App Store Optimization (ASO) 101: The Rules Of The Game

Recently, we here at Kahena have had some great opportunities to explore the world of mobile marketing, specifically App Store Optimization or “ASO.” We’ve been scouring the internet for all news about this exciting new field, and thought we should begin giving back to the community by sharing our own observations and experiences. Though this ASO series will go more in depth (and a little experimental) in future posts, let’s first get the basics down.

(And just in case you don’t have time to read now, check out Trendblog’s awesome ASO infographic)

ASO & SEO – Same Thing, New Acronym?

ASO has major similarities to SEO, but there are some key differences essential to getting found in app stores.  The most obvious similarity lies in the fact that both SEO and ASO involve manipulating an algorithm to get your app or your client’s app ranking higher for relevant keywords as a means to the end of conversions (in this case, app downloads).

Big Differences

The biggest difference between the two fields is in public opinion. Most business owners view SEO as an integral part of their online strategy, while players in the apps game often don’t realize organic app store search is also a huge driver of downloads in the app market. Instead, these players focus on PR efforts or on word of mouth. Don’t get me wrong: PR and viral campaigns can and frequently do have a great effect on any marketing campaign if done right, but ASO has quickly become an integral part of the app marketer’s toolbox. In fact, Nielsen found that 63 percent of Android and iOS users have found apps using search within the app store, a larger percentage than any other factor, including word of mouth and in-app promotions.

Considering there are currently at least 700,000 apps in both the iTunes App Store and the Google Play Store, and that apps are responsible for 56 percent of all activity on Android smartphones, developers and app owners can’t leave success up to their PR team alone.

Lack of Information

Another reason we decided to write this post is that there just isn’t much literature on ASO beyond highlighting its importance and some “buzzword articles” on whether ASO is the new SEO. Therefore, here is our crash course in ASO as the intro to what we hope will be a long and detailed journey (read: “awesome blog series”).

The Game

The Rules:

APP STORE Optimization means that the search engine specific rules that SEO ninjas are used to might not apply. In fact, some of the things you discover about ASO may not make sense at all in light of Google algorithm updates (eg., the iTunes keyword example below). Part of this is that the field is so new and is probably going to change rather significantly as it grows more popular. In addition, each of the stores has different rules about when and how changes to titles and descriptions can be made and even how the search results are displayed.

The Players:

The two biggest app stores are currently the Google Play Store and the iTunes App Store.

1) The Google Play Store is the default app store for Android devices and largely mimics aspects of the Google search algorithm. As you would expect, Google uses their search experience well – Google Play is the biggest driver of organic app finds and, in turn, downloads.

2) The iTunes App Store is the built-in app store for all iOS devices.  It still uses a keyword field which is the ASO equivalent of the now-defunct meta keywords SEO tag, and also features a largely download-driven algorithm. In contrast to Google Play, changes to any field (title, keywords, screenshots, descriptions, etc) in iTunes require an update to the app and a review by Apple’s team of reviewers.

Now, having said all that, here’s a curveball: app pages on iTunes and Google Play’s websites show up in SERPs and can lead to downloads as well, and these rankings are of course subject to the Google algorithm. In fact, the mobile apps world was recently disturbed by Google’s temporary demotion of iTunes app pages for app-specific queries (see Google’s response in the update at the end of the above article. More on their response can be found here).

The Tools:

Our SEO arsenals are full of tools to help us understand audience, search patterns, traffic, consumer behavior (down to heat maps which show where on your page visitors’ eyes are drawn) and keyword competition.

In contrast, the ASO toolbox is still pretty lame. With the exception of a couple of tools that we have found reliable so far, the tools available only offer suggestions and estimates, and most of them are premium services. We tried so many automated rank-tracking solutions that gave us inaccurate data that we ended up building our own competitive analysis tool that automatically populates titles, descriptions, number of downloads, and number of reviews for the top 25 Android apps in Google Play for a given keyword (yes, this is a teaser :-D).

The Winners:

Well, we can’t all be winners. As with SEO, the winners in the long-term will be the ASO’s wearing the white hats. The app market is a competitive place – you’ve got to be strategic, properly identify and keep an eye on your competition, and not be afraid of a little trial and error.

Of course, the app itself is always going to be the biggest factor in your success or failure, and part of optimization is listening to user reviews and comments and being flexible. Fortunately for everybody, if you’re already doing ASO, you’re ahead of the curve, and if you’re not, it’s easy to catch up.

Up Next

That wraps up the intro.  Stay tuned to this space for MUCH more about ASO. Specifically, look out for our next posts:

  • Life Beyond iTunes and Google Play: Other App Stores
  • Show Me The Money: Converting in the App Store
  • Cheat Sheet for Success: Filling Out App Store Fields

and many more details on Google Play and iTunes, app market keyword research, and in-app analytics (that’s right, it exists)!

About Denisse Dubrovsky

With family in Mexico City and a Euro-groupie, Denisse only realized she was American the day she moved to Israel. Before becoming American, she lived in Boston, MA where she worked with a change making non-profit that uses new technologies to bridge the gap between cost and profit. There she worked in everything from social media marketing to research and blog writing. This and her love of competition mixed with results driven creativity led her to SEO and digital marketing, where the connections between great brands and great people occur.

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11 Responses to “App Store Optimization (ASO) 101: The Rules Of The Game”

  1. Daniel Peris April 21, 2013 7:35 pm #

    Hi,

    I’m launching a google play rank tracker tool too :)

    Best regards from Spain

    • Denisse Dubrovsky April 21, 2013 8:41 pm #

      Daniel,

      That’s GREAT to hear!

      We’re really looking forward to checking it out.

      All the best :)

  2. Philipp Greitsch April 22, 2013 9:10 pm #

    Denisse,

    Thanks for including our infographic on App Store Optimization!

    Especially with Apple’s fight against discovery apps such as AppGratis, ASO plays an important role to generate visibility for your App.

    Cheers,
    Philipp

    • Denisse Dubrovsky April 22, 2013 11:16 pm #

      Philip,

      We really enjoyed the infographic and look forward to more great content from Trendblog.

      In this series we hope to shed light on some app store factors that might currently seem murky and unchangeable to developers, marketers and other holders of generally awesome apps.

      Thanks for reading!
      Denisse

  3. Gabriel April 26, 2013 3:10 am #

    i think is a bit hard that you claim ASO tools are a bit lame
    how many did you tested?
    the fact they are premium doesn’t mean they are lame right ;)

    Appcod.es, SearchMan, MobileDevHQ, AppStoreRankings.net…
    interested in knowing the lame factor?

    • Denisse Dubrovsky April 26, 2013 11:34 am #

      Hi Gabriel,

      You’re right, calling the tools lame is harsh, but we didn’t mean the actual programs. I meant the toolbox as a whole is very incomplete compared to the vast amount of data resources we have access to in SEO. And of course, given the opacity of some of the data sources, it’s to be expected to some extent.

      We did find, however, that some of the tools we tried gave us inaccurate ranking information when we tested them against manual rank checking. We did, though, recently have success with AppStoreRankings and we’re quite happy with it. We’ll be posting a follow up article soon about the tools that did work for us, and the ones we love.

      Thanks for commenting! I’ve been listening to your podcast and really enjoying.

  4. Sonali May 2, 2013 2:31 pm #

    Nice post!! But I think apart from ASO, some more steps plays vital role in app store optimization like Pre Launch Marketing Strategy & Post launch Marketing Strategy, which I have discussed. Would love to have your comments and feedback if any to make my posts more interesting and useful!!

    • Denisse Dubrovsky May 2, 2013 4:44 pm #

      Thanks Sonali!

      Looking forward to reading your article and discussing :)

  5. Pham Thanh September 18, 2013 8:18 pm #

    Great post!
    Many thanks for sharing! I found a good source of ASO as well that I want to share:
    http://appstoreoptimization.tumblr.com/

    • Ari Roth September 22, 2013 8:01 am #

      Hey Pham,

      Thanks for sharing that link – I definitely agree with you because it’s on my reading list :-)

      Ari

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. 5 secret arts of app store optimization | VentureBeat - May 9, 2013

    […] next “big thing” in marketing (remember QR codes?) and lately, everyone’s been abuzz over app store Optimization (ASO). However, it’s pretty clear that ASO is more than just a pretty face. With over 700,000 […]

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