04 Jan 2023 [updated]

What is ASO, or App Store Optimization?

Essential step in app marketing that's often missed

There are several key elements that can affect the number of downloads an app receives, including the text, icon, screenshots, and ratings and reviews. By optimizing these elements, app developers can increase the visibility and appeal of their app to potential users.

All these elements are equally important, especially if your brand is not yet well-known. Without the right keywords in the app text, your app may not appear in the most relevant search results. Unattractive visuals may discourage users from downloading the app. And a rating lower than 4.0 may cause users to doubt the quality of the app and choose a competitor with more positive reviews instead. It is important to carefully consider and optimize all of these elements in order to increase the visibility and appeal of your app to potential users.

How to find keywords?

Text of your app listing affects your app positions in search requests. While the exact algorithms used by app stores to rank apps are unknown and constantly changing, there are a few general principles that can help improve your app's ranking:

  1. The top 3 positions in search results receive significantly more traffic than other positions.
  2. Keywords included in the app title have a greater impact on ranking than keywords in other fields.

One of the most important rules for text ASO is to ensure that your keywords appear in search suggestions. Search suggestions are generated by app stores based on the most popular queries entered by users. When a particular query is entered frequently enough, it will appear as a suggestion to help users find what they are looking for more quickly. There are various platforms that can help you identify the most effective keywords for your app, making it easier to optimize your listing and improve its chances of being discovered and downloaded.

Apple Search Ads (ASA) can also help to find keywords. The platform assigns a score between 100 and 5 to keywords, with higher scores indicating higher traffic and, in most cases, more competition. To access ASA keyword data, you will need to have an active Apple developer account or access to an ASO analytics platform that provides ASA scores. This data can be useful for identifying the best keywords to include in your app listing in order to increase its visibility and appeal to potential users.

Keyword suggestions provided by Apple Search Ads

The way that text is indexed differs between stores. In the App Store, search algorithms analyze a title, subtitle, and list of keywords. In Google Play, they analyze a title, short description, and full description. Adding keywords to the app description in the App Store may not be effective, but it's worth considering adding them in Google Play.

While repeating keywords in multiple fields can help increase a app's ranking in Google Play, it doesn't have the same effect in the App Store. If you have repetitions of keywords in your app's title, subtitle, or list of keywords in the App Store, I advise to remove them ASAP.

Also, Google Play uses Natural Language processing to identify the primary topics of your app description. Based on that analysis, NL finds additional relevant keywords, potentially resulting in your app ranking for keywords you wouldn't expect. And there're rumours that Google NL may score apps lower if the description is overstuffed with keywords. I recommend testing different texts and keywords to to see how it affects your app's ranking.

By the way, ASO and iterative tests go together like cream and strawberries. By continually updating and refining the elements of your app store listing, you can effectively improve your ASO strategy and increase the chances of success.

Let's sum it up:

  • Find relevant keywords

    Use an ASO platform, search requests or app store ad services.

  • Add them to text fields

    App title, subtitle and keywords list in the App Store; app title, full and short descriptions in Google Play.

  • Write for humans, not algorithms

    Try not to overfill your texts with keywords, the decision to download your app is on a user.

  • But take their differences into account

    The App Store and Google Play rank keywords differently.

How to optimise your Graphics?

Text mostly influences the number of app views. And it's often the visuals that ultimately convert those views into downloads. By creating high-quality, eye-catching visuals, you can not only increase your conversion rate, but also attract organic downloads.

Icons and screenshots are the main drivers of the conversion to install. After making a search request in Google Play, users see only an app icon and title for most apps; they can see screenshots only after they go to the app page. However, if your app has a strong brand by Google Play standards, users can see the first three screenshots or a video right away. The Google Play approach to popular apps copies the way how the App Store shows all apps in search results.

Your app's icon is the face of your brand. It's important not to overload it with small details and make it easily readable on a screen of any size. It's also a good idea to research your competitors and choose an icon that sets your app apart in search results. For example, a painful amount of pdf reader apps mimic the Adobe Acrobat colour scheme: a white object on the red background. As a result, when someone searches "pdf viewer", they see an endless list of similar red-and-white icons. By standing out with a unique icon, you can increase the chances of your app being noticed and downloaded.

When it comes to screenshots, the main rule is to ensure that all elements are clearly visible and easily understood by users. It's also a good idea to highlight the most important UI elements. Keep in mind that very few users (likely less than 1%) will open full-size images, so it's important to make sure that the key information is prominent in the smaller versions displayed in the app store. By following these guidelines, you can effectively showcase the features and functionality of your app through your screenshots.

Another vital thing is incorporating phrases into your app screenshots. As I said earlier, most users don't read descriptions, so title and screenshots are their main sources of information about your app. When crafting your phrases, focus on explaining how your app can help users rather than simply listing its features.

It cannot be stressed enough that it's crucial to make your visuals stand out from those of your competitors, particularly on the App Store where users can see both icons and screenshots.

Speaking of videos, they're tricky. They can increase or decrease downloads, or have no impact at all. Also, they're more important for games than apps. In the App Store, videos play automatically by default, while in Google play, they must be clicked on to start playing. In the app listings, videos are shown before screenshots in both stores. If you decide to include videos in your ASO strategy,

When creating video previews, you can follow the same guidelines as for screenshots. There's one more addition for Google Play: keep in mind that a "play" button will hide the centre of a preview. It's best to avoid placing something important there.

Let's sum it up:

  • Use only big elements

    Small fonts and elements won't be visible in previews.

  • Be recognizable

    Try to look different from your competitors.

  • Words matter

    Use phrases on your screenshots describing what problems your app solves.

  • Test-test-test

    Sometimes your taste in graphics drastically differs from your audience and it's OK.

How to improve your Ratings & Reviews?

Ratings are stars that users give to your app: from 1 to 5. They can be accompanied by reviews detailing what they like or dislike about your app.

It's recommended to keep the rating of at least 4.5. This is an ongoing process: you need to enhance your app, build your brand and connect with users both inside and outside the app.

While you have less control over ratings and reviews than over text and graphics, they can be a valuable source of feedback. You can analyse complaints, gather feature requests, and communicate with users by responding to their reviews. In result, your app rating can increase.

Most companies don't respond to reviews, despite the opportunity to persuade a user to change a negative rating. You can send a user a message that a bug has been fixed, a feature has been added, or any other issue has been resolved. If you're lucky, the user will update their review and give your app a better rating.

Of course, there's a reason why most companies prefer communicating with users through emails and messengers. App store messaging is cumbersome and slow. For example, it's almost impossible to receive more information from a user that reported an issue. Some ASO platforms help to work with reviews but still don't eliminate all downsides. Perhaps, we'll see a more comfortable way to communicate in both the App Store and Google Play in the future.

It's also worth noting that you can reset your app rating in the App Store, uploading a new app version. This feature isn't available in Google Play — instead, their rating algorithm is skewed towards more recent reviews. Additionally, Google Play has measure in place to prevent review bombing. Each time when a popular app suffers a sudden drop in ratings, moderators remove negative reviews in a couple of days.

Before you can address ratings and reviews, you need to get them in the first place. The App Store has in-app native forms, and Google Play has recently introduced them as well. You can also use custom or 3rd party in-app platforms to make these forms match the design of your app. Keep in mind that app store guidelines prohibit asking a review in exchange for some kind of reward and redirecting negative reviews to customer support rather than the app store. You can also request reviews in social networks or in person.

Ratings, reviews and graphics influence inorganic downloads too: when a user clicks on an ad, they land on the app page. These elements will influence their decision to try an app.

Let's sum it up:

  • Be awesome

    Keep the rating higher than 4.5

  • There's always a second chance

    Users can change their reviews. Also, app stores give options to recover after bad ratings and reviews.

  • Stay connected

    Listen to your users and show that you care about their opinion.

  • Improve your app

    Always strive to provide the best possible user experience.

ASO is an ongoing Process

ASO is an iterative process that requires making changes to improve your app's visibility and conversion rate. Test different options, keep what works, search for alternatives that can further increase views and conversions, adapt to changing app store algorithms, fight giant worms… sorry, wrong universe.

By staying up-to-date and proactive in your ASO efforts, you can increase the success of your app in app stores. The effectiveness of ASO strategies can vary, with some lasting for a few weeks and others for months. The good news is the ASO effect is cumulative. As you get more downloads, your app will have a better chance of ranking higher in popular search requests and get more traffic as a result. then pick even more popular keywords.

For apps that are already published on the app store, the first step in any ASO effort is to conduct an audit. Check the app positions with the help of ASO platforms, have a look at ASO metrics (views and downloads in Google Play, impressions, views and downloads in the App Store), evaluate graphics, see if the app rating is high enough.

By regularly reviewing your app's performance and making informed decisions based on your findings, you can continually optimize your ASO efforts to achieve the best results. For example, if you notice a sudden drop in your app's positions, it can be caused by changes in algorithms. In this case, you may need to change keywords.

If your app has never been optimised previously, I recommend starting by updating your texts and screenshots. Once you've created new texts and graphics, test them separately. Updating only one element at a time will help you get a clearer understanding of their impact on ASO metrics. To compare different versions of your app listing elements, you can use A/B testing. There're two methods of A/B testing: consecutive and simultaneous.

Google Play has native tools to test several versions of app listing elements at once, including two versions of A/B tests: testing default listings and custom. App Store offers Custom Product Pages as a way to A/B test elements of app store listings.

As for consecutive A/B testing, it involves uploading a new version of your app listing with new keywords and waiting for a set period of time before comparing the performance of the updated listing with the previous one. To perform consecutive A/B testing, you can follow these steps:

  1. Update your app listing with new keywords.
  2. Wait for 10-12 days to allow enough time for the update to take effect.
  3. Compare the positions and ASO metrics of the updated listing with the previous one on a day-by-day basis. For example, compare the performance on Monday before the update to Monday after the update, Tuesday before the update to Tuesday after the update, and so on.
  4. If you see a noticeable increase in views and downloads, your optimization was successful. You can then remove any keywords that do not improve your app's ranking and search for better alternatives.

Remember to regularly review and update your app listing to optimise your ASO efforts and improve your app's performance in the app store. If the conversion to install has increased for more than 5% after updating the app listing elements, you're on the right track.

ASO is a way of trial and error, so don't worry if you see a decrease. Adjust your strategy and continue testing.

Let's sum it up:

  • Update!

    Change your texts and graphics according to new rules and changes in algorithms.

  • Test!

    Don't be afraid to experiment. Even if some strategy fails, it's important to continue testing and refining your app listing.

  • Follow ASO experts

    Read about the latest changes & trends and use the best practices.

  • Improve your metrics

    Always strive to provide the best possible user experience.

Blog author photo
Diana Sadykova

Head of Marketing at Quality Wolves

I love Belgian beer, future pop, and writing about IT products.

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