This is the episode #7 of App Growth Talks, a series of interviews with ASO, user acquisition and mobile growth experts. Today’s special guest is Daniel Peris Molina, startup enthusiast, entrepreneur, Growth Engineer, CEO and co-founder of TheTool, performance-based ASO tool and PickASO, app marketing agency based in Barcelona.
Daniel, you are a CEO and co-founder of two companies at once: TheTool and PickASO – that’s pretty impressive. How did you come up with the ideas of an ASO agency and a tool for app marketing?
The thing is that I am an extreme entrepreneur, and I’ve been running digital businesses since maybe 15, 16, 17 years ago. Before entering the app marketing industry, I was dedicated to building and growing websites. And before me and my wife, Miriam Peláez, launched PickASO, I was running an iPad & iPhone website with three million organic users per month, which is a crazy amount, where we published content about the iPhone, content about the iPad and content about mobile apps & games. And while we were running iPadizate, which was the name of the project, a lot of developers started to ask us to write content, to promote their products, promote their mobile apps and games.
And so in a given moment, my wife, which is also my partner, thought, “Why don’t we build a business only about app marketing?” We know there is demand, there are interests of developers to promote their products on iPadizate. But sometimes they ask us for more promotion so the business before PickASO leaves us to build PickASO, a business which is a mobile app marketing agency, where we do ASO, user acquisition and retention, we optimize monetization and so on.
So after iPadizate we built PickASO, because that was the natural way for us. We, me and my wife, started this company at home. Well, maybe it’s not so magical because we didn’t start in a garage, but we started at home, just the two of us. And we have grown the company from two to twenty two people. There are twenty two people in the PickASO team. So when we started building PickASO, we knew we didn’t want just to be a service company, we wanted it to be a tech company.
We always had the idea in mind of building some technology. In the very first moment, we decided to start building TheTool as an internal tool for PickASO needs. So we moved to a mobile app marketing services company, PickASO, and then we started building our software to help us with our day-to-day work. In a given moment, in 2015-2016, we thought, “Hey, if this software is useful for us, it is for sure useful for other people.” And we decided to open it to everyone, so that everyone could use it. So both businesses, PickASO and TheTool, are very related. They both focus on mobile growth. But they are different, they have separate teams.
We have the PickASO team and TheTool team. But they are deeply, deeply connected. And I really think one business is always the next step of the previous business. So running a business can lead you to building another business.
Speaking of ASO, could you please share some ASO hacks that really work today? And maybe some that don’t work no more, even though they were efficient a few years ago.
For sure, Lina. Apart from running PickASO and TheTool, which are one hundred percent mobile growth-related businesses, I’m also an app & game publisher since 2013. So I have the three visions of the business. I have the services vision, I have TheTool ASO software vision. But luckily, I also have the publisher’s vision. Maybe I can tell you the right number, but I’m pretty sure we have launched more than 200 apps and games. So we have a very deep knowledge of how the app stores work.
Regarding your question about ASO hacks, the thing is you have to be constantly adapting to app store changes, to algorithm updates, to everything the app stores do to improve the results of what they show to users. And the main goal of the app stores, apart from making a lot of money, is giving users what they want, giving users products they love, giving users what they need and giving users high quality products.
This is something that has evolved a lot in the ASO industry. Five years ago you could build a very simple app in 10 minutes and make a lot of money, just by doing ASO. And this has changed a lot because right now the app stores take into account user retention and quality of the product. And I can give you some hacks that worked very well before and right now are not working.
For example, keywords in reviews. Two, three, four, maybe five years ago, you could add keywords or try to get user reviews, including keywords and the effect of that on the Google Play ASO was really crazy. But right now, keywords on user reviews don’t have as much weight as they had two, three, four, five years ago. So this is something that right now is not working for sure. Getting good user reviews and a high amount of good user reviews, is great for the conversion rate optimization and so on. But keywords included in the user reviews don’t have as much impact as they had three or four years ago.
Another ASO hack that nowadays is working but is not as much powerful as it was three or four years ago – is link building, or, building backlinks to a Google Play Store app or game. And I’m not sure, I think no one is 100 percent sure of how Google Play or the App Store works. But I have some thoughts on how they work. Google Play Store and the evolution of the Google web search, the typical software or website you used to find stuff on the Internet. The main goal of Google is sorting all the Internet information. And Google Play Store is an evolution of the Google web search. And Google web search takes into account backlinks to measure popularity and authority of a given domain in the search results. And since three years ago, during which I have run a very funny experiment with backlinks and mobile apps & games on Google Play – backlinks had and have right now direct impact on the visibility on the Google Play Store. So building backlinks – I’m referring to high-quality backlinks – is always good to any digital product, both websites and mobile apps. That’s because this is something Google uses to measure popularity, and ASO (it is about metadata optimization for sure) is also about popularity.
Google Play (I’m not referring in this case to the App Store, which works differently in terms of backlinks) uses both backlinks and downloads, and user retention to measure popularity. And this is something every developer or publisher should take into account and keep in mind.
One last thing about the ASO hacks is something I have detected lately, maybe in the last year, and this is the impact of the developer name on the Google Play Store. You can add keywords on your Google Play Store developer name, and those keywords are having an impact on your app’s visibility on the Google Play Store.
And some ASO hack for the App Store – I know that fake reviews and fake ratings on the App Store work. I’m not telling you to to build fake ratings or fake reviews, but if you can be sure that ratings, real ratings or fake ones, and real user reviews with keywords for the App Store case have an impact, this is something every developer and every publisher again should keep in mind.
Another and the last ASO hack which is something that for sure we are going to talk about later, is about the quality of the product. As I mentioned before, three, four or five years ago, you could launch bullshit on the app stores, and this bullshit started ranking and getting visibility, getting downloads and making money. But today, this is not working anymore for both the stores. And Google Play made an official post about this – that the stores take into account information on the product (bugs, crashes and so on) to give more or less visibility to mobile apps and games.
So taking care of the quality of the product right now is not an ASO hack but is a must for every player in this industry.
Thank you Daniel, very interesting thoughts and useful hacks. And you mentioned that the quality of the app or mobile game is important for visibility on the stores. Could you probably share some tips to help publishers to increase visibility in the App Store or Google Play Store search?
Yeah, for sure, Lina, as I mentioned before, in my opinion right now, the main focus of ASO people is related to product. If your product is not working, if your product doesn’t help people to get something or to do something, and if it has a lot of bugs, crashes and so on, the visibility is never coming. Because it doesn’t matter how much you optimize your metadata, if your product is not working properly, for sure, you are not getting any visibility on the stores. And I have a lot of cases related to this, because we have seen that when errors in the Google Play Store start appearing and growing, the visibility goes down. So this is the main thing that mobile marketing people and growth teams should take into account – the quality of a product – because that’s the beginning of everything.
And the second point is user retention. If you build a product that users don’t like, you are not getting visibility. For sure, user retention depends on a lot of different things like the industry, the geographic, if it is a free app, or a freemium app or freemium game, there are a lot of things that that are related to user retention. But if you get, for example, 10 users per day and you lose 10 users per day, this user retention is horrible and for sure you are not getting any visibility. So user retention is a key for growth, for growing businesses, but also, in my humble opinion, it has a very, very high impact on ASO.
Another thing is that the main part of ASO is metadata and how you optimize your app store listing. And on the other hand, you have the off-metadata stuff, like downloads, user ratings, user reviews, retention, backlinks, popularity and so on. But some people make the mistake when working on the metadata, not being clear what their product is about.
On the app stores, and specifically I’m talking about the Google Play Store, which is the store I love the most, people have to specify what the product is about. People have to understand what an app or game is about. And the app stores have to understand what an app or game is about. Is it a cafe game, is it an FBS, is it a hyper-casual or ultra-casual game? And what this game is about – about killing zombies or about driving cars? So you have to make the stores and people understand what an app or game is about.
And in order to get that, you have to work very well on the metadata optimization, the listing optimization. both for the text and the visual assets. I mean, icon, screenshots, feature graphic and so on. When you get the perfect combination of metadata, both for text and visual assets,
One of the best tips to improve visibility on the App Store and the Google Play Store is A/B testing for the visual components.
We have seen crazy cases of apps and games growing a lot, just running A/B tests for the icon. And this is something a lot of companies and mobile developers forget about. Hey, my icon is the best one and I’m not changing it. Or, hey, this is my branded icon and I can’t change it. But the thing is, running experiments related to A/B testing, related to icons, can have an impact: maybe a negative impact or maybe a positive impact. But with this in mind, it means that running A/B tests with an icon has a very, very great impact in terms of ASO.
For sure, building a good product and user retention should be a goal for a mobile business, working on metadata the right way, so that the stores and people can understand what an app or game is about. And for sure, you know, Lina, that user acquisition is related to organic growth. And another tip to increase visibility on the App Store and the Google Play Store is working on UA, but not working on any user acquisition. I mean, working on profitable UA. You can run UA campaigns to get downloads for sure. Anyone can get downloads running user acquisition campaigns on Facebook Ads, Google Ads, TikTik ads or whatever. But the thing is, hey, I’m investing a lot of money in user acquisition. Let’s make this money make more money.
And in parallel, we are also getting more organic visibility on the stores for the keywords rankings, for top tier rankings, even for similar apps or related apps rankings. And getting a lot of users who are using your app or game, who are using basically your product, also has an impact on the featurings, which are one of the main channels.
Also, it is something that has decreased a bit in the last years. Getting users using your app and so on, also has an impact on ASO.
My last tip here is do the Ninja. But I’m not referring to black hat ASO techniques or something like that. I’m referring more to being very, very creative because I think the main difference between two companies or two apps that do the same is related to creativity.
Maybe this is a bit romantic, but I think creativity really makes the difference.
And maybe there are some ASO tips for mobile games?
Yes, as I mentioned, right, properly done metadata optimization, looking at the icon… the icon is something that is key for ASO. User retention is even more important for mobile games than mobile apps. And there is a secret, secret ranking factor, which is your game making money with in-app purchases or subscriptions. This is not something that I can say is 100 percent accurate.
But I really think that games that help app stores make money are getting more visibility because in the end, the app stores are also making money with big games.
So making money is probably a ranking factor in the app stores.
What KPIs do you rely on in terms of the app marketing and growth?
There is one thing I want to remark is that we at PickASO work with mobile businesses. We don’t work with mobile apps or games. We work with businesses. So the main KPI is the revenue. Hey, this is a business. What is a main KPI of any business? The revenue. So the first KPI we take into account is revenue. But this is not, for sure, the only KPI we track. [The number of] downloads is our very relevant KPI, user retention: one day retention, seven day, 30 day retention is a crucial metric, because it is related to user intent and it is related to product quality. and it is related to, in the end retention, which is something the stores boost in their markets. But downloads, retention and revenue are our main KPIs. We can split downloads into organic and non-organic downloads. And the organic downloads – we can split them into downloads coming from Search, downloads coming from Browse and so on. And we can take into account here keyword rankings and top tier rankings, and how many and which apps are referring to my app in the similar or related apps. Is my app or game being featured in the stores, in which countries and so on. But in a global vision, the main KPIs we take into account that for sure can be splitted later are downloads, retention and revenue.
Do you work with Apple Search Ads at PickASO? What role does it play among other user acquisition channels?
We are for sure working with Apple Search Ads and since some months ago, TikTok ads, which is something very, very different to the rest of the user acquisition channels. You have to change your mind completely to run successful campaigns there. But when we talk about Apple Search Ads, we understand that this is a powerful user acquisition channel, but it depends a lot on the country, on the deal, on the industry. It depends a lot on the business model and on the competition. But for sure, Apple Search Ads is a channel that should be tested. We can say we are in love with Facebook Ads, or Instagram, or TikTok ads, or Google Ads, or whatever. We always try to test all possible user acquisition channels and find the best performing ones, and then boost the ones that are working for our business and our clients’ businesses.
But Apple Search Ads is a bit different from the rest of the channels because it’s related to search. Running Apple Search Ads campaigns can help you grow your ASO organic visibility because you have the keywords that are bringing downloads. And if you look deeper, you have the keywords that are bringing money. So for sure, Apple Search Ads is a channel that should be tested, but it depends a lot on many different things. The thing is, we always test all possible channels. We find the best converting ones and then we boost the best converting ones.
How do you optimize your Apple Search Ads campaigns? What indicators are you looking at to evaluate their performance?
It depends. As I have just mentioned, it depends maybe on the goal of the business. One quick example: I have the objective of getting one million players for my game in six months. One of the KPIs in this case for Apple Search Ads and the rest of the channels is: can I get volume? And at which cost? And this for sure depends on the goal. But the thing is Apple Search Ads allows you to see the profitability of each keyword – and this is something awesome. Because you can boost the keywords which are bringing business in Apple Search Ads, but you can also try to improve the organic visibility of those keywords in the App Store search results, for example. So the KPIs we look at when working with Apple Search Ads are more or less the same as the KPIs we mentioned before. But it depends on a lot of different things.
So maybe I can tell you Lina, it depends, as I told you before, on the client or the goal on the budget, on the country, on the business model. Well, what I can tell you for sure is that Apple Search Ads is a profitable channel. We are using it. But for sure, we try to test it for all our clients and for all our mobile apps and games.
Thank you, Daniel. What’s your toolkit for successful app store optimization and user acquisition for your clients at PickASO?
I use a lot of different tools because there are already a lot of tools in the market, for example, TheTool. But there are also other tools and any tool is very, very good for one thing, but maybe it’s not as good for other things. So I think that the key here is working with the tools that help you grow your business. For example, I work with TheTool, but I also work with App Annie and in terms of Apple Search Ads, we know we should work with a tool like your SearchAdsHQ platform.
But for now, we don’t have the need of using a tool for Apple Search Ads. But I can tell you my day-to-day toolkit, which for sure can help the audience understand how we work and make the right decision in terms of tools to use on a daily basis. The first tool I use and maybe the least used tool is my brain. First of all, you have to think, hey, what’s my goal here? What’s my client’s goal? What do we want to improve? How can we improve? How can we measure? Because measuring is very relevant in this industry. It’s a must to measure the right stuff in the right way. So taking into account that you have to use your brain and think, and try to understand what tools you need daily.
And we work a lot with G Suite, for example, Google Docs, Google Sheets and Google Slides. We also work with attribution partners, like AppsFlyer or Adjust, or any other player in the market. But we have to measure the right things in the right way. This is crucial in this business, as I mentioned before. We work with TheTool, with App Annie, well, we work with a lot of different tools.
For example, lately we are using a wonderful tool which is called Reflexion.io, which is a very cheap tool for marketing, market intelligence and so on, to try to spy how many downloads and how much money any app or game is doing. Because I have detected that spying is something that you have to do to understand how others are getting success in their businesses. It also helps to figure out what these people are doing and what amount of money are making. Maybe we should try this too? But my toolkit can be quite wide because, for example, in the case of PickASO, for each client we work normally with different tools. But you have to work for sure with an ASO tool to monitor the app stores. You have to work with market intelligence or other intelligence, even TheTool. And you have to work with your brain. Your brain is also always the main tool you have to use day-by-day, not only in terms of ASO, but also in the meaning of life.
No one could actually argue that. Thank you Daniel. And you are very observant. So could you probably make a forecast and predict some app store and mobile marketing trends to look for in 2021?
Yes, I’m always thinking of what’s coming next because it’s all about evolution. And if you don’t evolve, you are out of any digital business.
So I am always trying to think about what’s coming next, what’s going to happen in the next month. The first point in this question is what’s going on with ASO and Apple Search Ads, and Facebook ads and all the user acquisition strategies and so on after the IDFA stuff coming soon the next year, I think in the early 2021. That’s my first question. I want to be honest with you, I don’t know what’s going to happen. But what I’m pretty sure is that things are going to change. I don’t know if that change is going to be small or big, but for sure, things are changing after this Apple change related to IDFA.
On the second point, as I mentioned before, I think user retention is getting more and more weight in this industry, in the formula of the app marketing or app business success, user retention and product quality. But I have two doubts.
The first one is what’s going on after Epic Games is suing Apple because they want to use their own payment model inside the App Store and not pay Apple the fees, which is something Spotify has joined too, and more companies are joining – what’s going on after this. And maybe we are seeing alternative app stores. Maybe we are seeing new app discovery channels. What’s going on with the app stores? Because I’m pretty sure they are also evolving and changing, but I don’t know how this will end. So my first point is how this stuff related to Epic Games is going to end.
And the second one is what’s going on with Apple search. Apple search is something some people guess Apple is launching in the next months or years. Apple search would be a substitute of Google search inside iPhones and iPads and iOS devices. And how is Apple search connected to Apple Search Ads?
I know that Apple’s investors are asking Apple to make more money with services. In the last keynote of Apple, we saw that Apple is launching a new service related to fitness. But how can Apple make more money with the amount of iPhones and iPads that are all over the world? And Apple search plus Apple Search Ads would be an awesome way for Apple to make money.
Because they won’t have to pay Google to show Google Web results on iOS devices and will be able to save a crazy amount of money. I think it is ten billion dollars or something like this, I don’t know. So imagine, you are saving this crazy amount of money not paying Google, using your own search, connecting our own search engine to Apple Search Ads. So Apple Search Ads might not only appear in the App Store, but also everywhere in web results. If I were Apple, I would try to replicate the Google AdMob business. For example, Apple Search Ads now allows you to appear in search results on the App Store. But we can transform the Apple Search Ads, build an SDK and tell people to make money with Apple Search Ads campaigns, in terms of banners, in terms of playable ads, in terms of rewarded ads, whatever. So I think that something very, very big is coming to Apple Search Ads and is related to Apple search, the search engine coming directly from Apple.
What’s going on with the stores, how is Apple growing their services business and ads business in the next months and years? I think this is going to be funny.