App Store Optimization is vital for any app. It helps apps both reach users and appeal to them, through research and best practices. But once your ASO strategy is in place, how do you know if it’s working? What do we use to measure the success of ASO? There are several factors one can look at to determine how well their App Store Optimization is working.
Pokémon Go – It seems like all anyone can talk about lately. And why not? It became the top grossing app in the US within 13 hours, raising Nintendo’s market value by $9 billion in five days. 21 million users play the game daily. Between four and five million more download it each day. And with well over $1 million daily setting the app above competitors like Candy Crush and Clash of Clans, it seems like The Pokémon Company and Niantic are on top of the world.
It might come as a shock, then, that Pokémon Go is in desperate need of ASO.
Beneath the sheen of the Pokémon brand, surprisingly little has been done to market Pokémon Go to mobile users. And while brand recognition and online chatter have contributed significantly to make the app number one on the charts, those factors can only take a game so far. As of now, when the social media masses move on to the next big craze, Pokémon Go won’t have a leg to stand on.
Let’s start with the app’s most crippling weakness – its keyword rankings. As expected, Pokémon Go ranks for multiple Pokémon-related terms, such as “pokémon games free” and “pokémon RPG”.
However, many of these rankings fall well below what you might expect. For instance, as of this writing the app is only rank 8 for “pokémon games free” and a whopping rank 600 for “pokémon RPG”, a shocking figure given that Pokémon Go is, for all intents and purposes, the biggest Pokémon role-playing game of all time.
The rankings only get worse from there. A series of surprising oversights means that users who may connect with Pokémon Go will likely never find it through search. For example, the app does not rank at all for Nintendo, a brand closely associated with the Pokémon legacy. Similarly, the app doesn’t register for its world-famous mascot, Pikachu. Nor does it rank for other famous creatures like Mew, Mewtwo, Squirtle, Charmander or Bulbasaur.
Even generic phrases are missing from Pokémon Go’s keyword rankings. Core words and phrases that are extremely relevant and could help the app grow by leaps and bounds are outright missing, such as:
The list goes on and on. Just take a look at the snippet of Pokémon Go’s ranking report below.
As you can see, the app ranks well for some generic terms like “mobile games”, but lacks rankings for crucial relevant terms that could help more users find the app organically. Just look at how mixed the app’s ratings for Pokémon-related terms are, with most Pokémon rankings falling in the high hundreds or worse.
It’s not just the app’s metadata that’s suffering, either; Pokémon Go’s store page is surprisingly lacking, too.
For starters, the app is completely lacking a preview video. Thousands of users have taken to the Reviews section to complain about a lack of clarity in Pokémon’s features, and the absence of a preview video only compounds confusion around the game’s feature set.
Without a preview video, the task of convincing a user falls to the app’s screenshots. The first screenshot is simply a digital Charmander standing against a barren street corner. There are no feature callouts, no explanatory text to guide users, just a barren and boring image.
The same can be said for each of the following screenshots. Each image is simply a capture from the game, with little to nothing to offer context to the user about what they are seeing. There’s even a low battery shown atop several of the screenshots, highlighting a common complaint from users that the app drains battery too quickly. Next to the battery percentage a charging symbol can be seen, giving the impression that the developers were rushed in creating the screenshots and didn’t have the time to take captures at full battery or edit the images before they were uploaded.
With the massive success of Pokémon Go, it can be easy to overlook just how many ASO best practices the app completely ignores. While the brand’s worldwide recognition has already been enough to launch the app to massive success, once the fires die down on social media, Niantic and The Pokémon Company will need to make sweeping changes to their App Store presence in order to keep their spot at the top.
Shakespeare once inquired: “What’s in a name? A rose by any other name would smell as sweet”.
When it comes to mobile apps, however, names matter a great deal.
There are many factors that impact app store rankings and user installs – from how the app is indexed to which searches Apple and Google deam an app a relevant result, and then conversion of search result views into installs and users.
An app’s name impacts all of these factors and often serves as the anchor for the rest of an optimized app store listing.
Looking at the top apps in the store, not only overall but by category or niche and a few trends for naming appear:
- the stronger the brand, the less emphasis put on using target search phrases (keywords) in the app name/title
- many top apps include a very specific search phrase as the tagline
Where You Want to Be
Ultimately, you want to be in a space that is automatically self-descriptive with your audience and needs no further expansion or explanation.
Facebook or Starbucks would be good examples of this state of wide public awareness. There may well have been a time when it was necessary to explain that Starbucks sold coffee, but it is no longer the case. People hear “Starbucks” and they are fully aware of all the necessary connotations. The brand has victoriously engulfed the product it represents.
Lofty goal right? A growing trend in the SEO space is to create your own keywords and then own them.
Starbucks and Facebook are ubiquitous, but your app only needs to carve out a space in the niche you are targeting.
Consider EasyUp. Easy to remember, easy to tell a friend, easy to spell, and broadly describes the function – without requiring searching for “upload images from camera roll to snapchat”.
How Your App Marketing Strategy Gets You There
Some app marketers are clearly working to establish iconic status for their clients, so that they can gain the coveted position of being simply a name.
Others are supporting a brand with a tagline that helps them to be discovered in search – which we strongly recommend!
Looking at some recently touted music apps by way of example, TIDAL has elected to go with a strictly branded approach as its format.
While competitors such as Spotify and Pandora have both chosen to more-directly categorize themselves by making sure that the customer knows these are music apps.
What TIDAL may gain in having a ultra-simple app name, they lose loads of potential organic traffic that instead is split among the music app optimized for music-related search.
Not All Apps are Marketed Equally
While music app marketers have a wholesale product to sell—music created by all sorts of other people—game developers have a retail product of their own creation to bring to market.
This results in campaigns that are designed to make a more specific pitch to the public.
Mobile games like Boom Beach or Mobile Strike are almost completely self-descriptive in a way that serves as an overt campaign for its potential audience.
The intent here is not to establish the creator/publisher as a brand but for the creation to be able to stand on its own.
It is highly likely that most players of the various mobile game apps are rather unfamiliar with the entities which created those games.
Compare that approach with King – the makers of the Candy Crush series of apps. Candy Crush achieved iconic status, and the creators quickly sprung into action to offer a series of follow-up apps that are tightly bound to the original tentpole entry.
Everyone Can Play the Game
Of course, imitation has always been part of the marketing world.
Not only does an Angry Birds spawn Angrier Birds, but it also midwives a host of emulators that will take every possible detour off the now-established brand name.
An app that aims to confuse or misrepresent itself using another’s brand name will get denied and may even impact the publisher account – but apps that supplement or complement other popular services would do well to mention them by name in the app name/title.
In summary, there are basically three common approaches to naming an app:
- Establish an iconic identity that supersedes the actual product on offer.
- Buttress an intended iconic identity with succinct descriptive commentary.
- Play off of another iconic identity in hopes of capitalizing upon the reflected glow of success.
When considering app store optimization, the second and third options have the biggest impact on indexing and ranking, but it can be helpful to step back and see what other apps are doing with success in the app stores.
Using the right app optimization techniques can mean the difference between a highly successful app and one that is only moderately successful at best.
Following are some important tips that can help a marketer promote his or her app in the most effective manner.
Choose the Right Google Play Keywords
Because Google Play limits the number of characters that can be used in the title, short description and long description, it is imperative to choose the right keywords.
In a perfect world, a good keyword would get a lot of app store search volume but not have a lot of competition. But the keywords that make up your app listing don’t exist in vacuum.
Relevance, how a specific word fits into the keyword matrix, and the value of the traffic as measured by intent or lifetime value all impact the value of a keyword.
It is also extremely important to ensure that any keywords evaluated are highly related to the app’s content.
If the keyword is not related to what the app has to offer, this can result in poor conversion rates, low app usage and a high number of uninstalls, all of which are sure to damage your long-term Google Play ranking.
In Google’s developer center, they specifically state that the best practices of SEO apply in creating a good app listing for Google Play. What they don’t say is that even if Google indexes the app listing content similar to a website – the search traffic you are attempting to optimize for is not web search traffic but Google Play search traffic.
Further, while app indexing shows some promise for a deeper lever of indexing, websites have more than one page that is evaluated in search. In Google Play, your app listing serves the same purpose in ASO as an entire website does for SEO!
How, When and How Often Keywords Should be Used
If possible, the main keyword being targeted should be used as part of the app’s title.
The general rule for Google Play ASO is the more constrained the field, the more weight given in indexation. The app name field is limited to 30 characters – so words used carry the greatest weight compared to the short and full descriptions.
Using feature or function based phrases is a proven approach as a majority of app store search is for specific features.
That said, the goal of selecting keywords for your app listing is not to rank higher, but to acquire more high LTV users.
Finding features-based phrases that have a strong potential to convert viewers into users will ultimately help your app store rankings while bringing in more valuable users.
In practice, this means when drafting the content of your full description – avoid writing as if for a search engine.
Overusing the keyword does not increase search engine benefits and is likely to even be counterproductive if the description sounds like it was written for a search engine rather than a human.
Google Play app pages, much like websites, need inbound links in order to reach a larger audience.
Note: This is unique to Google Play as Apple does not currently include “social signals” in their app store ranking algorithm.
Links to your Google Play app page should be built naturally and ideally come from a wide range of websites.
Developing channels outside of the app stores – from corporate websites to social media sites and on YouTube (by uploading the promotional video mentioned earlier) can really pay off in better rankings on Google Play.
Building user acquisition channels, finding the right mix of keywords and phrases, using the best converting phrases in the app name – all of this takes time.
With user acquisition costs above $2 per install, an optimized app listing and app store funnel can create a defendable, long-term asset.
Choosing app store keywords for an app’s store listings has at times been viewed as the holy grail of app store optimization.
The thinking was that finding the magical combination of low competition, high traffic words would drive heaps of organic traffic to even the worst of mobile apps.
While keywords are a big part of ASO, Gummicube considers the initial selection of keywords as much less important than the building of a complete acquisition funnel, and the ongoing optimization of target keywords and phrases as they support the funnel.
The goal of app store optimization is not (only) greater visibility, but the organic acquisition of new users.
Aim for Relevant Coverage
By changing the key performance indicator of successful ASO from “rankings” to “high LTV users acquired”, the role keyword selection plays in the ASO process becomes clearer (and is often missed by app marketers).
We don’t want traffic, we want traffic that is likely to convert to downloads and users.
App marketers should aim for relevant coverage of keywords and phrases.
The app store algorithms are getting smarter. Low conversions relative to position in a search result signals to Apple and Google that users are not finding your app relevant for that specific search.
The fields that have the biggest impact on search rankings are limited – with character limits on the app name/title, the keywords field (Apple) and the short description (Google Play).
Why use that valuable space targeting keywords and phrases that are not ultra-relevant to your app and prospective user?
Use App Store Data
There is and has been a lack of transparency in the app store search algorithms. Reverse engineering the algorithms is made harder due to a complete lack of details on app store search data.
Neither Apple or Google share search traffic or download data by category, phrase or even daily volume.
To fill the void for marketers, several companies built ASO tools using Google web search data as a proxy for app store search data.
The thinking was “something is better than nothing”.
Many optimization efforts based on web data didn’t produce results.
Meanwhile, investments in collecting proprietary app store data and working with large clients and their global app portfolios started to show the differences between how users search the app stores vs how they search the web.
Don’t take my word for it – search for “malls” on the web and then again in Google Play. Both are using Google search, but one returns the local malls in a map, maybe a definition or items in the news, and the other returns mall-based games and shopping companions.
User intent is just different when searching the app stores. Using web search data to optimize an app store listing doesn’t make sense.
Investing in app store optimization is the foundation of mobile app marketing, and provides a measurable long-term ROI.
Partner with an app store intelligence service like Gummicube to identify how your target market is searching the app stores, and create a plan for an optimized listing.
In tracking the app stores for over 5 years, we have found 80% of app store searches are for multi-word, features-based phrases.
That’s “cheap flights” or “zombie rpg game” or “free photo editing”.
The phrases you identify as being used by your target market when searching the app stores are likely made up of several, recurring words.
Breaking these phrases into individual words, and removing duplicates – you are left with a sort of “keywords bucket”.
If there were no constraints on the app store listing fields that impact how an app is indexed, we would be done. Just dump all of those keywords into the name and keywords field or short description.
But there are constraints (which is a good thing!).
Character limits help Apple and Google determine what is most important or relevant to the app from the publisher’s perspective.
Working with roughly 100-180 characters to build the optimal mix of words of various lengths targeting phrases of varying relevance and value is complicated.
Software that incorporates app store data can help you pick the optimal mix of words based on target phrases, category and app store competition.
Speaking of which, what if the phrases we are targeting has 100’s of competitors also vying for ranking in search?
There are so many variables that determine the strength of the competition that the number (quantity) of competitors is almost meaningless.
Simply, not all competition is equal.
Relevance matters. Ratings, reviews, time since last update, downloads and conversion rates all impact how strong each competitor is for a specific search term.
The best approach given how hard it can be to evaluate competition in the app store is start with a keyword bucket that builds phrases extremely relevant to your app and its best or primary features. Adjust and optimize for those words and phrases that your app ranks well for and continue to build on your strengths.
App store optimization, and especially selecting app store keywords and phrases, requires an on-going investment in making small adjustments and improvements that grow to big results.
A word of caution:
Targeting keywords that are trademarked (Disney, MLB, Superman) will get your app rejected, removed from the store or at best have the keywords removed.
Similarly, including words in an app name/title, keywords field or description that is unrelated will also put your app at risk of rejection, removal or flagged for keyword spamming.
Learn more about selecting keywords and app store optimization.