5 Smart Strategies For App Store Screenshots

Without looking, do you know which element of an app listing makes up 75% of the view in the app store search results?

Here is what Apple’s app store search results look like on my iPhone 6:

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The first result is Twitter’s Periscope. While the listing includes the app name, publisher, icon and even ratings, the first two screenshots take center stage.

Optimizing an app listing for visibility in search results consumes a lot of what’s talked about in ASO, but converting viewers is how we actually acquire users.

And since the screenshots are such a big part of the view a potential user sees when navigating the app store – we need to make sure our screenshots are optimized for conversion.

Features First

If you have read some of our other posts on app store optimization for Apple and Google Play, you know we are big on highlighting features.

Features and brands are how users search the app stores. With your market research using an app store intelligence platform, you know which features of your mobile app are most important or differentiating.

When focusing on your app’s features, make sure the first two clearly show what your app is for and what it does.

Visiting the Periscope listing again – they have obviously decided to position the app in two ways:

  • explore the world (for those consuming videos on Periscope)
  • broadcast live from anywhere (for those making videos)

Even if you had never heard of Periscope and you saw the listing in results from a search for  “live video” or some other related search, the first two screenshots tell two different types of potential users exactly what the app is and does.

Screenshots 3, 4 and 5 go into additional features including discovery and the social features, but screenshots 1 and 2 show off Periscope’s most unique, important and differentiating features.

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Focus Group Tested

Identifying your app’s most important features is one thing, designing screenshots that are understandable and encourage action is quite another.

From the graphics used to the call to action or copy, and of course even color and font choices impact how potential users react to your screenshot design.

Testing a variety of screenshot designs with a focus group made up of your target audience can provide actionable feedback that is hard to get anywhere else.

Two benefits of working with a focus group on app screenshots designs are:

1)  testing a wider variety of design directions and calls to action

A completely different design direction that flops won’t impact actual conversion rates and installs like live-testing would.

2)  qualitative and quantitative feedback. Most A/B testing on live traffic is data driven

“Screenshot Design A” converted at a 15% higher rate than “Screenshot Design B” so let’s go with “A”. With focus groups, we can get written feedback as to why a user liked one design over another, what was confusing, what they liked etc…

Increasing conversions in app store views from 25% to 30% (a 20% increase) can mean thousands of new users each month.

Order Testing

Maybe your app has 2 or 3 features that really set it apart, and you are not sure which to lead with?

As we have discovered, the first 2 screenshots are visible in search results – so experimenting with order can have a real impact on conversion rates.

Bamboo Apps shared they saw an increase of 50% in installs from rearranging screenshots.

A/B Testing

Multivariate testing (or A/B testing when there are only 2 variations) is virtually impossible on Apple’s app store, but Google Play recently announced support for testing of all sorts of app listing elements.

Called “Experiments”, Google Play helps publishers test different icons, names, descriptions, and screenshots by country – and on whichever percent of live traffic we choose.

Since these experiments are being run on live traffic, tests should be limited to smaller variations in screenshot designs, copy and order – and limited to one test at time for the best results.

Screenshot Localization

Depending on where your current traffic is coming from, screenshot localization can provide an easy improvement in conversions.

Because screenshots are limited in scope, changing out text and graphics is much more simple than localizing an entire app.

How screenshots are localized really depends on who the app is for and what it does, but the call to action copy is generally a pretty reasonable project for those new to app localization.

A recommendation – don’t rely on Google Translate as we discussed in a previous post on app localization.


Optimization is an ongoing process of improvement where changes and gains add up.

The optimization of an app’s screenshots for conversion represents “low hanging fruit” for many app marketers and publishers.

By implementing the above strategies for app store screenshots, your app will be positioned to achieve solid gains from small efforts.

App Store Optimization Tips

According to a recent report from comScore, the vast majority of app installs come via the app store, with search being the leading mobile app discovery method.

Optimizing an app listing for the app stores continues to be one of app marketing’s highest ROI activities.

What follows is 5 app store optimization tips.  For more detailed information on the specifics of optimizing an app listing, check out our guides for Apple ASO and Google Play.

Use app store search data instead of web data

The way people search the app stores is different than how they search the web. Intent is different, what we are searching is different (applications vs literally anything on the web), and app store search results have trained us how to search.

Using Google’s free web search suggestion tools provides a poor proxy for how potential users of your app are searching the app stores.

For more on the differences between app store search and web search, check out our post containing examples from our app store intelligence tools.

Build a matrix of keywords that build relevant phrases

Armed with app store data about how your target market is searching the app stores for apps like yours, the goal then is to cast a wide net at these keywords and phrases.

The best way to achieve wide coverage is by building app titles, descriptions and using the keyword field (Apple only) to create a keyword matrix.

This approach tends to “open up” keywords that would otherwise be too broad, vague or competitive to target.

For example, “Free” may not be a good keyword to target on its own.  “Free” and “Game” is still very vague.  “Free”, “game”, “runner”, “zombie”?  Where the keyword “free” didn’t make sense, combined with additional feature-based or descriptive keywords, “free” may be a valuable modifier.

The above 4 keywords would result in coverage for:

  • “zombie runner”
  • “zombie runner game”
  • “zombie game”
  • “free zombie game”
  • “free zombie runner”

For just those 4 words, there are 24 ways to arrange them into 4 word phrases, and more than 40 ways to arrange them in 1, 2, 3 and 4 word phrases.

This starts to get complicated as Apple limits the characters in the keyword field, and has a somewhat subjective policy to keyword stuffing app titles (see below). Google limits the app name and the short description to 30 and 80 characters respectively.

These constraints require marketers to make decisions on which individual keywords deliver the very best relevant phrase coverage.

If the average length of an English word is 8 characters, we are trying to select the 15-20 keywords that provide the widest coverage of relevant searches. 15 targeted words can create a keyword matrix of almost 3,000 1,2 and 3 word phrases.

As you can guess, advanced optimization software provides a solution to this challenge.

Optimize creative elements via a focus group and then in the store

Visibility in app store search results is only part of the path to acquiring organic users in the app store.

Once a potential user sees your app’s listing, the app title, icon and screenshots play a large role in converting a viewer into a user.

An increase in conversion from 25% to 30% can mean thousands of new users in your app.

Because the icon and screenshots make up the majority of an app’s store listing – investing in optimizing these creative elements has shown to have a large impact on app store conversions.

Google not only sees creative testing as a tool for developers, but as a way to for developers to provide a better user experience to users.  They recently announced support for live multi-variate testing in Google Play.

Since traffic is live, and because Apple does not yet support testing in their app stores, testing bigger variations of your icon, screenshots and even the order of screenshots with a focus group is a recommended approach.

Another key benefit to testing creatives with a focus group prior to making changes in the live app store listing is receiving qualitative feedback. More than just identifying a winner, this feedback can provide insights as to why a design performed better than another.

Avoid short-term hacks to build a long-term competitive advantage

As with many closed systems, from Google’s web search algorithm to email spam filters to the app stores, where there is mystery – there is someone profiting from selling hacks.

Some approaches to app store optimization are extremely short sighted, and many result in an app’s removal from the store or even developer account suspension.

Check out our best practices and top ASO hacks to avoid here.

Don’t keyword stuff app titles

Google has virtually eliminated the abuse of keyword stuffing in app titles by limiting the app name in Google Play app listings to 30 characters.

Apple, on the other hand, provides a whopping 255 characters for app titles! App publishers recognized there was no reason to sweat the selection of keywords used in the 100 character limit in the keywords field, as there were 255 characters to play with in the app title.

Apple has since responded by rejecting apps who abuse this app title space, removing (key)words from the title and rejecting an app’s metadata and requiring a new app submission without the keyword-stuffed title.

The market has caught on as well, where apps with keyword-stuffed titles perceived as low quality and spammy.


As mobile device usage continues to increase, with app usage growing even faster, implementing a process for ongoing app store optimization just gets more critical for companies invested in mobile as a channel, hub or resource for clients, partners and leads.

Armed with these app store optimization tips, and with the right partner, marketers and published have a solid foundation for long term mobile app success.

White Hat ASO vs Black Hat ASO

Any time there is an algorithm that determines where an object (website, book, mobile app, etc..) ranks for a specific search, there are ways to improve the object’s ranking.

For example, a book on Amazon is much more likely to be ranked highly in a search if the title of the book contains the searched for words.

Practices for optimizing a mobile app for the Google and Apple app store indexes fall into one of two camps – white hat or black hat.

White hat and Black hat

For the uninitiated, “white hat” and “black hat” are terms used in marketing but stem from hacking computer security systems.

White hat hackers hack security systems to test for flaws or otherwise ensure the security of an organization.

Black hat hackers circumvent security for personal gain or general maliciousness.

In marketing – and specifically optimization for ranking/visibility –  white hat generally refers to approaches that are not against any laws, or rules and guidelines of the indexing entity (Google, Amazon, the app stores, Pinterest, etc…).

Black hat – on the other hand – are approaches that do not follow the rules of the indexing entity, but may not be detectable or enforceable in the short-term.

In general, black hat in marketing may appeal to some as cutting edge or a chance to jump ahead, but is rarely (never) a good long-term strategy.

In web search, each new Google algorithm update addresses black hat tactics and penalizes the websites and urls significantly.

In the app stores, Apple and Google can simply remove your app or worse, remove the entire developer portfolio and profile.

It is simple not worth attempting to game the app store rankings system with black hat techniques as the risks far outweigh the rewards.

Black Hat Strategies (to avoid)

So what are some black hat app store optimization techniques we should be wary of?

Automating ratings and reviews

You build, or hire a service that scrapes reviews from other apps,  reformats the reviews and automates posting ratings and reviews in Google Play and in the Apple App Store.

Carter Thomas over at Blue Cloud wrote up a nice analysis of what appeared to be automated reviews on the smash hit Flappy Bird.

Here is a sample of what Carter found and shared (go see his post to see a few more):

reviews

Examples pop up from time to time, where there are seemingly random reviews or reviews that don’t align with the rating.

Large fluctuations in the app stores are often linked to Apple and Google scrubbing out offenders like the above.

Buying Ratings and Reviews

On fiverr, Upwork and across the web, there are offers for bulk app reviews.   Not unlike “Get 1,000 Twitter followers for $10” but far more damaging.

fake-reviews

Enough said.

Apptentive is a service for engaging users and prompting reviews naturally in the app.  Check out their thoughts on fake reviews.

Incentivized app downloads and ratings

Because downloads, ratings/reviews and velocity impacts search rankings and placement in the top app charts, why not give away a few smurfberries in exchange for a rating or for installing another app in your portfolio?

Apple recognized that ads that included a virtual good as a reward for installing an app  meant that apps were being installed and immediately deleted as users performed actions for the reward and had no interest otherwise.

Likewise, rewarded ratings and reviews seemed too much like rewarding “good” reviews so Apple banned rewarded reviews as well.

worldofsearch

The process for a user to rate or review an app is ugly, so incentivizing seemed like a good deal for all parties – publishers, users and the app stores.

Apple and Google disagree and are solving this issue another way, by using conversion and engagement metrics as stronger indicators of an app’s relevance to a search than the quantity or quality of the ratings.

White Hat Strategies

White hat strategies for ASO continue to provide the most long-term benefits and include a lot of what we talk about on this blog.

See our guides for Apple ASO and Google Play ASO for specific best practices for ranking higher and converting more relevant users in the app stores, without the risk of penalties or worse.

Remember that the app stores are closed marketplaces, and are booming.

The review teams and Apple and now Google are busy, and the reward for those who follow their rules is high enough, that both Apple and Google have little tolerance for developer and publishers who push the envelope well past their respective policies.

How To Rock Mobile App Localization

Make no mistake, the mobile explosion and migration from the web to apps is not just an American or even Western phenomenon.  In fact, how fast and how broad populations across the globe are adopting mobile is a big part of the story.

Apple sold more iPhone 6 and 6+ in China than the US in Q1 2015. China actually has more active smartphones than the entire US population with reportedly more than 380m.

Japan, South Korea and of course a whole host of Spanish speaking countries represent huge user bases as well.

A study by the Harvard Business Review reported that 72% of respondents said they are more likely to buy a product in their own language.

If your app is only in English, mobile app localization may provide an avenue for 5-100% growth or more.

Revenue per user and downloads overall vary per country/language by app and app type, but the stages of localization are similar across app types.

Stages of Localization

Depending on expected return or budget, publishers may approach app localization in stages, both in languages localized for and what in the app is localized.

Publishers should start with the app store listing text and keywords, then move to the graphics (screenshots and video), then in-app text, in-app purchases and in-app controls like back buttons.

Localizing the app text, items for purchase and controls is a massive over-simplification that groups design and UI in with text and back buttons as if it were just simple translation.

Localization vs Translation

Let’s address this here:

  • Translation is essentially changing text into another language.  (defining “translation” w/o using “translate” is not easy!)
  • Localization is language translation plus locally relevant graphics, units of measurement, colors, social networks etc…

China does not use Facebook, Russia has VK instead of Facebook.  Apps that require or offer a Facebook login would be out of place in China and Russia.

Similarly, a photo-taking app that used screenshots of two Americans taking photos may not resonate as well with a Chinese consumer as screenshots showing Chinese users.

Localized App Store Listing – Text Only

Google Play and Apple both support creating multiple app store listings by language.

A quick recap of app store listing best practices reminds us that for Google Play, and app store listing consists of an app title, short and long description and graphic elements. For Apple, we have an app name, description and a hidden field for keywords.

The name/title, descriptions and keywords are extremely important for app store optimization – specifically visibility in the app stores and conversion of viewers to users – we are not going to just translate our fields into another language. The current English app listing is the result of research on user behavior and search phrases in English in the US.

The best way to create a localized and optimized app store listing is to go through the optimization process for each targeted location.

If you want to start smaller and just translate the current app store listing, avoid using Google Translate as the default translation tool.

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There are many reasonable options where translating an app store listing into 10 languages would run around $1,000.

Mobile app publishers with a serious focus on entering a new market with their apps should perform a complete ASO analysis for the targeted country.

App Listing Creatives

App creatives like screenshots and a video have a huge impact on converting app store views into installs and users. If the text of an app store listing (name, description, keywords) drives visibility, the creative elements drive conversion.

Translating the text on any creatives is the place to start, but publishers should consider changing the actual images used if a more local example is available.

For example, a mapping app could show a screenshot of a user navigating a map of Paris in France, and of Shanghai for China.

Using the app store optimization research from the previous stage, you will know which features and functions are in highest demand and of most interest in your targeted country. Highlight these features in screenshots just like you would lead with you most sought after features in screenshots for your domestic audience.

Which Countries to Localize For

With an English app or game, publishers can cover some big spending countries like the UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and of course the US.

If your app is already in English, you have roughly 35% of the app market covered.

Where you go from there depends largely on where current app installs are coming, the LTV of those users, and where competitive apps are having success.

If your app is getting a lot of downloads in Germany, for example, this may be a good place to start your app localization efforts.

Another approach is to see where your competition is having success. One place to start is by performing competitive ASO research.  Do any of your biggest competitors in the app store have localized app store listings?  If so, which countries and how do they rank in those locations?

With tools like this from Apptopia, publishers can see both the number of installs and the estimated revenue per user by country for competitive apps.

The top 5 recommended languages for localization not considering your app’s type, performance and competitors are English, Japanese, Simplified Chinese, Korean and Spanish.  German, French, Brazilian Portuguese, Russian round out top 9.

Mobile Marketing Best Practices

Just when marketers caught up with websites, social media disrupted the digital marketing landscape. While providing new ways to reach customers, navigating how businesses should use Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn (not to mention Instagram and Pinterest and many more) continues to be a challenge.

Now mobile has arrived to the scene, faster and bigger than any technology before it.

The only reason they are called “mobile devices” or “smart phones” is because “personal computers” was already taken.

It is not just the use of mobile devices that is the story that is changing everything, but the use of mobile apps.

To add to the intrigue, mobile devices and apps are not just used while waiting in lines or “on the go”, but while sitting on the couch as the second screen.

Like social media and the rise of the web before it, the rapid transition to mobile and mobile apps provides opportunities and challenges.  Mobile moves so fast, the learning curve can be steep.

Let’s nail down some proven best practices for mobile marketing so we can take advantage of this opportunity to reach and connect with our current and target user bases.

Off-App Marketing Best Practices

Email with Mobile reading in mind

More email is opened via a mobile device than via the desktop, with 53% of all emails reportedly opened first on a mobile device.  Google reports 75% of gmail accounts are accessed via mobile.

While these numbers paint a broad picture of email opens on mobile, your specific target market will have its own characteristics.

Here is the sobering stat that really hammers home the point regardless of target market:

75% of Consumers “Highly Likely” to Delete Emails They Can’t Read on Mobile Devices

A report on mobile email usage from Constant Contact includes the following and more:

  • In consumers between the ages of 18 and 39, 85% report using mobile to open and read email, with half stating mobile is the primary device for email.
  • Even in users over 60, 65% reported using mobile devices to open and read emails.

Almost 50% of survey respondents also said they are likely to click on links in an email when read from a mobile device, which means the destination also needs to be mobile-viewing friendly.

Mobile Ready / Responsive website

You’ve seen the offenders, and they are not pretty.

With the majority of local web search now coming from mobile devices, Google recognized that if search results from their search engine included websites that were not easily viewable from the device performing the search, users would opt for a better search solution.

Enter “Mobilegeddon”, the hard date Google set for penalizing websites in search rankings that did not pass their mobile readiness test.  Websites were graded on a pass/fail basis, and those that failed were instantly penalized in search rankings.

Despite the rise of mobile web browsing, many of the largest companies have not addressed this obvious user experience issue.

Between emails being read in mobile devices, links from within emails to websites viewed in mobile devices, and the search result penalty for not being mobile ready, not having a mobile-ready website means you are just not even in the game.

In-App Marketing Best Practices

While a mobile-ready website and emails are a good place to start and a minimum for participating in the mobile-centric environment, providing a mobile app to clients, prospects or cold leads provides some benefits unmatched by social or email.

From tshirts to enterprise infrastructure, B2C or B2B, the buying process generally starts on a mobile device.

Position for Target Audience

In-app marketing actually starts before anyone uses your app. We start with creating a mobile app listing positioned for your target audience.

Relevant visitors to your app listing are more likely to install and use your app, just like relevant traffic to your website is more likely to find the features of your products and services compelling.

Because most mobile users report that app store search is the most common method for finding and installing apps, positioning your app for app store search discovery is a primary app marketing tactic.

The practice of creating and testing an app store listing for visibility in the app stores, and conversion of viewers to users is called app store optimization or ASO.

Check out our guides for Apple ASO and Google Play ASO for more on this topic.

Local and Push Notifications

Connecting with prospects and clients via in-app notifications is one of the primary benefits of investing in a mobile app.

Notifications are opened at a rate of 50% or greater, more than 5x that of email.

Notifications drive action within the hour.

Depending on your target market, notifications and mobile messaging may be the primary communication tool used by your audience, as email is increasingly becoming grandpa’s tool of choice.

Coupling notifications with user and device data, mobile marketers can create sophisticated messaging campaigns, connecting to users at just the right times.

The easy example here is Starbucks offering $1 off on the new “Pumpkin Spiced Latte” when users of their app walk by a Starbucks.

This is made possible only with mobile devices, and only with an app.  Which leads us to our next best practice.

Use Location Data

Two things make mobile devices and mobile apps one of the most exciting marketing opportunities in decades:

  • they are truly personal – email and browsing were the best means to target an audience with relevant messaging until mobile devices became ubiquitous
  • location data – marketers can build campaigns for extremely specific locations

Target recently introduced testing in their stores for iBeacons, which provides location data of users to the specific location in their store.

These tests started with “Get $3 off of soap”, but could (will) evolve to “You have this bag pinned on Pinterest, get it now for 20% off”.

The examples are as varied as businesses and their business goals, but if the partnership between Cisco and Apple is any indication, location-based mobile marketing is not just for retailers or other B2C businesses.

Starting with these mobile marketing best practices, investments in mobile will show the highest returns and provide a good base to build on.

App Store Optimization (ASO) Blog | Mobile App Marketing