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Designing Your App Store Listing and Winning the App Store Optimization (ASO) Game

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If you’re familiar with SEO, the term App Store Optimization (ASO) will feel perfectly natural.  App store optimization is the practice of improving your app’s discoverability within the app store.  Ultimately, it serves to drive more traffic to your app’s page in the app stores and increase downloads.  Similar to SEO, optimizing your app for discoverability involves a lot of behind the scenes work and there are techniques you can learn to help improve the chances new users will find your app.

How to Get Started with App Store Optimization

When you’re ready to submit (or update) your application to the Apple app store or Google Play market, you will need to provide:  

  • An app icon
  • An app name
  • App screenshots
  • An app description
  • Keywords (for search)

Each of the above items is an optimization opportunity and, with a little effort, will help you get your app noticed and downloaded by more people.

Instead of going through each item one-by-one, we’ll tackle ASO through the eyes of a potential new user.  This will give us better insight into why ASO is important and what works best when trying to appeal to visitors to your app’s page.  

Getting Seen In the App Store

The first interaction a visitor will have with your app will be on the search results section (ignoring the slim chance your app will be ‘featured’ by apple).  Your goal here (similar to SEO) is to get your app shown at or near the beginning of the search results. Improving your search position is an iterative process and with enough tweaking, you should notice your app beginning to surface more often and have better positioning.  

Nobody knows with certainty how Apple’s search algorithm works; however, it’s commonly understood to include:

  • App name
  • Keywords
  • Ratings
  • Total downloads

Notice the last two items. They aren’t relevant for our initial discussion about ASO, so we can safely ignore them for now.  Within our realm of control lies your keywords and your app’s name.

Keywords – Choosing the right keywords for your app is an ongoing process that you should practice each time you push a new update. Continually refining keywords will help you improve your search positioning and help become more visible to potential users. To master the keywords game,  you’ll want to try out a keyword tool to examine the tweaks and changes you make as they happen. We have more on that here.

Choosing keywords doesn’t have to be difficult or complicated, simply think about what your app does for the user and what kind user you want to attract. Once you’ve got that figured, brainstorm some keywords describing what a user would search for to find the app that matches their needs.

For example, let’s say you have developed a mobile duck shooting game and it has similar gameplay elements to the popular Duck Hunt arcade game from the 1980’s. If your target audience is 20 or older, using “duck hunt” or “duck hunt mobile” as keywords is probably a good idea because a mature audience is more likely to use these keywords. However, for a younger target audience, perhaps those in their teens, “duck hunt” won’t have any meaning.  Instead, a younger audience may search for terms like “hunting games”, “target practice”, “shooting games”, etc.  

The takeaway is to think through who your target demographic is and put yourself in their shoes.   This same process applies to any kind of app you may be developing, and it’s often overlooked by developers. By looking at keywords through the eyes of your potential customers, you’re already one step ahead.

App Name – Use the same approach towards naming your app as you would for keywords.  The more practical / functional your app’s name, the better.  Regardless of what you end up calling your app, a good practice is to repeat some of your keywords in the app title (if it makes sense).  Have a look at the example below.  SlideContacts is a address book app and it includes specific keywords in its name.  This is a good practice for ASO.

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How to Turn your Views into Downloads

Now that you’ve got your app name and keywords dialed in, you should start seeing more visits to your app’s page in the app store.  The next step is to convert visitors to users.  We’ll now take a look at:

  • Your description paragraph(s)
  • App Icon & screenshots

Description – Visitors will often look to your description for more information about what your app does or what sets it apart from similar apps.  On iphone, the first 6 lines of text are visible and the rest is hidden below the “more” link.  These 6 lines are your opportunity to capture a visitors attention and entice them to either tap download or tap the ‘more’ link.  

Below are three examples of “To-do” list apps and the first 6 lines of their description section.  Which one stands out the most for you?  

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The first description example is very text heavy and the eye simply wants to skip over all of the extra reading.  The second is bit easier to digest and your eye is immediately drawn to the “Featured by Apple” lines.  This definitely gives the app immediate credibility and makes you wonder what was so good about the app that Apple featured it.  Finally the last example is the easiest to scan and the all caps screams ‘read me’, although in this case the copy isn’t all that compelling.

The simple lesson here is to use the description section to grab a visitors attention.  If you’re having a sale on your app, have PR to share, or have timely announcements (with an app update), use the above the fold section of your description to grab attention.

App Icon – A good icon will cause your app stand out and help users will judge the quality of your app- this is especially important on the Google Play Store where there are thousands of apps that have been shoddily put together. If your icon looks amateurish, visitors will presume the app is of the same quality. If you lack graphic design skills, there are plenty of firms and freelancers available on the internet that could create high quality graphics for you at a decent price.  Here are a few places to find designers at affordable rates:

If you’re a registered Apple iOS Developer, I highly recommend viewing the Apple Tech Talk – User Interface Design for iOS 7 Apps and skip to the 10 minute, 20 second mark for some great tips on app icon design (login required to view video library).

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The final step for reeling in new downloads are your screenshots – you get a set amount to use and these allow you to show precisely what your app looks like and how it functions.

Good screenshots will communicate what your app does, and users will likely rely on them before even considering reading the description. Use your screenshots to tell a story and take users through the key screens of your app in an order that makes sense.  Apple recommends not using text overlays in your screenshots and allowing the visuals to tell a story.  Below is an example of Shazam’s screenshots discussed in an Apple Tech Talk – App Store Distribution and Marketing For Apps (8 minute, 15 second mark, login required).  

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It’s also important to remember that the first screenshot is the most important because it’s the screenshot users will see when looking at search results.  

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Other Tips for App Store Optimization

Unfortunately there aren’t any shortcuts for effective App Store optimization. It takes practice to understand how to leverage ASO to your advantage. Fortunately, you can iterate over time to continually improve your results, however, if you don’t want to risk losing potential downloads when you first release your app, there are a few practises to worth considering.

Soft launching – Instead of launching everywhere to everyone, test your app with a soft launch to gauge how well your app store listing performs with a smaller audience. Soft launching your app can be beneficial for many reasons and we have more on that here.

Research – Finally, the most resourceful thing you can do is simply spend time in the app store! Conduct competitive research and look at what the top apps in each category have done.  More importantly, carefully examine the apps you’ll be competing with in each of the areas we’ve discussed here and benchmark yourself against them.  The app store itself is a treasure trove of info and you can learn more by intelligently browsing than anybody could teach you.

Once you’ve got an app or two under your belt, ASO isn’t all that difficult to grasp, it just takes patience and perseverance. As a self-taught  developer myself, I’d love to hear how your App Store experiences have panned out – feel free to start a discussion in the comments section.