A Guide to App Store Optimisation (ASO)

With hundreds of apps flooding smartphone app stores every day,  App Store Optimisation (ASO)  is fast becoming as essential to app promotion.  and it’s something that doesn’t have to cost developers an arm and a leg to implement.
So what are the basic rules of ASO and what kind of results can you expect from optimising your app?

What is ASO?

App Store Optimisation is the practice of optimising various elements of your app submission (i.e. title, keywords, description) in order to maximise your app’s visibility in app store searches.
Some definitions of ASO may also include other marketing techniques to boost downloads and increase app visibility in chart rankings. You can find out more about other forms of app marketing in our guide to app promotion. But right now we’re just going to look at what you can do within your app and its description page, to increase search rankings in the App Store and Google Play.
The numbers
Implementing basic ASO won’t send your app rocketing up the charts, but it can give developers a decent boost in downloads (especially if you’re a smaller dev) and, most importantly, it helps you gain valuable user – as it increases the app’s visibility to people who are actively searching for something relevant (as opposed to incentivised downloads, or other kinds of offer walls and ads).
We talked to Tomasz Kolinko, the developer behind AppCod.es, who gave us some idea of the impact ASO can have on an app.

  • Kolinko, says developers can expect a 500-2000 downloads a day increase on free apps, purely from implementing ASO.
  • On paid apps Kolinko reckons developers can increase revenue from around $20-200 per day just through ASO.

These numbers may not be a big deal for triple A app developers, but as Tomasz points out, for independent developers, ASO is a very cost-effective way to increase downloads.

App Store Optimisation: The basics

So what are the essential elements of a well-optimised app?
Keyword research
One of the most important aspects of ASO is knowing what keywords to target. When optimising a regular website for search engines this is made relatively easy, as Google publicises estimated traffic volume figures on keyphrases via its Adwords keyword tool.
However, when it comes to apps there are no official figures from Apple’s App Store or Google Play on keyword search volume. But that doesn’t mean you’re shooting entirely in the dark.
Firstly, you can use Google Adwords’ keyword tool to get ideas on popular search phrases that are relevant to your app. While the volume of searches are based on web-search – not app store searches – they may be indicative of the sort of keywords used in app store searches.
For instance, if you have a ‘stop watch app’, you’ll want to know whether there’s more searches for “stop watch app”, or “timer app” or “stop clock app”. Adwords will give you visibility on this. Just remember, SEO is all about relevancy, it’s no use optimising for high traffic volume keywords, if they’re not relevant to your app.
Also when performing ‘app specific’ searches, like “stop watch app”, or “shopping list app”, note the competition level on these keyphrases. If a lot of people are bidding on these keywords in Adwords, then that’s a strong indications that your entering a competitive space. So you might want to start thinking about how you can differentiate your app.
If you’re simply looking for app ideas, then Google’s keyword tool is also itself a useful way to measure what kinds of apps people are looking for. If you can find an app specific keyphrase that has high volumes, with low competition (obviously cross-reference this with what’s on the app store), then you may be onto a winner.
Also try typing in relevant search queries into the app store search bar itself and then make a note of the keyword suggestions it serves-up, as these can be indicative of volumes.
The other thing you’ll want to look at is successful competitor apps. Do a search on the app store for different keywords relating to your app, and look at the top results. What keywords do they use in their titles?
After all that you should have a handful of relevant keywords that you want to target.
Helpful tools for keyword generation: 

  • AppCod.es can predict what keywords your competitor apps are using and suggest optimum keywords for your app.
  • Google keyword tool
  • There are tools that use third party data to generate keyword volumes. Mobile Dev HQ is one of them. So it may be worth checking out
  • Check out Chomp, which release some metrics on app search queries through its store.

App Title
Perhaps the most important field when it comes to optimising your app is the title. So try to get relevant keywords into this field. Obviously, sometimes this may not be practical, or it may look too awkward from a user perspective, so use your judgment. Also, do your research, if there’s a hundred apps called “Stop Watch App”, then you’ll want to differentiate your title somehow. Maybe it would be better to target a less competitive keyphrase like “Timer App”, even if you suspect it doesn’t carry quite as much search volume. Or at least differentiate by using a popular modifier like “Free”.
Just remember, don’t stuff the title with keywords, try to make it look natural. Packing in irrelevant keywords or too many keywords, will not only turn off potential users but it may also get your kicked out of the app store.
Publisher/Developer name
According to ASO experts, the publisher field does has a big impact on search in the App Store and Google Play. In the case of Apple, it’s treated as strongly as the app title. So it’s worth pushing a relevant keyword into this field. It may even be worth creating different publisher names for the different types of apps that you develop. For instance, your ‘Stop Watch’ Apps could be published under “Time Dev” then you can rank for both ‘Stop Watch’ and ‘Timer’.
Keyword field
This is your chance to use all the variations on keywords and phrases that you researched. When it comes to the Apple App Store the plurals and singular keywords are treated separately, so you may want to consider that if there’s a chance people will be searching in the plural. Also don’t just put generic keywords here. Think about other apps and themes that may be relevant. For instance, is your app a game that is similar to Angry Birds? Then maybe it’s worth using “Angry Birds” as a keyphrase here. Of course, you only have 100 characters to play around with, so use that space wisely.
App description
When it comes to Apple’s App Store, the description field has no impact on search rankings. So instead of worrying about relevant keywords, just focus on making your description as engaging as possible, in order to drive conversions.
When it comes to Google Play, things are not quite so clear. AppCod’s Kolinko believes that Google Play probably still looks at keywords in the description field and when we looked at Google’s own guidelines, there’s no information there to suggest that isn’t the case. So it’s worth getting your keywords and phrases into this description field. But again, avoid keyword stuffing, it’s not user-friendly and it may raise Google’s wrath!
App Icon
It may not have any direct effect on your search ranking, but along with your app’s title, the icon is the first element a user will see. So make sure you put some effort into creating a professional and eye-catching image.
Adding screen shots and a video ad to your app store page is a great way to further promote your app and give users an idea of what to expect, so there’s not reason not to take advantage of this.
In-app purchases
There are some developers that optimise their in-app purchases for certain keywords, in order to rank for an even wider spread of terms. Some developers even attempt to game the system, using thousands of different in-app purchases just for keyword purposes. Obviously, this verges on ‘Black Hat’ ASO, and may result in a ban if discovered. However, if your app already includes in-app purchases, then it’s definitely worth thinking about how you can integrate relevant keywords into these fields in a natural way.
Keyword Experimentation
Experimenting with different combinations of keywords is a good way to figure out how to maximise your search ranking and downloads. Google Play’s relaxed submission rules allow you to easily update the title and keywords, resubmit the app to the store, and then monitor the effect on rankings. However, Apple’s App Store can take around 2 weeks to approve any amendments, making keyword experimentation a bit laborious. AppCod.es can help with this issue as it predicts App Store rankings, allowing you to play around with different keywords instantly.
To sum up
As you can see from the above, ASO isn’t complicated. All it takes is a little bit of research and some common sense to make your app more visible on searches. With more and more apps being released everyday, developers can’t afford to let such an easy and low-cost avenue for app promotion slip them by.

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