Interview: Wooga on App Store Optimisation

Berlin-based Wooga is one of the most popular developers of mobile games in Europe and around the world. The developer initially made a name for itself on Facebook, finding major success with titles such as Jelly Splash and Pearl’s Peril. In 2012 the company announced it was wisely getting off the sinking Facebook games ship and into the more lucrative realm of iOS publishing, releasing Diamond Dash, which has since gone on to be downloaded by over 11 million players. Wooga now has six titles on mobile and is in the top 50 highest grossing app developers on Apple’s App Store.
We caught-up with Wooga’s App Store Optimisation manager Tom Leclerc, to find out how a major publisher such as Wooga approaches ASO, the impact the practice has on its business and what the future holds for app store discovery. Read on for the full interview.

Wooga on App Store Optimisation

Tom Leclerc, ASO manager, Wooga
Mobyaffiliates: Who is doing ASO really well at the moment?
Tom Leclerc: Obviously we can’t really measure other company’s success to any huge degree, but it seems clear to me that Supercell do really well in the more human side of app store optimization. You can see that with both Clash of Clans and Hay Day, their two biggest apps. And this is a very different element to the more algo-based optimization that people think about when they’re thinking of ASO. Supercell give users an incredibly clear idea of what they’re downloading, which makes a huge difference to user happiness and ultimately retention.
I think what a lot of app developers forget is that retaining users starts before a download happens. As an industry, we should shift towards improving users’ download experience rather than focusing on getting a massive quantity of downloads. This creates a general atmosphere of mistrust amongst users, with so many apps that simply don’t give the user the experience they want. So, in terms of this, more human-oriented optimization, Supercell not only make great games, but they deliver on their promises. You can see this with the quality of their reviews, and their great success on the app store.
What tips would you give anyone looking to increase their app’s visbility?
There’s plenty of theory around about the silver bullet that will “supercharge your rankings” and “annihilate the competition” etc, but the reality is that this doesn’t exist. Again, it goes back the fundamentals, repeated iterations and ongoing testing. This doesn’t just mean from an app store point of view. For example, one of the biggest changes we’ve made at Wooga recently is in creating a review filter process.
In essence, the review filter should both remind users to leave reviews, and if those reviews are poor, direct them to a dedicated customer service route. A vast majority of negative reviews come from bugs or technical issues, so this allows us to deal directly with unhappy users and turn those negative reviews into positive ones.
Similarly, A/B testing icons and screenshots gives you a much clearer idea of the optimum façade for your app. However, it’s essential to keep this closely in line with what your app offers, or you’re shooting yourself in the foot, as user uninstalls are an important part of the app store algorithm.
Wooga’s iOS app page for Jelly Splash
At Wooga you take a more data driven approach than some smaller developers, how does this cross over to ASO?
One of the more important aspects of ASO is keywording. It seems to me that a lot of players in the app store game, even the larger ones, are still using a combination of guesswork and gut feeling to generate their keywords. We have a saying at Wooga that our games are made “with heart and brains”. This means combining data and passion to generate innovative games that we’re confident will be hits.
What this means for us from an ASO point of view is using reference and research tools, such as App Annie and Sensortower to make sure we’re not wasting our potential. We’re also passionate about constant and frequent A/B testing.
How is Wooga approaching the fragmented app store market in Asia?
I can’t go into too much detail here, for obvious reasons, but we’ve been probing the markets in Japan, Korea and China for some time now. Recently we sent a fact-finding team on a whirlwind tour of the Far East, to get some face-time with the major players in those markets, and we found out a lot. Probably the most important thing to know about these markets is that they’re completely different. One strategy that works in Japan won’t­­ – or can’t – work in China.
China is a massive challenge. If you’re looking to get into the Chinese market, you need a strong presence on the ground. Japan on the other hand is a little easier however, the problems for western developers are more rooted in culture. Japan has a long history with games, and as the biggest market in the world, deserves serious consideration.
What about in the West? Are the minor players in the app store market worth giving any time to, e.g Amazon, Windows?
To write smaller app stores off, I think is a mistake. It doesn’t form a major part of our strategy at the minute, but depending on the size and type of app you’re looking to make, they can have significant impact to success.
What are the key differences between iTunes and Google Play from an ASO point of view? Do you have to approach them differently?
Absolutely. There are huge differences both in how the stores are optimized as well as the results. In terms of optimization, it’s easier to optimize on iTunes in some respects, as there’s more concrete information out there about keywords, rankings and the effects of rankings. However, the review process performed by Apple can slow things down a little.
On the other hand, Google, the lord and master of search engines, has more comprehensive and robust search. You rarely hear of users not being able to find something on Google Play. The downside of this is that while search is wonderfully well catered for, discovery, to my mind, isn’t. Much like URLs have enormous weight in SEO, app titles are, in my opinion, overly prioritized in Google Play. This means that the main avenue of discovery is curated lists, such as top downloads, recommended for you, etc. I don’t think this helps us as game developers, as subjective concepts, such as fun, action, adventure, and such are not fantastically searchable terms, unlike, say flashlight, or holiday would be for more functional apps.

“The most important things to remember about ASO is that, unlike the early days of SEO, you can’t scam it. You need a great product first and foremost” – Tom Leclerc, Wooga

From an optimization point of view, the biggest differences are in keywording and the ranking systems. With Google Play, you have to combine human-friendly app descriptions with strongly keyworded text. I’ve been doing this for a long while with SEO, so it’s something that comes very naturally, but I have seen many cases of horrendous keyword stuffing on Google’s app store. Conversely, Apple simply requires a string of 100 characters for keywords. With the relative youth of iTunes search, this is something that can be used to your advantage. For example, in-app purchases have search weight, and thanks to the sizable Hispanic community in the US, there is some crossover between the Spanish and US stores.
It’s also worth remembering that Google Play delivers search results in much larger batches, meaning ranking highly is not as important as on iTunes. Of course, it’s still important, but you have more leeway. Google Play rankings also factor in lifetime data for the app, rather than just the last 30 days, like iTunes. This can mean slower response times to any marketing or optimization you’re doing.
You’ve been around the SEO scene for a while, how does ASO compare? Are there any best practices you can bring across?
In terms of best practices, that’s a difficult one. Because you’re working with two search engines instead of just the one, as with SEO, you can’t just port over techniques. One important thing to note is that using other apps titles or trademarks in keywords still works too well, despite app stores promising to make this redundant. I am certain this will change, but it appears to be a slow moving process.
I think one of the most important things to remember about ASO is that, unlike the early days of SEO, you can’t scam it. You need a great product first and foremost. Without that, you’re fighting a losing battle. With so many apps out there, and more being launched every day, both of the major players are trying their best to separate the wheat from the chaff, and their ranking algos reflect that.
Google has done an excellent job with promoting quality in SERPs over the years, and I firmly believe that they’ll do the same with apps. In general, while it’s difficult to draw comparisons between ASO and SEO, ASO is less complex, but it’s moving faster and as app developers, we need to be on top of those movements.
What’s the future of ASO as you see it?
Cripes. Who knows. I think you can speculate that, much like the early days of SEO, search isn’t really where it needs to be. Currently I see the curated content such as top lists as a way around the issues of search, rather than a complimentary service. This is similar to how users navigated the internet before the advent of search engines. The app stores are pointing users toward content. In general, I don’t think users want that, but search isn’t robust enough to do without them.
Personally, I think the future of ASO lies in personalization. Of course, there are issues with privacy, but they will be overcome. I see the next ten years of ASO becoming expansions of the Google Now concept, where search is both automatic and personalized. You’ll be searching, without searching, as it were. I know the idea of search engines becoming more aware of your likes, dislikes and habits is a scary one to many, but I think it will become as commonplace as logging in with your Facebook account.