How to Get Profitable Users Cheaply – An Interview with Anthony Hurtado, App Store Optimization professional


Anthony leads Mobile Yield Strategies, a mobile app strategy firm focused on mobile monetization and mobile user acquisition. Based on his experience leading BizDev for Latin America’s largest mobile gaming company, as well as launching a mobile ad network, Anthony realized that many good apps fail to gain traction and generate returns and decided to help entrepreneurs get the right users and convert more installs to dollars.

We asked Anthony Hurtado for his insights on app store optimization, mobile marketing tips and tricks.

SplitMetrics: Hi Anthony, thanks for your time. It is always great to have an ASO expert share his knowledge with the community. Let’s start with a warm-up question – What is ASO?

Anthony Hurtado: ASO is any efforts, any organic, non-paid efforts that lead to a higher ranking or conversion in the app stores.

What is the main goal of ASO?

The main goal of ASO is to find profitable users. What’s more profitable than a user you didn’t have to pay for directly. It all comes to LTV being greater than CPI (cost per install) or CPA (cost per acquisition). If I’m just getting a free search user that’s great, but being #1 or #2 in the ranking just give you higher chances of getting this free user.

Why is ASO important?

First, it goes to getting users cheaply. Also it has to do with the branding. If you can say that you are the #1 app of 50 apps in this category, it helps your branding efforts. The thing is that everything interlinks together. You don’t usually just do ASO, just paid marketing or just PR. The positioning from ASO will help you with your other marketing campaigns and your brand identity. It is important because you want people to download your app and you want relevant users. If I rank high but for some reason people go to my page and they don’t convert, they don’t do the install, that’s no good.

Apple Analytics showing the conversion rate (visits to actual installs) has been out for 2 months. And there is no a set benchmark yet. But for me the target conversion rate will never be a 100%. Because if you had someone downloading your app a 100% time what you get is a fair amount of uninstalls which is going to hurt your app. After installing it a user realizes: “It is not actually solving the problem I’m looking for”. And one gets it uninstalled and give you a bad review. And that would actually hurt your ASO efforts. I actually see myself around 70% or 80% conversion.

What are the main factors that affect your ASO?

There is a white paper released recently by TUNE. They found that title was one the biggest factors. Description is another huge factor. It matters a little bit more on Google Play which makes sense because there is a keyword rank there. Ranking is the third important factor. It makes sense as it’s social proof, other people who have already experienced it. I’m not saying that screenshots, or video or icon are not important but title, description and rating are core factors.

Do you agree that ASO is the new SEO?

It is much more relevant for Google Play. Google and Apple have a black box around everything. Still if you look at how you get ranking on keywords on Google Play it’s through a lot of SEO methods. E.g. using a keyword organically in a phrase and description not like a robot but like a human. There is also a certain number of times that you can use it. Like when you use it 5 times – you get ranking as high as possible for the keyword.

On Google Play they also care about backlinks: how many sites are linking back to your app store page. In that sense there are a lot of similarities to SEO. I think it is going to follow as new services are going to support this. In the earlier stages for the ASO work there was Sensor Tower and now we have many more and we don’t even know about some. The importance of app store search is huge: some reports state that 68% find apps through searching.

What are the first few steps a marketer should take starting optimization?

It is more intensive in the beginning than afterwards. The process is never completely finished. What lots of companies struggle with is that they do their ASO once and think it’s done. That’s not the case, you do need to have some ongoing support there.

ASO is what you can do before your day one. You can do your market research, study your competitors, see what they are ranking for, look at the categories, see what secondary category to target, maybe find a different primary category that is less competitive. For example, we had an app in sports genre and I recommended sticking to sports as it composes such a small percentage (2.8%) therefore there is not much competition there.

Focus on more tackable things like what keywords, what imagery, what title you plan to use. In what order you are going to test them afterwards, post-launch. Start with actual deliverables: the screenshots, the title, the keywords in description. You also have to have your rating and review tools in place beforehand so you’ll be able to capture that quickly.

When throughout the app development cycle do you recommend to start A/B testing?

I see using a tool like SplitMetrics after your first month once you already got your low hanging fruit. If you’re a small lean team that tries to prioritize things A/B testing is amazing, lift is amazing. But with a lift of 10% when you’re getting 2 000 downloads versus the lift of 10% when you already have 200 000 downloads you get much larger proportionate effect. Get a low-hanging fruit in the beginning: you get the traction, then you scale it. Then you get this competitive edge over the people that try to do everything at once.

What tools/products do you use for app store optimization?

I have two that I use the most: Sensor Tower and App Annie. Sensor Tower you pay for, App Annie you don’t. I use Sensor Tower primarily for keyword research, in terms of what’s the traffic level, what is the competitive level, what kind of net positive score. If I can’t get a net positive score it doesn’t mean I won’t use the word. I look if I can use this word in a combo and can I get a net positive score from that and can I get multiple combination keywords. In that case I will use the word. It happens that I still can’t get a net positive score but I just have to have it to describe at some point. If you had a fantasy sports company when sports was not ranking or fantasy just wasn’t ranking. The traffic score was a 4, but the competitor was a 6 – minus is just terrible. If it is a core of my app I’m going to have it anyway but if it is not I would have to toss it out.

I use App Annie  for general analytics and to see where my keywords are ranking today and I feel like I can get a lot of value from that. They are very similar as Sensor Tower also has the same feature but I like App Annie’s functionality better.

It is really key for you to have a nice analytics stack. Even if you don’t have to implement it right away to know where you are going to and why I would say is important from day one. Technically you can say Apptentitive is an ASO tool because it helps your ratings and reviews. I personally don’t call them an ASO tool but it is true. If you build in Unity you can use Unirate. It is much simpler, not as fancy but still going to improve your ratings dramatically if you implement it right.

How do you measure your ASO campaign success? What is the highest increase in the conversion rate you managed to achieve?

I measure if I am getting profitable users, if are we achieving LTV and CPI. If the app is not charging then if I have a relatively low CPI, do I have any engaged users, are we keeping the user base. What we care about most is if it has an engaged user base and retention effect.

I saw with one of my clients an increase from 62% conversion rate for people who went to the app store page and actually downloaded it to 83% in 3 weeks. We did a few different things that is why I cannot isolate any of factors that affected the lift.

What is the most important thing about your app description?

It is gonna be different for Apple and Google. For Google it is important to choose the right keywords and put them in there throughout the description in a non-robotic fashion. That way Google doesn’t say it is a robot and ignore the keywords.

For Apple simply communicate what your app does, what problem or problems it is solving, in what order and how. Shorter is better. You just honestly communicate it. Being honest is a big deal because if you download my app you have a set of expectations and if the app doesn’t deliver on that or exceed it, you are going to have an unhappy user. They are going to uninstall the app and put a negative traction.

Is there something beyond that which most app developers miss or largely don’t know about – say a hack?

A lot of people in organic space feel it is much of a black hole so you don’t know what Apple or Google care about and you cannot really measure it. It is no longer the case as it used to be. With companies like Yozio, Branch Metrics and others you are now able to construct a lot of pre-install and post-install user paths. You can get a detailed look at your users and how one got there. You can see what they are doing afterwords. Post-install event tracking is huge. That’s one thing I feel a lot of people miss out.

The second thing is the ratings and review prompt. Try to avoid people going to the app store to leave a negative review. Intercept this first. With one of the apps that I did we used conversational approach, the prompt wasn’t like: “Hey, you use our app. Would you like to rate it?” The instant answer would be no. In that case we knew that users had an attraction/loyalty to Rick Harrison (the TV personality here in America). So we made it sound as if it was Rick asking them: “Hey, how is it going? By the way, if it is going well, would you like to rate this?”. This is the personal appeal. Find those kinds of triggers with your audience. Don’t make your app sound cold, business-like and lifeless. And you are going to see it skyrocket: with a personal appeal we got ours from a 3.5 rating and up to a 4.3. I say skyrocket because it was actually pretty quick because it was less than a month’s time to get that pumped up. Besides, getting up to beyond 4 points out is usually a hard thing.

The third one is more for Android developers. They forget that backlinks do matter on Google. They want to see a lot of site points to your app. I personally don’t think that app sites are super helpful when it comes to driving installs. They usually think that “Oh, you know we’ll do app review sites, A, B and C, and D. And that’s great.” Right, it doesn’t hurt you. But don’t spend your time in the beginning on that. It should be spent at some point but don’t think that users are going to go to that site, read it and download. Cause they won’t. But it will link to your page and Google will notice it. And it will say, oh, that’s good, that’s a good site, so it will affect your ranking.

Thank you for taking the time to talk with us Anthony, we really appreciate it. If people want to find out more about Mobile Yield Strategies, where can they find you?

Readers who would like to further discuss mobile monetization methods, install campaigns (organic or paid), or even the analytics stack they should be using, can reach out to me at [email protected]