Basic App Store Optimization Factors
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10 Basic Things You Should Know About ASO

Are you a new app developer or publishers and want to learn the basics factors of mobile SEO or better known as app store optimization? I mean the very basics.

In the world of ASO, it is important to understand the basic methods and information about ASO. Failing to understand the basics may cause devastating results of your app store optimization strategy.

I believe once you know the basics, you can level up your app store optimization game which can give you better results in the future. Let’s explore what are the necessary things you need to know about ASO.

Disclaimer: This guide is for people who are absolute beginners to App Store Optimization and not for those who already read few ASO guides or tips but can be still very useful to review.

What is App Store Optimization?

I want to define first what is App Store Optimization so we can have a clear understanding about ASO and to reduce misconceptions about it.

App Store Optimization (ASO) is the process of improving the visibility of a mobile app (such as an iPhone, iPad, Android, BlackBerry or Windows Phone app) in an app store (such as iTunes for iOS, Google Play for Android, Windows Store for Windows Phone or BlackBerry World for BlackBerry).

The quote from above is from Wikipedia. In case you have trust issues with Wikipedia, believe me, I would say it is most likely accurate.

If you think App Store Optimization is simply the process of optimizing your mobile apps to rank higher in app store’s search engines, then you’re on the wrong track.

The goal is to “improve overall visibility”. Only second high rankings, high ratings, high earnings but this always follows whenever you improved your app visibility

#1 Two Pillars Of App Store Optimization

Right now, app store optimization is in its early stage, and there are no standardized terms for everything about ASO.

ASO in not one whole piece of fruitcake, it is divided by two factors.

Some split ASO in “assets” and “keyword” optimization like the one content from Wikipedia but for this post, I will use a term that I personally use: The “on page” and “off page” optimization.

It is more relevant to SEO industry and the fact that app store optimization is called as mobile SEO in the first place.

What is on page and off page optimization?

Off Page And On Page ASO

On page Optimization

It is the process of optimizing the assets you can easily customize to help your app rank better in app store search queries. It includes the keywords, title, icon, screenshots, descriptions, etc.

Off page Optimization

It is the process of optimizing your app’s overall “authority”. Off-page optimization is a long-term process and requires time to improve or help your app rank better on app store search queries. Things like downloads, ratings, reviews, backlinks, social shares and more are part of off-page optimization. Most of the time these are the thing where we only have little to no control.

While the two methods have the same goal to boost your app’s exposure, they have very different techniques and effects. Working on both on-page and off page optimization will give your app a better ranking, exposure and hopefully organic downloads than doing one method alone.

#2 Keywords Is The Key

You shouldn’t start your app store optimization campaign without a solid and optimized targetted keywords.

Keywords are the foundation of app store optimization, your strategy and methods will significantly revolve around your main keywords. While meta keywords are already not as important as before in SEO, as the time of writing, meta keywords are very useful in app store search engines, especially in Apple App Store.

Simple Tweaks In Keywords Can Sky-Rocket Your App

Yep, you read it right. Changing how you target and optimize your keywords can increase your app rankings and downloads. The best way to do is track your keywords with app store optimization tools and examine your date. Remove the weak and losing keywords and replace it with other new keywords.

Long-Tail Keywords

It is also advisable to target long-tail keywords. These type of keywords are usually three or more words string that is used in a search query.

For example, you have an app with a niche with diet tips and instructions. You can target keywords like ” the best way to lose weight”, “diet tips app” and so on.

Another example is going for brand or product keywords. Imagine you are selling kitchen utensils and tools using your app. Instead of using keywords like “keyword utensils” or something like that, you should target specific keywords of your product like “Chef’s Knife” or “Long-serrated Knife.”

Alternatively, you read this article from Tapdaq which explains why and how you should target long tail keywords: – Increase App Downloads By Targeting Keyword Phrases.

How to pick a keyword for your app:

There are three important factors you need to consider when choosing a keyword – relevance, competition, and search volume.

  • Be sure to have relevant keywords in your app
  • Look for a keyword with less competition
  • Aim to use keywords with high volume search queries.

#3 Difference of Apple ASO and Google ASO

The two app store giants have different algorithms and ranking factors.

While applying the same ASO technique and strategy on both app store is acceptable, you will have different results. Your app can have a higher ranking on iOS but lower on Android and vice versa.

To avoid this, you should know what ASO techniques work better on specific app store whether it is Apple, Google or bunch of alternative Android app store like Amazon, Apptoide, Samsung Galaxy Apps, etc.

Please examine the images below from NativeX article: “Secret Factors Behind Apple App Store Search Ranking Algorithm.” Get a bunch of insights what factors to focus on your ASO strategy:

Apple App Store ASO Factors

Apple focuses more and gives extra benefit for app publishers who optimize their on-page assets. It consists of an app name, keywords, proper category and total downloads which are easier to control than off-page ASO.

Google Play Store ASO Factors

You can simply see that Google’s algorithm focuses on both on-page and off page optimization. It is recommended to have a solid app description and app title, great social media presence, and impressive customer service. It is no surprise as Google holds the most favorite search engine and are not new to these algorithms.

#4 Major Factors To Rank Your App

Well, I think this is nonsense. You already saw the chart from NativeX above but in case you forgot. So, what you need to rank your app?

Although Apple and Google give priority to different aspects of their algorithms, universally, the best way to rank is to improve this three factors which I call them “The Big Three”: (No Lebron James, sorry)

Total App Downloads + Great Ratings and Reviews + Optimized On Page ASO

= Better Rankings For Your App

Yep, numbers of downloads, high ratings, and a good review is for me the best way to catapult your mobile app rank to the top. We’ve done it, a couple of times, different apps, different genres, different audiences, and it never fails to give us impressive and solid results.

Ratings and reviews are a natural way to improve “organic downloads” and app discovery. It strengthens your on-page ASO and user browsing in app stores influenced by the positive feedbacks and high ratings.

This will result in higher conversion lead. We do ASO also to improve organic search, after all.Other metrics you need to consider are Bounce Rate, Retention Rate, and Off Page ASO

App Ranking And App Ratings Reviews

You can see the chart above on how your app ratings and reviews correlate with your app ranking. It really makes sense for algorithms to give some increase in your app ranking when you get positive ratings and reviews. Unfortunately, these three factors are also the most vulnerable and very easy to abuse that gave birth to basic black hat ASO methods.

#5 Black Hat ASO

Black Hat ASO

Yep, you read it right.

Black hat ASO do exist, and one good example is the Shuabang, a Chinese group that manipulates app store ranking giving fake ratings and reviews. Shuabang reportedly holds millions of phantom Apple iTunes account with pricing starts at $1500 for top 100 listing and up to $10,000 for top 10 listing. The list of black hat methods goes on, from scraping to spamming.

I believe app exchange is also a type of Blackhat ASO; this is where closed, and open group of developers trades downloads and reviews of their app.

An open group is less efficient and more like a miss or hit chance, the most effective are closed groups usually found in forums and communicate their activities with private chat service like Skype.

We might see new methods of Blackhat ASO in the future but for now, let’s leave it to Skype experts and Chinese.

Enter The Gray Hat

I believe Gray Hat ASO are methods that don’t really break the rules of app stores. For me, one good example of Gray Hat ASO is “incentivized install” scheme. If you aren’t familiar with incentivized installs, people are given with few apps to download which can earn them points that can be redeemed prizes later on.

While incentivized installs are accepted with app developers, marketers, and also Google Play seems okay with it, Apple sees it as a form of cheating.

Apple seems against “incentivized installs” as they banned Tapjoy, one of the leading incentivized installs provider but it only happened once, and other similar companies are still lurking around app stores.

There Are Flaws In Algorithm

Yes, of course. I have a cute quote for you: “Humans can be manipulated, so as bots can be gamed.”

Remember that search engine algorithm are made with a various formula that dictates which answer will rank first in every query, and it’s our job to test the algorithm. What works and what not.

#6 Zombie Apps

Update: Apple will start removing abandoned, unmaintained apps aka zombie apps. This is great news for everyone but expects more competitive rankings (source).

I bet you read it million of times in almost all articles related to app marketing and app store optimization. That there were millions of apps already in top app markets, you are probably doomed, right?

Well, not really.

Did you know that almost over 80% of published mobile apps are considered as “Zombie Apps” or lifeless apps?

These apps are those who have owners that don’t even bother to optimize or update. Most of them also,  don’t even have a hundred of downloads. Eighty percent is just epic, theoretically, eight hundred thousand apps inactive in a million. Read this latest article from Techcrunch by Alex Austin, the founder of Branch.io: The Apple App Store graveyard.

What’s even bad? Apple recently minimizes their top 500 into top 150 as users to go that further. Based on Flurry Analytics, almost 83% of user don’t browse after the top 25 of their search results. Ranking in 100 and above positions is mostly useless.

Take a look at data above from Adjust.com about “Zombie Apps”. It means you can easily beat these dead apps blocking your way to that top charts. You can also use target certain keywords to outranked other “un-optimized” app which we will discuss sooner.

#7 Apple App Store 7 Day Cliff

If you already heard about it somewhere, yes this thing exists.

In a nutshell, “7 Day Cliff” is what they call when Apple is giving some steroids for your app rankings which can last a week.

Apple will give a ranking boost to all new app after their launch. New apps will result to result better from the others and after the boost, you might experience some little to a massive fall in your app rankings.

Because no one knows how Apple algorithm works, few theories cause this phenomenon. Sensor Tower state on one of their post that this is a way of  Apple to welcome new apps on their library. Sensor Tower has a great article about Apple App Store 7 Day Cliff, which I recommend for you to read.

In my very own opinion, Apple does this to new apps to calibrate their ranking. The less you perform in that week, the more you lose your rankings. This is my own opinion and just a theory, though.

#8 App Store Dance

It’s not a what you think; it’s not a ritual dance to help your app rankings but what is app store dance?

App store dance is the term used when your app’s ranking bounces up and down in app store rankings; I mean massive bounces from twenty to 50 positions. You might have your app higher rankings than yesterday’s rank then back to lower rankings again on the following day.

If you are already tracking your app, you probably see the app store dance, in your newly published app.

What causes app store dance?

From my experience, it is caused by two things:

  1. It substantially happens when app stores update their search engine algorithm that improves the user experience.
  2. When you have just launched your new app and in 7 Day Cliff.
  3. When your app gets some penalty

#9 Do Backlinks Matter?

Yes!

So let’s go buy some SEO and link building services in SEO marketplace!

No! Wait! That’s not how it works in mobile app optimization.

Let me be honest with you, if you were going to ask me if building backlinks can bring your app to number one spot, I would confidently say “No.”

Although there were few case studies done in the early algorithm (where there are few holes) of both leading app stores, none of them have reliable results. Here are the two case studies by micronicheapps.com and secretentourage.com respectively which results in both different results.

Micronicheapps’s case study app backlink procedure was done during around December to June. From my perspective, the results were kinda disappointing. There are few factors to take consideration here. From usage of keywords, competition, or maybe the quality of the links.

Micronicheapps-Backlinks-CaseStudy

On the other hand, SecretEntourage’s case study gave really impeccable results in short time. Like I said before, there are a lot of factors affects this.

SecretEntourage-Backlinks-CaseStudy

As two case studies gave different results, I would like to know your two cents about this. You can share your opinion in the comment section below.

#10 ASO is not a one-time process

ASO is not one time process

Lastly, app store optimization isn’t a one-time big time process. It’s not a simple kind of marketing that will have an immediate result or a quick burst in your return of investment. Good whitehat app store optimization is a long term process which requires a decent amount of work to pay off.

Here are three reasons why ASO is a slow brewing process:

  • Trust – ASO is a slow pace trust building with both app store algorithms and potential users. Building trust with search engine algorithms means that you should follow their current rules and avoid any black hat ASO techniques. There are also a lot of factors like ratings and reviews, social media presence, or total app downloads. Giving your app an update is one way to signal the app store search algorithms that your app is still up and running.
  • Evolution – There is always new and better techniques. Some people will create new ways to improve like mix and matching social media and paid advertising, and some people will try to exploit the algorithm with new blackhat ASO techniques. But one thing shouldn’t change, the standards of every search algorithms.
  • Competition – With million of apps already in the app store, what are your app’s answer to them? Most of them will surely fight for the top rankings and take your position. If you already reach satisfying rankings, you can come up and apply new techniques or just reduce the intensity of your work but never stop working on your ASO.

Improving Your App Marketing Plan

Don’t settle for less. Track your progress and important metrics but don’t track the common metrics like rankings, installs, conversions, and keywords . Also, try to track your bounce rate and retention, always try to retain your users as you can. I recommend reading this – App Retention Tips For New Developers And Publishers.

It is also important to have a solid app marketing strategy as early as you can. This will craft a better path for your app journey where you can prepare for pre-launch marketing – Epic Ways To Do Pre Launch Marketing For Your App.

When was App Store Optimization started?

Just a little bit of history here, you can skip this now unless you wanted to read some trivia.

Johannes Borchardt App Store Optimization

The man who coined the term app store optimization, Johannes Borchardt.

The first use of word “app store optimization” is when Johannes Borchardt (pictured above) uses the term on his presentation in Droidcon in Germany on November 4, 2009. You can visit Johannes Borchardt’s post about App Store Optimization.

After that, bigger publications like Search Engine Watch and Tech Crunch adapted the term. It was called App Store’s SEO before we began to use the standardized term “App Store Optimization.”

Why App Store Optimization Is Important?

Although there are a lot of reasons why ASO is critical, for me, the main reason is competition.

Right now, there are millions of apps available on both app store but only a few apps doing well and appearing in, at least, top 100 of particular keyword or search queries can expose you to thousands of people who are your potential users.

Simply take a look at the data above. This research from Apptentive shows that “General browsing in the app store” alone is the best app discovery method. Also, don’t forget the third place which is “Browsing top rated or most popular apps lists in an app store.”

This only proves one thing, “people search for those apps, no matter what the category is”.

That’s why app store optimization exists. ASO helps you to improve visibility for better rankings on app store rankings, to impress your potential users and to acquire more people to use your app.

Conclusion

By familiarizing yourself with this essential app store optimization methods, I believe you can do more and achieve better results with your app marketing and app store optimization campaign.

If you have an app, you must do on and off page app store optimization. App Store Optimization isn’t an easy process, but the reward is very satisfying. Most of the methods don’t need extraordinary skills, even if you are an indie developer, app marketer, SEO consultant or a simple business app owner you can do app store optimization.

If you found this article helpful please don’t hesitate to leave a comment, share or subscribe. If you have any questions or suggestions you can also post in the comment section below.

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12 Comments on "10 Basic Things You Should Know About ASO"

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Fred
Guest

Great article plus those images are really helpful. Really looking forward to your next article.

Jonas Larsen
Guest

Awesome article about app store optimization. I really need to know most of the listed factors about aso here. I must say the difference of apple and google aso is pretty different and writing about them is really a great help for new app developers like me.

Rickon
Guest

Great article Carl,

I really like this article as it covers app store optimization factors that doesn’t cover before in other articles.

Is it just me or you are saying black hat ASO isn’t bad and we should try it? I don’t want to bet my app doing some black hat. Anyway, that’s just my opinion though. Don’t get butthurt. Peace.

Maica
Guest

Nice wrap up Carl.

I think you nailed it here. I’ve been freelancing for years and as I always say to my clients that ASO is not just a one package of service.

Antoine
Guest

Hi Carl,

You mention “ASO tools” for keyword optimisation. Do you have any recommendations? Anything free to use, in particular?

Thank you.

DyMarketing
Guest

Nice post!

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