The topic of app store optimization never gets old: app store rules are changing at the speed of light, and what worked on the App Store and Google Play yesterday doesn’t always work today, while publishers have to cater to both app store requirements and user needs.
Daniel Peris Molina, Mobile Growth Engineer, CEO and co-founder of TheTool and PickASO.
Johannes von Cramon, expert on mobile marketing, Apple Search Ads, ASO, mobile analytics and retention, App Marketer and Co-founder of Growfirst.
Thomas Kriebernegg, app enthusiast, keynote speaker, expert on app store optimization, CEO and Co-founder of App Radar.
Thomas Petit, the author of Mobile.Ad.Ventures, a world-renowned Mobile Marketing Expert and independent App Growth Consultant.
Nadir Garouche, expert on mobile gaming, ASO, user acquisition & mobile analytics, Growth Marketing Manager.
Steve P. Young, expert on app store optimization and mobile marketing, Founder and CEO at App Masters.
I think that choosing the right keywords for your app is a massive and big topic. I also think that people are often overcomplicating it a little bit. The first and most important thing when you think about keywords for your app is that they have to be relevant to your app or your mobile game. If you have a running tracking app, for example, and somebody is looking for buying a new t-shirt and your ranking position is #1 – they are not going to download your app because they were looking for something completely different. So, relevance is number one.
Number two: when there are so many apps in the app stores and there is so much competition, it’s really important to think about “rankability”, or, in other words, ask yourself, “Can I rank for those keywords that I would like to rank for, which I know that are relevant?” When you’re starting a dating app, for sure you want to rank for “dating app” – but it will be super-hard, especially in the beginning, so therefore you should think about which kind of sub-niches you’re taking with your app and really try to focus more on the long-tail keywords, which brings me to the last point.
It’s diversification in keywords. I think it’s important that you keep in mind that there are short terms that are relevant but there are also long-term keywords that might be super relevant for your app. It’s worth considering to optimize for both of them.
The main focus of ASO 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.
The main thing that mobile marketing people and growth teams should take into account is 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 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, 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, and so on.
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. 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. This 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, TikTok 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.
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.
It depends very heavily on where you are at the moment with your app. This means, have you just released your app in the app store? Is your app already within the app store for a couple of months or maybe even years? So it really depends on the stage of the app.
Right at the moment I am thinking back to how it was ten years ago when you were pushing your app into the app store and all of a sudden you got thousands of downloads because there was not so much competition going on within the app stores.
And nowadays there is really a lot of competition going on. So this tactics simply doesn’t work anymore if you’re releasing your app or game and new to the app store.
So it’s really the question of what you can do initially to build up momentum and get people talking about your app, to get your app known. I think one of the good possibilities you have there is working together with influencers, trying ad networks. Maybe a short hack here: try out ad networks that are new, because if you’re going, for example, for Facebook – kind of everybody is there, which also means that ads will be more expensive. So identifying a new ad network could help you get very good prices as well. Not many people are thinking out of the box and trying to find good channels.
Nevertheless, I also think that the field of app store optimization: nailing your app store listing, making it attractive to users, making users want to download your app and try it out – I think it’s really the base that you need to do nowadays in any case.
Personally I think that proper localization is very important in terms of creatives and texts in order to drive better conversion and also produce more trust into a brand. In our case, with Growfirst, most of our clients are targeting the German market and a couple of English-speaking countries, so localization is not that of an issue beyond those two languages for us. But in the case of, for example, mobile games aimed at the international audience, localization is sure the key for success.
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 expert tips that nowadays are working but is not as 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 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.
The great days of ASO hacks are over, in my opinion. However, there might be an interesting one I’ve learned from a new client of ours recently. They uploaded two app previews to the iOS App Store: one landscape and one portrait, which led to the videos being shown on different places on the product page. This part was not entirely new for us. But the new mechanics is that the organic listing doesn’t show the first three default screenshots if they are already can be seen on the Apple Search Ads ad banner. This seems to result in having two videos looping one after another on the same page because on the organic listing you see the portrait video with two first screenshots and on the ad above search results – the landscape one.
We’re just digging in into what this means for TTR and other KPIs but it looks quite promising to have two videos in this place.
I guess the most overlooked ASO tactic is still review management, and it always has been, because it cannot be done without design & developments, strategy development and therefore requires much more time and energy to do.
But in nearly every ASO project I’ve been on in the last years, we achieved the highest impact in terms of keyword rankings and conversion rate by doing proper review management.
And what I mean by that is prompting happy users to leave a review when they achieved something inside the app, whatever that might be, and build a mobile focused support system alongside for negative or maybe just constructive feedback with in-app messages, chat bots, FAQs and all that kind of stuff. So that people know you care about support and there is not just an email where someone can send feedback, and they may never know if it even gets read. On the contrary, it’s very easy for users to stay in contact with a publisher. Also, as for the happy users who tend to not review an app at all because they are satisfied and don’t have any intent to do so – you will be able to push them to write reviews in the app stores. I think that’s really important.
I think that the most important thing is really to get the ASO basics right. This means you need to understand what are keywords, on the one hand. You need to find out which keywords are relevant for your target audience, for which keywords you can rank, where the competition isn’t too high, or you also have a chance to beat them. Once you have identified such keywords, it’s about integrating those keywords into your store listing, implementing them into your title, subtitle, keywords and so on. And once you did this, you have to check out if the app store optimization strategy that you had is also working and if you are ranking for those keywords that you actually want to rank for. As you can see, this is really kind of a process, always analyzing where you are, then taking decisions, optimizing and once again analyzing. And this is going over and over and over again. So I think that this is really the first and most important thing when it comes to the topic of app store optimization.
Secondly, I have to say that understanding app metrics and identifying good opportunities for growth or identifying markets are actually getting a lot of momentum. It’s really kind of the next big thing because those learnings you can integrate into your user acquisition strategy and app store optimization techniques. For example, if you figure out that you’re ranking or that you are getting a lot of organic traffic from a specific market, for example, in Brazil, then you want to find out why this is happening. And when you see, because your app is just a super good fit to a specific target audience over there, then the next question should be: how can I get even more users from this specific market, from the specific target audience? And therefore, I think user acquisition is really great based on metrics.
Finally, it’s really worth considering thinking a little bit outside of the box and maybe not doing what everybody else is doing – could be also really good tactics
I would suggest optimizing the game icons and screenshots. As for app preview for non-games, I saw both improvements and decreases in conversion. For mobile games, I think app store video actually would be helpful. Another thing: try to optimize the short description on your app store product page.
Figure out why users should be willing to download your game and go after it.
And one thing that we are testing, and I have concrete results to say yes or no, on the positive front: we are replying to a lot of reviews and those replies turn to have certain keywords that we might be targeting from an ASO perspective.
It was the ASO marketing strategy that I used to work with in 2015 when we would put keywords into reviews and would see tremendous results in terms of keyword rankings but, obviously, it was 2015, 5 years ago, and Google and Apple have got a little smarter. So what we are trying to do is see if we can reply to those reviews because we have some keywords that we want to put in there. We are still running some tests, and in our app store optimization steps we want to be very careful doing it but we are starting to sprinkle in a few different keywords in our replies.
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
Including keywords in the user reviews doesn’t work anymore. With countless apps turning up every day, the level of competition is getting higher, and in such cases, app reviews and ratings can play a key role in its success. But the effectiveness and people’s trust in reviews is debatable. Most users don’t write reviews if the app works ‘just fine’, because that’s what is expected. On the contrary, they’ll certainly bother to leave a negative review in frustration if an app crashes or has bugs. So, it is more crucial to invest in getting the right app icon via A/B testing, multimedia content, and coming up with a better strategy that invites users to give your apps positive reviews and high ratings.
I run app store A/B testing experiments mostly on Android with Google Play Experiments and also with SplitMetrics for some clients in the past. To be honest, we used to do more tests in the past, but nowadays we do a lot of creative testing in our campaigns and then adopt the winning concepts to the app stores in order to offer consistent messaging to the user.
But sure, A/B testing of screenshots is still a key role of those experiments. And maybe it’s even more important for videos. We create app store videos for almost every client because we can use many of the sequences and animations for our ad campaigns afterwards, but we noticed a long time ago that the app store videos are a little bit complex. They can be a huge advantage because of the autoplay and the awareness they create, but are highly dependent on the category of the app.
For example, in a very competitive environment with strong brands, a video can make a big difference, while more innovative and yet not so well-known app concepts might be better off with static screenshots which convey the core value and messaging of the products a little quicker than videos can do.
How to do ASO? If you work in the mobile gaming field, one thing I recommend is to constantly download and play new games. And to frequently browse Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, YouTube etc., so you get to see games ads.
If you work in the mobile gaming field, one thing I recommend is to constantly download and play new games.
Doing this doesn’t take so much time and it will help you stay abreast of the top features used in your competitors’ games and how they promote them in their ads, so that you can better craft yours.
My favorite growth hack that I still do to this day, a very old strategy but still works wonders is what I used to call a “paid free campaign” but people got confused, so now I call it a free promotional campaign. It is a campaign that works for both games and non-games, subscription-based apps.
Essentially what you have to do is to be able to give away something within the app that is paid normally – for free.
In short, what we’ve found out is that if you have a game on iOS and an in-app purchase “remove ads” in your game, make this option free for a couple of days.
That could drive thousands of downloads, and it also drives organic user growth, and also – more in-app purchases. And we’ve noticed: if you run this campaign for one app, your entire portfolio rises because more people are checking out your other apps.
One of our clients ran these campaigns: first they had barely 25 downloads per day and wanted to optimize their app. With the help of ASO they got roughly 75 downloads per day and then ran this campaign continuously on their portfolio of apps and have grown to 4 million downloads. That’s been a couple of years running this, but they haven’t spent any money on paid user acquisition.
In general, I use Apple Search Ads mostly for brand protection. I would say the share of spend allocated to Search Ads has increased over the years for everyone using this channel, but it’s still relatively small as it’s hard to scale with it because of their targeting limitations.
Apple Search Ads is still very useful for ASO.
I usually gather a large amount of keywords that I then target in exact match to validate their relevance for ASO (after looking into CVR and ROAS). I also use Search Ads for the purposes of ASO localization: for instance, to see if players in a non-English region use and convert better with English terms than ones in their native language.
Using Creative Sets in Apple Search Ads also helps us [Oh BiBi team] to see which screenshots and videos perform best in terms of CTR and CVR. After that we apply these learnings for organic users.
The first tip is go out and check out our webinar that Lina and I had about this topic. I think it was really great, we tried to talk with you about this topic in more detail. Kind of the summary from our conversation is that there are a lot of positive side effects between Apple Search Ads and ASO.
So to name a few examples, Apple Search Ads helps you identify keywords that drive installs and also helps you find keywords that drive revenue, so that you really find out which keyword in the end is also bringing you money.
You can take this knowledge and integrate it into the ASO strategy because you want to rank on those keywords that bring you money. You want to rank organically very well. So therefore you can really take those learnings and integrate them into your app store listing.
And I think another very important topic in this regard is analyzing conversion rates by identifying screenshots that drive good conversions in combinations with keywords to boost more installs and generate revenue. I think you had a really great example in our conversation there with an app that offers the possibility to book flights as well as to book hotels. So it’s kind of two different use cases. When you know this, then you can really start optimizing for those different use cases with different keywords and screenshots in combination. And once again, you can take this knowledge into your ASO strategy and really optimize your screenshots further for such use cases as well.
For Q4 2020, it’ll be hard to avoid the elephant in the room – and the noise surrounding it. The burning topic of the mobile industry is definitely the iOS14 impact.
Among the many questions marketers will try to solve: what will campaign measurement really look like, which new media & platform mix strategy to adopt in this context, how will CPMs evolve, how much SKAdNetwork serious limitations negatively impact returns as the duopoly ML-driven optimization is weakened, how to deal with the complexity of old & new data flowing in in parallel, et cetera.
There’s a ton to prepare for developers & advertisers, from BI adjustment to SDK updates to shifting retargeting towards CRM to analyzing even further day activity.
I believe those who will embrace the change the earliest will get a competitive advantage, over those losing their time trying to find workarounds and loopholes, or maybe worse, just waiting to see what’s up.
This mobile earthquake should be game-changing enough to worry less about the “usual” trends of this period of the year, even though another topic may add itself on the top of this busy list, with COVID 2nd waves already restarting, at least for countries outside America where the curve flattened previously.
Given the even-higher-than-usual incertitude on platform (iOS) & society (COVID), I find it risky to predict further ahead. I want to believe that humanity will be strong enough to keep COVID v2 at manageable levels, while on the advertising side, I’m expecting the dust to start settling in Q1 and marketers getting used to the new reality of aggregated tracking, quickly forgetting what it used to look like. More than ever, the only constant is change.
One of the things that we’ve seen this year, especially with Apple releasing the new version of App Store Connect, as well as Google releasing the new version of the Google Play Console, I think that these two major “stars” are becoming more customer-focused. They are really trying to build up relations with the developers and are also making their life a little bit easier. And they are also trying to connect more with the people that distribute to this industry. Therefore I think that this is a kind of big change that I identified this year.
App Store and Google Play are becoming more customer-focused.
There is also another topic that right at the moment a lot of people are talking about. This is the topic of IDFA. It’s hard to predict where it will lead at the end of the day, so these are really interesting times. And I think this will be one of the major topics for the rest of this year and also for the beginning of next year.
Also, just recently, I’m quite sure you also have read the news about Epic releasing Fortnite and the troubles they were having with Apple. I am also really interested to see where this topic is going.
The first thing that comes to mind is performance marketing as a key success factor for app marketing nowadays. ASO is still important for sure, especially because it creates many synergies with paid advertising but you can’t grow without organic or with organics alone, which was different when we started. And due to Facebook and Google moving more and more away from major campaign management to the machine learning algorithms, conversion optimization is now the heart of almost everything that we do also inside the app stores.
And the second thing is that,
With ASO and performance marketing coming closer together, incrementality has finally become a trend within the mobile industry.
So you cannot just buy downloads anymore without questioning where the user came from and if he might have ended up in your app anyway, or what the organic uplift could be. This is really difficult to measure, and the duopoly is even working against it by obscuring placements and mixing organic & paid data. But every modern marketing manager should really think about incrementality.
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, 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.
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.