacing and Structure

  • The rst ve seconds are critical. You want to compel the viewer to watch the next few seconds, then the next few, and so on.
  • In a similar vein, be mindful of length. Currently 00:15–00:25 is the industry standard. Use those seconds wisely.
  • Keep the pace brisk, but not too fast. Just enough speed to keep the viewer interested without losing them.
  • Focus on the best features rst. And be selective, since it may not be feasible to mention all core features in your video.
  • Tell viewers what to do next. Whenever possible include a direct call to action.

12. Production

  • If you’re going the in-house route, keep your video simple. As tempting as it may be to use lots of effects and transitions, they may look cheap.
  • Music is an important element in setting the tone. Find something that evokes the right emotion; avoid overused music.
  • Since some users are watching with the sound off, use text and motion graphics to explain key points that may be covered by audio.

13. A/B Testing Creative Assets

Onboarding doesn’t begin when users open your app for the rst time — it begins at the app store. Providing the right mix of app metadata (e.g., your name, description and creative assets) helps to reduce friction during discovery, download and rst use.

Finding the right assets, driving the most relevant messages and matching user expectations are crucial. According to data from StoreMaven, testing app store elements can increase your conversion rates and prevent conversion decrease over time.

The most fundamental thing to understand when you begin working on app store design is that the majority of users will not interact with your full content — and that’s okay! Those who do interact are the ones you need to impress.

There are two distinct groups of users to any store page:

  • Decisive Users: They will view only the most visible elements and decide whether or not to download based on their rst impression. Decisive users either click the install button (Instant Install), or leave the page (Instant Drop) — no other action is taken. According to StoreMaven, 60% of users won’t swipe past your first two images.
  • Explorers: They will interact with your content before deciding to download (Explore and Install) or leave the page (Explore and Drop). Explorers will watch the video, scroll through the gallery, and interact with description and reviews. They make a more informed decision than Decisive users, who may have a false impression of your app which could lead to disappointment and uninstalls.
  • For that reason, an Explore and Install user is of higher quality than an Instant Install user. They have higher long-term potential to be a strong user and are signi cantly less likely to bounce after initial download.
  • The decision of whether to Instant Install, Instant Drop, or Explore (as well as the quality of that exploration) is based on the user’s first impression of your store pages, making those visible elements the most important.

14. Cater to the Platforms

The first view of your app makes Google Play and iOS App Store users fundamentally different. Developers are often confused to nd that their best performing Google Play creatives perform drastically lower on the iOS App Store.

On Google Play, users get a full picture upon page load — a prominent featured graphic on the top of the page, with a short description text on the bottom. According to StoreMaven, this full view makes Google Play users 40% more likely to be a Decisive user, and make a quick decision, than iOS users.

Google Play

  • Featured Graphic - This is the top image banner on the page. If you have video, this image sits under the ‘play’ button. As the rst image users will see, it should display the best aspect of your app. Testing your featured graphic can increase app store conversion by 40%.
  • Video - Video appears at the very top of your Google Play page and, unlike on iOS, is the main exploration users take. Keep videos short (about 10% of users will drop off every ve seconds!) and show your strongest messages rst. Video — but only when done well — can impact conversions by 23%.
  • Icon - Your icon is crucial for a good conversion rate. Plus it’s the one element that stays relevant after a user downloads. Testing icons can increase conversions by 15%.
  • Short Description - 100% of your users will see the short description text (the 80 characters before the “read more” button), and only an average of 5% will expand your full description. Changing this text can increase conversions by 16%.

iOS App Store

  • First Two Screenshots - On average, 33% of users scroll through your gallery and only 9% see your full gallery, so your rst two images by far have the most impact and can improve your conversion rate by 35%.
  • Poster Frame/Video Presence - When you add a video to iOS, it takes the place of your rst image, fundamentally impacting the way users engage with the page. In iOS, the poster frame (the image beneath the video) must be a frame from your video. You absolutely must be aware of this when designing your video. While only 7% of users will actually watch your video on iOS, 100% will see your poster frame. Testing poster frames can increase conversions by 35%.
  • Icon - On iOS, your icon has more prominence than on Google Play. Your icon has even more visibility here, increasing your conversion potential by 17%.
  • Short Description - Only 2% will expand to read more so make the rst line count.

15. Localization

Your global ASO strategy, which includes the same core components as your overall strategy, should be tailored to play to cultural nuances within the major regions where you have a presence.

While it may seem like you don’t need to localize beyond language — for instance, don’t all under-25s love social media? — cultural norms and references can affect how users respond to your app.

This is another area where diligently paying attention to user reviews can play to your advantage. For example, in the international sensation Trivia Crack from Etermax, many user reviews were positive in Spanish-speaking countries, but negative in other markets. Why? Because consumers didn’t gravitate to topics that related more to Latin America and Spain, such as “soccer.”

Once Etermax realized this, they allowed users to submit their own questions to the app — and Trivia Crack shot up in rankings, especially in the US. The team also brought on localization managers to make sure all questions and answers were both culturally relevant and accurate.

We turned to app localization experts at OneSky for their best practices and tips to keep in mind when expanding into new markets.

App Store Optimizations Tools

  1. Sensor Tower: Provides the most insights when it comes to App Store Optimization. Their keyword spy tool is one of the best, allowing you to see what keywords your competitors are using.


  1. App Annie: Provides the best analytics for any app in the app store. It puts a deeper layer on the traditional iTunes Analytics. These analytics help in ASO as you can track positioning.


  1. Apptopia: Provides the best way to track your competition in terms of ranking. As of iOS 11 the App Store from iTunes was removed.


  1. Keyword Tool : Provides a list of potential keywords that can be used for yoru ap.


5. App Store App: The App Store App provides great insights to what is trending in the store. Make sure to pay attention to the home page which shows trending apps. The names of these apps can be used as keywords.


If you'd like to learn more or talk to us about your mobile app, send us an email at tma@sapphireapps.com