What Is App Store Optimization?
Raise engagement through the application of solid search fundamentals.
What is app store optimization (ASO)? Simply put, app store optimization is the methodology of designing your app’s page in the marketplace to improve its visibility and appeal. More users find apps through search than with any other method across the Apple App Store and Google Play, but with millions of apps all vying for users’ attention, your ASO must be on point if you hope to be seen. Careful research and thoughtful implementation can give your app the competitive edge it needs to cut through the noise.
The ASO process is similar to search engine optimization (SEO), but app stores provide different levers to pull and knobs to twist in pursuit of the best results. Those tools also differ slightly between the Apple App Store and Google Play. Read on to learn the best practices of app store optimization and how to navigate the small but crucial differences between marketplaces.
Why Is App Store Optimization Important?
There are about 1.6 million apps on the Apple App Store and 3.5 million apps on Google Play. That’s an enormous amount of content for users to wade through, but very few of them will read beyond the first 10 results returned for their search. Given that nearly 70% of app installs occur after a search, the importance of being in that top 10 becomes clear.
ASO is a process, and although many of the same principles apply regardless of which marketplace you use, each has some quirks to consider. If you know which platform or platforms you plan to target, you can drill down by reading our ebooks, The Ultimate ASO Checklist for the Apple App Store and The Ultimate ASO Checklist for Google Play. For more on the fundamentals, keep reading.
What Affects ASO?
What is app store optimization affected by? The answer is multifaceted: app icon, screenshots or videos, and keywords all play a part in determining how many users will choose it over other results in their search.
Keywords are the terms users type into the search bar, and apps must compete to outrank one another for each term.
For this reason, it’s important to research the most important and relevant keywords for your app, enabling you to steer clear of those already dominated by the biggest apps and lean into less competitive keywords where you can find your footing. For example, a straightforward keyword like “budget” may be too competitive a goal for your brand new money-minding app, so you might want to consider something more specific like “save money” or “retirement.”
Your app’s icon is your first chance to convince users your app solves whatever problem sent them to the app store, and to begin building the connection between your app and the user. It also stays on the user’s phone for as long as the app is installed, which gives it plenty of chances to affect engagement: App icons with clear, attractive, and easy-to-remember designs make sure users aren’t stuck wondering why they downloaded it.
There are generally three approaches to app icon design: character-centric, branding- or title-centric, and function-centric. Character-centric design uses a mascot or in-app character’s face as the logo. It works because users build relationships with characters and can thus easily remember what app awaits behind the icon: There’s no mistaking Angry Birds when you see it, for example. Branding- or title-centric design uses a recognizable logo with minimal, stylized text — typically the name of the app or nothing at all. It works best with more established brands. Sephora’s take is stark and elegant even with text; AllTrails uses only a logo and is a little more earthy. Finally, function-centric design aims to explicitly communicate its app’s use case. The password manager BitWarden is a good example, using a simple shield to suggest security.
No matter your approach, your icon should meet the following criteria:
- Simple, scalable design
- Unique, recognizable, and eye-catching visuals
- Consistent with the rest of your branding
Screenshots and Video
The icon may be the first visual element users see in search, but screenshots and videos follow close behind. Both give users the closest thing they can get to testing the app before they install it, so what you choose to display can have a huge impact on whether or not a user that finds your listing follows through with an install.
Screenshots and videos should show the app in action, using concise and legible text to highlight and explain key features. Don’t just choose what looks good — make sure your screenshots explain what your app is really like. If your banking app has intuitive menus, show them off. If your game has a cast of adorable characters, put them front and center. A picture is worth a thousand words, as the saying goes, and this is your opportunity to speak volumes to potential new users.
Regardless of platform, a video incorporated in your listing will claim the first slot in your gallery. Any genre of app can include a video in its listing, but games lend themselves especially well to video previews. A quick look at the core gameplay loop is the most direct way to communicate a game’s appeal, just be sure to make the video match what players will actually experience or you risk massive uninstalls. For non-gaming apps, a 15-30 second video that demonstrates use cases with in-app footage and text interstitials is the way to go.
On the App Store, you’ll have the choice between landscape and portrait gallery orientation. Portrait mode will show the first three images in your gallery in search results, which allows for the panoramic gallery: multiple screenshots that combine to form a single cohesive image and that encourage scrolling through the whole gallery. Nearly all apps use portrait orientation, but landscape mode can be particularly useful for games. Whichever orientation you select, you should aim to employ 5-7 screenshots.
On Google Play, your lead image — separate from your screenshots — appears in search results. It’s always in landscape orientation and is typically a logo graphic. A preview video can be used in place of that image. Screenshots themselves usually remain in portrait orientation and should number between four and eight.
App Names, Titles, and Descriptions
Whatever you name your app, you’ll want to include one to three of your cornerstone keywords in its title. Look at the top hiking app AllTrails — the title of its listing on both the App Store and Google Play reads AllTrails: Hike, Bike, and Run, positioning it to rank well for all three keywords.
The App Store also allows for a 30-character subtitle that can hold keywords, but be careful not to repeat any from the title or Apple will flag you for keyword stuffing and lower your rank. Apple allows you to add a description, but it doesn’t scan that text for keywords — it’s purely for explaining your app to new users.
Google Play apps have no subtitle, but they include both short and long descriptions that will be scanned for keywords. Any keywords you target should appear 3-5 times across your title and descriptions. You should also add two to three tags most relevant to your app and avoid changing them unless you’ve significantly altered your app.
Whatever keywords you target, you’ll want to periodically revisit them and evaluate your search performance. App Store Connect provides a wide range of insights on app performance, while on Google Play you can view store listing performance as one of the KPIs on your dashboard by customizing it in the Play Console. Consulting with a mobile advertising expert can also help give your results a boost. If there are terms that you can’t seem to crack, swap them out for new ones. The more keywords you can rank for, the better, and there’s no reason to camp out on one you can’t win.
Store-Specific ASO: Apple App Store vs. Google Play
Depending on the app store you target, you can arrive at a slightly different answer to the question “What is app store optimization?”
For the Apple App Store, you have to consider the URL of your app, which should include the title, subtitle, and an important keyword or two if none have already appeared. You can save other keywords for the dedicated Keywords section, where you’ll want to list as many relevant ones as possible without repeating yourself. You can update your keywords every four weeks or so to continually optimize search performance, and don’t worry about seeming inconsistent: Customers won’t see the list as it appears only on the backend.
Google doesn’t read the URL for keywords, but it does scour everything else you’ve written on your page for keyword usage. In contrast to the App Store, on Google Play you should include any keywords you target three to five times across your title, short description, and long description. Aim to update those keywords every six to eight weeks.
Partner with AdAction for Maximum ASO Results
Whether you’re preparing your app for launch or re-evaluating your ASO strategy with fresh eyes, there’s a lot to keep in mind. Keyword research, description drafting, screenshots, video previews — each plays an essential role and shouldn’t be overlooked. But if you’d rather focus on making your app best it can be, learn how you can leave your ASO worries to us by getting in touch today.