App Store Optimization (ASO) Basics

As the role of mobile is increasing and more and more developers and companies produce  mobile apps for app stores, it is getting more and more important to be able to optimize apps for search.

ASO is a discipline that has a lot of common touch-points with SEO and includes keywords research and keywords implementation as the main pillars. Furthermore, ASO encompasses the visual representation of your app in the app store (icon, screenshots, demonstration videos).

This article is dedicated mainly to finding the best keywords for your app and what is important to achieve good traffic and ranking.

Keyword research

Basically, keyword research for apps is similar to keyword research for the websites.  You should ask yourself the following questions:

  • What words describe my app?
  • What words would a user type in to find my app if he/she did not know it existed?
  • What user problems would my app solve?

Analyzing your competition is of paramount importance. A trick you may try is using parts of the names of successful apps in your category as keywords for your own app. You may, furthermore, analyze the description texts  or even reviews of the strongest competitor apps to hand-pick relevant keywords.

Another approach is using the autocomplete function in the app store itself or using the tools online to find out what relevant word combinations users are looking for. An important note hereto is that in mobile environment users tend to type in shorter queries than from desktop computers due to the size of the screen and the less convenient typing on a mobile device.

Keywords evaluation

To evaluate the gathered keywords (I would recommend collecting 150-200 keywords per app and language), use three criteria:

  • Traffic. How often the word is searched for, alone or in combinations with other keywords. You can try estimating the traffic using available SEO tools, but this would only approximately reflect the user behavior in the app store. However, there are a number of special ASO Tools that allow for more exact keyword traffic estimation (SensorTower, MobiledevHQ, AppRankCorner, etc).
  • Difficulty. One factor is a number of competing apps for a keyword in your category. You can estimate it by typing in the respected keyword in the app store and looking how many search results you will get.  Another factor is the “strength” of your competitors, meaning the number of downloads, ratings and reviews. Also here, good ASO tools will estimate the difficulty score automatically.
  • Relevance.  Does the keyword have direct relevance to your app? Does it match the visual representation of your app and its description, in users’  view?

Keywords implementation

For the Apple App Store, keywords are typed in directly in the keywords field when submitting, the space limited to 150 characters, including commas. Therefore, it is important to submit shorter words that also make good combinations (do not type in word combinations when submitting).  Another strong search signal is the app title, here you can use up to 255 characters, however the user only sees a maximum of 35 characters in the app list.  Furthermore, longer titles look spammy and are very difficult to remember).  Also the app category is considered (no need to include the category name in the list of your keywords).

For Google Play, app title, app category and app type are important signals. Furthermore, the description of the app must contain the keywords you want to rank for.

Apps Ranking

You can easily find out your current rankings using online tools such as AppAnnie or SearchMan. How you will rank will depend, firstly, on how well you chose and filtered your keywords (see above).  Secondly, newer apps may receive a boost in ranking, however with time if there are not enough user reviews and downloads, they will fall down in the search results.  So, promoting your app outside the app store (advertising, Social Media, video trailers, events, etc.) is of large importance. Also, ask your users to review the app and be attentive to the comments and suggestions for improvement.

Considering how Google app store works,  traditional SEO techniques such as link-building and in-app content are also helpful  in achieving higher ranking results with Google.

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Has the World Turned into Google?

The importance of Google AdWords and other Google-related marketing tools in the marketing mix is sometimes overestimated.

Have you ever asked yourself what percentage of your customers really come from Google AdWords? I am sure the answer will be different in every given case. However, is there anything besides (and above) Google?

First of all, let us look at Google AdWords in relation to organic search results. According to the Search Engine Journal, 80% of web users seldom or never click on Google AdWords, focusing on organic search. Clearly, as their online experience grows, most web users are becoming more and more immune towards web advertising and even develop negative feelings towards personal targeting.

Secondly, though the share of Google and Google-powered search engines in countries like Germany may reach 90%, in other countries it may not be the case. For example, the Russian search engine market is still dominated by the Yandex company (60% market share), the same is true for most Asian countries, where search traffic is driven by local search engines. Thus, the share of Google worldwide is well below 90% and, as I think, would be realistically estimated at around 50%-60%. Another point to consider is the aggressive competition by other search engines even in Google-dominated countries and the danger of the Icarus Syndrome for the market leader.

Thirdly, the share of web content indexed by search engines is very small (some estimates point at the share as low as 0,2%). The so-called Invisible Web or Dark Web includes specialized or password-protected databases and catalogs, data shared and posted on social networks, and non-indexed data formats, such as pictures or video content.

One more barrier to consider is what percentage of time your target users spend online, how often they use search engines, and if they use search engines with a clear intention to purchase something at all. The reason is that Internet is mostly perceived as a means of entertainment or as a free information source, which significantly decreases the ROI of SEM advertising.

And last but not least: how digitalized has the world become in reality? Has everyone in this world acquired an unlimited access to the Internet 24/7? Has the share of life we live off-line become so insignificant that it does not need to be considered any more? Have we stopped talking to each other face -to-face, reading books and magazines, watching TV and listening to the radio or just shopping at local shops? Naturally, no.

In conclusion, by writing all above, I am not going to undermine the importance of online marketing in the marketing mix or deny the growing size of the potential market on the Internet. However, in my opinion, the reliance on Google-related marketing tools has become a self-fulfilling prophecy for online marketers, the marketers themselves representing a (thin?) slice of population who actually actively use the Internet and can handle the Internet technology. A lot of things in online marketing are assumed without profound data on the on-line and off-line behavior of the target users or on the relative importance of the advertising instruments used.

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