ASO

The beginner’s guide to app store optimization


No matter how awesome you newest app might be, if users can’t discover and download it, all your work will be in vain. There are many sources where users search for apps, creating a broad range of options for you, the developer, to make your app visible to your potential users. So where to start from?

Since more than half of app downloads result from searches within app stores, optimizing and tweaking your apps for maximum visibility in these repositories should be your first order of business. This process, which is called app store optimization (ASO), is rapidly taking its place as the new SEO for mobile apps, and it covers all you include in the app store listing as well as the peripheral marketing you do to promote your app.

In this piece I’ll focus on the basics elements of ASO, which should get you started on making your app more visible in store searches and possibly make you the developer of the next Flappy Bird or Candy Crush.

Keywords and descriptions

Since users submit string queries when searching for apps within app stores, the textual elements of apps are the first place that app store search engines will look to formulate their results. Therefore keywords, titles and descriptions are the key component of ASO and the first place where you should look for optimization possibilities. Here are a few basic tips:

  • Keywords: Identify the most important keywords that apply to your app and integrate them into your app’s title. You can use tools such as onelook.com to help choose good, unique keywords for your app. Also include the keywords in your description, but make sure you don’t overuse or force them into your text.
  • Titles: Choose you app title carefully. Make sure it reflects the usage of your app and includes one or two crucial keywords. Keyword usage in app titles are an extremely effective factor in deciding your search ranking. Avoid using obvious words such as “app” that will only take up precious reading space.
  • Descriptions: Keep your app description short and clean. The first few lines are especially important and should clearly reflect what your app does and why it’s unique without exaggerating or make it sound like fake marketing. If your app works in conjunction with or takes benefit of some other popular app, make sure to include its name in your description.

Icons and screenshots

Well-formed text will make your app appear within search results. After that it is the visuals that do the magic of drawing attention and help distinguish your app from the competition.

Here are a few tips worth considering:

  • Icons: Keep your icon simple and clean, and consistent with the style and imagery of your app. Don’t use words in your icons: They tend to become unreadable in smaller sizes. But simple letters do work sometimes (the Airbnb icon is a good example).
  • Screenshots: Screenshots are the visual preview of your app and must display the user experience and capabilities of your apps. App stores display screenshots event more prominently than app descriptions. Don’t use simple images, and add some concise copywriting that describes the benefits of using your app.
  • Cover images: Cover images are not screenshots, so you should treat them differently. They can include images of your app’s UI, but they should include other elements as well, and should fit with the proportions specified by the app store.

Ratings and reviews

Ratings and reviews are crucial indicators of your apps popularity and quality, and are among the first things that app store searchers will look at after finding your app. They can build trust among users and assure them that others certify and confirm the claims you make in your app’s copy. Here are a few tips that can help you improve review in numbers and quality:

  • Ask your users to leave reviews. You can accomplish this by prompting users to leave reviews from within the app and also initiating discussions in forums and social media. Also, a good tactic is to ask users for reviews after you accomplish a successful customer support process.
  • Prompt users for feedback. Make sure you have the means to receive and address your users’ complaints and problems. A good customer support infrastructure will make sure users  come to you first before they decide to leave a negative review in app stores.

App updates

As with web search engines, app store search engines are sensitive to fresh content. Whenever you update your app, make sure you review your app’s description, keywords and title. This will show to new users that your app is not idle and has been recently updated, and will also tell old users that your new version has improved and added features.
You can also take advantage of in-app messages and push notifications to notify old users that there’s a new version of your app available. This can drive more traffic to your app.

Beyond app stores

There are a lot of other ASO methods that can improve your app store ratings, which go beyond tweaks within the app store posting itself. Hopefully, I’ll be writing about this in the future. In the meantime, if you have anything to add on the basics, leave a note in the comments section. I’ll be glad to hear it.


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