App Store Optimization: What Really Matters

App store optimization (ASO for the cool kids) is constantly changing. In the good old days, you could buy reskins, stuff keywords and make a fortune. Now the decks are reshuffled and there are a variety of new factors that account for how well you rank for keywords and ultimately how many organic downloads you can generate.

In this article, let's look at the factors that really matter in moving the needle when it comes to app store optimization.

1. App title

There's no greater impact on rankings than having your most desired keywords in your app title. Gone are the days of keyword stuffing and now are the days of keyword density.

In fact, we've seen dramatic shifts in keyword rankings by moving certain words from the keyword field to the subtitle and finally to the app title. As you probably guessed, here is the order of how each field impacts your keyword ranking:

Expert tip: When targeting the US app store, utilize the Spanish Mexico trick to double the number of keywords you are targeting. The US app store indexes the Spanish Mexico localization, so if you use English keywords in that localization then you can literally double the keywords that you are targeting.

Make sure to use a different app title in your US and Spanish Mexico localization to help you rank higher for your keywords. For example, Calm would use "Calm" in the US title but have "Calm - Sleep Stories" in the Spanish Mexico title if "sleep stories" were the phrase they were targeting.

We have also seen improvements in keyword rankings by having the same keyword in the US subtitle and the Spanish Mexico title.

2. App store ratings

Once app developers catch onto the latest ASO hacks, then it's the number of app store ratings that the algorithm uses to determine the rankings.

All app developers should get aggressive in obtaining more ratings (aka stars) for their apps. We always suggest to clients that they implement the iOS review prompt within their apps. One client reported doubling his app store ratings since implementing it.

Try to make the request at a time that will not interrupt the normal user flow. For example, show the prompt at the end of a sequence of events that the user has successfully completed.

Moreover, we have actually seen great results when asking for the review upon the second or third open.

I'm still unclear on the minimum number of ratings that you need to make a big impact, but judging from current search results it looks like the tilting points are at 100 and 1,000 ratings.

3. Retention

When I asked Matthew Hall, creator of Crossy Road, in my podcast interview about how he thought about monetizing the game during the development phase, he said he was just focused on retention. If he could keep users coming back to the game, then we would have no problem monetizing them.

And the same principle applies to ASO.

Apple and Google generate billions of dollars from their respective app stores, so you can imagine that they want to prioritize apps that retain users and eventually convert them.

Retention already plays a part in the Google Play ranking algorithm and will continue to play an even bigger part in both app stores.

Expert tip: Make sure your on-boarding experience truly explains the benefits of your app. The better the experience, the better your Day 1 retention rate and the better your Day 1 retention rate the better your Day 7 and Day 30 rates.

4. Downloads

Your velocity of downloads also impacts your keyword rankings.

On Google Play, we have seen many apps developers slow down or stop their Google Ad campaigns and seen a decline in their organic downloads, so obviously, if you pay Google a little something then they will show your app a bit higher in the results.

During the early days of Apple Search Ads, developers reported higher rankings when bidding on the same term. However, this longer seems to be the case especially if you're already ranked in the top 20 or 30 for the keyword. This may be a viable strategy if you are ranked in the '50s or higher and you may see a nice bump in organic rankings, but be careful because once you stop spending those organic rankings may vanish as well.

For those running user acquisition campaigns, having a solid foundation of keywords will only help you grow your organic downloads.

5. App store screenshots & videos

Connie Liu, Product Manager at Rev.com, reported that they saw an increase in organic downloads after adding an app preview video. She also said that since Apple autoplays the videos in the search results that users are more likely to click on your search results.

What I really like about Rev's app preview video is that they use text animations to highlight the key benefits of the app rather than just displaying someone using the app.

Think of the video as a movie trailer rather than a general walk-through.

Another important part is your app store screenshots. For one of our clients, we saw a 91% increase in downloads by redesigning screenshots and adding social proof in the form of client logos. We added their big-name clients to the third screenshot and saw an immediate impact.

Connie saw similar results by adding social proof to the Rev app store screenshots:

If you look at any website, you will see icons of big-name customers or major publications that featured the company or even the number of Yelp reviews. These are all symbols of social proof to overcome objections from potential customers. However, app developers often miss the opportunity to utilize social proof symbols in their screenshots.

Author: Steve P. Young is an app marketing expert and founder of App Masters where they have helped clients 10X downloads and revenue. App Masters is known for their ASO and growth hacking strategies and have helped 29 different clients get featured by Apple.

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