App store optimisation (ASO) is the process of improving the visibility of a mobile app to your target audience. In a market full of options you want to make sure your app stands out to the right people. This article is a beginners guide to ASO you can do yourself for free in ten steps!

1. Understand your market placement

An App Store Optimisation (ASO) strategy begins with looking at the current market you want to be in:

  • how do you fit in with your competition?
  • what uniqueness do you bring?
  • do you understand your target customer?

A successful ASO strategy understands the customer’s journey and the natural language they use in order to make an app/game more visible to them. The screenshot below shows how developers use natural language (‘free photo editor’)  to select appropriate keywords.

Customer journey

What journey will your target audience take when using the app store? The goal is to improve discovery in their searches and target keywords that drive the most traffic. The best way to identify optimal keywords is consumer research: find out exactly what search input brought customers to your app and the natural language they used.

Understanding the need for your app

What would the customer’s reasons be for downloading your app? Do you offer something your competitors do not? What keywords do your competitors target and how easily can you compete against the same keywords?

Uniqueness

Once you understand the successful keywords your competition use you can determine whether or not it makes sense to target these same keywords or a separate set of keywords unique to your individual value proposition. Similarly, does it make more sense to rank in the top 10 for a few highly competitive keywords? or to rank in the top spot for keywords with a lesser search volume.

2. Pick the right icon

Your app’s icon is the very first thing potential users will judge you on so keep it simple and memorable. The image below shows some apps you will very quickly recognise. The ultimate aim is for your app to be recognisable at a glance!

Here are a few rules that will help you to design a great icon:

Pick a strong visual

Make a strong impression on people. Don’t try to tell them everything about your app or game at once. Do not be afraid to get creative and make something that will stand out from the crowd. There are some rules to follow but that doesn’t mean you can’t get creative with them. If it grabs users’ attention in a positive way then it’s ASO.

Brand consistency

Keeping a uniform approach is important. By using the same icon across different platforms, users can find your app or game in any app store in seconds (making it easier to download). The more often the icon is seen, the more likely customers will remember.

Avoid using words

Words divert attention away from the visual aspects of an icon, and icons are supposed to be visual. There is space in the description and name for text.

Use the correct format and size

ASO often means providing your user with as high a quality product as possible. For the icon, this means providing the correct size (or sizes if targeting multiple devices) and format. For correct iOS sizing clicker here and click here for Android.

3. Picking the right name

Picking the right name for your app or game is crucial for ASO. Searching the app store is still one of the top ways that people find new apps and games on both major platforms and the name is one of the most important factors in search ranking.

Prioritise the first 25 characters

The name of your app has a maximum character length of 255 characters on the iOS App Store. The Google Play Store offers an unlimited character length, but they both share one trait. When searching on mobile devices, users will only see the first 25 characters of your names so prioritise these characters to make the most impact.

Make sure your name is original

Another consideration is the existence of apps and games with similar names to your working title. Do a quick search to see if your name’s already taken and what similar apps or games appear. If there’s a bunch of apps or games already using your title then you need to reconsider. If your search returns a lot of apps or games that are similar to yours you might also want to rethink that name.

Use keywords to improve app store SEO

You’ll also want to include relevant keywords in the title of your game or app. Although you should prioritise your first 25 characters, the rest of your title should include keywords that will help people find your app or game. Take a look at the keywords used by similar projects and see if there’s a trend. However, also try to think of keywords they have missed or use this tool to find them.

Use URL Friendly characters

Don’t include special characters such as trademark or copyright symbols in your app name. Use URL friendly characters instead to improve the SEO of your app.

4. Add Screenshots & videos

Like icons, screenshots in your description may not have a direct effect on search rankings, but they do drive downloads. Images quickly convey what your app actually does and bring your descriptive text to life. This helps potential customers to visualize using your app before they make the download.

Whilst you can upload up to five screenshots for an iOS app and up to eight for an Android app, only your first 2–3 screenshots will initially show in the gallery. Skip the pretty splash pages and show the customer what they can expect during everyday use. For best results, A/B test different screenshot sets to determine which screenshots drive the most downloads to follow these guidelines:

Best screenshot first

If one screenshot is really appealing and intriguing, then you’ll want potential users to see it first. One great screenshot can be a fantastic advert for your app or game.

Add as many screenshots as possible

The more screenshots you include, the more you can tell potential users about your app or game. Currently, on iOS, you can use 5 screenshots, and on the Google Play Store, you can use 8. There’s no reason not to use every single opportunity to promote your app or game to users.

Add high-quality images

Use high-resolution images and grab people’s attention by showing how good your app or game looks. Web services like Pixlr mean that you don’t even need to have image editing software so there’s no excuse for skipping this step.

Video

In order to showcase the app, both app stores let you integrate a video. Texts, graphics and audio elements should be incorporated here. In the Apple App Store, the video is allowed to be 15 to 30 seconds long, For Google Play it is 30 seconds to 2 minutes.

5. Utilise your description.

An authentic description that shows the value of your app or game is one of the best ways to improve app store optimisation. Although some will argue that description text doesn’t factor into app store SEO, your potential users are still exposed to it and anything that they’re exposed to should be optimised.

There a number of things you can include in your description to improve app store optimisation:

Prioritise the story of your app

A description is your chance to appeal to undecided users as to why your app or game is the one to go for. You need to be direct and outline key points that show the story of your app. Only the first few sentences will be featured on all platforms so begin by saying what your app or game does best.

Social Proof

Adding social proof to your description means showing potential users that your current ones are enjoying their experience. If you’ve received any recognition or attention from blogs or reviewers, you can also include this here. Sometimes users just need to hear that someone else found it useful or enjoyable.

Sell yourself

Some people need to know a lot about something before they’ll download. Use the description to tell users about who you are and why you worked on your app or game. Include your contact information so users can get in touch. They might want to offer feedback or just connect with you on future projects. Positive feedback can be used to appeal to future users, and all feedback will help you learn how to improve the next version.

6. Be Categorical

Along with the other tips on this list, choose the correct category for your app or game is considered best practice. Choosing the right category makes it easier for users to find you on app stores. If you are competing in a niche you need to make it clear why they need to pick your app:

Find the least competition

If you have a choice of category or sub-category, enter whichever has the lowest level of competition. Look at the estimated app worth of the top apps or games in your prospective category to judge the competition. You can do this on sites like Sensortower.

Enter accurate categories

In the Apple App Store, you have the opportunity to select a primary and a secondary category for your app. Aside from choosing a category, you can also select an app type (game or application) in Google Play. Google’s list provides an overview of all categories for apps and games.

7. Localise your app listing

When it comes to global marketing, one approach for all will not work. If your audience goes beyond the UK consider adapting your brand communication and language to the wants and needs of each audience segment.

At the most basic level, speak to your customers in the language they use at home. There are myriad solutions for low-cost translation or localisation services that can translate your app’s title, keywords, description, and screenshots to the languages of your largest segments.

Both the iTunes App Store and the Google Play Store allow you to localise your listing to make both discoverability and readability easier for customers in different countries. This is where your SEO knowledge really comes in. It is widely believed that both Google and Apple factor in your app’s total page visits and product page backlinks when determining your search and overall ranks, the more traffic you drive to your listing, the higher it will rank in search results. To drive traffic, build an online presence around your app with social media and content, soliciting press and reviews, and investing in online advertising.

8. Update frequently

Mobile customers are looking for apps that are constantly improving, with regular updates based on customer feedback. Apps that are frequently updated are seen, by both the app store and the customer, to be of a higher value and more customer-centric. Consequently, app updates highly correspond to better reviews as each new and improved version of the app should naturally receive higher ratings than the version before

Entice customers within your app

There are a variety of methods to inform users of updates such as a note prompted at login, a push notification, or an update link prominently displayed in the main navigation. Use the notification to outline the improvements they can look forward to.

Update the app description and the “What’s New” area

Your app store product page shows an area to outline new and improved feature. This can encourage existing users to pay attention to the changes and also attract new people.

Maintain high reviews

This is important for your app, and especially its latest version. Our 2015 Consumer Survey revealed that one-third of existing customers check an app’s ratings before downloading an update. Maintain a positive rating for an easy win.

9. Analyse and Test

As soon as you’ve completed the above steps it’s time to start with the real app store optimisation. It would be great if you could just do all of these steps once for ASO but in reality, it is an ongoing project. Once you have everything in place you need to analyse performance and test ways to further improve your app store page:

Test different elements

You’ll learn more about app store optimisation from analysis and testing than from anything else. Maybe that screenshot that you liked isn’t converting into downloads. Perhaps there are some better keywords to use in your name. All of the tips mentioned here can be improved upon again and again through testing.

Analyse results

Track your performance in the app store. If you’re not experiencing the results you’d like, change things up and analyse the new results.  Check out App Annie for advanced insights into app store optimisation.

10. Share and Encourage ratings/feedback

Apps with a large volume of positive ratings are always at the top of the app store. This is the final and a very important step to staying on top. Keep sharing, keep up the good reviews and get as much feedback as possible to develop and grow.

The apps with the highest rating counts are those that keep their customers engaged and proactively use feedback to shape the product and future updates.

Ask family and friends

So where do you start getting reviews and ratings? Use word of mouth and get your family or friends to review your game. However, you need to make sure they actually use the app or play the game for a while before doing so. Reviews and ratings are good, but an honest review or rating that seems authentic is much more powerful.

Engage with current users

Another way to get reviews is to reach out to users at appropriate times. You can use push notifications to do this. You need to be careful as sending too many notifications can seem pushy and lead to bad reviews.

If a user seems to be using an app or game a lot, ask them if they’re enjoying it rather than asking if they want to rate it. If they say yes, then you can message them to give a positive rating. If they say no, you can ask them for feedback and try to improve their experience.

Promote apps through Social Networks.

When people download any of the apps include the name and download link of the app in the shared text. Promote your apps on social media with links whenever possible.

It is important to keep in mind that app store ratings provide just a limited view of customer satisfaction as not everyone will rate (positive or negative). It’s a common phenomenon that people are more likely to comment on a negative experience than a positive one so it is key to try and find a way to encourage those positive comments e.g. through a push notification gently nudging people to rate their experience. The more positive ratings the higher your app will rank so it is important to put in the time to get those 5-star reviews.

If you follow these steps and have an understanding of the data and science behind app store ranking algorithms you will be on your way to a bullet-proof ASO strategy.

App Store Optimisation is an ongoing process: manage this, and your investment will pay off many times over.

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