Mobile

App Store Optimization – 11 Strategies To Boost Your App Ranking‎

May 27, 2016

So, you’ve finally gotten Apple to accept your app into the App Store. Congratulations!

Unfortunately, now’s when the real hard work begins since you need to strive for app store optimization.

ASO is the process of getting your new app creation greater visibility in the App Store. There are various App Store optimization tools around to help you in this quest.

Without App Store optimization, it’s going to be very hard for people to discover your app, since there were 1.5 million apps in the store as of July 2015!

The last thing you want is for your app to go unnoticed.

After all, your passion, ingenuity and hard work saw you through the months and years of design and development because you believed that your app provides huge value to consumers.

Instead of failing to find an audience for your app, simply follow these steps to implement ASO and get your app the attention it deserves. We sum up the most important points you need to follow in the infographic below, and we’ll go in great detail of each point in the rest of the article.

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YML_App_Store_Optimization

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STEP 1. UNDERSTAND WHAT “APP STORE OPTIMIZATION” IS AND WHY IT’S IMPORTANT

The App Store has a ranking criteria in much the same way that Google has a ranking criteria for the websites it lists on its SERPS (search engine results pages) for specific keyword searches. That’s why you can optimize your app in the App Store and make it appear higher up in search results pages.

Put another way: If you neglect ASO, no one will be able to find your app! It’s just like if you have a website but neglect to optimize it for the search engines. No one will be able to find it either.

If you think that ASO is something you shouldn’t take seriously, think again. Look at these two stunning pieces of data about how people download and use their apps:

    1. According to European Technographics Consumer Technology Online Survey, a significant 63% of all apps downloaded and used in the App Store are found by users browsing for apps.
    2. Another survey, this one conducted by mobile marketing platform Tune, shows that 47% of all American iPhone users discovered the latest app they downloaded by browsing the App Store.
Image From TechCrunch
Image From TechCrunch

This underscores how important it is for you to be on top of your ASO. You want your app to be at the top of the list, or at least on the first search results page for those users browsing in the store.

Breakdown of Mechanics and Factors Involved

To know how to successfully optimize in the store, you have to know what signs and signals Apple is looking for. Once you know what Apple uses to rank your app’s search visibility, you have to optimize for these specific factors.

You could use a service like Aptelligent to discover operational and usage trends, uncovers issues with your app and analyzes behaviors.

According to John Rampton, the two factors Apple puts its heaviest emphasis on are the title of your app, and keyword searches. These two elements form the foundation of your successful ASO strategy. Your App Store optimization keywords are extremely important.

Titles and Keywords

Ideally, your keyword of choice should be within both the title and the description of your app. Obviously, the app title will draw the attention of your users so the keyword has to be there, but it’s equally important for the keyword to also be included in the description, as the description is what ultimately convinces users to download your app — particularly if it’s written persuasively! Check this great webinar out to learn more about app store keywords.

Besides the target keywords in your app’s title and description (which are both under your control), there are also ratings and reviews to consider.

Ratings and Reviews

You can’t control ratings and reviews much as  you can control identifying and using the right keywords for ASO, but you can still influence your app’s ratings and reviews. These are two very important factors, even if Apple doesn’t place as much emphasis on them as the all-important choice of keywords.

Image From Lead Mill

Number of Downloads

A secondary factor that Apple uses in its algorithm is the number of downloads that your app gets. Naturally, this tells Apple how popular your app is, and the more popular (read: more frequently-downloaded apps) also rank higher. The opposite is also true: More downloaded apps are also more popular.

Now that you have a more solid grasp of everything involved in ASO, we can dive deeper into specific app store optimization tips you can unleash to make your app very discoverable.

 

STEP 2. GET INTO THE MIND OF YOUR TARGET AUDIENCE AND CUSTOMERS

The foundation of any successful ASO strategy is knowing your target audience and customers.

    • For whom have you designed your app?
    • What demographics find great value in your app?
    • What problem does it solve for them?

The next step is doing some market research to figure out exactly who can benefit the most from using your app. Successful market research means you’ll know the demand for your app, its chances of selling (or being downloaded) in the App store, and the characteristics of your target audience.

Market research traditionally involves two approaches — primary and secondary research. The former should come right from your intended target audience.

For instance, if you’re thinking of developing an app geared to a certain diet and/or fitness lifestyle, then you’d go straight to the source of people who already live this way. To compile this info, you’d rely on methods like:

    • Focus groups
    • Online surveys
    • Social media feedback

Once that’s done, secondary research that you actively do yourself — without input from anyone else — is next. Because of the web, a lot of tools are available to you right off the bat.

Image From YouTube
Image From YouTube

Let’s say your app is geared towards a specific industry. Tools like Hoovers offer a plethora of industry analysis and company profiles to help you hunt down leads. Similarly, Market Research publishes hundreds of thousands of research reports from various industries so that you can stay on top of developments and stats.

Of course, once you have all of this research in your hands there’s still the matter of actually applying it to the App Store. Even if you discover that there’s a market for your app, you still have to determine if users are actually searching for what your app’s about in the App Store.

As with keyword research for SEO, your job now is to try to think like your customers. Ask yourself what they’d look for if they searched for your app’s subject matter in the store. Here’s what to brainstorm:

    • How your customers would describe your app when doing keyword searches
    • What language these searches are performed in
    • What their number one reason for downloading and using your app would be

At the same time, you want to know what your competitors are doing so you can figure out what keywords similar to yours they’re targeting. This intelligence will empower you to determine whether you want to go ahead and target these same keywords or not.

At the same time, you can also decide if it’s more important to you to rank in the top 10 of extremely competitive keywords or in the very top spot of less competitive keywords. You’ll most definitely get good exposure as long as you’re on the first page of search results—the question is just if you want to be at the very top of a page.

One of the best App Store optimization tools to help you gather competitor intelligence is App Codes. This baby lets you track your competitors’ keywords in the App Store, whether that’s in their titles, descriptions or whole keyword lists. This way you’ll know for sure whether you have a good chance or not of targeting a specific keyword as part of your overall, bigger strategy to reach your target audience.

Image From App Codes
Image From App Codes

If a keyword you’re thinking of optimizing for already has numerous competitors gunning for it, then your app’s chances of being discovered will be better served by using another keyword that doesn’t already have so much competitor attention.

 

STEP 3: PICK THE RIGHT APP TITLE OR APP NAME

The reason you performed your keyword research and identified the most relevant keyword is so you can now optimize your app title. This is one of the huge factors in play when people are browsing for apps in the store. They’ll, in part, make their downloading decision based on how you name your app. To help your ASO, your keyword should be in the title.

As we talked about in the above Tune study, apps with keywords in their titles were ranked 10.3% higher than those that didn’t. If it seems hard to fit your keywords into your app name naturally and intelligibly, consider this:

App Store titles can go up to 255 characters, so you have a generous amount of space to fit in keywords or even keyword phrases in a way that reads logically.

Image From iPhone FAQ
Image From iPhone FAQ

Don’t think that this is an excuse to commit keyword stuffing though! You’ll be penalized for this, as keyword stuffing is widely denounced — as it should be.

Also, keep in mind that longer titles will be automatically shortened by Apple, so you have to understand what characters in the URL will be flagged in the App Store. These characters are usually called unsafe URL characters because they won’t be included by the store as part of your app’s product page URL. A few examples of these unsafe URL characters include:

    • Spaces
    • Question marks
    • Greater than signs
    • Less than signs
    • Backslashes

After the 23rd character, your app name will be shortened on either the search results page or the top charts one. So although you have 255 characters to play around with, to ensure you get your keywords in there naturally it’s a best practice to be straightforward when naming your app.

Image From Build Fire
Image From Build Fire

Try to get all your important keywords into the first 23 characters. Then feel free to supplement the short title with nonessential keywords thereafter. You obviously don’t have to fill out all 255 characters, but it’s still a good idea to connect your app to select keywords, in addition to your most relevant ones.

Now that you’ve taken care of your app title, you still have to deal with the description.

 

STEP 4. IDENTIFY THE BEST KEYWORDS

According to a Tune blog post, keywords are so vital that apps that used keywords in their titles on average ranked 10.3% higher in the App Store than those that didn’t. If you could impact your app’s chances of being found, downloaded, and used by your customer base, then why wouldn’t you do something as simple as making the most of keywords?

Since keywords are the words your potential users will type in to discover your app, it pays to identify the most appropriate ones, but how do you do this?

Image From Tune
Image From Tune

You want to include keywords with the most search traffic in:

    • Your app title or name
    • Your app description
    • The keyword field

As you try to find the best keywords to maximize your app visibility, focus particularly on the keyword ranking difficulty and traffic. These two factors play a huge role in ASO.

The difficulty is a measure of how hard it’ll be to rank your app for any given keyword—in other words, how intense your competition for that keyword is. Traffic is a measure of your keyword’s popularity in the context of search volume. Aim for the perfect combination of a keyword that can be quite hard to come by, yet enjoys high traffic and very little competition. For such an ideal keyword, it can naturally take some time to find the perfect one!

But that’s no problem. After all, there are wonderful App Store optimization tools that’ll empower you to find the most suitable keyword to boost your app in the rankings. Here they are:

It has to be pointed out that Keyword Tool is the only free service, while the rest have different pricing models. However, to do very basic keyword research you should be fine with Keyword Tool (and App Tweak offers a free, seven-day trial). Should you want access to more detailed analytics reports and data down the road, you can always try the others.

Image From Keyword Tool
Image From Keyword Tool

It’s also important to realize that you really should hold off on naming your app UNTIL AFTER you’ve used these keyword tools to settle on the keywords that you want to rank for in the App Store. The worst-case scenario is you wasting time on an app name, then doing keyword research, only to find out that your chosen app name doesn’t optimize well based on your keyword searches. After you’ve picked your most suitable keywords, you should integrate them into your app name or title for even better ASO results!

As we said, you want to choose the keywords that have low competition, high traffic and are hard to come by. Using any of the tools above, find your ideal keyword by:

    • Targeting categories that aren’t yet oversaturated; spotting keyword trends BEFORE they get popular
    • Homing in on superlative searches such as “the best…” or “the top…” for a certain category
    • Finding app-specific functions in searches, such as “prioritize tasks” or “crop images”

Once you complete these tasks, you’re going to have a much better idea of what keyword will give you the best shot at a high placement in the App Store.

The next step is closely tied into this step since it’s based on using the keywords you identified.

 

STEP 5. WRITE A PERSUASIVE APP DESCRIPTION

Your choice of keywords also figures heavily into your app description, another huge factor in ASO. Here too though, you only have a limited amount of room to make your App Store optimization keywords count.

Only the first five lines in the description are typically relevant to customers in the store unless they click on “more” to expand said description. This means that you’ve got to make the best of the small space in which you have to work. Persuasion is the key to making this happen to draw customers’ attention.

Image From Wikipedia

If you’re having trouble arriving at a compelling description in such a tight space, then try going with one of the famous Cialdini Principles of Persuasion. They are:

    • Reciprocity
    • Commitment/Consistency
    • Social Proof
    • Authority
    • Liking
    • Scarcity

For example, incorporate social proof into your description by citing how many people have already downloaded your app or are currently using it. Another tactic would be to cite authority figures who have endorsed or are using your app—maybe there’s an expert in the field who’s using your app. Yet another approach would be to generate likeability in your description by using words that resonate with consumers, such as casual, accessible, and easy-to-understand words that invoke friendliness.

Image From Copyhackers
Image From Copyhackers

To help you write killer descriptions, check out this App Store optimization guide by Entrepreneur Magazine, and another by Copyhackers:

Here are some actionable app-description takeaways you can implement from the get go:

1) Put your most persuasive info in the first five lines (your sell)

2) Show how many people have already either talked about or used your app

3) Write a bullet list of your app’s biggest features

This officially concludes the part of these App Store optimization tips that deal with written copy, but you still have to contend with the visual side of ASO!

 

STEP 6. DESIGN THE PERFECT APP ICON

People just can’t get enough of images. It’s true! We are visual creatures after all, as this series of studies determined. If conversions increase on websites because of high-quality and attractive images, you can bet the same principle’s at work in the App Store.

If there’s a mantra you should employ when icon-designing, it’s this: UNIQUE.

Image From ConversionXL
Image From ConversionXL

You want your icon to stand out in the App Store since there are 1.5 million apps there, all competing for attention, downloads and sales! The best way to achieve this is by designing your app icon to be unique so that it grabs users’ attention immediately — but how?

The first thing is to respect the App Store’s preset standards for icon size across all mobile and tablet devices, which is 1024 X 1024. As long as you don’t run afoul of this requirement, your icon is good to go everywhere else, as Apple will automatically resize it to other considerations like:

    • App icons – 180 X 180
    • Navigation icons – 66 X 66
    • Tab bar icons – 75 X 75

With these tech specs out of the way, you can focus on the pure element of design. The key is clarity, because to surpass all the noise and competition in the App Store you need to design for minimalism and simplicity. Your icon has to convey what your app’s about right off the bat, even in the smaller view of the app menu.

Therefore, stay away from designing your icon with excess and ornamentation. Ideally, skip the superfluous colors, images and words in the icon that’ll just distract your potential buyers. Remember: On the web, people have a really short attention span and don’t really read content and thoroughly absorb things. With 1.5 million apps competing for this demographic’s attention, stick to clarity through simplicity in icon design!

Image From App Tweak
Image From App Tweak

For inspiration on what types of icons do well in the App Store, simply do some competitor research by browsing through the most highly ranked and top-rated apps in the store for various categories. The common bonds you’ll typically spot are:

    • Basic images
    • Vibrant colors (to snag customers’ attention)
    • Uncommon shapes

If you need some help with logo design or inspiration, here are two DIY logo services:

 

STEP 7. FEATURE SCREEN SHOTS

This step reinforces the reality that your app users are visual beings, and the App Store is a visual medium. Images are so front-and-center to how customers make an app-downloading decision that you should think of your app’s screen shots as actual advertisements for it. After all, when you look at the store, you can see that screen shots are more dominant in how Apple lays out its app product pages.

You can only upload a maximum of five screen shots, yet the App Store’s only going to show up to three in the gallery. In reality, your first three screen shots are going to be your visual selling points to customers.

Here’s an idea: A/B test which screen shot has the best chance of persuading people to download your app by first running a banner ad on your site that features different screen shots of your app. Based on the click-through rates for each, you’ll have a much better idea of what screen shots work best at attracting people’s interest and thus persuading them to download your app on the App Store.

Image From Business 2 Community

Since screen shots are meant to draw the eyes of potential buyers, don’t worry about chronological order, telling a story, or otherwise appealing to people’s logic with these images. Screen shots are for the visual orgy of aesthetics and the functional aim of telling people what your app’s about and why this should matter to them.

So showcase your most significant screen shots first, then follow with secondary ones that show either action shots or your navigation menu. This is to help people understand how they’re going to interact and then use your app with the usual gestures like swipes and taps.

Resist the temptation to shock-and-awe your users with character or concept art or showy splash pages. Both your users and the App Store’s ranking system care more about your screen shots demonstrating what users can expect with your app.

A/B testing is applicable here too. You’ll increase your chances of getting more downloads when you have a good idea of what screen shots perform better than others. Luckily for you, there just so happens to be one of these App Store optimization services around!

This handy tool that lets you A/B test various screen-shot candidates on the App Store is called StoreMaven. It’s good for both Google Play App Store optimization.

Image From Store Maven
Image From Store Maven

Not only does it let you test different screen shots against each other, but it also lets you compare your screen shots to industry standards. This great service comes with a free 30-day trial, but thereafter monthly rates can get quite expensive, even on the lowest pricing tier. As a result, this is a tool that may be better for larger businesses.

Once your screenshots are picked and ready to go, you have to think more broadly in terms of your marketing.

 

STEP 8. APPEAL TO CONSUMERS BEYOND ENGLISH SPEAKERS

While much of the world speaks English and the App Store caters to an American audience, the truth is that much of the world doesn’t speak English. Why would you neglect this huge, potential market for your app?!

Research backs this up: Did you know that only 31% of the world’s total app revenue came from North America? 41% came from Asia, and 23% came from Europe!

Image From Geology.com
Image From Geology.com

Translation: You are missing out on the majority of the world’s market for your app if you only make it English-centric.

This problem can easily be fixed by focusing on localization, which is the process of marketing your app to non-English speaking people in their native languages. There are a bunch of localization services that efficiently translate your app’s keywords, description, name and even screen shots to demographics and segments beyond the English-speaking world.

Image From Smartling
Image From Smartling

Here are just a few examples:

Since the App Store even permits you to localize your app listing to different segments around the world, why not take advantage of this? It’d be a crime to your bottom line not to use App Store optimization tools like these to appeal to more customers around the world!

 

STEP 9. PROMOTE YOUR APP BEYOND THE APP STORE

Think of the App Store as just the first place to market and push your app. If there’s anything this App Store optimization guide has shown you, it’s that it pays to think broadly with how you handle ASO.

It’s a strategically smart and necessary goal to go beyond the App Store in raising your app’s visibility. ASO is based in part on Apple considering both product-page backlinks and overall page visits to determine your search visibility in the store. Of course, this means that SEO plays a huge role in directing traffic to your app’s product page in the store.

Image From SEM Rush
Image From SEM Rush

That’s why your ASO should also incorporate elements of SEO in your push to reach beyond the App Store to get views, downloads and purchases of your app.

More traffic to your product page means a higher ranking in the store, so use the following tactics for greater traffic:

    • Paid search
    • Link building through press coverage and reviews
    • Promoting your app to various, influential blogs
    • Social media

Another strategy to employ is app indexing, which is relatively new but which more and more marketers swear by. It’s a system that lets mobile searchers click directly from listings in the SERPs into their apps on their iOS devices.

Image From Google

These users will then either land right on your app’s product page, or even to the appropriate page in your app from which the search content was indexed (assuming that app is installed in their device to begin with). Since app indexing empowers you to drive traffic from SERPs right to your app’s product page in the store, it’s a powerful strategy.

Start app indexing with Google’s developer link.

 

STEP 10. MAINTAIN YOUR ASO

As with SEO for a website, ASO is something that you have to constantly work on to keep strong in the service of your goals. Remember to keep monitoring it and regularly tweak it over a length of time to keep it optimized.

Be especially watchful of your own ranking and those of your competitors’. Your entire ASO maintenance depends on it. You want to see if you’re losing ground against your competitors and if they’re suddenly overtaking you in the rankings. Remember that they, too, will be tweaking their ASO regularly over time, so you can never rest on your laurels.

In addition, there are more and more apps that are published on the App Store each day! That means a constant stream of new competitors in your category. Even if all of them aren’t on top of their ASO, all you need is a few new app companies publishing each week and maintaining their ASO to give you a run for your money in the search rankings.

Image From Google

The best way to stay on top of your ASO is to just keep playing around with your keywords to constantly rank well for them. This’ll have the effect of driving greater traffic to your product page.

Equally important is releasing constant updates for your app. Typically, these updates incorporate user feedback in the relentless effort to keep improving app performance and user experience. Both Apple and your consumers naturally look at constantly updating apps as customer-focused and high-quality, both of which are vital search signals.

Theoretically, each app update you release, since it implements user feedback, should be better than the last. Therefore, this’ll eventually increase your app ratings and reviews because your users will be getting better versions with each release.

Image From SF Agile Marketing
Image From SF Agile Marketing

As it stands now, the average update frequency for an app is 30 to 40 days. Try to shoot for this, but realize that each update means a short-lived drop in your app ranking. This is due to the ratings resets that occur with every update. To avoid having an app that’s always experiencing rank volatility, don’t update your app more frequently than 30 to 40 days.

So just how do you get users to continually leave good reviews and ratings, which help enormously with ASO maintenance? Another option is to hire an ASO Freelancer on truelancer.com.

 

STEP 11. GET MORE APP REVIEWS AND RATINGS

What to do with app reviews and ratings, out of all these App Store optimization tips, is potentially the most frustrating issue for designers and developers. You don’t have utter control over how they’ll break down. The most you can do is influence both reviews and ratings with your decisions.

Everyone wants higher ratings because higher-rated apps rank higher in the store. So how do you avoid either negative reviews or apathetic users who don’t care enough to give ratings in the first place?

Image From Mac Rumors
Image From Mac Rumors

One solution is to reach your users from directly within your app to let them give feedback right to the app developers. This can be happy users who want to give positive reviews or disgruntled users who want to complain and who you want to keep from writing a negative review or providing a bad rating.

Just take a close look at the top apps in any category in the store and you’ll notice the blatant correlation between high ratings and popular apps. In other words, the more positive reviews and ratings you get, the more your app is going to show up high in the search results. These apps have all done extremely well in connecting to users in-app.

A tool like Appirator will remind your users to rate your app with an in-app pop-up box. This tool is ideal for when users have just experienced excellent UX—try making it pop up after they’ve just achieved something spectacular (as in a game, for instance).

App Ratings
Image From Marketing Land

Alternately, you may want a tool to help you deal with disgruntled users. One such tool is Helpshift, an in-app IM service. Helpshift is nifty because it attempts to deflect negative reviews by showing users a “send feedback” option instead.

 

helpshift

Helpshift enables brands to communicate directly with their customers right from within the app. For example, it enabled Flipboard to collect feedback and engage with their customers via a private channel. Unlike the app store, they can connect better with the customer base, understand their problems and at the same time maintain higher app store ratings.

ASO IS CRUCIAL TO YOUR APP’S SUCCESS!

Now that you see everything involved in ASO, you understand that just building your app and getting it into the App Store isn’t close to enough. Think of it as just half the journey.

Now, you’ve got to make it discoverable within the store as well as outside of it. To do that, you have to make sure everything clicks.

We hope you got a lot out of this App Store optimization guide! The various App Store optimization tools we talked about through this tutorial will give you a big help in making your app rise to the top of the rankings.

Good luck!

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