For committed app founders, developing an app can be the ultimate labour of love.
The thought of spending thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours only to see your “baby” sit ignored and unappreciated at the bottom of app store search results is one of nightmares. The fear is real and justified.
Each day 662 new apps are released on the iOS App Store and 3,290 on Google Play. Numbers like that make it very hard for any one app to stand out from the crowd. The result is that close to half the apps in both stores (56% on iOS and 42% on Play1) don’t have ratings and are conceivably inactive.
Optimising apps to rank higher on app stores’ search results is known as App Store Optimisation (ASO). It’s like SEO for mobile apps and it’s a skill app developers must learn if they want to get their apps discovered. So, read on if you’d like to ensure visibility of your app and maximise download potential.
App Store Optimization tips and best practices.
Apple and Google both continuously work on improving their search engine algorithms. They’re kind enough to disclose some elements like Apple does in its product page guidelines for app developers. But they never give the specifics of how they are used in calculations. And other elements are kept strictly under wraps.
The known app store ranking factors are as follows;
- App Name/Title (iOS and Play)
- App URL (iOS only)
- Subtitle (iOS only)
- Short Description (Play only)
- Long Description (Play only)
- Keyword field (iOS only)
- In-App Purchases (iOS and Play)
- Rating and Reviews (iOS and Play)
- Updates (iOS and Play)
- Downloads and Engagement (iOS and Play)
- Some unknowns (iOS and Play)
2. App Store Keyword Research
ASO at its heart is all about finding the right keywords and putting them in the right place. To find the best keywords, app developers need to put themselves in their users’ mindset. What words will users search for?
As a start, your keywords should contain your app’s features and benefits, as well as any keywords used by competitors who rank highly. Reviews are a great source of keywords, as they can tell you how your users think and talk about your app. This is why app store search engines index the words of reviews.
App store keyword tools
Thesaurus-style apps like OneLook Reverse Dictionary can provide you with ideas for related and alternate app store optimization keywords. There are also a multitude of other sophisticated apps, explicitly designed for ASO and SEO keyword research like Keyword Tool and Übersuggest, as well as more comprehensive ASO and SEO applications like TheTool, Moz, Ahrefs and SEMRush. They variously allow you to search words, domains, apps and phrases and will provide you with search volumes and other stats about your choice.
Ubersuggest by Neil Patel.
3. Selecting Your Top Keywords
Starting with about 50 potential keywords, rank them and identify your five best. Cut out the low volume ones and ones that you can’t compete on. Like we’ve seen with SEO, the shorter, more common terms have become oversubscribed and virtually impossible for a newcomer to rank on. Longer terms will gain popularity as the stores improve their searches to cater to them, so don’t dismiss them.
Keyword selection needs to be continuously monitored by checking your app store keyword ranking. Where your keywords don’t rank in the top ten, change them with your next release. Different keywords may be appropriate at different stages of an app’s lifecycle. Generally, new apps will gain momentum using keywords with low difficulty and reasonable popularity. Later you can switch to keywords with higher popularity and reasonable difficulty.
If you need further assistance to assess your keywords, look at the top-ranking apps on App Store Charts. Or see what’s trending on Google Trends. But don’t be tempted to use words that are popular but have no relevance to your app.
Image courtesy of AppFollow
4. Using Your Keywords on Your App Page
Apple gives you a keyword field, and will also use keywords it has assigned to that category and even keywords from your competitors. Google, on the other hand, will use all of your textual elements to index keywords. This means you should repeat keywords across Google fields (up to 5X), but not with Apple, where you will just be wasting characters.
The following metadata is where you need to place your keywords for maximum effect.
App Name and Subtitle (for iOS App Store only)
Both Apple and Google algorithms prioritise apps where the names contain the user’s search words. Regardless, your name should tell people what your app does. Using keywords sensibly in your app name will help users remember and recognise it.
Apple allows you 30 characters each for the name and subtitle fields. Google gives you 50 characters for the name (it doesn’t have a subtitle field). The most elegant way of including keywords in your app name is usually to add them to the brand name with a hyphen or a colon.
Ebay App Name as displayed on the Apple iTunes App Store
Ebay App Name as displayed on the Google Play Store
Apple uses your app name to create your app URL, so don’t use characters that are not “URL-friendly”. This includes special characters like ™and ©.
Apple doesn’t look for keywords in the description field. So here you should aim to highlight unique benefits in the preview (first three lines). The majority of users won’t click to read more. Include your social media links and any awards and notable mentions your app has received.
Google gives you 80 characters in their short description field and up to 4,000 in the long description field. To allow the Google algorithm to find your most important keywords, you should repeat them each about five times in the description.
Compare the difference in content between the iOS and Play store description intros for Zoom. As you can see, Zoom are aware that App store optimization for Android and iOS work a little differently and they have tailored their descriptions accordingly
Zoom App Store description
Zoom Play Store description
App Store Keyword field (available only for iOS App Store)
This 100-character field is what Apple uses for your keywords. Don’t waste characters with spaces, articles or prepositions just separate keywords with a comma. Don’t repeat keywords or include your app or company name. And save characters by using numbers instead of spelling out words.
If you’re desperate to access more than 100 characters for your keywords, you can spread them across multiple localisations. This is because Apple indexes multiple localisations. But be sure you understand how this works for each App Store market.
In-App Purchases (IAPs)
In-App purchases (IAPs) are a big deal in ASO. One of the more effective app store optimization techniques is to include keywords in the names of IAPs because Apple and Google both index them. In iOS 11, Apple allows each purchase its own name, image and description, and permits up to 20 IAPs to feature on your product page. IAPs can also be featured on the Today, Games and Apps tabs.
iOS in-app-purchase title
Once you have your metadata completed, run it through a grader like Meatti to see how you perform and to get tips for improvement.
5. Converting App Store Views to App Installs
Now that users are discovering your app, the final stage of ASO is to persuade them to install it. App developers should pay attention to following opportunities to capture users.
A simple icon that scales down effectively and lets users know what your app does can be one of the most effective conversion tools. Take a look at the icons of top-ranking apps for inspiration. Or consider A/B testing some options.
See the top ranking Health and Fitness app icons below to get an idea of what kinds of icons work best. You can also read our previous article about designing the perfect app icon for more insights.
Ebay App Name as displayed on the Apple iTunes App Store
Maximise your screenshots by placing your features or messages in descending order of importance. You want to make visitors fall in love at first sight because most won’t look beyond the first few shots. Don’t waste their time with login screens and suchlike.
Make screenshots vertical and caption them. But keep captions short and on a clean background.
You can apply similar rules to videos – grab the visitor’s attention ASAP and include only your most essential features. Always include a call-to-action and produce material that can be understood without sound. For more tips on what makes the best app videos for the different app stores, visit Apptamin.
Reviews and Ratings
Reviews and ratings can and should be actively managed. Most app developers know to encourage users to leave reviews. But the timing of requests and the deflection of bad reviews can be what assures you of 5-star reviews. Ideally, you want users to review you when you can be sure they are happy with your app. And you want any issues to be referred to support.
Take a look at the flowchart behind Circa’s review process to see how they achieve the latter.
Image courtesy of Circa News
To help identify happy users for reviews, consider your customer journey and identify the actions that indicate deeper, committed engagement. Additionally, you could use Reichheld’s Net Promoter method of identifying customer loyalty. Ask users to rate their likelihood of recommending your app to a friend on a scale of 1 to 10.
Users scoring you a 9 or 10 are your promoters and should be targeted for reviews. Your Net Promoter Score (NPS) is an indicator of overall customer satisfaction. You will know you are getting things right if this is increasing.
Image courtesy of FocusVision
Other things you can do as an app developer include:
- Making your app small enough for users to download on a cellular service (200MB for Apple and 100MB for Google).
- Releasing updates monthly. Top apps update on average every 25 – 30 days.
- Localising your app to multiple countries to reach a bigger audience.
6. In Conclusion
As you can see, there are many app store optimization factors. You now have some tools to design and implement your own ASO plan. Remember that app store algorithms are continually evolving and so must your app store optimisation strategy. ASO is not something you do once when you release a new app, and never look at again. What we do know is that app developers who can iterate faster will grow faster.
About the Author
Joseph Russell is an award-winning app designer, app strategist and founder of DreamWalk. Over his 11 year career, Joseph has helped hundreds of businesses and startup founders plan, design, develop and launch successful apps.
What to read next
Try one of these insightful DreamWalk articles
Investors want proof
In this article we look at what investors are looking for and when the right time to approach them is.
20 Tough Tips for App Startups
Some tough tips for new app entrepreneurs by DreamWalk founder and user engagement expert Joseph Russell.
Got an app idea?
Book in a FREE discovery session today to discuss your options.