App Store optimization (ASO) basics

Nov 23, 2019 08:15 · 1398 words · 7 minute read ios

So you just created your first iOS app and… nothing. Now you’re wondering how you could get users to actually notice (search optimization) and hopefully download (conversion optimization) your iOS app. Good, that’s basically what we’ll try to explore today.

The ASO basics

Before getting into the ASO itself, it’s worth clarifying a couple of points.

First, let’s talk about the overall process of optimizing for the App Store. You have to consider that it is an iterative process and that you’ll never get Apple to tell you what you did right or wrong. The recommended approach is then to:

  1. gather some key performance indicators (KPI)
  2. apply a change (or a small number of changes)
  3. wait
  4. check your KPI again and either keep this change or rollback
  5. repeat

And you need to do this again and again. Your two main assets are your methodology and your patience.

By consequence, it’s very important for you to get some familiarity with iTunes Connect’s App Analytics (some other apps provide additional data or different visualizations, one of the most popular being App Annie). The key numbers in there are:

  • Impressions: the number of times your app was viewed on the App Store for more than one second
  • Units: app units counts how many times your app was downloaded for the first time from the App Store

Based on this, you can calculate the conversion rate (Units / Impressions * 100) which tells you how good you are at getting downloads from people seeing your listing on the App Store.

At the end of the day, to increase your number of downloads coming from searches on the App Store, you have to maximize the number of impressions and maximize the number of conversions from the impressions you have. We’re going to look at both steps just now.

Search Optimization: increasing Impressions

The key things you want to optimize for are:

  • app name / subtitle
  • keywords metadata
  • localization
  • number of installs (see conversion optimization below)

Following the iterative process we’ve described in introduction:

  1. select the keywords you want to target
  2. optimize your app for these keywords
  3. measure the results and keep or rollback
  4. do it again

Select the keywords

The most common mistake here is to only go after popular keywords. What you want is to go after the popular keywords for which you can realistically compete and for which, if you manage to get a decent ranking, you can expect a decent number of downloads.

You need to select the keywords for which your app actually brings some value. Just think the way a user thinks on the App Store (or just try to remember the last time you searched for something on the App Store). If you search for something, you probably have a “problem” you want to solve (e.g. search for “todo app”) and your app is going to be relevant for this search if it actually solves all of this problem (your app is a todo application) or at least some of this problem (your app might be a productivity or a tasks management app for instance).

There are a few ways to find the relevant keywords for your app. Here is my shortlist:

  • app store autosuggest, start typing something and see the autosuggest (the higher in the list the better)
  • apple search ads, when selecting search ads keywords apple gives you a keyword rating for free! You don’t even have to setup an ad campaign.
  • general google search popularity
  • … and your common sense on what problem your app solves and what your target users might search for

A good way to combine all these things is to rank them from 1 to 5, sum the values up and keep something like the 10 best scores.

Optimize for the keywords

From there, you have the keywords you want to optimize for. You “just” need to update your app listing to match the new objective you have. There are a few places that you need to update and I’d recommend to look at these things in the order I describe below.

App name

If your app is not Facebook or Twitter and doesn’t aim to be one of these, you probably want to optimize your app name for search by adding the relevant keywords to your app name itself. This is the most powerful field for sure on the App Store.

Keywords

Keywords metadata is the next thing you want to investigate. This is Apple saying “hey, here is a chance for you to tell a bit more about how to find your app”. Keep in mind that you’re actually speaking to a search algorithm, so there are a few things you can expect:

  • stop words: you can expect Apple to get rid of things like and, the, etc. so don’t include them.
  • white spaces: you want to fill as many as keywords as possible, so don’t include white spaces, Apple is going to get rid of these anyway.
  • lemma: it’s likely that Apple only uses the lemma version of a word. So, I’d suggest to avoid to include run, runs, ran, running as run is the lemma and might be the only one to get filtered out.

Finally, don’t miss this chance! Just fill as many keywords as you can in the keywords field and localize the keywords.

Localization

It’s a pain but do it. Really, not a lot more to say here. Localization can be a pain as it requires you to not only localize your app but also localize your app store listing but it can pay. You’ll sometimes notice that for different reasons, your app X might be very popular in France but not that much in the US and vice versa for your app Y (less competition in a specific market, more interest on another market, etc.).

Number of installs

Not everything is under your control here but you do want to optimize conversion for the keywords that are relevant to your app and this exactly what we are going to explore now. :)

Conversion optimization: increasing Units per Impressions

Whether you get a small number of impressions or a ton of impressions, you want to convert as many as possible into downloads (you’ll probably want to focus even more on this if you have a small number of impressions though).

So, the user has seen your app listing and now you want her to press the magic [get] button. It’s like someone seeing your display window and you trying to get this person to enter your shop and eventually buy something.

The key things the user is going to look at:

  • branding (is it attractive or not? can I trust this application or not?)
  • ratings/reviews (does your app have a lot of ratings/reviews? are they good ratings/reviews?)
  • localization (is the app in my own language? Will I be able to use it?)

Here again, you want to follow an iterative process:

  1. gather data
  2. make a change
  3. check the effect and keep or rollback
  4. repeat

Branding

You want:

  • a professional looking icon
  • professional looking and appealing screenshots
  • an overall consistency between all the branding elements (colors, font, messaging, etc.)

And you also want your app to be “desirable”. Just as for people, some of this can be explained and some of this can’t be explained.

Ratings & Reviews

Obviously, the objective is to get as many good ratings/reviews as possible. So, the process is iterative again (I know):

  1. ask for reviews in your app
  2. read the reviews carefully and hopefully you’ll find some gems in there
  3. improve your app and consider resetting reviews if relevant
  4. see if ratings and reviews have improved
  5. repeat

For this to work, you need to carefully consider when is a good time to ask for a review. There are two main strategies here:

  • your user just reached a milestone in your app experience
  • and/or your user has launched your app more than X times.

Localization

We’ve discussed it above and I am not going to repeat it here but it’s again an important and powerful factor for conversion.

Conclusion

I hope this few lines got you started on app store optimization (ASO). This was not aimed to be an exhaustive guide but hopefully it gave you a few ideas on how to optimize your app and your App Store listing.

Best of luck with your app(s)!

References

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