Wikipedia defines App Store Optimisation (ASO) as the process of improving the visibility of a mobile app in an App Store such as iTunes or Google Play, similar in concept to the technique of Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) used for websites.
More specifically, ASO is defined as the process of improving the ranking in an App Store’s search results and top charts rankings, in order to drive more downloads of the app.
Worldwide web ‘search’ is dominated by Google; however the App Store industry is dominated by two major players, Apple and their iTunes store, and Google/Android with Google Play. Between them they have more than 90% of the apps download market, although there are other companies such as Blackberry with 3% of downloads, and Microsoft with 4%, it is widely accepted that commercial ASO activity should concentrate on Apple and Google platforms foremost with analysts predicting a pre-eminence of Google Apps in the medium term due to the Open Source nature of Android.
In recent years there has been an explosion in the number of apps available – 2014 figures show that the iTunes store has upward of 1.2 million for download (with an estimated $10 billion paid to developers) and Google Play at 1.3 million (with an estimated revenue of $3.2 billion to developers). The number of app users across the world is expected to grow between 25 and 30% per year.
As the number of apps has increased, the chances of a potential user finding a single app (with or without searching for it) has plummeted, and this has led to a whole new discipline, with ‘App Marketers’ now carrying out ASO to tap into this lucrative market and ensure their client’s apps appear near the top of charts and search results for specific keywords, have higher rankings than competitors’ apps.
The name ASO is only around 3 years old. Methods are still somewhat patchy, with focus around Keyword Optimisation – also known as Keyword Research – which is researching, analysing, and selecting the best keywords to target and drive qualified users to the app (as per standard SEO for web).
Research on the subject suggests that following areas are widely accepted by ASO practitioners as best practice:
On Page ASO Optimisations
First a note on use of ASO Keywords:
Intelligent companies clearly have an understanding of their customer base and the language their customers use – which can be translated into typical keywords those customers are likely to use when searching for mobile apps. In addition, knowing what keywords competitors use for their products can be important – although what you do with that information is debatable, for instance whether to go for popular keywords for your own app and risk competing with a rival, or to try and find niche keywords instead.
What is beyond debate though is that use of keywords, and an understanding of that, should be viewed as a fundamental aspect of app development from the start, and not just something dreamt up 10 minutes before publication. The tweaking of Apps search keywords should be something done throughout an app’s lifetime in order to help optimise potential downloads.
Those who have studied ASO indicate that the best uses of keywords include both Functional (say, describing features) and Categorical phrases (i.e. describing primary market or category), with secondary and even tertiary choices also being made.
Google Autocomplete is also a powerful feature to be aware of and to use when deciding keywords. This is the suggested searches that Google and Apple present as you start typing and, although they don’t publish the algorithms they use, we can safely assume they are based on popular query terms.
Research also indicates keyword misspellings very often feature – Google Play indicate 50% of App searches have popular misspelt queries – so this can be another area to capitalise on.
There are a number of other best practice suggestions around keywords, such as not repeating terms, not including singular and plurals of keywords, ignoring small ‘connectors’ – “a” and “the”, and also avoiding use of competitors names.
Use of Keywords in App Title
Taking likely keywords and having the most relevant in the app’s title is the first and most important stage in improving the search rankings for an app, in fact research shows that just having a relevant keyword in the title makes a typical app 10% more ‘successful’ than one without. However, in a recent report around 84% apps in the App Store did not have any keywords in their titles!
The title tag should be descriptive and indicate what the app does, but be kept short to avoid issues with, for instance, different Android screen sizes and resolutions – truncation is considered a real turn off. Apple has a 25 character limit for this.
The keyword in the app title should be the heaviest used keyword by searchers, if it isn’t, efforts will be wasted. App titles also shouldn’t change either, especially when launching new versions. Users speak to other users and recommend downloads, and changing the title is perhaps the easiest way to prevent an App being searched for and found.
Use of Keywords in the App Description
Similar to Meta description tags on a website, keywords for your app’s description must clearly describe what the app is, what it does, and what the benefits are for users. Developers are increasingly employing professional Copywriters to get this right. I’m not suggesting everyone should do this, but with a 4000 character limit on descriptions in the iTunes store, and the app description being the primary way of advertising the benefits of an app to a user, your words need to be powerful and succinct.
Use of an App Icon
The App icon is the first thing people see when they view a listing, and it should convey what the app is in the simplest, most visual manner. The benefits of having a great icon shouldn’t be underestimated, and the most popular apps (Facebook etc.) all have a very recognisable brand icon.
Developers are increasingly hiring professionals to design logos.
Use of an App Screenshot
Again, humans are visual creatures, and users want to see a preview of what they’re getting before they potentially spend their money. Research shows that screenshots are best appreciated when they convey a specific benefit of the app, and supplemental text should be used whenever possible to clarify each screenshot.
It’s so obvious, but to be successful an app should be categorised appropriately – research shows that more than 50% of users scroll through categories to find interesting apps that they then download. A secondary and even a tertiary category should also be considered.
Google Play Store recently added a new feature that allows you to upload a YouTube video of your app in action. In this increasingly competitive market, it is becoming more and more important to highlight the best parts of an app, and video is an ideal way to do this.
Translating an app into different languages can greatly increase downloads, and expose it to a larger potential audience. In one study, localisation increased downloads of an iPhone app by more than 700%. By no means translate into every language – carefully consider which audiences will be most popular and just target them.
Leverage of Plug-Ins
Although it would be difficult to prove, Google almost certainly prioritises apps that feature Google + plug-ins.
Off Page ASO Optimisations
Ratings and Reviews are also very important aspects, and trust us users do look at reviews of apps before downloading. Therefore a developer should ensure that an app gets genuine reviews, and in the case of negative reviews, leverage this feedback to overcome user’s issues and recommendations. It’s therefore important to encourage happy customers to put reviews for the app, whether that’s a ‘Rate this app’ popup after people have been using it for a while, or another method.
Taking Google as an example, the Play Store accesses Google’s search indexes, so this means that links from popular and authoritative websites will certainly help the popularity of an app. Work with bloggers to get them to review the app, make sure there’s a link to it on your website, and across other relevant sites that your users will be visiting.
A Note on Number of Downloads
Although figures are hard to come by as companies typically keep download data confidential for commercial reasons, popular apps show higher on download charts, and users undoubtedly download apps based on their popularity – and not even necessarily on need. This is not something we can easily manipulate, but it is something we could keep in mind. Our ASO/ Mobile Apps Testing Service can help to build your app profile in App Stores, leading to more downloads.
White Hat versus Black Hat
White Hat is a term used for performing ASO in a way App Stores would approve of and accept.
Black Hat ASO is a term for performing ASO in a way App Stores would definitely not approve of or accept, such as falsifying downloads or ratings, perhaps by using bots or other techniques to make it seem like an app is more important and influential than it actually is. For reputational reasons and to ensure you’re not blacklisted by App Stores in the future, you should not to stray into any technique, or work with any developers doing anything even close to what could be considered as Black Hat.
Testing of ASO
There are a number of Open Source app keywords spy/discovery tools which will state that they will pull (and in some cases analyse/ compare) the keywords used by an app. Sogeti Studio demos a number of these offerings, to understand how they function, and how they can be used.
There are analytics tools available to track app keywords, and to check where a mobile app stands in terms of popularity. Free tools include Google’s Mobile App Analytics, MobileDevHQ, Distimo Analytics, and Mopapp. And paid solutions are Mobile Action, AppCodes, AppTweak, Sensor Tower, and Searchman. Sogeti Studio will soon carry out a study of the tools available in the marketplace, so you can find the one that is right for you.
What Testing Service could Sogeti Studio offer a client?
Sogeti Studio is our UK-based web and mobile testing lab. Current services offered within the Studio include mobile strategy, application development, testing (functionality, compatibility, performance, usability, security and accessibility) and portfolio management. ASO can be incorporated into our development and testing cycles – both on-screen and off-screen – with recommendations for improvement on:
- - Use of keywords in App Title;
- - Use of keywords in App description;
- - Quality of App icon (if even present);
- - Number and quality of screenshots (if even used);
- - Applicability of App categorisation;
- - Quality of any YouTube demo videos with the App;
- - A marking for localisation efforts;
- - A rating for including (say) any Google Plug-Ins.
- - Number and type of User comments, use of forums etc.
- - Availability of App as a link on specified key sites.
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