So, you’ve worked day and night for months perfecting your app, which is, all things considered, the best thing since sliced bread (in your opinion, at least). It’s been tested once, twice, then several more times on top of that. You’re convinced you’ve got a sweet unique selling point; you’re capitalising on a tried and tested format, yet you’re giving it your own unique inspired twist. Your family loves it (especially your mother, she thinks it’s great) and your friends are addicted. You’ve got an ace marketing plan up your sleeve, and we’re talking long term here; you’re going to hit up Twitter and Facebook like no one’s business. What more can you do? Take that cow to market, son. Off to the App Store with you. Surely the amount of time and effort you’ve applied, the blood and tears, mixed with the ingenuity and instant appeal of your awesome idea will equal instantaneous profit and iSuccess for your and your development team?
Unfortunately, though this might make sense on a logical level, it often doesn’t pan out this way for the indie app developer. You might have the idea, you may have put in the time, your app might work like pure poetry in motion and your app marketing plan might be unbeatable. But. And here’s a big ‘but’. You need to address the issue of ASO. Heard of it? It’s an abbreviation for App Store Optimization. A brief definition for those not in the know; ASO is the process of improving the visibility of your app in the App Store. The first use of the term “App Store optimization” to describe this new discipline appears to have been in a presentation by Johannes Borchardt on November 4, 2009. It began to take hold as a standardized term not long after, with popular tech outlets using the term by February 2012. ASO takes many cues from SEO (Search Engine Optimisation), which is a process of improving a website’s placement within search engines. It’s essentially a numbers game; as the App Store continues to grow in popularity, the market is becoming over-saturated by apps left, right and centre. Just being seen becomes a major problem and arguably the first hurdle that many developers need to address (or cross, if we’re following the hurdle metaphor).
There are a staggering 1.2 million apps on the App Store. There’s another 1.3 million on Google Play, but we won’t worry about those ones for the while. App development and subsequent marketing is one of the most competitive industries thriving today. It’s larger than music, larger than films. The amount of people clamouring to get their creations to a (preferably paying) audience should induce the fear of God into any sane developer. But of course, this is where ASO comes in handy. If you can master this, your app WILL be visible to your potential clientele, and you will stand a chance of being a success. So, what are the uses of this process? Here are a few simple goals that ASO can help users attain.
The obvious one, but the crucial one. The number one way that people discover apps is through the App Store search bar. This news is probably not exactly worthy of holding the presses, but it is prudent to keep in mind. A good initial approach is to include keywords in your app title. Recent statistics show that a mere 16% of apps use keyword in their titles. Of course, while certainly a good head start over the rest of the s 84%, simply using the keywords isn’t enough; you should be tracking them too, seeing where they rank in App Store searches and to check where your app stands.
2) Rank Higher Than Competitors
Again, it sounds obvious, but the underlying message is worth keeping in mind. There’s no such thing as a unique app. Every app will have competitors in their own particular genre, and every genre will continue to grow and feature more and more takes on a particular format. If you want to be ahead of the game, you have to be ahead of the crowd. Often times it doesn’t necessarily matter whether one app is better than another; the customer will go to the one they see first. I know that you’re probably thinking your creation is the pinnacle of your chosen genre. To which I say, good for you, but so is the next guy.
3) Rank Higher For Specific Keywords
This is kind of the bread and butter of ASO. Keywords, as we’ve discussed above, are crucial to the whole system. Specific keywords will be used thousands of times over by people searching for the right app, so, as above, the higher you rank in those terms, the better your chances are.
4) Create Appealing Graphics
Creative, appealing visuals sell in any industry. Users are looking at a thumbnail most of the time; pretty pictures will get the to click on to your main page. Good-looking screenshots seal the deal and make them hit download. Great graphics are the key to clawing your way to the top of the App Store charts. They lay the foundations for the road to glory.
5) Find A Great, Direct Name
While this might often be the last thing a developer throws into their App Store submission, it’s vitally important and circles back on our first point. Your name will be the first thing potential users see of your app; not only that, they may only see 33 characters of it, or whatever the current version of iOS allows them to see. Games apps need inventive, creative titles, but if your app isn’t a game, you need to get to the point of it in the first few words. You don’t want people to see a non-relevant name when they are looking for something. Be as explicit as possible. This will also help anchor keywords in your app title, right off the bat.
These are just a few of the main goals that optimizers look to. But, if that seems straightforward, it’s actually a lot more intricate.If you care to follow me into the weeds, this is where the nitty gritty kicks off. Because ASO is such a young concept, the best practices to achieve these goals are still evolving. Unlike it’s older, more developed cousin SEO, concrete algorithms for achieving the best results aren’t known. Also complicating the matter is the fact that Apple, Google and their ilk don’t release any user behaviour statistics. ASO marketers, such as Evaldo Rossi, streamline their work by dividing ASO in two distinct processes: keyword optimization and asset optimization (also known as conversion rate optimization).
Keyword optimization (also known as keyword research) is the act of researching, analyzing and selecting the best keywords to target and drive qualified users from app stores to your app. This is fundamentally a three step process, concerning something along the lines of 1) finding the right keywords, 2) ranking highly for those keywords, and 3) converting visitors into users. Asset optimization refers to the optimizing of the icon, preview video and screenshots of an app to gauge user interaction. This can only be done by specific testing and monitoring, as Apple doesn’t release any stats. It’s called a/b testing, which is marketing slang for a randomized experiment with two variables. In layman’s terms, essentially what’s required is constant adjustments to the aforementioned elements and measuring the results against each other. In other words, it takes a lot of time and application. You’ll have to weigh your download stats after each change, while allowing sufficient time to pass to allow the changes to take effect.
So, the basic facts of ASO are these. You must have keywords in your title. You must have great visuals. You have to track your own keywords and your competitors. These things of course take time. But if it’s not clear at this point that ASO is a living, evolving process, I’ll underline it here. There is no one-stop shop for maximising your visibility on the App Store (not yet at least). It’s a process you have to engage with. If all that sounds like hard work and bad news, I suppose it is. But here’s the good news. Very few developers utilize ASO. Today, the most common approach to ASO is no approach at all. Developers often pick keywords and write descriptions at the last second during an app’s submission process. In most cases, little or no research on keyword searches occurs before the app submission, leaving most apps hidden and the likelihood of discovery quite low. It’s sort of like a secret weapon, and if you can harness it to your advantage, you’ll have the edge on many of your competitors.
Here’s a fantastic Infographic on App Store Optimization by our friends over at AppCase.com