What is ASO, or App Store Optimization?

Essential step in app marketing that's often missed

ASO, or App Store optimization, helps to attract organic — or free — traffic. It also increases the conversion to install for both organic and inorganic — or paid — downloads. Every element of your app listing can affect their number both positively and negatively.

These elements are:

  • Text
  • Icon
  • Screenshots
  • Ratings & reviews

All these elements are equally important — especially if your brand isn't strong yet. The app text without keywords won't show your app in most relevant search requests. Unattractive visuals won't persuade users to download it. And an app rating lower than 4.0 might prompt users to think its quality isn't great and it's better to download a competitor with more positive feedback.

How to find keywords?

Text of your app listing affects your app positions in search requests. The exact algorithms are unknown and change constantly. There are some fixed rules though:
1. The top 3 positions in the results of a search request have much more traffic than others.
2. Keywords in the app title influence positions more than keywords in other fields.

And here's the most vital rule: your keywords should appear in search suggestions. They definitely have at least some traffic because of the way they're chosen by an app store: every time when someone types something, the query is registered, and when the number of queries reaches some critical mass — this query starts to appear as a suggestion. For both stores, the main source of keywords is search suggestions. Thankfully, there're numerous platforms that make finding keywords much easier than checking all the relevant words that come in mind through a search bar.

Apple Search Ads, or ASA, can also help to see the list of the most popular keywords relevant to some theme. These keywords have scores ranging from 100 to 5. The higher the number, the more traffic a keyword has (and, in most cases, competition). To research Apple Search Ads keyword data, you'll need an active Apple developer account or subscription to an ASO platform that can show ASA scores.

Keyword suggestions provided by Apple Search Ads

Text indexes differently in different stores: in the App Store, search algorithms parse a title, subtitle, and list of keywords; in Google Play, — a title, short and full descriptions. So, it's meaningless to add keywords to the app description in the App Store but definitely worth a try to add them in Google Play.

Another thing that doesn't work in the App Store but helps to increase positions in Google Play is repeating keywords in several fields. If you have repetitions in the title, subtitle or list of keywords of your app in the App Store, please stop reading this article and change them immediately. Thank you.

Also, Google Play uses Natural Language to understand the main topics of your full description and find additional relevant keywords. There're rumours that Google NL scores your app lower if the description is filled with too many keywords. I recommend testing different texts and keywords to check if it's true in your case.

By the way, ASO and iterative tests go together like cream and strawberries.

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. To convert them in downloads, we need quality visuals. It can attract some organic downloads as well.

Icons and screenshots are the main drivers of the conversion to install. After 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, 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.

An icon is the face of your app and brand. It's important not to overload it with small details and make it easily readable on a screen of any size. Also, it's a good idea to research your competitors and pick something different from them to stand out in a search request. 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.

Regarding screenshots, the main rule is similar: all elements should be big enough so a user easily understands what an app is about. Remember that an extremely tiny number of users open full-size images, I doubt they amount even to 1%. Also, you can highlight the most important UI elements.

Another vital thing is phrases. First, you should use them. As I said earlier, users don't read descriptions so title and screenshots are their main sources of information about your app. Second, it's better to tell users how your app can help them instead of listing features. And again, make your visuals differ from competitors, especially in the App Store as users see both icons and screenshots there.

Speaking of videos, they're tricky. They can increase downloads, tank them or don't influence them at all. Also, they're more important for games than apps. Videos play automatically in the App Store by default and should be clicked on to start playing in Google Play. The video preview takes the place of a first screenshot on the app page. I'd say only a preview for Google Play requires optimization: App Store users won't likely see it anyway.

For video previews, you can follow the same recommendations 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 better not to place 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 where users describe what they like or don't like about your app.

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

Unlike text and graphics, you have much less control over ratings and reviews. But it's a great channel to receive feedback: you can analyse what irritates people, gather their feature requests and — most importantly — communicate with users, answering to their reviews. In result, your app rating can increase.

Now, most companies don't answer to reviews though it's one of few opportunities to persuade a user they need to change a negative rating. You can send a user a message that a bug was fixed, a feature added, or any other reason has disappeared. If you're lucky, they'll update their review and give your app a better rating.

Of course, there's a reason why most companies prefer communicating with users through customer support. App store messages are more cumbersome than emails and messengers we're so used to: 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.

Also, 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. To add, Google Play has tools against review bombing: TikTok suffered a huge rating flop not so long ago, and moderators cleaned a sudden increase of bad reviews in a couple of days.

But before all that, you need to get a review. 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 fit your app design. Keep in mind that app store guidelines prohibit asking a review in exchange for some kind of reward and redirecting bad reviews to customer support instead of a store. Another way to get a review is asking for them in social networks and real life.

Ratings, reviews and graphics influence inorganic downloads too: when a user clicks 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 iterative and requires constant changes. You try several options, keep one of them until it works, looking for alternatives that can increase the number of views and the conversion to install further, adapt to changing app store algorithms, fight giant worms… sorry, wrong universe.

Sometimes a new version of ASO lives for a couple of weeks and then stops bringing downloads, sometimes it's stable for months. The good news is the ASO effect is cumulative. As you get more downloads, it becomes easier to have high positions in more popular search requests, get more traffic as a result, then pick even more popular keywords.

But the first step is always an ASO audit. Check the app positions with the help of ASO platforms, have a look at changes of 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.

Then decide what steps you should take. For example, if you see that your positions suddenly became lower, it can be caused by changes in algorithms. In this case, you'll need to use other keywords.

If your app has never been optimized before, I'd recommend changing texts and screenshots. After you created new texts and graphics, don't hurry to update the whole app listing at once. Text, icons, videos and screenshots should be tested separately to receive cleaner data about their influence on ASO metrics.

You can use either consecutive or simultaneous A/B testing. Google Play has native instruments to test app listing elements. There're two versions of A/B tests: testing default listings and custom. App Store doesn't provide such instruments yet but it's possible to use Apple Search Ads to A/B test screenshots.

So, let's have a look only at consecutive testing in this article — I'll cover A/B testing later. The process is the following: you upload your new text filled with brand new keywords, wait for 10-12 days and then compare positions and ASO metrics day by day: Monday before the update to Monday after, Tuesday before and Tuesday after, and so on. If there's a noticeable increase in views and downloads, your optimization was successful. You can safely remove keywords that don't show your app in top-20 and find better alternatives. These keywords most likely don't bring any organic traffic.

Then this process repeats with other app listing elements. If the conversion to install increased for more than 5% after the graphics update, you're getting warmer.

ASO is a way of trial and error, so don't worry if you see a decrease.

Let's sum it up:

  • Update!

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

  • Test!

    Don't be afraid of finding out your optimization wasn't successful, keep improving an 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.

Got any questions left? Contact us and get a consultation!
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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