Research has consistently shown that the search function in app stores accounts for the greatest share of app downloads. If you’re not paying attention to how well your app listing is performing in the iOS App Store and Google Play, you’re going to have a difficult time meeting your acquisition goals.
App store optimization (ASO) is crucial for helping your app get noticed, downloaded and installed. As the developer of a popular app that helps teens easily pass their driving exams, we want to share how we used ASO both for launching and sustaining growth.
The best way to approach keyword selection is to find low-volume words that have the highest relevance for your user base. When doing keyword research, it may be tempting to select words that have the highest search volume, but those search terms are the most competitive, and it will be extremely challenging to rank for them.
It’s also likely that the keywords with the most traffic are open to interpretation. For example, our Zutobi Drivers Ed app is a resource for teens who need help earning a driver’s license. But would it make sense to try to rank for the keyword “license” just because it’s a high-traffic word? Try typing it into the Google search bar and see what comes up. You’ll find that people search the word “license” for many reasons, and not all of them have to do with getting permission to drive. It’s important that the keywords you choose reflect your target users’ search intent.
So, how do you determine what your target customers intend to search for? If you’ve studied your target customers and understand their desires and the problems they’re trying to solve, you’ll come away with a better idea of the words they use when trying to find an app like yours. Aim to discover the more descriptive long-tail keyword phrases they would use, as these are likely to indicate their intent. And since these longer keyword phrases typically have a lower search volume, they’ll be easier to rank on. Click on the above link and see if you can guess which keywords and keyword phrases we found to be most valuable for ranking well in app store search.
Experimenting is at the heart of optimization, and ASO is an ongoing, iterative process. You should be regularly monitoring your app’s performance against your key performance indicators (KPIs) to see whether or not the elements of your app store listing are delivering on your goals.
Some experts suggest checking your performance weekly (or even daily), but that probably depends on your industry, the size of your brand and where you are in the app’s lifecycle. Since an app’s ranking position can change according to time of day or day of the week – factors you can’t control – you’ll want to wait a few weeks after your launch to spot the real influences on your app’s performance.
So, experiment with different keywords or keyword phrases but understand that there are different ranking factors between the two app stores. Character limit rules differ in each of the text fields and not all text will be indexed in the iOS App Store. Read about best practices to use for each of the stores and understand which fields are the most impact for keyword ranking. It could take between 6-8 iterations to optimize your listing for keywords.
A/B testing is a more structured way to experiment with your store listing elements. For example, if you’re wondering which video version is more effective for getting installs, you can draw a smaller (yet representative) sample of your user base and split the sample to show one version of the video to the first group and the other version to the second group. You can use A/B testing at any point in your app’s lifecycle, including the pre-launch phase.
The Google Play Console has a feature called Google Experiments built into its platform. Use these best practices when running A/B tests there:
We used Google Experiments’ A/B testing to fine-tune the detailed text we used for some of our state-specific practice tests.
Although Apple Connect doesn’t have A/B testing built into its platform, you can run tests using third-party analytical tools. Keep in mind that the two platforms are very different. You can’t assume that the test results you achieve through Google Experiments will provide a direction for optimizing your listing in the iOS App Store.
After someone downloads your app, what drives them to install it? By tracking post-install events – any action taken after an app installation – marketers can get a better idea of which store elements to focus on for better app store optimization.
Some examples of events include filling in a registration form, clicking on a video, putting an item in a cart and completing a purchase. Third-party analytical companies called mobile measurement partners (MMPs) can attribute these event actions to specific ad campaigns or organic behaviors.
MMPs are especially valuable to app developers and marketers because they can provide data not available through the Apple Connect and Google Play Console developer platforms. For example, if you wanted to know if the installation was driven by organic behavior or through an ad campaign, MMPs record and report that information. And for those who are trying to learn which keywords are attributed to installs, these third-party companies are a resource for selecting high-value search terms.
The surest way to grow your app is to provide a relevant and valuable service to your users. And the better you are at delivering to your customers, the more they will reward you with positive reviews and five-star ratings.
As consumers, we rely on word-of-mouth and trusted reviews when we evaluate brands. A company that consistently shows positive ratings and reviews is perceived as credible, and we’re more likely to explore that business and eventually make a purchase. In the app stores, your ratings score is front-and-center, and research has shown that if your average rating is below three stars, people will scroll right past you. Data also tells us that nearly 80 percent of those who use the app store read at least one review before downloading and installing an app.
Your rating score and reviews also figure into the app stores’ algorithm, which makes sense when you remember that the goal of these platforms is to try to boost apps that will provide a good user experience (UX). You’re also more likely to take the spotlight as a featured app if your feedback is mostly positive. So, what actions should you be taking to manage your ratings and reviews?
First, ask your users to rate you. If you show a large number of positive ratings on your listing, those will outweigh the occasional negative review that’s posted. You can’t please all of the people all of the time, and negative feedback is inevitable. But don’t ignore or respond with hostility to negative reviews. Instead, show that you intend to correct the issue. The way you respond will demonstrate to those reading the reviews that you care about serving your customers.
Next, make sure you reply quickly – even if the comment is positive. Users want to feel like they have a connection with your brand and that their feedback matters to you. At Zutobi, we respond immediately to customer concerns and questions.
Finally, update your app often. This shows users that you’re constantly working to improve the app and that they can rely on you, and that you’re keeping up with new developments in the industry. They’ll also have more trust that your app is going to operate without any technical glitches when they see the date of your last update – and that information is displayed prominently on the listing.
We can’t ignore the value of data. It’s helped us to understand our customers and the effects of our marketing activities in a way we couldn’t fathom only a few decades ago. Rather than moving forward on only a hunch, we can more carefully build products (including apps) that meaningfully serve our users.
Being data-informed suggests that you understand that occasionally the numbers will lie. Deceptive, black-hat ASO techniques may show positive results in the analytic reports but those results will not be long-lasting as users catch on to these tricks. And even when ASO practices are above board, numbers alone cannot tell the full story.
Your past experience and industry expertise should be the filter through which you interpret the data. Context and intuition matter, and the knowledge you bring to the table should be passed down to all of those on your team who interpret data reporting to make product and marketing decisions. If you do make mistakes when relying on data, make sure you learn from those errors. This guide is your template, but know that there will be some bumps in the road as you attempt to grow your app. By testing and experimenting with your product and marketing techniques, you’ll not only optimize your app but also improve your process for the next app you plan to launch.