ASO _ Finding the Needle in the Haystack

Friday 27th, November 2015

The Wall Street Journal says app sales are a $25 billion industry. Statista said that as of July 2014, there were 1.3 million apps in the Google Play Store and 1.2 in iTunes. In other words, the app market is crowded – it is filled with all kinds of apps, most of which are unnoticed, unused, and undiscovered. Most apps never even see the light of day!

Which is where App Store Optimization (ASO) comes in.

App Store Optimization is the process of optimizing a mobile app so that it ranks high in the app store listings or search results. The higher it ranks, the more visibility the app has and the more visibility the app has, the greater the chances of it being downloaded. Searches in the app store are the most commonly used method to find and download an app. And there are hundreds of thousands of apps like your own! Through the ASO process, it is possible to meaningfully impact your app’s ranking and overall success.

So how do you do this?

It starts with understanding your customers – understanding the kind of keywords that they would use while searching for an app like yours. This involves listing keywords that you think your customers might be using to find you. Might not be right. May need changes and tweaking – will take a while to try all kinds of options until you find the one that works. You need to track and study your app’s ranking along with the ranking of your competition. Tons of new apps appear every day – and this has an effect on your search listing. (There are tools such as MobileDevHQ that can give you a single dashboard that tracks the performance of your app: Top Charts rank, Search Ranking, competitive intelligence, downloads, revenue, keywords analysis, paid vs organic performance, and so on.)

Title or Name of your App

One of the main components that can affect your ASO is the Title of your App. This is your most important piece of metadata – so the title / app name has to be chosen with care. And not changed often. Once your app starts to rank better and you start getting more reviews, the news of your app will spread by word of mouth – and if the name of the app is changed often, it would be difficult to find the app once word gets around.  The title must be short. Something that can be read in a single screen, as long titles get truncated. The iOS store allows only 33 characters – the rest of it is just cut off! Titles must be creative, unique and clever for them to stand out or be remembered! For example, “angry birds” as opposed to “games of tossed birds”

The title of the app acts like a keyword – so it is essential that you pick the right name for the app. Apple uses the app name to create your app URL – so if you include any special characters, Apple disregards the name and uses your ID. So it might be a good idea to avoid any special characters in the title. Don’t use any app name that has already been taken – or even parts of it as Apple flags and disables the concerned keywords at once! Following the explosive success of the game, Candy Crush, hordes of apps tried to hitch a ride using the keyword ‘candy’, but didn’t meet with much success. Amazon on the other hand tweaked its name – changed it from just “Amazon” to “Amazon Shopping” to make it jump its earlier 40’s position to #3 in rankings!


Keywords are another important component of an app. Google Play processes six million unique search phrases every month. Most users search for apps, and all App stores have algorithms that use keywords to search. The title or the name of your app should contain the keyword that draws the heaviest traffic. So find the most relevant one and put it there.  Apps with keywords in the title ranked better than those without. There are several tools that can help choosing a better name for your app or the keywords that you choose – some of them include MobileDevHQ, AppTweak, Sensor Tower, Search Man and App Store Rankings, among others.

Apps that have been downloaded more rank higher in the listings in an App store – the greater the number of downloads, the higher the ranking. To increase downloads, traditional marketing is the way to go – social media, content marketing, Pay Per Click, mailing lists, etc. Some heads up – artificially building up downloads just to boost rankings won’t work as algorithms in App stores are programmed in such a way that they spot any automated methods of downloads!

Description of the App

According to Search Engine Watch, the second factor that affects app store ranking is the description of the app, which be persuasive or attractive enough to compel a browser to download it. Use the 4000 word limit to clearly explain what the app can do for a user, including relevant keywords. The app description needs constant optimizing as well – tweak and change it to see what works and what doesn’t. While making changes to the description, it is a good idea to make one change, or one set of changes that can be tracked easily to measure the impact of those changes. Follow the hypothesize-implement-measure cycle to see what works and what doesn’t and take it further. Again, there are tools such as Sensor Tower, for instance which can provide keyword rankings, keyword optimization and can compare keywords in competitor’s apps. There are ways to find out what keywords your customers used while trying to find you. It is a good idea to steer clear of over-used keywords. Appsfire has a list of such words!

Some other important hints

Every App must have a logo – one that people can easily identify with and associate with your app – this will help increase reviews, ratings and downloads.  When listing the app, choose the right category to list it. People might want to try out the app before actually paying for it – so a demo with some great screenshots will help.

Reviews and Rating

Reviews and ratings are important for downloads – and so including a review plugin in the app itself is a great idea, which will prompt users to review your app after they have used it a few times. The more 4 and 5 stars your app gets, the higher the ranking it will get on the app store.  There are tools available for this – Appirater, iRate and Appsfire, etc. All these ask the user to leave feedback on the app store either after they have been using it on a regular basis, or after they had rated the app positively.

Promote your App

Promoting your app should be a part of your marketing strategy. Initial promos are critical!  Facebook and Twitter ads work to some extent. You could get your app promoted on specialized blogs. Popular sites such as, and can make your app a star, when featured in them. You could do banners on other popular websites where your target audience congregates! There could be give-aways or grand discounts on the app – those are sure fire crowd pleasers. Get your app written about in the media. A download button for your app on your website – one that would take them straight to the App store – is a must.  Many platforms display the number of machines that have downloaded your app. The greater the downloads, the higher the ranking. Most platforms also have ‘trends’ – which newbies can take advantage of.

Optimize for Multiple Platforms

There are many App stores – the Apple App Store and the Android Market are the biggest ones, but Blackberry App World, Samsung Apps Store, Nokia Store, GetJar and Windows Phone Marketplace are some of the others. Multiple platforms to optimize for, but you can have separate app versions for each! Apple has an approval process in its iOS app store which can take days, or longer if your app gets rejected. Since Google Play has no process like this, it might be a good idea to launch it here first, see how it goes, make changes where needed and then replicate the final version in the iOS app store.

Watch your Competition

Keep your eye on the competition – again, there are tools that can get your app discovered, downloaded and track the competition too. They include SearchMan, Appstatics, Appnique, Straply, Sensor Tower, AppCodes, MobiledevHQ, Mopapp, MetricsCat, Distimo, AppFigures and App Annie, among others.

At the end of the day, the key to ASO is to test and re-test – to find what works and what doesn’t. Revisit and optimize your listings at least every couple of weeks. If a hot current event can somehow be incorporated in the app, with a clever twist, nothing like it! Works like a charm! For instance, if the Olympics are held in Japan at that time, you could have a “going around Tokyo” built into your public transport app. Just saying!apps  photo


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