App Market

Get to Know Your App Market

Like many things in mobile and digital marketing, the mobile app market moves fast. While the very top of the app stores are consistently dominated by mobile-first games and apps – and those with large web user bases migrating to mobile – the top 100 overall and top charts in each category are dynamic. Regularly reviewing the mobile app stores – specifically Apple’s App Store and Google Play – can provide insights and ideas for improved user interfaces (UI), user experience (UX), monetization and more. Below is a starting point. You may develop your own process for reviewing the app market as makes sense for your app or portfolio. To help illustrate a topic we’ll take the perspective of a publisher of a photo-sharing app.

Top Free Apps

Even if the top 10-20 spots on the free app charts stay remarkably consistent, there is always that 1-2 apps that either shot up out of nowhere, are new or have found their audience and jump into the top 10 or 20. For example, the makers of Candy Crush have their newest app in the top 10 on google play – Blossom Blast. top-free-android-apps Knowing the latest Candy Crush title is in the top of the free charts in unlikely to lead to some obvious action for your app. What is actionable is watching which social networks are rising, or looking for new tools from existing networks (like Facebook Messenger). A new social network may affect how users can share their photos in your (hypothetical) app. The top free app charts is a quick and easy way to get a snapshot of the mobile app market.

Top Grossing Apps (overall and by category)

This is where it gets fun. The “Top Free” charts are interesting, but which apps are making money? It is important to remember here, that top grossing refers to in-app purchases (or paid apps), and does not take into account advertising revenues, web-based subscriptions, or purchases made outside of the app store (the Amazon app for example). Review the top grossing charts for overall and by categories related to your app as a monetization method in an unrelated app may spark ideas for your app. With a photo app, understanding the basics of game monetization/gamification is probably all that is needed, and our research of the top grossing can skip most games. The top 100 grossing is mostly games, so if nothing relevant jumps out, move right into the top grossing for your app’s category. Note that top grossing by category is only available in the Apple App Store. apple-app-store-top-grossing-photo No matter how your app monetizes, it is important to understand how other apps that share a category (and likely a user base) monetize their apps.

Competitive and Related Apps

You probably have a specific awareness of your top competition in the app stores, and a general knowledge of those apps that compete with your app for specific search terms. In fact, a regular review of competitors and related apps is likely (or should be!) part  of your app store optimization process. A competitor’s move up the app store may be related to specific features released in its latest version.  That is to say – category rankings and keyword rankings are trailing indicators of an app’s performance. Create a routine for reviewing your top competitors’ mobile app offerings, new features and recent reviews. photo-apps-google-play Gummicube clients can access category and keyword competitors, their trends up or down the charts and ratings and reviews from their app’s dashboard.

Trending Keywords

Apple started displaying “trending searches” in the search tab of the mobile app store – which is interesting by often not very relevant. IMG_0380 Gummicube has our own index of app store data, across Google Play and Apple’s App Store. This data provides mobile app publishers and marketers access to trending searches overall, trending searches by category and trending searches related to a specific search term. Trending keywords analysis should be part of every app store optimization process. Monitoring keywords and trending keywords provides early visibility to new competitors.

Mobile app market research in practice

Once you have a routine for these basics, adding review mining, competitor ad campaigns, competitor SDKs used in their app etc.. can provide further insights. Monitoring the app stores, and zeroing in the changes that are important to you and your app is made much easier with software. Take a look at how Gummicube uses app store data for research, app store optimization and user acquisition by requesting a demo here.

App Icons – 4 Questions to Guide Your App Icon Design

App icons.  They are the first thing potential users see when they open the app store.

Curated app selections from “Best New Apps” and “Shopping Essentials” on Apple’s App Store to Google Play’s “New and Updated” are 80% icons.

App icons are how users find your app on their device once they have it installed.

Notifications include app icons which provide an immediate visual cue for identifying the sender.

A mobile app icon helps convert app listing views to installs and users, and helps to retain these users.

How do we make sure we have an app icon that drives results?

Here are 4 questions to ask about your app icon:

Does it help tell the story and sell the unique features of your app?

Part of developing an app store optimization strategy is identifying your app’s most essential and differentiating features.  Does the app icon help to illustrate or support what’s special about your app?

Here are some good examples for calculator apps (I’m using the desktop view of the App Store as it is easier to see all of the icons):


I didn’t realize this was “a thing” until creating this post, but apparently there are hidden picture/file apps that appear to be calculators, but open to the hidden files when the correct password is entered.

Sneaky!  And also represented well by the icons.

Users can instantly determine which calculator apps are these vaults, or are for tipping or converting units of measurement.

If your screenshots are feature-focused (they should be), an icon that aligns reduces confusion and reinforces the main features of your app.

Note:  If you have a brand that is readily identifiable by your target market – you should absolutely incorporate it., Kayak, Facebook and Tweetbot (for example) don’t need to be feature forward in their app icon because those who are familiar with their brands already understand the features and benefits (at least as well as what could be communicated in an app icon).

Under Armour does both – for their brand specific apps, they use their logo. In apps that serve a specific purpose – the add the logo to the feature-forward icon.


Does it align with your target audience?

Features and benefits don’t exist in a bubble, features provide benefits to someone and that someone is your target market.

Age, gender, location, language, and the subject of the app all should have an impact on the app icon design.

A good starting point is reviewing competitive and complimentary apps used by your target audience.

Once a few design directions are established, testing icon designs with a focus group made up of your target market is ideal.

Who better to test an icon’s impact on specific actions, and receive qualitative feedback from than who you are trying to reach?

Focus groups provide a tool for testing bigger variations in app icon designs without negatively affecting actual results in the app store.

Once an app and app icon are published and live, Google provides a tool for A/B testing called experiments – where small adjustments can make a big difference.

Does it stand out against its search competition?

Using the keywords and phrases you are targeting in your ASO efforts, compare your app icon with other in those results.

Does it look the same as the others?  Does it stand out in any way?

Are you following Google and Apple design guidelines?

Both Apple and Google provide style guides for icons or for the desired user experience in general.

Stray too far from their recommended approach and you risk being passed over for featured spots or other manually curated lists.

Google’s style guide is here. Apple’s is in the developer portal.

Other tips:

  • remove the standard gloss that Apple adds
  • keep it simple – icons are small
  • keep it consistent with your app screenshots

Want some mobile app icon inspiration?

App Store Optimization Strategy

Building an App Store Optimization Strategy

If you want to tap into app store search traffic, you need to develop a strategy for optimizing a mobile app’s store listing .

In this article we’ll cover building an app store optimization strategy for higher rankings and more organic app installs.

Start with who your app is for

Sometimes called an avatar, create a specific profile of an ideal user of your app.

If there are several use cases or unique avatars, define each.

An ideal user could be defined by expected lifetime value (LTV), by propensity to share (creating a viral loop) or by likelihood for long-term app engagement.

Define your new avatar(s) by at minimum demographics and related interests.

For example – an avatar for my new (fictitious) “Perfect Jump Shot Trainer” app might be:

  • Male
  • Aged 25-44
  • Active Gym member
  • Interested in health and fitness related apps and sites
  • Fan of college and professional basketball

Define which features of your app are unique or differentiating

You can approach this several ways, as long as the end result is a list of features of your app and benefits to a user.

It may be helpful to start listing off your app’s features, and benefits related to specific use cases. Then review for those features that provide unique benefits.

Now compare this list to your avatar(s).

Before looking at competitive apps, do the features you have listed, and the associated benefits align to your target audience (avatar)?

Make some adjustments as needed and move to competitive research.

Research competitive and complimentary apps

Armed with your ideal user, and how your app’s features benefit this audience, let’s see what sets your app apart.

Perform app store searches for each of the features on your list and note those apps that appear across results.

Which features are they prioritizing in the app name, description and screenshots?

You should start to see which apps compete with your app for specific features, and which of your app’s features are most differentiating.

You can also explore the reviews for complementary or competitive apps to see what features are not working correctly, or are being requested from the user base.

Keep in mind that if a competitive app includes a function or feature, but does not emphasize it in their app store listing, this may provide an opportunity for your app to differentiate by emphasizing the feature.

Optimize creative elements

Your app store optimization strategy is starting to take shape! You have a list of essential and differentiating features of your app, and benefits written for specific use cases by your target market.

The app features and your avatar will inform and direct all of your app listing elements, starting with the app listing’s creative elements including the app icon and screenshots.

We have written much more on best practices for designing and optimizing app icons and screenshots, but the goal here is to incorporate all the information you have built thus far into something visual.

It is likely obvious that the icon for the fictional basketball shooting app targeting 25-44 year old men should not be pastels.  Maybe not as obvious is how important communicating your app’s most unique and differentiating features is.

Focus groups can help you identify which designs work best to communicate specific features with your target audience.

Create app listing metadata

Pulling much of our work thus far together, we craft our app name/title, short and full descriptions and keywords field for broad coverage of the identified  features.

App store intelligence/data, Software,  or an ASO / Mobile Marketing agency with access to app store data and ASO software tools will help you identify relevant keywords and phrases, competitors, and trending searches for your target demographic.

For more on the app metadata, check out our best practices guides for specific instructions on crafting an app name and description.

Set a review schedule

Finally, app store optimization is not set and forget.  Optimization means measuring and adjusting towards an optimal state.

Review app store optimization results monthly or at every new app submission.

Because the app stores are a large, global, dynamic marketplace – reaching an optimal state is a moving target.

But with regular reviews and adjustments to your app store listing, each incremental improvements adds up to a defendable long-term position in app store search.

ASO For Beginners

ASO for Beginners

Building, measuring and adjusting an app listing for the app stores is called app store optimization or ASO.

In this article we are going to introduce ASO for beginners, why ASO is important, the main topics and key considerations for an optimized mobile app.

Why ASO is important

App store search continues to be the largest channel for mobile app discovery and mobile app installs.

Despite Super Bowl spots, promotions in your Facebook feed or ads in other apps, mobile users respond that app store search is the channel used most often to find new apps.

Without an optimized app listing, you risk losing out on users searching for your app simply because they don’t see it.

How Apple and Google index apps

Both Google Play and Apple keep their indexing and search ranking algorithms private. By studying cause and effect, correlations and mining our own app store intelligence data – prominent indexing and ranking factors become clear.

Let’s start with Apple and their app store

An app listing in Apple’s App Store contains public elements like the icon, name, description and screenshots. Unique to Apple is a 100 character, “hidden” or private field for keywords – used to help Apple better understand what your app is, who it is for etc..

Apple uses the app’s name and keywords to determine which keywords and phrases are relevant to the app.

For example – consider the following fictional app:

App name:  Hotel Finder – best hotels at the best rates

Keywords:  deals,travel,motel,room

This app would likely be in the search results for “Hotel room deals”.

Notice a few things about how this works:

  • the example search used keywords found in both the app name and keywords field

While keywords used in the app name are weighted more heavily than those used in the “keywords” field, the combination of keywords used across these elements creates a sort of keyword matrix.

  • the formatting of the keywords field is keywords separated by commas and no spaces

Google Play app indexing

Google calls the app name element “App Title” and doesn’t use a private field like Apple’s keyword field, instead using the short and full descriptions to determine relevant keywords.

Where Apple provides 255 characters for the app name and 100 for the keywords field, Google limits the characters available and weighs constrained elements more heavily.

For example, an app title is limited to 30 characters, the short description to 80 and the full description 4,000.

It follows then that an app’s most important keywords/phrases be used in the title, next most important in the short description and then broad coverage for the full description.

Using the example Hotel Finder app above – the name we used for Apple’s app store is 44 characters – too long for Google Play.

If we really want to focus on “best rates” – the app title could be:

“Hotel Finder for best rates”

As you can see, 30 characters is not a lot to work with!

Determining which target keywords and phrases are most important have a huge impact on an app listing strategy – which brings us to creating the app listing.

How to create an app listing

To access organic app store traffic,  identifying keywords and phrases is critical for discovery alone.

With the limited space allotted to the app listing elements, keywords and phrases must be:

  • relevant to your target audience
  • relevant to your app
  • used by your audience when searching the app stores
  • work together to create broad coverage of a specific target

In a sentence: because space is limited, we need to identify keywords and phrases that our target audience uses to find apps like ours, that provides coverage of all ultra-relevant searches.

With limited space in Apple’s keywords field, using precious characters for “free, fun, fast, social, new” etc… unless these modifiers support a more specific, ultra-relevant phrase just doesn’t make sense.

Instead, focus on the features of your app that are either essential, differentiating or both.

Competitive market research, focus groups, app store intelligence software and  testing and adjusting should help you identify your best keyword targets.

Converting views into installs

A complete app store optimization strategy should also consider conversion.

The app name/title, keywords and descriptions all play a role, but conversion is largely affected by the icon, screenshots and ratings.

Creative elements should be tested with a focus group, polling or other means before being published as the difference between icon designs, screenshots designs, the order of the screenshots and even the features and calls to action on the screenshots have been shown to have a large impact on conversion rates.

Ratings and reviews are more complicated in that all of the other elements of an app listing are within your control as the publisher except for ratings.

You can learn more about acquiring ratings and reviews for your app here.

Things to avoid in ASO

When evaluating the potential of organic app store user acquisition, it is clear an optimized app is an extremely valuable asset.

The “shortcuts” to building this asset have mostly been shut down, but here are some common “gotchas” for ASO beginners:

  • Keyword Stuffing – creating an app name that makes no sense but uses every possible keyword in its name.

Apple provides 255 characters for the app name, but rarely approves those longer than 100 characters, and staying under 60 is even a safer bet.

Plus – who wants to download an app like “Cowboy Command – the fast, free, amazing, fun, cowboys and indians, horses, wild west, shootout, first person shooter, where you invite Facebook friends and create a clan to crush the competition“.

No one – that’s who.

  • Using web data instead of app store data – not a hack or against the rules, just user intent is so different, keywords used in web search do not mirror or even proxy those used in app store search.  Just do a search on Google then in Google Play and note the differences in results.

Feeling good about your crash course in ASO for Beginners?  Why don’t you check out our whitepaper on ASO, or take a look at our app store specific guides – for Apple and Google Play.