The App Store Optimization Bible

I decided to share my book, the ASO guy with everyone.
You can buy it in Amazon or read it here. This is a guide of how to optimize your app, the best App store optimization guide on the planet #ASO.

Please keep in mind it is not 100% current… so be kind, if you like it share, like, tweet and spread the social media love.
If you want to download it in a PDF format → click here

Introduction

When I started ASO, I never expected that this new world was going to create so much buzz and go in so many different directions.

During the last 24 months, I have seen ASO go from “I have no idea what this word is” to “I may try this” to “This made the difference between success or not”.

In reality, ASO is just another process, but as a new process it usually gets judged fast and ruthlessly by a community that is tired of spending big fortunes to receive pennies as part of their investment.

ASO is easy, but at the same time it requires a different frame of mind than other types of marketing approaches.

We are used to marketing processes where we pay, and we obtain a result.

We love the word ROI, and ROI in ASO can be difficult to identify when the process we take is, in fact, a “process”.

This is like climbing Kilimanjaro… you don’t do it in 1 day, doesn’t matter how fit you are.

ASO stands for App Store Optimization and the vital part to understand is that the word “optimization” means in itself an infinite process…
 When do you really finishing optimizing something that is always evolving?

Your app evolves with the needs of your clients and with new changes in technology.

If you optimized an app 2 years ago and left it there accumulating dust… well, it is time to realize that your app may no longer be optimized today.

So the key is not the App Store itself, the key is optimization… and to optimize we need to identify factors and challenges that sometimes may be daunting to assimilate and to accept.

Sometimes the rules of the game are not fair. Sometimes the rules are created to benefit the wrong part of the industry and sometimes the creators of the rules make stupid moves that, instead of improving the ecosystem, end up screwing the little player.

So we need to “get it”, we need to understand that it’s not fair and that it is not supposed to be fair. In my opinion, the App Store is not so different from the stock market in New York or a fish market on the coast of Tanzania.
 It is, in fact, a market. People bargain, people hustle, some items sell faster and some items never sell…

Only the winners adapt and only the market decides. The rest is up to us to figure out.

Here’s why the App Store is insane — and why do I love it.

The App Store is a reflection of human stupidity, of humanity’s dreams, of what we spend our time on… the app store gives us an overview of what people do while they are at home, when they want their kids to shut up in a plane, when they feel lonely and even how they spend their “leisure” time in the bathroom while they look at their iPhone.

In the App Store, the brilliant apps are not always the top ranking apps. Smart, educational apps — apps that help us improve our life — don’t get rewarded with top ranking.

The reason?

Users don’t seek those apps. Instead they seek apps that, at a glance, are silly; addictive, semi-stupid…

We want to beat our friend’s record in the latest Flappy Bird clone, we want to be entertained… We use apps as a way to escape, to stop thinking about the “real world”…

As users, we celebrate when we achieve a new level in Candy Crush Saga and we really believe that if we pay 0.99 for the next in-app purchase our racing car REALLY WILL go faster in our latest F1 racing car “free app”.

We become zombies when we use apps… we don’t really question our sense of time… and even if we use apps for just productive reasons (yeah right) the reasons that make us download apps are sometimes 100% irrational.

We click on yellow icons vs. green icons and we don’t know why, nor do we care. We believe we are in control of the things that we discover in the app store and we don’t even wonder why we can never find those apps that we really want to find.

The app store is a mess …

Amazing quality and an army of crappy apps live in the same jungle and it is our job to be able to “figure out” what works.

So why, when things are so chaotic, are things so great at the same time? Well, call me crazy… but when companies like Rovio, EA games, or Zynga, with boring corporate decision makers (sorry guys), get beat by a kid in Vietnam launching Flappy Birds… I can’t stop loving how the ecosystem works.

Does it make sense? No! Is it normal?

Yes!
 What? Normal???

Yes… the normality of a market IS that is unpredictable.

Corporations can’t predict human stupidity for a game that is plainly absurd. There is nothing genius about it… in the same way that apple pie is nothing really amazing but everyone seems to be eating it for the last… hmm, 1000 years…

So why so much Chaos?

Well…. The 100% unexpected results of the app factors.
 Nobody expected this app idea to boom as it has. Nobody expected the app store to have a SEARCH problem… nobody expected people to make money just from apps.

Apps selling for billions of dollars? Apps achieving 8-figure downloads?

No….

This wasn’t in anyone’s plan. And without plans the rules of how the app store behaves clearly weren’t defined or planned accordingly.

That’s why chaos rules in the app store… Just like new economies and industries take years to mature and find balance, the app store seems to suffer the same phenomenon. Too many options, too many people trying to get a piece of the action… too many opportunities to push the rules and experiment with what works — and what doesn’t work.

And that represents an interesting time to be involved in the jungle of app marketing, my friends.

Because once we understand how this jungle works, we can play the game with a better handicap to help us win.

And that is the purpose of this book, to layout the instruction manual for what I have seen working in this app world. My goal is to focus on App Store Optimization by looking at the human part of ASO before going into the geek, nerdy world of tech talk.

We all know about code, we all know about stats, but search… search is done by humans and until we realize how humans search, how irrational human behavior is…. We will not be able to properly use the techniques and tools available.

So where do we start?

Before we start, we need to understand the biggest advantage of ORGANIC. Organic is cool, haven’t you heard?

If you have organic milk you are healthier… and if you have organic traffic you are luckier than the guy with only in-organic traffic ;) (I’ve always wanted to write that.)

So why is Organic important?

I talk about organic traffic in my video here

Organic comes from nature, it’s natural. People find your app because they want to, because “they” found it. When humans “find” things of their own will, they end up believing that the result, product or service that they found is based on their “own decision”, part of their own search process.

Funnily enough, little does the searcher know that results found during search are conditioned by variables and rules of search algorithms that provide us with those specific results. The Algorithm dictates this, not the user.

We all know that the user wants to find what they consider to be the best result, but even algorithms behave in erratic ways and the idea of providing the user with the “best result” is not only romantic but 100% hypothetical.

Measuring what is good for you versus what is good for me, based on a search term, is a hypothetical concept that is difficult to define or sustain.

So when the user “searches” and “finds” they tend to act differently based on the belief that this result was “achieved” thanks to their own actions. This change in perception, that they are in control of the result, makes organic a better converting type of traffic.

Now, paid traffic companies will tell you differently. They will claim that users who click on ads tend to convert better than the “casual searcher” but the reality is that organic traffic is always going to bring more constant, cheaper and more efficient traffic than any traffic that clicks on an ad. But I guess that’s a different story.

So let’s start talking about ASO, shall we? (That’s why you bought this book, right?)

Welcome to the World of ASO

The goal of ASO (App Store Optimization) is about putting your applications in the optimal state for organic search, chart ratings, and download conversion in the app stores (that is the technical definition at least).

The reason why I like ASO so much is that compared to inorganic methods of raking, such as buying downloads… ASO is much less costly and has potentially longer lasting effects. This makes it ideal for small players trying compete in competitive app categories.

With the app stores constantly changing and adapting to the growing number of apps, the app store environment is one still filled with mystery and intrigue — people still ask me in conferences what is the “real secret” behind ASO, Gabriel?…

And the reality is that there is no secret, there is no blueprint, there is not a simple special ninja trick… it’s all about doing the work, failing and trying again.

The truth is that it’s a jungle out there… Let’s have a look:

There are more than a million iOS applications and almost the same number of Android apps to compete with, which doesn’t include the other competing stores (Amazon, Nokia, Windows, etc). Not only are you facing strong competition but everyone is also trying every single tactic under the sun to get more downloads and to “trick the algorithm”.

That’s why ASO has become more and more relevant in the last 2 years. Not because the idea that “learning ASO is lovely” but ultimately based on the need to get more traffic.

In this book my goal is to give you everything (yes everything!) you need to know, to understand and to master ASO.

To achieve that, I need to get your head around ASO topics: doing keyword research, using ASO tools, and working around the differences in the store platforms, like the Apple App Store and Google Play.

But rather than move too fast, let’s understand some basic concepts before we dive too deep and let me clarify that even if sounds easy, it’s not…

And even if it sounds boring… once you realize how powerful this stuff can be, it becomes kind of fun… ;)

ASO Strategy

App store optimization is more than just keyword tools and comparing ranking data.

The knowledge or “boring theory” that guides the strategies is a necessary part of a successful campaign. With ASO, we need to think along the lines of search terms and target audience. Search Terms are the keywords that you want to rank for and Target Audience clearly means those who will download and find your app.

Also, ASO includes different aspects that are sometimes 100% ignored by people applying keyword research.

Is there any clear “buying intent” behind the search? Is the search natural or related to trends? Is the search predictable or completely random?…

As an intro, I talk about buying intent with keywords in my video here:

So, it’s becoming clear why we need a strategy, but why consider ASO and not other types of normal marketing strategies? Well, what makes ASO strategy a crucial part of your overall app marketing campaign is how easy it is for your app to fall into the infamous app graveyard.

Not making it has become easier than making it and not maximizing every ranking opportunity is the fastest method to losing ranking, resources and your investment.

Organic is cheap (plus it’s cool and healthy)

ASO is cheap and ASO is free…
 And the best things in life are free, remember that son?

ASO becomes even more important when you don’t have to pay $1.00-$2.50 to acquire each user (the current CPI or cost per install average, depending on app type, according to one of many Chartboost Insights). Organic ranking via search can be a lucrative investment since search is said (Forrester data) to account for 63% of new app installs, without paid advertising.

Obviously these numbers can be falsified, inflated and even people that make a living from app discoverability tools will tell you that those numbers are overly inflated.

But the reality is that paying per user sucks and if you don’t have very clear control over your ROI it can become very, very expensive.

With paid traffic you can win big but fail quickly and miserably. Your margins of profit are usually low and you need to be in complete control of your user acquisition cost. One cent more here and there and the campaign is no longer profitable, and then you will be in the red.

With ASO, things are different, slower, less expensive…. more gradual. ASO is a marathon, in which only the ones that are willing to go all of the extra miles of hard work will end up winning at the end.

Developing an ASO strategy — Not so easy my friend.

Before you go and start optimizing your app, it’s essential to understand that ASO needs to be one part of your overall marketing strategy, the same effort you put into developing an App needs to be put into the marketing and the positioning of your end product, but this is not the only part.

As an appreneur, developer or app agency you need to ask yourself some questions that may be difficult to answer:

What rankings are you aiming for?

There are different types of rankings and ways to optimize apps in different markets. These differences in each market or platform mean that your optimization strategy will need to be adapted for each one.

Each app store has a different algorithm and philosophy, and distinctive guidelines on which the apps need to be based. Algorithms change all the time and what works for one app store is not going to work for another.

Although all the app stores behave differently (and by different I don’t mean good… trust me they are all erratic, crazy and 100% random on many occasions), almost all of them base their ranking on the same type of “values”.

In the same way the top 5 religions in the world include the same type of global rules, ranking in Apple, Google, Nokia, Windows and Amazon is determined by a mix of specific factors: metadata, popularity ranking, ratings, reviews and, of course, downloads.

So a basic question is, what type of rankings exist?… Let’s have a very quick review (this is pretty basic stuff I mentioned in my first book, so feel free to skip it).

Let’s start with the types of rankings you can achieve:

Top Free/Paid Apps:

A list of apps based on their cost that many see as the “Holy Grail” of rankings.

This list is generated by adding the number of downloads of each app in a specific time frame and ranking them in descending order.

Clearly there is a huge difference between top free and top paid.

Top free can be apps that reach fast ranking in a very short time but usually they ranking is based on trends or a quick popularity (example: Flappy Bird clones)

Top Paid apps are ones that have a real clear market. You don’t become a top paid app thanks to a viral effect. The apps on the Top Paid list have achieved what many can only hope to achieve — find a market, provide to that market what the market wants, and monetize the market demand.

Top Free/Paid Apps in Your Particular Category:

Top free and paid apps are list of the most popular apps, highest in downloads, within a specific category

Users often search in broad or simplified category terms and will decide whether to download based on these rankings. Therefore, this is the ranking you need to focus on to beat the competition.

Usually any keyword research or ASO process brainstorming starts here, in fact many marketers use this as a reference for that is hot, and what will become hot in coming weeks.

Watching apps climbing fast in specific categories can give us an indication of who will become the next 2048, the next Temple Run or the next Candy Crush.

Top Grossing Apps:

The proper definition of this category is a list of apps based on amount of revenue generation.

This category is not directly related with ASO, and usually developers think that it is a good indication of a good app market. However, just the fact the app generates a high income and revenue, doesn’t mean the market is “up for grabs” or ready for plenty of competition.

I believe top grossing apps are “top grossing apps” not for the specific niche necessarily, but more of the app itself — the type of monetization implemented and overall brilliant marketing and user experience.

Search challenges

So by now we’re beginning to see how the human user brings an element of chaos and unpredictability into app ranking. With the app count now over 1 million in each of Google Play and Apple App stores, understanding app discovery within this massive, chaotic marketplace is a real challenge.

What users will fall in love with, what will go viral and what will be the next big thing is hard to predict. Except, human behavior is predictable in some ways, and that’s what we need to understand and tap into to achieve search ranking success.

Understanding app discovery — how people find apps — and the structures (lists/categories) that they find apps in are the keys to preventing your app from becoming just another “zombie” in the app store.

The thing about the app store structures is that they are constantly in a state of adaptation. Compared to web search, which has made great strides in recent years towards indexing content in more effective ways so we can find what we want, the app stores are behind the times.

Flashback to 10 years ago when web search rankings were easily sold to the highest bidder and there weren’t many complex indicators for what would make a webpage rank. That’s what the app store ecosystems are like now. There is a general lack of structure for app search discovery. Currently, high quality apps can still stay hidden from curated most popular lists.

Trying to fit in while standing out

Search engine discovery dominates but it is not the only way that users find your app.

Users also find apps through word of mouth, social media, app store charts, lists and categories, as well as through online reviews, blogs and landing pages.

One reason that apps remain hidden is the lack of detailed categories. It can be hard to fit your app into the right place and for users to know where to look for apps. Categorization of apps is still too general but it’s a challenge to find a solution when there are so many apps with such specific and unique functions.

Some apps are more complex and therefore more difficult to pigeonhole into an appropriate category. But, selecting the right category may mean the difference between getting discovered and staying invisible.

User searches are more often more simplified and based on broad categories — their searches are not as detailed as online. This makes being a strong competitor in your category all the more important.

If the category already has too much competition then your chances of being found are reduced. Niche categories are easier to break into.

Developers are also pressured to get their apps into the charts and onto curated product lists. While breaking the charts usually involves a burst campaign (paid initial downloads) the curated lists are all about who you know and the discretion of the curators.

User challenges

Not only is app discovery a challenge to overcome for developers, the user experience is also increasingly complicated. There’s no quick search for an app without going through a process of filtering, comparing and eliminating to arrive at a final decision — just for an app!

Also lacking is the “try before you buy” philosophy of most other online content providers. Users can’t test the app for themselves before buying nor can they see the app in action via video in the App Store (Google Play does now offer space for a video “screenshot”).

Buyer decisions are based only on screenshots and the other visible metadata, of which reviews may weigh heavily.

Reviews may seem to be helpful and provide value. But when it comes to review and rating comparison, users are often basing their decisions on opinions of strangers that could be irrelevant to their own personal situation. Without at least 1000 reviews to balance out all the fakes and bias, the picture painted by reviews becomes blurry and tainted — the unsuspecting user doesn’t realize this however.

Once installed, the user may have a different experience altogether. This turns selecting the “right” app into a real nightmare.

Location factors for discovery

Each app store has a different user experience and the experience that a user has in any app store is related to their location. Localizing the app metadata means that users who search in that language and/or country-related app store can also discover your app.

If you don’t localize the metadata you may be missing out on many groups of potential users for your app. If your app can be used by people of different languages — make sure you localize for different languages.

Other organic discovery tactics

Reviews and ratings also influence discovery for obvious reasons. Users are more apt to click on the app with higher star ratings (3 and up).

Also, targeting new device users by promoting your app as having the latest features and technology can also be a draw. Users want to see what their device can do and will want to test its capabilities.

When it comes to social media, discovery is influenced directly by more people seeing your app when someone talks about it.

But it is also influenced indirectly by sending signals to the app store algorithm — social proof and validation lets the app store know your app is live and that people are using it. This is a positive factor for rankings (a stronger factor for some stores than others, it is thought).

More on social signals and the controversy of their role in ranking:

Choosing the right price point will also affect whether users decide to view your app. Selling your app at the right price in its market and based on its value will be a major consideration. And, just because it’s free doesn’t mean people will download it.

No matter the pricing strategy the user has to see value in your proposition.

It follows that building a good product will also get you noticed on some
 level. Word of mouth is the next biggest discovery method among users, after search. People recommend what works. (The problem is getting people to know you exist in the 1st place).

But, without efforts to make some waves in other discovery areas that we just mentioned, in-store optimization, ratings and social media, it will be hard to make any real impact by focusing solely on app quality. Building a stellar app is no guarantee of success — in fact, I have seen many awesome possum apps dying in the app store.

Nobody finds them — literally nobody.

It’s within the app store itself that most users learn about apps which, with all the limitations and challenges in the store environments as they stand, is not great news for the developer. Ideally, you want to influence as many of these discovery channels as possible to direct traffic to your app.

Don’t put all your eggs in one basket, as they say.

So, there are limitations to discovery and the app store environments suck at highlighting the truly great apps that people are looking for. But don’t just look for someone to blame (though it does feel good to vent our frustrations from time to time) — the responsibility for your success lies with you, the publisher or developer.

Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

Inorganic discoverability (sounds like an illness right?)

If you have a marketing budget that allows for paid advertising, ad networks like AdMob and cross-promotion platforms like ChartBoost can provide more targeted visibility. You can choose the markets you want to involve in the promotion.

There’s more going on outside the app store than just paid advertising, though. Developers have a host of resources depending on their budget — from push marketing tools via social media channels, online distribution platforms, personalized recommendation engines and app search engines.

The problem with these methods is that the success depends on the budget and to find a sweet spot where you in fact are getting a clear ROI you need to be willing to fail plenty of times; these failures are usually difficult for small developers to afford.

Paid discoverability strategies are vital, but they only serve one goal: traffic.

ASO brings a different range of options, ASO provides us not only with traffic but with an understanding of the market, the competition levels, and market opportunities.

Usually the normal indie developer doesn’t end up in the ASO category… this is where the money is but at the same time for us marketers, ASO professionals and Appreneurs (I love that word!), this is the section where we can analyze and understand where people are spending their money.

Understanding the difference between the free user and the paid user is vital. Not all markets are full of free seekers and in some other categories the potential of making money with free apps decreases based on the lack of “buying intent”.

The top grossing app category can give us a clear indication of where the money is in the app store for paid apps.

Meet the Expert Abhinav Gupta

Abhinav is a strange and wonderful mix: author, entrepreneur, app industry expert, coach.. I like the guy — truly inspirational. Not only he knows what he is talking about but he has learned about app marketing and what takes to be successful, from his own experience. The guy has walked the walk. I like that.

Truly one of those guys you should be following and checking. Abhinav Gupta is the CEO and founder of Scorpion Games http://www.gamescorpion.com

When did you find out about ASO and what is your approach about the potential of ASO as part of your marketing strategy?

I found out about ASO early on in the business. After a lot of trial and error (Probably on my 3rd app, now I’m at 42+ and growing to give you an idea of when I took ASO seriously), I finally realized how powerful ASO can be in search results. ASO is not only a “POTENTIAL” part of a marketing strategy, it should be the very first thing when thinking about getting organic downloads.

Listen, at the end of the day, paying for user acquisition (UA) can be costly, and ASO comes in to the rescue to give organic downloads and thus reduce your UA costs while keeping your app up in the ranks.

Let’s talk about the importance of ASO before we start producing apps…. where does ASO fit in your strategy?

ASO is my first thought even before writing a line of code. In the drawing board stage (I usually write out on scrap paper my concepts) I research similar apps and ideas and then I study their ASO tactics. I then go down to my game or app and ask myself what I can do better and what will be required to outrank or make a user consider my app over the competitors.
 Do I need a fancy icon?
 Do I need incredible screenshots?

What name should I be focusing on based on my estimated release date? (Ex. If I know my app will launch near Christmas, would it be better to put Calculator App OR Holiday Calculator App Stocking Stuffer).

Hope you get the idea, ASO is planned from the beginning before I design my app or game and then I strategize using that. (NOTE: Not all apps will operate this way, but for me for the most part, ASO is part of my process before any code is even written)

What is the right mindset when doing research for an app topic? How do you analyze the market?

There are many ways to analyze the market. From upcoming trends to the top 100 lists to even doing a full out consumer poll on a forum or some venue, finding an idea for an app is easy…MONETIZING an app is the real challenge now. There is now so much competition that the edge that you will have at the moment is ASO and how you monetize.

Focus first on how is this app or game going to make me a return on my investment. If I spend X hours of time and X dollars of money, if I convert my time to money as well (Ex. even a minimum wage at $10/hr lets say), WOULD I GET MY MONEY BACK? If you can honestly say you probably won’t, then that app may not be the best option.

You have the philosophy of being everywhere… how developers can apply that with their apps?

It’s about visibility and monetization. Giving your apps as much coverage as possible is the key to success. If you just focus on one market, that’s fine, but keep in mind, you’re going against a LOT of competition. Many of those competitors come with VERY LARGE bank accounts and I can assure you they will drop 100k on marketing in the blink of an eye. For most indies, especially those starting out, those numbers are unheard of. So when you’re just starting out or trying to grow, having apps everywhere will give you the maximum opportunity to increase your revenues and your bottom line so you can continue to do more of what you love doing :)

What is T.R.I.C.K.S ?

TRICKS is a word that I coined along with yourself earlier this year in 2014. It is a simple word to remember how to do ASO and stands for:

T — Title
R — Reviews
I — Icon
C — Customer (Who is your target market?)
K — Keywords
S — Screenshots/Video

Where do developers an appreneurs fail at ASO? What do you think are the most common mistakes

I believe that most just don’t take it as seriously as they should. Proper ASO can really help boost downloads. I think some of the most common mistakes of ASO are simply the fact that there is so little information on the subject.

The industry is constantly shifting and so whatever may have worked, also shifts. I think it comes down to many developers using outdated ASO techniques that may have worked in 2011 or even 2008 but not today. For example, just earlier this year, Apple banned the word Flappy, so good luck trying to get your app approved with that keyword.

Also known as keyword piggy backing, developers were very fond of using things like the word “bird” (From Angry Birds) or “angry” etc. and tried to “game” the Apple search algorithm. In the earlier days it worked, but in today’s time it no longer does because Apple and even other markets are quickly shifting gear and banning or even rejecting apps that practice these methods. Thats just on example of where many app devs fail on ASO.

You have written not only about the app business but about the path to achieve success in this business. Like in ASO we all play under the same rules, have access to the same tools, but so many seem to fail when executing the right actions. Why is that?

I don’t have a definite answer, but I believe it comes down to quality and user experience. Its not just so much to do just good ASO, you also have to have a good app at the end of the day.

I keep seeing too many app devs simply re-skinning, and though this works, it soon gets to a point where all the top searches for apps end up with similar apps that have similar functionality.

Soon end users catch on, and you get to a point where they are looking for the unique gems in the bunch which tend to be apps that are not reskins and are unique.
 Getting the first download with ASO is not the challenge (Just follow the TRICKS above and you’ll be ahead of most devs who ignore ASO), but KEEPING those users and having them come back over and over again to user your app and help you increase your monetization is a HUGE requirement.

This is the main reason I see a lot of devs mess up, and that’s on their original monetization strategy. How are they monetizing those users? How are they planning to retain those users? How are they planning to use the k factor of those users (k factor is their social status or virality of an app or end user)?

Black Hat ASO (getting the points clear)

When I wrote about this almost 2 years ago, I had very little clue that black hat could even be considered a term in the app industry. Hey! Nobody even knew about ASO, let alone about black hat tactics.

So what is black hat ASO? Black hat is the art/science/scheme of manipulating search algorithm results by bending the rules.

In the politically correct, paranoid society in which we live, as soon as you mention “black hat”, the industry tends to attack you.
Oh… Black hat!!! How dare you!!!!

But the reality is that it is our duty to test the algorithm… Any algorithm exists to be tested by the users. It has always been the same and it always will be.

If something allows us to rank, we will test it and try to manipulate it.

So let’s understand what type of ASO black hat techniques I have seen so far and before we move to real “nasty stuff” let’s try to clarify some concepts that are not black hat per se, although that may sometimes be considered that way…

Understanding why “black hat” works

First, we need to understand what types of actions are effective in increasing ranking.

The theory is easy to understand:
A burst of short term downloads can get the algorithm to notice your app and get an influx of initial downloads. This growth spike gives the product a kick- start — like a book launch. So a significant amount of energy and resources should be applied to the launch of the app within the first weeks (both before and after the actual app has been published) with the goal of getting masses of downloads.

This sounds logical and easy right?

Easier said than done. It is not difficult to understand that downloads = traffic, and that downloads + traffic = popularity and ranking. But if getting traffic was easy and affordable we wouldn’t need this book.

The idea of a strong launch is now a mainstream strategy in the app community. In fact, the launch is so heavily depended upon now-a-days that app companies generally turn to ad networks and pay per download systems during that initial launch.

They use ads to attract users and the developer pays when they install it — better known as the “cost-per-install” method or (CPI). The goal is to play with the fact that the algorithm identifies those downloads as a sign that “this app must be doing something right”.

Cost Per Install

What attracts developers to this method is the fact that they only pay when the app is downloaded. Payment is made and a result is achieved: the download. Then those increased downloads benefit ranking status.

More downloads = more installs and a higher ranking.

Sounds easy but like many things this method is more complex than meets the eye.

To start, it is not a strategy for everyone and more and more companies have moved from CPI to other strategies like solid ASO or social media strategies.

Algorithm manipulation by pure brute paid downloads

Paid downloads (CPI) are used by almost every single app company on the planet and there is really nothing wrong with that.
It’s part of the game, everyone uses it.

CPI takes advantage of what can be considered a “weakness” in terms of the app store algorithm. The app ranking algorithm is highly dependent on downloads. A high dependence on any one thing puts any business at risk and, in this case, the app stores are at risk of manipulation because they put so much weight on downloads.

This may not sound like a weakness to you. You may be thinking, great — that’s my way in!

The reality is that the cost of an effective CPI campaign is much more than the average developer can afford. That is why it’s a strategy for the big boys and that is why it’s a weakness for the average developer — it’s hard to compete in that environment.

Obviously the app stores don’t like when you use 3rd parties to manipulate them either and that’s why the algorithm is always being tweaked to prevent a nuke of downloads to catapult you into the top charts.

So how does it work?

Easy: choose a dodgy Chinese company that you find in Google… buy a specific package of 10,000- 20,000 downloads for a specific obscure app store category, pay with PayPal and pray to god that it works.
That’s it.

As simple as that….
Seriously: the process is as plain as I just described it.

But, nuking the app store with downloads is as safe and secure of an investment as buying property in the moon. It may work eventually but there is no guarantee of it being a “safe” business move…

CPI Strategies — Incentivized and non-incentivized

On your end the CPI companies seem the same — pay for installs. But it’s how they get the installs that makes the companies differ — and this “how” is what you need to know to choose the right company.

The question is — do they use incentivized downloads? If yes, you should think twice and we’ll see why…

Of the different methods of getting installs they may use email lists, app sites, app discovery tools, websites and targeted ads, etc. These are the non- incentivized ones.

Before I get bombarded with emails from paid traffic companies telling me about my mistakes in describing CPI (cost per install), I need to clarify that not all CPI campaigns are wrong nor should they all be defined as black hat.

CPI is not always the same and in the CPI world we can find incentivized vs. non incentivized strategies. Oddly enough, the app stores seem to have a “beef” against incentivized and I do describe the disadvantages below, but in reality I believe there is a higher level of originality with incentivized downloads compared to non-incentivized.

With non-incentivized you only need to hand over your credit card details to the traffic company…. With incentivized you have to find a way to “inspire” your users (or mmm… bribe them?)

What is an incentivized app download?

Users are given something in exchange for your app. They may be playing another game and to obtain a virtual reward without paying in that game they can download your app for free. It’s an exchange for something they want.

Here’s an example…

A free app, created by an incentivized app download company, allows users to play for free but they must pay for additional purchases of virtual goods or extra features.

The app is nice, addictive, makes you feel that you can actually win the game, but deep inside you can’t, you will always be limited by the lack of “items” or “Smurf berries”…

Users are then offered these additional goods or features for free in exchange for downloading another app (potentially your app).

Users install the app, but since it wasn’t really something they wanted or were looking for they ignore it or uninstall it. There is no user loyalty to the installed app, nor do they perceive it to have any real value.

The user only agreed to download the app to get something else of
 interest. They didn’t want your app, they didn’t make any conscious decision to choose your app, therefore they don’t care about it — they are just doing it to get more berries to move to level 2 in the original app.

Not only that, but these random users of your app are not necessarily your target users. When you present your app to people that it is not meant for, you are more apt to get a negative review or a 1 star rating because the user doesn’t care about your app and doesn’t understand it.

The problem with this incentivized strategy is that in many cases the goal is just to increase ranking, then in an indirect way they can eventually win more organic traffic…

Ironic right?
Using inorganic traffic to achieve ranking to later on enjoy organic, healthy, clean traffic.

The problem with an incentivized download strategy is that it can backfire. People downloading your app are doing it for the extra bonus… for the “goodie”… and the person that downloaded this “other” app, has very little loyalty or desire to use, play or engage with the second app.

This could open the flood doors to a backlash that is hard to prevent and that could, instead, negatively manipulate your rank. Let’s remember: The goal is to increase your rank by getting installs, showing that people want your app — if users are immediately uninstalling the app this is not a good sign to the app store.

Is CPI black hat?

Once again: Not at all… it’s just another way to get downloads in a very, very difficult market.

The ROI of CPI and whether it’s worth it to get the App gods upset or not is a decision for every app company to decide. Big boys and publishers do it… and if they use it, I guess it provides a good user base generated through CPI.

CPI can be used as a strategy to bring new users to an app and potentially inspire them to become engaged fans and active users…however, if it is used to falsely inflate download numbers on a large scale it is likely to backfire eventually.

REAL BLACK HAT

Review Scrapping and Generating Software

So how does this work? Oh this is smart, very smart and has been out there for a very long time. The idea is simple, powerful and complicated to execute, but once it works it is brilliant.

The concept is: software scrapes reviews from iTunes, creating a huge collection/database of fake reviews. The reviews are created from a mix of formulas that make it look slightly legit at a quick glance. These reviews are then posted to the app’s review section of iTunes.

Example:
“Excellent App, had heaps of fun. I can’t wait for the new update, I’m giving it 5 stars — luv it!”

Usually the reviews will include some type of slang like “luv it” or “kool” to try to make them more legit and credible…

But mainly what the software is doing is posting reviews that are 100% false, taken from other apps in the same genre.

The reviews are posted from different devices, automated, and from different IPs (connections) to try to give the impression that the reviews are in fact “real”.

The desired effect is to manipulate the algorithm and try to create an increase in ranking across a certain portfolio of apps.

This type of software is usually subscription based and it is used by many (trust me — many) of the big players out there.

Manipulate the paid app category

This was a fascinating experiment that was executed like this: You price your app at a stupidly insane price — let’s say $1000. You get 10 friends to buy the app, and the app goes into Top Grossing apps for the day, right?

Once the app is in top position, your friends request a refund, and you, the owner of the $1000 app, drop the price of the app to $0.99 to try to reap the benefits of the organic traffic you’re achieving from being in the top position.

Smart? Not sure
Original? Clearly
Can it be reproduced easily? I doubt it.

But, they get 5 brownie points for trying!

My theory about black hat

If the app store was built by 5 teenagers sitting in their garage, while having burgers and playing Xbox… using black hat would be easy. But the engineers (yes, real engineers) behind the app store are not only smart, but they take pride in their work.

I always wondered if it is worth it to pursue the black hat way.
 The difference between me and many public appreneurs is that for me, black hat is not BAD… I’m not here to judge the ethics of it. I just wonder if it is worth the effort.

How much time, energy and how many resources are spent in trying to game the system?

I wonder if the same time, energy and brain cells could be spent doing something productive and smart, and that has a better chance of surviving in the long run.

Tracking & improving rankings

I hope by now we understand how or at least believe that search remains the most important factor by download volume for both Apple and Google Play (not surprising for Play since it’s coming to you from the creators of Google search).

Users, gamers, you, me, your family… we are all searching on a daily and weekly basis for apps. There are millions of new search phrases used every month and getting top rankings in search is essential to being visible to this massive audience.

In essence, if you are in the app business, ignoring ASO means letting the largest potential audience for your app fall through the cracks. (So that makes you pretty silly if you do).

Knowing how users are searching is one part of the process — knowing what they are searching for is another. This is where keyword research comes in and where you start to learn the “language” of potential customers in a few words… the exact words that those customers are looking for.

Combining keyword research and ranking tracking

Strangely, I see many developers and app companies that start keyword research AFTER their rank tracking, in other words, they approach keyword research once they realize they are not ranking for anything!

Or they have the opposite approach; they do keyword research at the beginning but don’t do any further tracking or research.

In the SEO world, we spend more time tracking and improving that in fact doing keyword research. In the ASO world, people think that once keyword research is done… the job is finished.

But the obvious question is: how will you know how your app is doing if you don’t effectively track and monitor its progress?

How can you know how well your ASO was done if you can’t identify if your app is actually ranking for those keywords that you aimed to target during your initial research?

Researching and finding keywords without constant monitoring and tracking is futile.

That is why it’s vital to monitor after doing the proper keyword research and be sure that your keyword research built the basic structure to start your “rank tracking monitoring campaign” (pretty long title right?).

In fact, this is one of the most challenging parts of ASO. Increasing ranking is easy initially buy improving after that is not so easy… and this is because we tend to track our progress and keywords in the wrong way.

Yes. Wrong.
 We are doing it the wrong way…

I have many different types of clients, but if I were to put them into 2 bold categories before I started working with them I’d choose one of the following groups:

  1. “I rank but no I have idea what I rank for” — this group being the 90%
  2. And the, “I rank but I’m only aware that I rank for 5 to 7 keywords — the rest is a mystery”

You see, it’s difficult to improve when you don’t know how good or bad you are.

Although we have ASO tools, we usually tend to use them incorrectly when we think of:

1) What keywords to rank
2) What keywords to ignore
3) How to properly monitor ranking and setup the tracking system.

Track Ranking the Right Way

Developers seem to think that when we start tracking app ranking that we are aiming to track specific keywords or single keywords. So I usually see in ASO tools the use of single words to identify ranking, not only is this simply wrong, but it’s also impractical.

And although this mentality is okay in “theory”… the lack of proper tracking destroys all our dreams.

Nobody searches for 1 single keyword so why to try to rank for (or even track the ranking of) a keyword like “fun”, “pet”, or “car”???

The goal of tracking is to understand for what keywords you are:

  1. Ranking
  2. Hoping to rank
  3. Not Ranking
  4. Not worth ranking for

So why are we trying to rank for 100% nonsensical keywords?
 The reason is because we tend to trust ASO tools and just accept the suggestions provided by these tools.

ASO tools tend to “throw us a bone” when we load our initial app. They have a setup-your-first-app “wizard” system, and they can usually recommend some keywords to start the process.

Those keywords are always “seed” keywords or core keywords that should only be used for that initial setup purpose.

Example
I add my plane simulator game
The ASO tool will suggest keywords like:

Air Plane Airbus Boeing Airport

But at any stage the ASO tool reveals the type of keywords that I’m looking for — I’m looking for long tail keywords, like:
Flying simulator
Air combat simulator

Jet fighter
Air combat game Etc.

So in many cases the ongoing tracking doesn’t fail because the tracking is wrong, it’s because the initial strategy was executed poorly. If you’re still only tracking single keywords your tracking is not accurate.

So the biggest challenge when we start to track keywords is to understand if we are targeting the right keywords. Or, in a few words, to identify if our App store optimization strategy is really working.

This is a real common problem that many companies face or “freeze” on when they think about getting on board with ASO.

Measuring the success of ASO campaigns is not easy, and this is mainly because the “value” we have given to ASO in the first place is highly misconstrued.

On one hand we have app marketing companies selling cost-per-install telling us that ASO is a non-valuable option to drive traffic, and on the other hand we have app store optimization fanatics, who claim that just ASO is enough to drive an app to the top of the charts.

So the question that I ask myself is…

Do we expect too much of ASO?

The answer is: Yes
In many cases companies, developers and appreneurs end up looking at ASO after being frustrated by other types of app marketing strategies. And this frustration is coming from their disappointment and impatience to see results.

We want ASO to give us new keyword opportunities, but we also expect ASO to bring us thousands of downloads; then we want to remain popular in the app stores without dropping out of the ranks post-launch.

We believe that if we can maintain the excitement built around the app during the launch and that our app provides enough value to the user, our app could be on the way to the top of the charts and all thanks to ASO… right?

The reality is that ASO is not just enough, ASO only becomes powerful if tracking is applied, if we spend enough time and we are patient. Only then, like in any other discipline, we will see the results.

Doing the tracking in the right way

Let’s get straight to the point, let’s understand how to do this. You need to track long tail keywords — period.

You don’t want your simulator to rank for plane… because I may be looking for a “plane ticket” and not for a “plane simulator”.

Got it?

The idea of ranking for 1 single keyword may feel nice… ego wise. But it is not practical and it doesn’t mean anything unless you rank for “big ticket” keywords like: dating, camera, cooking, productivity, puzzle.

Those keywords are golden keywords and those keywords are ones which indeed may have a very high “download intent” …

But because they are such high-demand keywords, using them as the reference for your ranking is not the smartest approach (especially if you are not a huge publisher).

So what do we need to track?

Say it again… Long tail keywords

So before we go in-depth into long tail keywords let me give you the definition of what a long tail keyword is:

Long tail keywords are keyword phrases composed of three or more words that collectively are more specific than a single keyword. Long tail keywords are more likely to convert to sales than shorter, more generic keywords because there is less competition for them. Generally, the more specific the search, the closer the searcher is to the act of purchasing a product or service.

Source: http://www.hieutrung.com/seo-sem-online-advertising/sem-online-advertising- glossary/

In my book a long tail keyword for apps starts with a combination of 2 keywords up to 4 keywords. I haven’t seen many long tail keywords with decent traffic that go beyond a 4 keyword combination. My suggestion is to stick with a 2 to 3 keyword combination.

The tracking needs to be done on long tail keywords that you identify in your keyword research, these keywords are the keywords that you are going to monitor via an ASO Tool.

These keywords obviously need to match your “target audience” and you need to have some level of justification of why you are choosing them.

Assuming you “did it right” those keywords will be relevant enough for you to understand if things are working or if they need improving after doing ASO.

Your competitors

What exactly your competitors are doing and how fast are they moving — that’s what you need to know.

Let’s not forget that for you to go up someone needs to down… and if you don’t understand who your real competitor is, then you are going to face some serious challenges.

Usually app companies identify their competitors based on BRAND competition and not app store competition levels, this is a typical mistake. You only compete versus the ones that are in the same race. Just because there are 210,000+ games in the Apple App Store, it doesn’t mean that I’m competing against all of them.

I only compete versus the 10 apps or less that are targeting my keywords.

Your category is your universe

This is where you want to understand what is going on — who the cool kids are and when new kids are coming to play.

With constant ASO your app should be increasing its ranking in the category… and with that you should see your evil competitors dropping below you.
 Not all categories are the same and choosing your category is like choosing the right or wrong battlefield, it can make a huge difference in the war for your overall app ranking success.

ASO in the Real World — How to run an ASO campaign

The stock market is dead easy. Haven’t you heard? Once you know where to put your money, what shares to buy and when to sell, it’s dead easy… anyone can make millions with the stock market, you just need to know your stuff! ;)

The same applies to ASO, it’s easy once you get your s**t together. So how do we run an ASO campaign in a successful way?

Mainly there are a few steps I take in any campaign that allow me to find hopefully the best keywords for my clients… before I start keyword research I usually take 6 steps to build my list of potential keywords and then I go in-depth to do the proper ASO process (where we tackle also non keyword related topics)

Here are the basic steps I take before starting my keyword research:

Pre-keyword research process

1. Use your own keyword pool
 2. Build keywords from different resources 3. Keyword espionage
 4. Ask people
 5. Trends
 6. Review scrapping

So these keywords will bring us as many options as possible… our challenge later on will be to focus on relevant keywords instead of the highest traffic volume keywords, because trust me: Finding keywords is easy… choosing the keywords to use is a different story.

1. Have your own keyword pool

This is the first step and, as strange as it is, this is when 60% of users (my own random stat!) will throw in the towel.

We start to build our own pool with traditional brainstorming — this is how any conventional keyword research gets started.

Begin by asking yourself some basic questions about your app — What does the app do? Who uses the app? What category does the app belong in?

This will bring you some logical terms related to your app (and later you can check how they stand against the rest of your list).

People look for apps that offer them something — whether it’s fun or function.

By tapping into their thinking process, you can come up with basic keywords on which to base your research efforts (the purpose, use and value of the app).

I call these keywords my seed keywords and these are terms that we come up with based on 2 different aspects: the app “actions” or functionality of the app and the niche or “angle”.

Let’s see a clear example:

Black and White camera (photography app):
 My seeds will be obviously related to the camera so…

  1. Camera
  2. Photo
  3. Lens
  4. Photography

Then I will use the topic, black and white…

  1. Black
  2. White
  3. Retro
  4. Classic

Why Retro? Why classic?
 I just came up with those keywords by thinking of a white and black camera effect. That’s all!

The seed keywords don’t need to be “perfect”; this is just brainstorming, a starting point.

2. Build a keyword list from different resources

This is an interesting part that many ASO fanatics seem to ignore. There is more in the world than just ASO tools…

I usually tend to use sites like http://thesaurus.com
 Where by putting the word “photo” I get potential ideas like

depiction
etching
sketch
vignette
snapshot
image

These type of potential keywords don’t always need to make sense… they are just there to increase our “seed” keywords and expand our potential list of long tail keywords.

The goal is to have a very very very (3 times very) large database of long tail keywords where we can define those ones where we stand a better chance to achieve certain level of ranking.

So if the thesaurus doesn’t give you results, you may also want to head to good old Google…

Google can also be used as a keyword indicator. Note that keywords are simplified in the app stores as compared to online search engines, so the queries are not exactly the same.

However, search results associated with a particular app can reveal related keywords, in addition to the additional recommendations in the “Searches related to [keyword used]”. Keyword searches in major search engines also give insights into how competitive those keywords are.

Also, don’t disregard the Google Keyword Planner as irrelevant for apps. While it is not app-specific, it does give an indication of traffic volume and can be used to support data found in the ASO keyword tools.

Let’s remember what are trying to achieve here:
You’re looking for insights on general “human search behavior” which is data that can be applied to the app market.

Search terms used in Google search are also terms used in the App Store and Google Play — in a more simplified version. But if people “Google it”, they’re looking for it.

3. Keyword espionage

Keyword espionage is simple… find out what keywords your potential competitors may be using. Look at the titles of competing apps as well as where they show up in related app store searches.

Let’s face it:
Where better to see what keywords people are using than in the apps they have already found? Spying on competitors is an important source of information.

It’s a process that you can do manually or by using an ASO tool. Using a tool will be much faster and potentially more precise.

The keyword spy feature in ASO tools is far from perfect and many developers and app creators think they are in fact “spying” on the real keywords of their competitors (within iOS market).

The reality is a bit less romantic; keyword spying in the App Store is a semi- professional guessed result, not a 100% accurate indication of what your competitor is really targeting.

These guessed keywords are usually obtained from a private database, mixed with the indexing of the description and even with the content of some reviews and obviously, with the title of the app.

Again, this is a tool that is only effective if you use it with a certain level of curiosity and incredulity.

Nevertheless, if you are planning to use this feature, be sure to look first to the title where the keywords have more weight. Then, do some related searches and see where the competitors come up in the rankings. This means, you want to spy on those “strong” competitors, and not those that are nowhere to be seen in the ranking of keywords for which you expect your app to rank.

5. Ask the masses.

“Give to the masses what the masses want!”

Unfortunately this is not easy in an ultra-shy community where we prefer to connect via Facebook than ask people directly in that place called “the real world”. Personally I love to see people in “action” searching… it always intrigues me to look at the way they search, what they type, what they click…

So, heading to the streets and asking real people can be an eye-opening experience. Ask people in and outside your target demographic about the words they would use to search for your type of app or similar.

Get out of your comfort zone — stop asking your best friends, your girlfriend or boyfriend via a private Facebook message. Instead, do something wild: Ask people, real people.

6. Trends

Trends come and go and we tend to forget that trends are more than holiday trends… everything is a trend, from Flappy Birds, to Candy Crush, to What does the Fox say… to Disney movies.

Using Google Trends can really help you find potential keywords that used to be popular and may now have lost intensity but still remain relevant to your app or still have some type of traffic.

7. Reviews scrapping…

There are potential keywords lurking in places we wouldn’t think to look, one of them is in the reviews of the apps we are competing against. Within app review text there are keywords waiting to be discovered, that can give us a clue to potential keywords to add to our “pool”.

App reviews, especially the 5-star-rated ones, may contain positive keywords related to the app that come to mind for the app user. Finding these keywords can be done manually or with an ASO tool.

A review feature in an ASO tool helps by finding, counting and ranking recurring words and word combinations within the reviews of a given app.

Mainly the way it works is:
 You can see at a glance the keywords that are used most with positive ratings, a positive rating bias, which are the keywords most likely to be used when searching.

Clearly your goal is to find “keyword ideas” not “adjective ideas”. So keywords like awesome, fun, cool, groovy… are not the type of keywords we are looking for.

We want to find those keywords that describe the function or purpose of the app reviewed, keywords that we can use to improve our keyword research process.

Once we are done with these steps it’s time for us to move ahead with the keyword research… This is where we really start the process.

Deeper into keyword research

Now, I will go further into the keyword research process, and before getting to the specifics, here is an overview of the steps:

  1. Use of ASO tools and data analysis
  2. Choose Potential Titles
  3. Keyword Field Selection
  4. Localization
  5. Ongoing tracking and optimization

1. Official data analysis
 Use your chosen ASO tool to analyze your keywords for strength and relevance.

This is another place where everyone seems to freeze… they overthink the process. Is a keyword too difficult… is there too much competition… should I include it?

We simply don’t overanalyze to start with. The important part is to compile the data first. Find those numbers, and store them.

Low competition numbers may look amazing initially if we are looking at a specific long tail keyword series, but if we stop the research once we find 5 to 10 long tail keywords, we could easily miss even better opportunities in the “next round” or research.

So that means, we analyze every single keyword combination that meets a logical target (and by logical target I mean… that if we find the keyword Black and White Chess for our white and black Camera, we will ignore it from future analysis).

So in a few words: we do the ground work first, then we analyze and we choose the keywords later.

2. Choosing a potential title
 By this stage we have already some clear idea of keywords and what is going to bring the strongest combination… those strong keywords are the ones we may consider for our title.

This usually happens after slowly narrowing our pool of keywords.

Our pool of potential keywords is always larger and richer than required. This means that we always have extra keywords for a potential “paid” app or as backup in case our existing research fails to rank.

3. Keyword field selection
 This is what we wanted right? This is where we select our beloved 100

characters for iTunes or the mysterious keywords for Google.

Keyword field for Apple, description for Google Play.

This seems to be an easy part for many regarding Apple but for Google Play it’s a mystery… how many keywords to select, where to add them, etc (more about Google Play in future chapters).

4. Localization
 Once we find the keywords the question to ask ourselves is: Are we going to

target different markets, and why?

Proper ASO localization of metadata is not cheap and is usually done incorrectly by using automatic translators that really just translate the keywords but don’t produce those long tail keyword combinations that the local market is looking for.

Localization is one of those methods that if you do it properly, the success can be huge, but if you take easy shortcuts usually the difference is too small to even consider as a serious step in the ASO process.

More on challenges with app localization here in my video:

5. Ongoing tracking and optimization.
 More on the importance of continual optimization here in my video:

Doing Keyword Research

Since you’re reading this book it’s obvious that you want to take control of your app ranking and do ASO yourself vs. outsourcing.

Many developers who try to do keyword research themselves find the process complex and overwhelming.

So let’s try to simplify this as much as possible to get you ranking in no time! Are you ready?! (I’m trying to inspire you here…. So play along!)

Before we start with keyword research we need to respect it and realize that it is our only tool to empower ourselves to have a certain level of control over the ranking of our app.

Fortunately, there are things that we can control when it comes to app optimization — things that we can directly choose, test and improve. Then, there are things that we can’t.

For example: Reviews and retention levels are hard to directly influence without sketchy black hat tactics like buying reviews — although you can apply different tactics like crowd sourced reviews or review exchanges without breaking the rules of the app store.

But on the other hand, things we actually can control are the “contextual factors” of the app.

Control the contextual factors

No idea what contextual factors are?

Let me explain this in plain SEO for beginners terminology:
The contextual factors are the bits of information that are displayed on your app page — the title and description with the integrated, all-important keywords.

These are what the app store algorithm reads to understand your app and, if done correctly, this content can improve your position in the rankings.

Note: The contextual factors together are an important element of ranking your app. But, these elements are not the only variables that the algorithm takes into consideration. These will be addressed in the following sections.

The strength of your contextual factors revolves around the performance of your keywords. The app name/title (in both platforms), description (in Google Play) and keyword field (in Apple App Store) should be created around the best performing keywords you can find.

Although the app title, app name, keyword description, keyword placement, or off-page factors (to be discussed later) are crucial for improving your chances of ranking… there is ONE specific thing you can do to improve the chances of an increase in ranking: Decent and smart keyword research.

So let’s dive in and understand how to do “smart keyword research” shall we?

Getting your Priorities right

So, you finished brainstorming and you have a huge list of potential keywords — some of them are weird, some of them make no sense, some of them you have no idea if they are actually popular or not.

OK. Good job.

Now comes the hard part — evaluation and selection.

You won’t just pick your favorite words and add them into the title and description. The keywords you select, determine the apps that you’ll be competing with in the market, so you’ll want to choose wisely to increase your ranking potential.

To optimize your list of keywords you will need to prioritize what is most important. Unlike SEO and website ranking where traffic is king, what is most important in ASO is keyword relevance and difficulty.

Then, a few other factors come into play as well. The final list should be supported by the data you found, but will incorporate a measure of intuition and educated guesses about the market as well.

In the first step we built our mega “pool of keywords”, do you remember? OK, now these are the main points to focus on when considering each keyword as a potential “search term”:

Focus on: Relevance

Using relevant keywords will not only increase the probability of people finding your app, but will also make sure the RIGHT people are finding your app.

This process works differently across different platforms.

The Apple App Store is not especially good at finding loose connections between words that have similar meaning, not like Google…

So let’s presume you are looking for an awesome flying simulator and you put the term “F22” (which, if you don’t know, is an awesome jet)
 So we presume that the app store will relate “jet” and “F22” or even “jet” and “plane”… but it doesn’t.

That’s how bad the Apple App Store really is ;)

On the other hand, Google has the technology required in its algorithm to design a better connection between terms. So it is likely that when you look for “jet”, your F22 plane simulator will appear.

The point is, when the right people find your app they are likely to download it because it is exactly what they were looking for, so be sure you know which “keyword” it is that ignites their search process.

Focus on: Difficulty

In order to understand which keywords will be too difficult or just the right level of difficulty to rank within the top 10, you can look at keywords that your app is already ranking top 10 for.

From your list of top 10 ranking keywords, find the average difficulty rating among them and use that as your base. Then, filter your potential keyword list against your base number, choosing keywords that have the same difficulty rating or less. This will provide a realistic expectation of the keywords you can achieve ranking with.

Now although this is the “standard” theory… the problem with keyword difficulty is that it’s usually automatic from ASO tools. This means, they are giving you random data calculated by a formula.

There is no human input and you can really only understand how difficult is to compete vs. 10, 20 or 50 apps.

I personally ignore the difficulty factor and focus more on the traffic and the potential ranking.

I don’t want an ASO tool to “scare” me because a keyword is very difficult, especially if I believe the competition is weak and the traffic is worth going for. But more about how to analyze competition levels in the “Competition” chapter.

Focus on: Traffic

You should now have a list of relevant keywords that have an achievable level of difficulty. The final step is to filter by traffic volume — the higher the better!

Now one of our million dollar questions is: What is considered “high traffic”? Well, it’s difficult to determine because we don’t have exact numbers; it all depends on the ASO tool that you are using to guesstimate how popular one keyword is.

In my books, if you use a tool like Sensor Tower, anything that has a score higher than 2 is fair game… everything that has a score higher than 5 is usually going to be a “golden keyword” — difficult to rank for.

But keep in mind: The highest traffic and highest difficulty keywords will not allow for ranking by a new app without many downloads.

The more potential downloads a keyword may bring, the higher the levels of competition will be. So, it is wise in many cases to stick with keywords that have less competitors and decent traffic, to achieve “easy victories” first.

Unfortunately, even with the help of ASO tools, we don’t have exact data of how much traffic a specific keyword produces and it is virtually impossible to have that information…

So our findings using ASO tools are only going to be “estimates” of potential traffic… just like with the difficulty score.

How to find and select keywords

There are many ways we can go when doing keyword research and one of the most fascinating aspects in my life, as a boring ASO consultant, is to discover how other developers are in fact laying out their process when doing keyword research. Here are the 3 most common approaches:

3 Recipes for ASO Keyword Research

Just like your family recipes differ from family to family, your recipe for app success may look different than that of another app developer.

The ASO tools you use will play a part in your search but it’s important to have a plan of attack, a strategy for keyword research that makes the most of your research efforts.

Before jumping into the step by step process, decide on a strategy. The starting point is different in each approach but in every case the goal is to find the optimal app search terms.

Here are 3 different recipes — 3 different approaches — to keyword research that can work for you:

1. Start broad and narrow the niche

A combination of keywords, or as we call them “long tail keywords”, are not just born, they are created… and to create them we first need to find them.

Starting broad and narrowing the niche is the most commonly used technique; we start with a broad or generic idea and then start eliminating highly competitive keywords or sub niches, just as we practiced in the previous chapter. (I hope you remember)

Example: I’m looking at the keyword “simulator”

Within the simulator niche I could find:
car simulator
plane simulator
helicopter simulator

Once I find some level of competition, traffic and difficulty I can start moving my research to more narrow topics: real “niche” topics.

Example: I could move my research from plane simulator to jet combat simulator. In this example the end result takes me to a topic related to… Second World War Plane Simulator, a nice narrow niche to attract a targeted audience.

How narrow is too narrow? More on this in my video:

2. Piggyback off of the (not-so) big boys

This is the strategy made famous by people like Chad Mureta, and many “main stream” app marketing gurus. The strategy goes something like this:

“Go out there and scan the top app charts, see what the top apps are doing and do the same”.

Although this used to be a seriously “ninja” strategy, it is now a very common strategy and tends to be overused by every single developer out there playing the game of “cloning” or “re-skinning” apps.

The strategy strength was simply to piggyback off of trending app names.
So as soon as a new little app popups on the top 100, developers from all over the world would start cloning it and trying to rip the profits of the potential traffic that those new trending keywords may bring.

Does it work? Yes…

Long term strategy?
Only if you always want to be chasing your own tail.

This strategy only works if you are:

  1. fast enough
  2. lucky enough

Why fast? Why Lucky?
 Because you are not the only one trying to piggyback on other app names and in many cases the app you want to piggyback on, will not have enough power or demand to leave you enough traffic rewards.

In my point of view by looking beyond the top 100 to the top 300, you can find many apps that are ranking well organically that may not be as targeted by competitors.

What it involves:
 Do keyword research based on the app titles and the variations of keywords that people are searching for.

Then, by using a process of reverse engineering we can discover more about their ranking keywords and how they are ranking so well.

By piggybacking on not-so-popular keywords now, there is less competition as well as potential for growth as the keyword grows in popularity.

3. Setting a sniper target

This approach involves targeting keywords with low competition to guarantee ranking. It requires courage and patience to focus the app keywords so narrowly, as well as thorough keyword research.

These are typically less sexy, less interesting topics but can easily rank — number of competitors should range from 10–20, maximum. Categories such as productivity, business, and utilities often fare better under ASO strategies as the functions and value of the app are clear, allowing for precise, targeted keywords.

More here on narrowing the niche in my video:

Regardless of the strategy

One of the most important points to consider is the conversion potential of keywords — no matter the approach.

Anyone can come up with a list of keywords, but the question then becomes: Are those keywords “converting keywords” or just long tail keywords that bring no real “users” willing to spend?

That’s the real million dollar ASO question.
By focusing your efforts on a systematic strategy you can begin to decipher the high value keywords from the duds.

More about how to improve our chances of success with our own ASO strategy, later in the book.

WHO IS YOUR COMPETITION?

In my first book I completely ignored the concept of competition and during the last months I have seen that more and more people seem to obsess about the idea of difficulty when doing ASO.

How difficult is a keyword?
How competitive is a keyword, really?

The conflict regarding the idea of keyword difficulty is thanks to the “score” of difficulty provided by ASO tools.

Although this score is a “nice” thing to have, it makes us lazy to really understand who we are competing against and to go deeper and analyze the real levels of competition and difficulty for desired keywords.

Understanding real competition

To understand what is going on, I need to go back in time 5 years, to the good old days of my life as an SEO consultant.

In the early days of SEO, small time SEO wannabe gurus used to claim they would “rock the world” because they could rank a website in top position for a keyword with 5,717,012 search results by Google.

This amazing “achievement” was usually debunked when you questioned them about the competition for that keyword.

One simple statement used to be enough destroy all those egos, and that self- proclaimed amazing strategy…

The statement was: search results and real level of competition are completely different concepts; the amount of search results doesn’t equal the level of competition.

In ASO something similar happens.

Not everyone that ranks for the keyword you are aiming for is in fact a competitor, in the same way when professional marathon runners compete in New York marathon they are not competing versus 10,000 people.

You, as an amateur runner trying to finish the New York Marathon, are not (sorry to burst your bubble) the “competitor” of a Nigerian Olympic gold medalist.

Those guys, the “real” runners, compete vs. the real athletes — those who trained to win the marathon. From 10,000 runners only 10 or so are real competitors.

So to understand who our competitors really are, we need comprehend how competitive the key phrases are.

Once we know the level of real difficulty , we can really know who are the difficult guys to beat… or who are the 10 top “athletes” we need to run faster than.

Reading the Ranking (what exactly are we looking at?)

I’m a visual guy and I like to “see” data rather than read data. I believe that an image can really explain the picture better than thousands of lines of data. My ASO reports are usually full of colors — red for the bad selections, green for the good ones, arrows that go up, arrows that go down…

That’s why I like to see results that I can easily export and organize what I’m looking at, especially when looking for competitors.

Factors I usually need to understand about my competitors are:

  • How often an app has been updated
  • When was the app launched
  • How many reviews since the last update
  • How many lifetime reviews
  • Who is the publisher
  • What is the average rating/review score
  • What keyword the title targets
  • What other keywords the app may rank for

As you can see, this is a bit more complex than just looking at a difficulty score and making a quick conclusion.

Here’s a bit about tracking competitors in my video:

So what am I trying to achieve by looking at this competitor data?

  1. I want to find those apps that are ranking and that I believe are ranking by mistake.
  2. I’m trying to find the apps that are ranking and are active and alive, that enjoy real popularity and that are constantly updating.
  3. I want to know what apps may be doing ASO or may be actively doing marketing.
  4. I want to understand if someone that I believe “doesn’t deserve to be there” is in fact ranking for the keyword I want to rank for…

And I can only achieve that by going deeper than an average score.

So let’s have a look at the influential factors I mentioned above:

How often an app has been updated

This is the first sign to understanding if an app is alive. The number of updates not only tells me that there is a team behind the app and that the app is making progress, but it also tells me if there is a market.

App developers tend not to update their app unless it is vital; if there is no “market” or buyers/users, then there is no real need to keep improving the app.

Constant updates also show me there is money… Why keep making updates if you are losing money? Profitable apps make updates, apps in crisis stop doing updates at certain stage.

Apps with just 1 update or version 1, shows me that they are there by “mistake” or thanks to a clear weakness in the market.

When was the app launched

This is something vital. If an app was launched in 2010 and it has only 1 update I know by now that: the app has no ASO and I can predict that the app has bugs by now thanks to new devices and, potentially there is no one “behind it”.

If the app was launched recently, I can determine their ranking could be thanks to a “new app” effect… so potentially that ranking is not 100% stable and as soon as the “launch rush” downloads drop, that app could easily plummet down.

How many reviews since the last update

This is vital: Apps with low numbers of reviews with an update done 3–6 months ago tells me that there is a clear weakness for that keyword. Also, apps with a large number of reviews after a very recent update can indicate to me that a significant amount of traffic can be generated for that keyword, with so many reviews in such a small period.

Reviews are a clear indication of potential traffic and they are a great sign to keep us motivated, also please check the “Why Reviews Matter” chapter when we discuss the serious power of reviews under the new algorithm.

How many lifetime reviews

Initially, we can be overwhelmed by a competitor with a huge number of reviews, but reviews lose ranking weight depending on the amount of time they have been up.

To make this simple to comprehend, if you have an app that has 10,000 reviews in 2011, that doesn’t mean those reviews are going to be enough to keep it “up there” in 2014.

It’s important to clarify that, in iOS, reviews lose weight after every update, making it frustrating and sometimes scary to update an app. One single binary code update can bring your ranking down thanks to the important weight those reviews carry.

Who is the publisher

My paranoid brain believes that big publishers will have an authority or trust factor with different algorithms, in fact, with both main algorithms, Apple and Google Play.

Understanding how big the publishing house launching the app really is can give me an indication if the traffic is organic and if the reviews are, in fact, organic.

If EA games is ranking on my competitor list, I can clearly define that they are not there just thanks to ASO… they are there because they have the authority to “drive” rank thanks to a sheer insane amount of downloads.

What is the average rating review/ score

I don’t need to explain with exact data why this is a must. The algorithm clearly prefers apps with higher ratings on average, compared with the ones in the lower range. Finding apps with very bad reviews and a low average rating among my “competition” gives me the confidence that my job is just to position my app better.

Obtain better reviews, provide a better experience and hopefully the algorithm (fingers crossed) will reward us for that.

What keyword the title targets

A pure basic of ASO is: What keyword is being targeted in the title of our competitor? This is a very basic concept and many times we believe it is not so relevant but it is still a huge factor.

Apps with the keyword in the tile tend to rank higher than apps without it: simple.

Does it make us wish the algorithm was better, more advanced, more intuitive? Yes.

But that is the way it works and therefore this is a strong point to consider when looking at competitors.

What other keywords the app may rank for

This last part takes longer to analyze as it usually requires us to do a reverse engineering of the app that we are trying to analyze. Tools like AppAnnie are brilliant for showing us the previous app ranking in different countries, helping us to understand when and where the app used to dominate.

Once we have found what keyword they rank for in different markets, it can give us clues about potential opportunities in areas that, at first glance, we may have overlooked.

Meet the Expert: Ian Sefferman Founder of MobileDevHQ

Q1: ASO has evolved a lot in the last 2 years, what are the biggest differences you see? How far have we come?

A: The biggest difference I’ve noticed, since we began this wild journey of ASO two years ago, is the importance marketers are beginning to place on ASO. Two years ago, barely anyone focused on organic app marketing and ASO — it was entirely about using paid app install ads to drive Top Charts positions.

Today, that mentality is dwindling: costs are going up, the benefit is going down, the platform owners are clamping down, and the value of the installs are lowering. To combat this, marketers are looking at better channels such as ASO where the value of the user is high and the marginal cost per install is low. We have a lot of room to grow in ASO, but the traction we’ve received in two years is pretty impressive.

Q2: What are some of the typical mistakes developers make when doing App store optimization?

A: The single biggest mistake we often see is developers and marketers believing ASO is a silver bullet. They hope that a single title change will result in huge download boosts and that they’ll never have to look at their ASO again. That’s simply wrong — ASO is an iterative process that rewards those who continue working and improving with every chance they get.

Q3: How important is competition analysis during the process of ASO? What are some of the strategies you recommend?

A: Competitive intelligence is one of the core pieces of ASO. The app stores are filled with competition for every imaginable niche. As a marketer, you have to know how those apps are performing, how they’re thinking, what their users are saying, and so on. I recommend performing an in-depth competitive analysis at least once a quarter and supplementing that with ongoing competitive intelligence at least weekly.

Follow their keywords, follow their reviews, their updates, etc. Set up alerts so you know when they’re making moves, when people are talking about them, and so on. Get as deep as you can — simple one word matches in reviews isn’t enough, find out what users are _really_ saying (in phrases, sentences, and by rating).

Q4: What about localization? How important is localization and proper ASO in specific local languages?

A: Localization is also critically important to the ASO process. You have to be sure you know the markets you’re entering, their culture, and their propensities. Localization isn’t running your description through Google Translate — it’s getting deep knowledge and insights into a market to ensure domination.

Q5: Let’s talk about social signals and reviews… How relevant and strong are those factors in the search algorithm in iOS and Google Play?

A: Social and reviews continue to become an increasingly important part of rankings in ASO. In particular, Google Play has publicly stated that +1s to your app’s Google Play detail page help your ranking in Google Play search. Likewise, reviews and ratings are highly correlated to ASO rankings in both iOS and Google Play.

Q6: Where do you see ASO evolving to in the next year?

A: My personal hope is to see (some of) the following new things hit ASO: paid search, more sophistication in algorithms, better spam detection, more analytics for marketers, more deep linking, a convergence between web and mobile (e.g. Google App Indexing), seamless sharing, and I’m sure plenty more. :)

Q7: Tell us about Sonar… and how sonar helps us to know what is really going on with the algorithm.

A: Sonar is a reverse engineering of the app store’s algorithms. That means that we can tell when an app store is changing their algorithm, allowing marketers to know whether their ranking change is due to something they did or something the platform did — and react accordingly.

We can do this because of the amount of search terms we track on a daily basis (over a million!), which allows us to see the average amount of change in results on a daily basis — if this spikes well out of its normal range, we can assume there has been a larger, more widespread algorithm change.

Q8: You have witnessed big app agencies moving more and more toward the ASO path. What has pushed that shift and how are big app agencies focusing on ASO?

A: Traditional enterprises, brands, and advertising/marketing agencies are the next wave of mobile. Every large business now realizes that mobile is where they need to be to reach their customers. This will drive a large scale adoption of ASO, as brands can’t compete with gaming companies and start-ups who focus on performance marketing and spend copious amounts on paid app install ads.

Instead, brands will have to focus on search and intent-driven distribution. Personally, I think this will be a huge win for ALL app marketers, helping to create better tools, better processes, and more sophistication from platform owners.

Apple versus Google Play

The existence of an algorithm creates the premise that guessing or predicting the algorithm may give us an open door to being able to manipulate the results that this algorithm provides.

At the end of the day any algorithm is a script and that script needs to perform certain automatic decisions based on variables…

The variables are the mysterious part that Apple, Google, Amazon or any other app store refuse to tell us.

Just looking at the most popular algorithm in the world — the Google algorithm — we can see how complex that “multimillion-dollar script” really is.

It’s an algorithm built by the best and nerdiest mathematicians in the world… With over 200 variables and, in many cases, the algorithm itself gets updated over 70 times in 1 single year!

So if you are trying to guess how the algorithm behaves in every single situation you will be wasting your time…

So how do we predict ranking?

How do we try to outsmart Google or Apple? The answer is simple: We don’t.

Investing energy in outsmarting could be better invested in understanding the core variables of each algorithm –those core variables that are easy for us to detect, analyze and predict.

Knowing 200 variables mean nothing

What do we really need to know about those 200 variable factors in an algorithm like Google’s, if in fact only 20% of them are in our control?

If app “age” is a factor in ranking… you can’t do a thing, can you?

If uninstalls from users is one of those factors…. you really can’t do a thing, can you? (OK. You can try to improve the app and prevent that, but you get the point right?)

Therefore the important point here is to identify what you can do versus what you can’t do.

Things you can do to influence the algorithm:

  • ASO
  • Keyword Research
  • Social media
  • Link building / PR
  • Keyword density
  • Copywriting
  • Optimization of description
  • Traffic to app page

So let’s talk about the differences and challenges of Google and Apple and provide some quick highlights and pointers…

Google vs. Apple

As if being an app developer wasn’t challenging enough, when we think of ranking we also have to change our shift every time we change the algorithm.

Mainly developers move between 2 systems: Apple and Google Play.

In an ideal world Apple and Google might find a common denominator to rank apps…

But we all know that’s not going to happen. More likely, each company will stick to their rules and algorithm to fully control the way their Apps get ranked.

So let’s just accept it — different markets require different submission guidelines and have different features and rules.

Each submission to a new store, whether Apple App Store, Google Play or another alternative, must be reconsidered and submitted accordingly.

When we look at our strategy for different platforms we need to include ranking, which therefore becomes more of a daunting feat.

Keeping up with ASO involves keeping up with the changes in different markets. Tracking and testing may have different results depending on the market.

Let’s look at how the 2 stores differ:

Algorithm differences

  • In my point of view, the way the algorithm works in the Apple app store makes predicting results more complicated than in Google play. The integration of Chomp in 2012 into the traditional App Store made for a combined algorithm that is a challenge to understand fully. Apple seems to be patching an algorithm that has been broken for ages and in many cases the results are still irrelevant and the search experience extremely poor.
  • Accuracy of search and understanding related search terms is the Google Play algorithm’s strength. It is, after all, a baby version of the “big” Google algorithm.
  • The Google Algorithm has patterns and fail systems that are more automatic than Apple’s. In the next chapters I will talk about how Apple fails to prevent manipulation and how many of their measures are in fact manual measures showcasing the basic (poor) behavior of its search technology.

App Name Titles

  • Apps submitted in the Apple App store have a limit of 255 characters so several keywords can be worked into a readable title. This can give you a lot of leeway to write a very long app title.
  • Google Play’s name field is only 30 characters long so 2 or 3 carefully selected keywords should be used in the title, again in a readable format (not just a jumble of keywords — Google will take you down as soon as they understand what you are doing).

Keywords

  • Keywords in Apple are recognized as ranking signals in the title and in the 100 character keyword field; keywords here should be used once and not repeated. Although Apple also has a description field, the keywords within it are not currently used as ranking signals in Apple.
  • Keywords in Google Play are recognized as ranking signals in the title and throughout the description, a 4000-character field. Keywords should be repeated 3 to 4 times for optimal ranking without creating any “keyword stuffing” and by trying to make the keywords flow naturally in the description.

Google Play Optimization

The theory behind the Algorithm

If you’re familiar with SEO strategies, for SEARCH Engine Optimization, then ASO for Google Play will be a natural transition. Some skills for online search optimization are transferrable to the app store search environment in Google Play.

The algorithm used by Google’s web search has been simplified and applied to Google Play so the ranking position of an app is determined by various indicators that Google uses to define your app. Together these indicators, or variables as I like to call them, make up the overall algorithm, or formula, for ranking in the Google Play search function.

The Google Play algorithm has serious difficulties with detaching itself from the way the main Google Algorithm works. Think of Google Play Algorithm as the little baby from the Big Fat Mama Google.com search algorithm.

This means in plain English, that Google Play Algorithm’s MAIN construction and logic can only work under the same parameters of the original Google algorithm.

So what does this mean for you?

Learn what works for a website, and you may have a clear indication of what will work with your App Page.

What works on sites… and what will always work on sites.

The SEO world has changed a lot… so many times that I lose track and many times I wonder why the heck I still work in an industry that is more volatile than any stock market during armageddon times…

But the reality is that regardless of how many changes Google does to the algorithm there are some basic points that remain predominant after so many years.

My goal here is to explain the theory of the Google ranking parameters and later on (in the next chapter) to show how you can implement them on your own site, app video or your Google Play page.

Before we start…. Let’s understand the importance of using Google “real estate” and its role in Google Play ranking: http://youtu.be/yH_A8vXybqg

Understanding RELEVANCY

The whole idea of why Google dominates the Search engines is because they came up with the way of detecting how relevant a site was when people searched a defined keyword.

I’m not going to tell you here what a keyword is, because I’m sure you have a clue already, ;) … but instead I want to talk about what being relevant means to Google after all these years.

Being relevant for a certain topic means providing CONTENT that semantically relates to the search term coming from the user.

So if you are looking for “German Shepherd Puppy tips”…

And your site talks about comparing different types of breeds when choosing a puppy… Then you may appear as part of the results.

Maybe you don’t talk about German Shepherd puppy tips directly… But in your content you may mention German Shepherds as well as different generic tips when buying a puppy.

Got it?
Pretty logical… Right?

Now the catch is to try to identify the way Google co-relates topics.

That’s, to what level my “German Shepherds” search will trigger different pages in the results… And to what extend different pages are considered “related” by Google.

Understanding this level of correlation is a must. Not only does it give you an advantage in being able to attract different traffic but it gives you an insight into the way Google “thinks”.

So how the heck do you relate this “relevancy” to Google Play?

A semantic result also happens in the Google Play market and the only way Google relates different apps is via “content”: words… keywords… descriptions.

Google can’t test every single app in the Google Play market, therefore the only way to correlate apps is by using the same rules.

Is it perfect? No, not by far….

The capacity of Google to really understand what I’m looking for is limited by its own algorithm.

The way they identify keywords sometimes prevents them from understanding that long tail keywords in fact don’t mean what the individual keywords entitle.

Let’s talk about… Rotten Tomatoes

Rotten Tomatoes is one of the best/top movie review sites out there. Huge authority, thousands of daily visitors and millions of pages full of rich content.

But what happens when I ask Google to tell me…

How to prevent my tomatoes from going rotten?

The results are NOT ideal…

In fact the results that I land on are mainly coming from the rottentomatoes.com main site.

Why is that?

Can’t Google understand that I really have an issue and I want my tomatoes to grow healthily, instead of how to prevent something to do with the movie review site?

Relevancy in the Google play store

How does this apply to apps…?

Well, this simple, little example with tomatoes can really become an issue regarding app store optimization if you decide to use titles for Apps that are a bit “tricky”, “naughty” or “too smart”…

By using keywords that are difficult to identify the meaning of, Google can find difficulty “allocating” your app’s keywords and SEARCH can become a bit more challenging.

Let’s presume you are working in a kids app… it’s a nice game app where a little bunny runs in a dream world full of sunny flowers… whatever.

You have the app called… Sweet Dreams Bunny

Although the name makes it clear it is an app for kids — or an app ;) created by The Playboy Mansion…

The most probable thing is that Google will relate the “sweet dreams” expression with “sleep well” or “sleep” related topics.

Obviously this is not always the case, but it’s important to understand that Google Play does not play/use/download and THEN catalogue your app; therefore you need to be clear about how the algorithm approaches results for your specific keyword.

Ready to see this in real life?

Go to your amazing Android Tablet and do 5 different searches in Google Play, each for a different keyword…

You want to identify if 70% of the app results for each are aligned in the same category.

If you see that 70% of all the apps for a search fall into the same category, it means that Google understands that the apps are related and it has a clear co- relation between the keyword and the category.

Example:
The keyword baby will bring family/kids apps
The keyword time management will bring productivity apps. The keyword currency exchange will always bring finance apps

Versus:
The keyword “Salsa” as a keyword results can bring cooking or dancing

“Achieve results” as a keyword, can bring apps in the health category, productivity, utilities.

“Save Money” can bring apps in the travel section and finance “Diary” can bring apps in health as well as productivity

So the first step really is to recognize the way Google identifies your keywords…

If you see mixed results related to your app’s terms, try to avoid those keywords and go as precise as possible.

So if your app is an app that helps scuba divers to improve their underwater skills, choose “Scuba Diving Super App” vs. “Diving App”.

The reason?

“Diving” may trigger results related to the Olympic diving sport instead of the awesome underwater sport… that deep inside you know is much better than jumping from a boring piece of board. (Hey! I’m a scuba diving instructor).

How do apps really get ranked? (within Google Play)

There are some clear factors for ranking (some not necessarily unique to Google):

  • App metadata with appropriate keyword density (this means, in a few words, title and description)
  • Number & quality of reviews and ratings — how many people have rated and reviewed your app positively vs. how many hated it?
  • Download volume and velocity — the number of downloads and the rate of change over the past 30-day period (speed and freshness of downloads). The more competitive your keyword or the category is, the more downloads you need in order to impress Google and rank higher. So this means you may need less downloads to rank in one category vs. a different (smaller) category.
  • Usage of the app — how often your app gets used, how many active installs it has, and how many uninstalls
  • Links (oh controversy here we go) — Yes… inbound links to the app’s Play Store page are factors, that’s links from trusted web sources to your app
  • Google+ votes
  • Composite score — the quality of your product based on your app’s history can be a way for Google to establish a page rank system for app developers. This includes ratings, uninstall rates and refund rates.

So if these are the factors… How do we optimize in the app stores? Let’s get started shall we?

Optimizing Google Play Content

So how do we optimize a Google Play page? First we need to do a keyword research process.

In iOS we aim to get our 100 characters; in Google play we want to find around 5 to 10 potential long tail keywords.

Here is an example of a previous ASO job, in which we started with the conventional keyword research. This case was for a Casino App:

The first step is to identify those keywords that have a descent level of traffic but low competition. In this case we chose the ones with a traffic number higher than 3 and competitors lower than 20.

We selected:

go holdem

super 5 poker

dollar poker

poker blast

poker choice wheel

If these keywords pass our copyright check, and that means they are not 100% copyrighted game brands, I will use those keywords in the description.

To be honest, I like the 5 keywords, as they are poker/casino related, like our app, and they all relate directly … even “go holdem” relates to poker.

My only slight concern is the overuse of the keyword “poker” — 4 of the 5 long tail keywords use the word “poker”. So, in this case it would be advisable to choose another keyword that is casino related but doesn’t use the word “poker”, to avoid over using it (example: “fortune bird”).

Try to keep in mind that our goal is to not be too obvious and to not to spam the description with the word poker over and over again.

So how do we use them?
 By adding them to the description.

For the sake of this experiment I will create a description for a fictitious app and I will try to add the keywords around 2 to 3 times while trying to make it read well and sound as normal as possible.

I’m not a native English speaker… so if I can do it, anyone can do it.

Remember our keywords are:
go holdem
super 5 poker
dollar poker
poker blast
poker choice wheel

Are you ready to rumble? Are you ready to go holdem with our awesome poker blast app?

Get ready for the only dollar poker app that gives you more fun for in each round.

If you are a casino fanatic, if you love the excitement of an epic poker choice wheel experience, then our super 5 poker round style game is perfect for you.

We developed this app after playing all the popular casino and cards apps in Google Play and now we want to bring you more dollar poker fun for your buck!

Our new app includes multiplayer, the best of Omaha Poker and Go Holdem style games. Get ready to beat our experts and kick them out of the table with your best poker blast strategy.

Start the game with 1000 chips and move across all the tables of our virtual casino. Choose between playing our dollar poker system game, where you just bet $1 per round, or our super 5 poker challenge series, where you have to beat the table in record time.

It doesn’t matter your style, or how aggressive or conservative your game play is, with our poker choice wheel style of gameplay you will find yourself hooked in our latest app.

Our users love us and we believe you will love the experience of playing with us.

If you love casinos, blackjack, Texas Holdem tournaments, turned based poker and the experience and thrill of Vegas, Atlantic City or the top casino destinations in the world… then this unique multiplayer casino app for Google Play is designed for you.

Does it make sense?

Somehow.

Does it read amazingly?

Potentially not.

Will it rank for the desired keywords?

Yes.

The secret to writing keywords into descriptions is to choose keywords that can be adapted.

To be 100% honest, the keywords I selected for this casino app may not be ideal, especially because I ignore a lot about Casino and poker terminology. If the keywords selected where only app names then I’m in trouble, but if these games are in fact popular styles of casino apps from around the world (example, different types of poker games played in conventional casinos) then using them is in fact justified.

Also note that my description is very short and that I purposely used ASO variation keywords that may bring me potential additional combinations like Vegas, Atlantic City, casino.

Using related keywords is a must with Google. We are trying to let Google understand that our app relates to all those keywords that Google groups together…

Blackjack, poker, holdem, Texas, Vegas, Casino are keywords that Google associates with casino, card apps. So not using them is silly.

Over-optimizing content is easy, and Google can flag your content. We find that this is more common on thin content, so using every single character in the google description is a 100% must.

I also believe that writing non ASO-rich content is required at certain parts in the description. This means, normal apps sometimes write content that includes NO keywords at all — they just aim to inspire, convert or “call to action” the user.

Integrate those non-ASO sentences to decrease the keyword density.

In my point of view, each keyword should be used around 3 times, and if you have a single keyword that is used in more than 1 long tail keyword within the description I would try to keep it under a 4% density (in this case the “poker” keyword had the risk of going over 5% keyword density).

Now you’re on your way to a great description!

Recap: Find those 5 golden keywords with high traffic and relatively low competition, and then work them into a readable description by repeating them around 3 times while keeping an eye on the density of individual keywords.

Icons

Awesome icons for both Google Play and the Apple App Store are a must to achieve success.

Working closely with your title, the first impression of your app comes from the icon. Usually I have the feeling that when I speak of keyword research the world listens, but when I move to visual aspects they move on and keep walking in blindness.

Icon optimization is vital and it is usually ignored. From indie developers to big app companies, the belief that an icon is what the artist says it should be can really affect conversion and the success of an app launch.

It is not difficult to understand why: Your visibility in the app store is boosted against that of your competition with a descriptive and aesthetically appealing icon.

Seeing is believing

Visual aspects attract users faster than written ones so the icon plays a huge role in your app’s Click Through Rate (CTR), more so than your description.

It follows that the other visual selling points of your app page, that’s your screenshots, are also extremely important (more on screenshots later on).

Compared to online search engines where the title and meta-description tags are optimization tools for conversion, the app icon plays a similar role in app stores.

The first thing you see in a web search is the SEO title — and in the app store it’s the icon.

To be clear — the icon isn’t a factor in actual app store search ranking. It may play a factor in making top featured lists; however, since it’s unlikely for featured app lists to highlight a visually unappealing app.

Does this all seem too obvious to you? You’d be surprised how many companies fail in this area. And it’s because they don’t have the right know-how or “humbleness” to realize that, maybe what the art director chose for an icon will suck in conversation versus other icons in the same category.

Proof of icon conversion power

Doubting the mammoth power of icons? Don’t just take my word for it…

App developers in-the-know agree that icons are an integral part of your app’s conversion success. While they won’t increase the traffic to your app, they will make the most of that traffic by encouraging the searcher to click on your app.

This theory is supported by evidence of app publishers who have seen the differences after making icon and screenshot updates. Carter Thomas describes his experiential testing of an app he released in the App Store that didn’t quite live up to his expectations.

In his blog post on bluecloudsolutions.com, he explains the steps he took following the release of an app that started out as a flop, despite the fact that the app was similar to another of his apps that was performing well.

To get the app back on track, he first took to improving the elements that could be changed more simply, without re-submitting a totally new version of the app — that’s the icons and screenshots.

He found that the change in the visual elements did have an effect on conversion — those who saw the app were more apt to download it. However, these elements didn’t increase his overall visibility in the app store — his search rankings were not directly affected.

To summarize his findings simply:
 Conversion is increased with quality icons and screenshots Traffic is not increased with changes in icons and screenshots

What can we take away from this?
 If you’ve got traffic but conversion is low — icon testing could be a solution to your problem.

If your problem is traffic, your priority should be to get more people to your app page with search ranking optimization.

Convinced of the power of the icon?

Let’s talk about how to get that gorgeous icon you are so proud of (that you bought in 99designs or that your cousin Larry designed) to be an icon that beats your competition in CTR.

On the right icon track… Tips for a successful icon

The subjectivity of design elements, like icons, makes it difficult to say exactly what will work. That’s why if you are serious about understanding if an icon works or not, you have to test it.

Fortunately, before testing there are some general guidelines to give your icon the best chances of success…

1. Understand your competitor’s icons

You need to know what your competitors’ icons look like as you may have similar features (example: an alarm or reminder app).

If your app icon is the same as your competitors, try something radical. Very competitive terms tend to have apps that look EXACTLY the same. So it doesn’t matter if you rank or not, the decision to choose a unique app becomes impossible just on the title — unusual icons win that battle.

2. Piggy back off of mega companies
 If you know a company is spending money on testing and improving its icon in a different category… steal their ideas. Analyze what they are doing and do the same (do not reinvent the wheel, Einstein).

3. Details matter

Use a high resolution image. iPads, iPhones and tablet screens are moving towards higher and higher resolution, so a pixelated icon vs. a nice HD icon will look absolutely horrible (unless you are doing it on purpose… “A la minecraft”).

4. Use attractive and relevant color combinations

  • Colors appropriate for your audience.
  • Also see the section on The Gloss Factor

5. Don’t

Put too much detail on the icon

  • Keep it simple and clutter-free
  • Choose a simple visual “message” to convey the purpose/theme

Put text on the icon

  • Redundant to put the name since the app store already displays it o It’s a waste of valuable space when small screens can’t read it anyway

Ignore your audience

  • Consider an international audience (to avoid offensive content) o Kids apps will look much different than business or productivity apps, for example

It’s all about the image

Understanding the interaction between images, icons and graphics is important for understanding our icon’s impact.

Disclaimer: I wrote about this in my first book and it was impossible for me not to mention this again, I just love the story and I believe it is even more relevant in 2014 when we are bombarded by information overload.

It was first related to Facebook ads that I began paying attention to the importance of icons or “graphics”. This was discussed by Jeremy Shoemoney in a conference titled Facebook Advertising from Soup to Nuts from Affiliate Summit East 2010 which took place August 15–17, 2010 in New York City.

To demonstrate the important the role that graphics play in CTR of Facebook ads, Jeremy launched an experiment in which he tested people’s behavior with ads. Mainly, he wanted to test where people would click on a huge collection of ads.

While those results were slightly predictable, with the majority of clicks recorded for the ad with the attractive, sexy girl in the photo, Jeremy took this experiment one step further.

Jeremy did something simply brilliant that proved our point about images beautifully…

He kept the market the same (English-speaking market) but he changed the written content in the “attractive sexy girl” ad from English to Korean.

My initial response was: certainly there will be a drop in conversion. Surprisingly, the Korean Facebook ad had the same CTR!

Same image, same audience, different language. The same CTR.

How is it possible?

Simple: People don’t read — they just click.

Following his experiment Jeremy actually rated the importance of the main factors in Facebook Ads as:

  • Title = 10%
  • Body text = 20%
  • Images = 70%

After this epiphany, I had a strong feeling that if this behavior applies to Facebook, it probably applies to app icons too… These two things are similar small, limited content, one tiny graphic and not a lot of time to grab people’s attention.

I didn’t risk replicating Jeremy’s experiment with app icons (a sexy girl icon is not likely to get approved by Apple or Google) but the results of Jeremy’s experiment made it clear to me that the app icon is much more than “just an icon”.

With this in mind, it follows that an icon seriously deserves a developer’s attention. Take time to develop, design and test your future app icon.

See more on split testing icons later.

Words vs. No words

A picture is worth 1000 words, they say. And it’s no different with apps.

App icons with words tend to convert less than icons without words; it has been tested and proven. Just remember Jeremy’s Facebook ad experiment. People don’t read — they just click.

An icon with text reduces the icon’s power to impress the user — the message becomes unclear overall (and the text may not be legible due to the small size). Conversion therefore decreases.

Clear exceptions to this claim are for recognized brands that have the power to attract attention based on name alone. Examples: Coca Cola, Nike, Yahoo, Starbucks, McDonalds.

The gloss factor

We all want an apple-ish looking icon, right? With that nice gloss fade effect that makes the icon look so cute, right? Well, don’t be swayed by the standard gloss effect offered by Apple upon submitting your icon.

While Apple’s goal may be to have a standard “Apple” look, you want your app to stand out.

Why go to all that effort of creating a customized icon and then apply a standardized characteristic that increases uniformity? It goes against what you were trying to achieve.

Many top developers do not use this gloss effect for their icons. Examples: Zynga and Rovio Entertainment avoid this technique. Don’t get me wrong, it may look nice but you don’t want your icon to merge to the background and be part of the army. You want to tell the world: Here I am… click me!!!

If you are interested in learning more about great icons, the best resource I have found so far is Michael Flarup’s — http://www.PixelResort.com.

Icon Split-testing for Optimal Conversion

So now you know the importance of icons and what works — your icon will out- perform all others right?

Unfortunately you only know how it will fare once you’ve released it to real potential users. Like anything, theories and best practice are just that — theories. What actually works may turn out to be slightly or totally different than expected. Especially when it comes to ultimately subjective elements like design.

Ah, this crazy app world…

So, an icon can make or break an unknown brand app in the app store — no pressure there…

But don’t let that decision overwhelm you. That’s what testing is for. And the best part is that you can do this micro-testing in an easy way.

Let’s see:

The plan is to set up a testing site to get some feedback on different icon designs and even on the work of some designers.

What is split-testing?

The concept of split testing is easy and well implemented in the internet marketing community. You will present different versions of your app icon to a very small portion of your target market. You send traffic to your test version and track the responses — which icon gets the most clicks.

So how can you implement this?
 You can implement this under a free website platform with some type of web based tracking tools like Crazy Egg, or even Google Analytics. Mainly you want to measure how much traffic arrives to the page of Icon 1 vs. Icon 2 vs. Icon 3, etc.

Then your job is to drive traffic: You can pay for traffic, or you can use your email list or social media to start the first series of testing. Personally I prefer paid traffic; traffic that doesn’t know me, objective and targeted.

Once you start to drive traffic your goal is to analyze it.

It is vital to keep in mind that you need to trust the data provided by your analytics tool and you need to repeat the cycle a few times. This means, compare between different icons that your team has designed versus your icon versus that of your competitors.

I personally prefer the idea of your icon vs the competitors’… once you know your icon wins versus the competitors’ you can make modifications to the icon itself and move towards improving that conversion. In a few words: design an

icon the beats the competition and once is uploaded in the app store, try to keep improving it with time.

Don’t forget: you are optimizing your icon to be the BEST icon vs. those of your competitors. So if you don’t split test against those other icons you will be wasting your efforts.

Why don’t companies change their icons?

Ego. Usually the app is their baby and they believe the icon represents their brand. We developers tend to think that the world cares about our app and that if we change the icon just a bit our “fans” will riot in the streets of London, Sao Paolo and New York, complaining about our decision to change the light blue to dark blue to test conversion.

Awesome icons can be designed by very fancy artists that will tell you in a lot of fancy language about the complexity of the process. They don’t want to know about conversion, they don’t know about CTR and if you tell them a graphic designer in the Philippines can do a better icon for $20, they usually have an existential panic attack.

Some developers will pay $1000 for an icon but don’t even pay that for keyword research. You may post an icon because you like it, or your girlfriend thinks it is cute, or your employees (that you PAY to agree with you because you are the boss) tell you the icon is awesome.

So you feel good. Hey! At the end of the day that is the best icon because you really wanted an orange icon because that is the color of your favorite sports team logo…

But there is no real reason why.
 We use our feelings, what we think will look good, and our guts to choose

something that has a HUGE impact on our app performance. When, in reality, the best approach to icon optimization should be to have a humble approach and learn from those guys for whom icon optimization means a lot.

Learn from the big boys

If you want to know what type of icons convert, look at casino icons. Casino users are all about colors… like little kids, users have a short attention span and they tend to click based on the same reasoning. Just as they get attracted to slot machines in the brick and mortar casinos.

Bright, gold, shining, 3D — you can pick up the bread crumbs that all those casino apps leave behind; follow the same trends, apply the same tactics.

Why?

They are some of the most profitable apps in the app store: For them, conversion matters.

A 2% increase in conversion can represent thousands of dollars in profits, in just 1 day, by merely changing the background or the border color. So why not give it a go?

Change the icon. Be brave. Nobody will die… the world will not collapse and you may discover things you didn’t even think you could achieve.

The art is in testing and only the brave ones get higher conversion.

ASO Tools

App store optimization tools

Since the beginning of the SEO industry (yes SEO not ASO) the area of services and tools that help us to do research or ranking reports has been one of the most profitable areas of the SEARCH industry.

Tools are cool.

Tools help us to achieve results faster and, in many cases, tools can help us to visualize complicated chunks of data that, in other cases, would be difficult to understand and to make decisions based on.

Finding data manually in the app stores is a tedious and challenging process that really only leaves us guessing and wondering if we found the ideal keyword to target.

We need some type of verification, some type of reinforcement that the keyword we believe really Is the right one to target. We need some “numbers” behind it to prove to us that we are making the right decision.

That’s why we use online tools and ASO tools with huge databases of keywords and other data to help us find the most effective keywords to target.

A quality ASO tool takes much of the “brain” out of brainstorming, by using its database of apps and keyword data to analyze factors such as keyword volume, potential traffic, app ratings, reviews, ranking and competition. The goal is pretty logical — to help you, the developer or app owner, to decide with confidence on the most relevant and targeted keyword phrases for your specific app.

Like any trades tool, not all ASO tools are the same — some of them are awesome and some of them really suck.

And this makes the process of doing ASO a bit risky… how good is this app? Can I really trust the data? Who developed this ASO tool and why should I use this one over the other one.

Since I started ASO, many ASO tools have popped up, emerged, promoted greatness and then, like the apps they try to help, these ASO tools ended up disappearing into the obscurity of a very competitive market (pretty dramatic right)?

In this chapter I’m going to be honest, raw and really frank with you, the ASO reader: this is a difficult chapter to write. Many of those ASO tool creators are indeed a nice bunch of people… and for sure some of the things I say may not be very lovely to read for those companies behind the ASO tools.

But, it’s time to really define what a good ASO tool is and what it is not… so let’s get started.

Gotta have ’em — ASO Tools

Before I start with my generic rant about ASO tools I want to jet off to a positive universe and talk about why you need to use tools.

ASO tools will clearly save you time, and the time you save in the initial research of ASO can really help you move to the market research and analysis area.

You see, ASO tools are not the alpha and the omega, they don’t engage the whole process… although ASO tools are trying to make us believe they are an amazing Bear Grylls army knife that will solve all of our traffic problems, the reality is that ASO tools are only good to a certain level.

If you are lost regarding your market before you use the tool, you will still be lost after it… unless you know where you are heading…

For those that know where they are heading, the right ASO tool can be an awesome lifesaver.

If you really learn how to use an ASO tool and how to set it up to track your rankings and your competitors, you will CLEARLY have an advantage over your competitors.

The problem is that from idea to practice is a different story, we seem to think that the ASO tool will set itself up and we forget that the real power of the tool depends on our use of it.

So if they are complicated and they don’t provide automatic results, why use them?

For a couple reasons:

  • They keep us accountable for what we are doing
  • Tracking ranking manually is insane.

You can’t become “big brother” on your own

Some features are too hard to imitate.

ASO tools like SearchMan with Overall Search Score (or visibility), or Sonar, the “algorithm changes alert tool” by MobileDevHQ, are features that are impossible for us to do in a “manual” way.

Those tools in many cases make the investment worth it.

Features that provide us with data that we couldn’t get any other way are what make me excited about ASO tools.

I want to know what my competitors don’t. I want to have tools that allow me to make faster and more accurate decisions based on what is going on in the app store at any precise moment.

Outsourcing

Trying to outsource your ASO without the use of ASO tools would be challenging. Not only do ASO tools allow you to provide to your outsourcer with a framework to learn from, but you can easily track if the results that the outsourcer provides are consistent with your previous research or with the work done by another outsourcer.

Although I manage a large team of outsourcers for ASO, the fact that we use the different tools in different parts of the processes allows us to compare results, speed of the work done and how effective those tools really are.

Outsourcing ASO by delegating the use of ASO tools can be an interesting process. In many situations, outsourcers can actually improve their own processes and find faster ways for you to find ideal keywords.

Also, once you have outsourced ASO for a while, your own team will tell you and identify the best strategies and tools that they use to find proper results.

Learn more about outsourcing ASO in the chapter titled… you bet… ASO Outsourcing (pretty mysterious title, right?)

Now, onto the tools themselves…

Considerations & recommendation for choosing ASO Tools:

Ease of use — if it’s too complicated to learn and use, it won’t get used (Recommendation: Sensor Tower)

Accuracy — take a suspicious approach to ASO tools and manually investigate results that don’t make sense. In reality, many tools actually use the same source of data. (Recommendation: MobileDevHQ)

Rank tracking and more — tracking only your app’s rank does not help you manage your place in the store rankings. You need to know your rank changes as compared to your competitors, which is what your ASO tool should do. (Recommendation: SearchMan Graphic References of overall ranking)

Multi-platform compatible — think beyond iOS and the Apple store. The app world now has a multitude of stores, including the next biggest player, Google Play.

Affordability — price is a major factor for indie developers. You don’t want to throw your money away on a tool that doesn’t have the above criteria. At the moment the cheapest option is the free account offered by MobileDevHQ for indie developers.

Export of data — You need to be able to analyze and present your data in the format you require. Being able to export your data is essential and should be a deal breaker, if it’s not offered by your ASO tool — trash it.

Funding — if the company is receiving investment they will likely have the funds to grow, stay up-to-date and continuously improve the tool (important in an industry that changes so often and so quickly).

Multiple sources

I strongly support empirical keyword research.

By directly and indirectly observing experiences we can gain knowledge about how these keywords perform. This is empirical keyword research and it’s very valuable.

In order to begin comparing data and to ensure its accuracy, we need as much of it as possible. I recommend using more than one tool — at least 3 actually — as sources of data to find some common ground.

The problem with ASO tools

The problem with any tool is that it is just a tool. Without a “master builder” those tools are not useful (Master Builder? Yes, I just saw the LEGO movie with my kids….)

The goal of any ASO tool is to make life easier and sometimes some tools do the opposite; information can be overwhelming and confusing.

The learning curve of the correct usage of an ASO tool needs also to be considered during the process of choosing the right tool.

During the last 2 years I have found that many companies pay for 2, 3, 4 tools and none of the tools ever really get used.

The reason?

The initial setup can be a nightmare and once the setup is done (usually in the wrong way) the end user forgets about updating, and improving the settings to improve performance.

So should you use ASO tools? 100% yes.

Absolutely. But only if you take action, use the tool, try to learn from the tool, and be sure to set up the ASO tool in the right way.

ASO tools: The right setup

This may be sound like a stupid point, especially because almost every single ASO tool provides some type of “wizard” startup process where you can set up your app and start tracking in matter of minutes (even seconds if you are in a rush).

But the important point to understand is that “tracking” is the least of your concerns when you start using an ASO tool. Forget about tracking! Forget about trying to track keywords and rankings for 2 seconds and put some focus on figuring out what are those keywords you actually need to track.

How to set up your app tool properly

The initial assumption I’m going to make is that you have an app in the app store and that’s why you are planning to use an ASO tool.

Stupid statement? Right, well, not really…

Although the majority of the client base of any ASO tool company has apps in the app store, an ASO tool can also be used even if your app is not LIVE yet.

In the initial research and development we seem to forget about ASO and consider ASO tools as a future investment, when in reality that’s when an ASO tool is even more important than ever.

So how does the initial pre-defined setup work in ASO tools?

  1. Add your URL
  2. Add some keywords you want to rank
  3. Add potential competitors, and voila!

Those are the 3 steps that the default system setup of ASO tools (or wizards) usually asks you to complete before starting.

So the question is … is that enough?

To start yes… but once the app has been setup it is time to destroy what you have done and start again.

So, once you have some dummy keywords and dummy competitors, then the keyword research process needs to start and only when the keyword research process has been done can the selection of those competitors be enabled.

In other words: Your competitors are determined from your keyword research, and tracking keywords without keyword research is like shooting in the dark.

Of course, there are a few changes that need to be done after the initial setup. But these changes are the changes that will make the difference between finding the tool useful or a waste of money.

So let’s list the points in an easy to follow list:

  • Open the ASO tool
  • Add your URL
  • Add any random keyword
  • Add any random competitor
  • Start keyword research
  • Find your ideal keywords
  • Determine your ranking for those keywords
  • Find who is ranking for those keywords
  • Define if they are competitors or not
  • Track them
  • Crush them!

(Ok avoid the last point — at least for now)

This process may sound easy, but it is complex. The keyword research needs to be done properly; only when you can identify the right keywords can you really define who your competitors are.

What if you don’t have an app?

I love this question because for a long time many of my clients thought that doing ASO wasn’t possible to do 100% properly until their app was live in the app store.

I thought: Are you guys crazy? Before going live is the best moment to do ASO… But clearly that process will be different from the process when we already have a live app to set up.

The way I find most effective to set up ASO in this case, before the app is live, is by setting up ASO campaign as such:

  • Open the ASO tool
  • Add your “ideal competitor” URL
  • Add any random keyword you think they may be ranking for
  • Add any random number of competitors for your ideal app
  • Start keyword research
  • Re-define your ideal keywords
  • Determine who ranks for keyword
  • Create your list of keywords (long tail included)
  • Define the list of competitors for those keywords
  • Track them
  • Crush them!

Tool selection & review

There are tools specific to app marketing that can be used to search for keyword suggestions. While Google Keyword Planner may give a general idea of keyword popularity, for app-specific data the ASO tools are more accurate. There are both free and paid tools on the market; you’ll need to decide what type of investment is right for you depending on the stage you’re at.

Among the most reputable tools are Sensor Tower, MobileDevHQ, Appcod.es and Searchman SEO. Each has functions for not only analyzing keywords and for initial app optimization, but also for tracking and competition analysis for ongoing optimization.

Google Keyword Planner also has a role in keyword research, and there are a few more additional ASO tools that I will be reviewing in the next sections.

Please keep in mind, my reviews are brutal, objective and a bit harsh… so enjoy the slaughter.

In the next chapter I will talk about some of the best ASO tools based on essential features and functions:

Sensor Tower

Site: www.sensortower.com

This tool rules the ASO world. Maybe not because the tool is the best out there, but mainly because the 2 creators of Sensor Tower (previously called App Store Rankings [appstoreranings.net]) are passionate dudes.

I remember the first time I spoke with them. They told me: “This is going to be the best ASO tool out there, just wait and see.”

I didn’t believe them.

I was wrong.

Founded in 2013, in San Francisco, by Alex Malafeev & Oliver Yeh, this tool has literally changed the way we do ASO. Each month they come up with new features and provide overall good value to the app community. Their blog provides one of the best resources for content and ASO education.

To be honest, the tool is not as ideal as I wish it could be… but it’s always evolving. Alex and Oliver understand the needs of the industry and so far their tool is one of the easiest to use.

Things I like:

  • Very easy user interface & easy to learn
  • New features & good website content
  • A lot of investment — will continue to grow
  • Ideal for anyone that is starting in the app store

ASO functions:

  • Keyword tool to optimize keywords

Ranking tracking:

  • Keyword ranking tracking (with immediate notification of changes)
  • Current Top 1000 list positioning, Featured list positioning

Competitive analysis:

  • Competitor comparison based on keyword and category performance
  • Keyword spy tool
  • Change Spying via update timeline for each app — shows icon, screenshot, description and keyword changes to any iOS app

Additional features:

  • Data available for trend analysis
  • Downloadable CSV reports — for use in your own custom charts
  • Review analysis tool — track ratings and customer comments
  • Supports iTunes and Android on Google Play

MobileDevHQ

Site: www.mobiledevhq.com

I was pretty harsh when MobileDevHQ started: the UI was so basic that it made it easy but a bit annoying to use (yes, I’m a diva). But MobileDEVHQ has now, for sure, become a tool that is easy to use and it provides a nice quick dashboard to see how things are going with your app. It’s efficient and easy to learn with some serious features for different needs.

The boys behind MobileDevHQ know the ASO game and they have always been the first ones to notice changes in the algorithm.

Origins: 2009, Seattle, Ian Sefferman, CEO.

Things I like:

  • Easy & interesting to learn (Wizard Style)
  • Very good data
  • Free account for Indie developers
  • Sonar: An algorithm change/alert tool that allows the world to know if the app store is changing the algorithm rules
  • Solid investment — they have enough funds to continue updating and improving
  • Good video content in their channel

ASO functions:

  • Comprehensive keyword ranking analysis based on data from hundreds of thousands of searches
  • Keyword research & analysis tool to optimize keywords
  • Provides suggestions on keywords based on what you entered, removes duplicates and uses other search data as support

Ranking tracking:

  • Smaller, indie developers now have free access to keyword and competitor tracking for both Google Play and iOS (full, unlimited tracking)
  • Organizes ranking data and making it super easy to compare results and tracking of any ASO progress

Competitive analysis:

  • Competitor comparison based on keyword performance

Additional features:

  • Daily chart ranking updates by email
  • Downloadable CSV reports — for use in your own custom charts
  • Multi-platform, international support — iOS international & Google Play USA
  • *Additional non-app store marketing focus (PR, media)

More to note:

Slideshare: https://www.slideshare.net/aoklein/app-store-optimization-26952456

Searchman SEO

Site: www.searchman.com

Searchman was one of those tools I tried, and I tried to love, but at the end I failed to keep putting effort into it. I still use it, it’s powerful for sure, but challenging.

Searchman can be defined as one of those tools that is awesome if you want to spend the time and the pain to get it to work for you. Yes. I wrote pain…

The workflow and UI of Searchman are just plain strange and although the tool is great for tracking, it is not for fast and effective keyword research.

Although is a tough cookie to learn, this tool should still be considered, especially if you have the patience required.

Origins: 2012, Niren Hiro, CEO

Overall tool review:

  • Only Japanese Expert — and good for Asian market
  • Difficult to use, yet powerful, with long learning curve
  • Credits system (you buy credits as you use it)
  • No multilingual support (ignores certain markets)
  • Not suitable for jumping in to take a quick look at some data

ASO functions:

  • Keyword analysis tool to discover and optimize keywords, suggests keywords based on related keyword data
  • A focus on improving app store SEO, for better visibility in search

Ranking tracking:

  • Keyword ranking tracking — search rank, visibility score

Competitive analysis:

  • Competitor comparison based on keyword performance
  • Option to track your daily ranking to show how you are going against a specific pre-defined competitor.
  • You can add as many competitors as you like and Searchman will keep track of their ranking at the same time.
  • Track changes following app updates of competitors
  • Discover who the new players are in your market and what keywords they are using and ranking for.

Additional features:

  • Multi-platform, iOS and now also Google Play
  • Publishes industry articles — a great source of app marketing info
  • Company has a team of people from big backgrounds (google, yahoo, crowdstar, friendster)

More to note:

Appcod.es

Site: www.appcod.es
 I had so much faith that Appcod.es was going to dominate the ASO tool world that it broke my heart when I saw the tool failing slowly… “Is this tool still alive?”

Appcod.es is easy to use and, in real terms, very affordable. This was one of the 1st ever App store optimization tools — so easy, that at some stage I felt I was testing it and waiting for the big release to come out soon.

Appcod.es is one of those tools I always check, trying to see if they have come up with something new, but it never seems to have new features.

Appcod.es’ competitors, even the very new ones, are already better than Appcod.es — not because Appcod.es is bad… it’s just that the competitors are launching new features all the time.

Appcod.es at the moment doesn’t support Google play, which in 2014 is simply unacceptable — but still is an interesting tool.

It has some “cute” features that I call cute, because they are not the most reliable ones in the market. A probability “score” of how likely you are to rank for a keyword is kind of nice, but it’s more of a “dream number” than a real metric to predict ranking probability.

Do I still use it? No.

Appannie

Site: www.appannie.com
 Be careful of Appannie, because these big boys are now in the ASO… and I predict they could

Appannie launched their ASO feature just 1 week before ending this book, but I had to include appannie after analyzing and testing it’s ASO feature.

The ASO tool provided by Appannie is not as powerful as it can be be, but after speaking to them at Casual Connect in Singapore the potential of Appanie as an ASO analytical weapon is evident.

At first glance the most interesting feature of Appannie is that users are already familiar with the interface, it’s extremely easy to use and is ASO newbie friendly. Put a keyword or an app you want to analyze and boom… there we go.
 The tool still doesn’t provide any way to measure potential traffic or competition levels, so right now it’s more a tool to be used towards competition analysis.

This means it can’t be used to check the potential of keywords to be targeted, but is easy to identify what other apps are ranking for and potentially weakeness in their ASO strategy.

The interesting point of Appannie at this exact moment, is that it provides a smarter keyword suggestion that other tools out there. Once we put an app for analyze, Appannie provides the ranking for all the potential keywords that app may be ranking for, but the different aspect is that it shows longtail keywords.

So what this means is, that Appannie becomes the first tool that give us from the start what long tails other apps can be ranking for, vs individual keywords, making their ASO approach more accurate and relevant when doing market research.

So far Appannie system flows easily, and it has the potential to compare historic category ranks with previous ASO history. It is clear that the amount of data that Appannie can import to their ASO suit is going to make it one of the strongest players in the ASO market.

Keep in eye on this one, it’s going to be the main player in the ASO tool race, if they play their cards right.

Straply

Site: www.straply.com
The story with Straply.com is bittersweet. This was (I’m writing “was”) a great idea: a quick keyword research tool that in less than 20 seconds gave me a glance of what was going on regarding potential popularity and competition.

The idea was absolutely great. My team used it for the initial part of keyword research — as a brainstorming tool it was the perfect system.

With one search you could find search terms in Google Play and iOS all at the same time and it felt like the old Google Keyword tool (oh… the good old days of Google Keyword Tool…).

Straply brought some interesting ideas; the idea of an ASO footprint was fascinating… how many keywords an app could be ranking for was, for sure, revolutionary.

But Straply stopped evolving their data became “silly”… when you are confronted daily with keywords that make no sense it’s time for you to stop doing what you’re doing — and stop using what you were doing it with.

Overall it can still be used (maybe…) as a quick “brainstorming ideas” resource, but not as an ASO tool or to make any serious decision.

I really hope Straply gets revived. If is does, maybe they can come back to life — but maybe it is a bit too late…

Do I still use it? No.

Going Further: Competition

OK. So let’s go a bit deeper, because even if this sounds dead easy it can get a bit messy once we start doing it.

We already understand that there are a few things to consider when we analyze keyword traffic volume and keyword competition. Effective app keyword research is based on collecting data from many sources and making judgments about each keyword’s potential to bring traffic that converts to downloads.

This is not easy, because not one single ASO tool can give us those details…

Keyword tools give an estimate of traffic and competition, which can be used as a quick reference, but again keep in mind that those numbers are just numbers until we test them and implement them.

But before we look at those numbers let’s review the factors that we need to analyze before choosing our keywords:

Category

Traffic numbers or “scorers” are great to get us motivated but those scores really depend on how many apps are competing for the keyword. The problem is that an ASO tool is not always going to understand the English language.

Let me explain this:
 You may be looking for the word “diver” because you want to target scuba diving…

You may be a bit frustrated because you find the competition is pretty high.

But deep inside for “diver” in the way you are thinking about it, the competition is very low. The ASO tool is looking at games that have the word diver… when in reality you don’t consider games as your competitors.

So if we don’t stop for 2 seconds and look at who exactly the competition is and the number of apps that are ranking for the word “diver”, it will be difficult to predict who is actually ranking for our selected keyword. We need to predict if there is traffic for “diver” in the scuba diving context.

When keywords really matter

The competition of a keyword can also tell us how popular the keyword is within a group of popular apps.

The way it works is simple: You search in your ASO tool for the keyword that you think is a great keyword… and you will find a list of apps “ranking” for it. The question you need to ask yourself is, are these apps getting downloads? Are these apps popular?

It’s a logical question right?

If the keyword you are targeting has great traffic and those apps you see in the results are in top position… if they don’t get downloads then something is clearly wrong.

A good way to visualize this is by using any ASO tool that can show the ranking in different categories for an app, like appannie.com or topappcharts.com. The goal is: find if the apps ranking for your keyword also rank in their categories, see how popular they are (by finding traffic numbers and potential category rankings), and see if there is any signal of being alive.

Signals of life like… reviews.

What review numbers can tell us

Usually we tend to think of reviews as “the same” for all apps — any app should get reviews if they are popular right? Well it’s not always the case.

In plain theory, a search for a broad, popular term is likely to bring up popular apps with high numbers of both current and all time reviews. We can tell that the apps are alive if there has been a recent update and if there are reviews of the current version — we all know this.

But what is also important to keep in mind is that some apps get more reviews; Flappy Birds got more reviews mainly because people were amazed at how stupidly addictive the silly, tiny game was…
 While other aps with huge downloads might not get the reviews because people might not “need” or “feel” inspired to leave any type of review.

Example: a news reader or a travel app may have fewer reviews than the latest EA games soccer app.

Location matters

Reviews in the USA are always going to outnumber the ones in the Australian App store; depending on the country in which you search the ratings volumes may vary. So try to have a realistic approach to what is a decent number of reviews in country X vs. country Y.

This will also bring an interesting perspective…
 Do a low number of reviews for an app that ranks for 1 keyword, mean a low number of downloads for that app?

The question is a professional, “maybe”.

And this is obviously the challenge in keyword research… our research is only theoretical not practical.

Theoretical vs. Practical Keyword Data

You may find a keyword that ticks all the boxes — fits your app topic, shows a good amount of traffic, has a low level of competition…

In theory, the keyword looks like a winner.
 Then, you plop your app into the store and… nothing.

You need practical data that shows how the keywords will perform in a real live environment.

Be flexible and ready to adjust to the performance of the app once
 published. Part of keyword research is testing and tracking live data.
 It’s impossible to know if a keyword really will convert until you test it. You will find the right words with continued testing.

Frustrating?
 You bet. Especially when Apple needs to approve your next update for you to be able to “test” your ASO changes…. But this is the way testing is done. You need different batches of DATA to compare what works vs. what doesn’t work.

Putting Those Keywords into Action

Our lovely chat here means nothing if ASO doesn’t convert into traffic. So, having keywords is nice and you may feel awesome possum having that list of keywords, but at the end of the day you want one thing: USERS!!!!

Remember, the goal of ASO is conversion.

Optimization = higher search results rank = increased visibility = increased traffic and (hopefully) = increased downloads. This last factor, conversion to download or active install, is the true end goal.

Once you have your list of relevant, achievable, higher traffic keywords sorted and ready, it’s time to apply them to your app metadata. You are now forming the contextual factors of your app page that will influence your app’s
 ranking. Make sure to maximize the use of keywords so no potential traffic goes to waste.

Where to use your keywords

The Apple App Store provides 3 fields to use keywords: 2 of them make a clear difference, the last one used to.

  • App name/title
  • Keyword field, and
  • Developer name

At the moment, the description in the iOS app store does not influence ranking but may in the future so it is worth putting a bit of effort into that now.

(I usually joke that the real ASO pandemonium will come the day that Apple indexes the description. That day all of those lazy companies with no, short, and poor descriptions on their app pages will be running to get their descriptions optimized while Googling “what is ASO”.)

Now: the description keywords, as we well know, do matter in Google Play so you will need to write a keyword-rich description anyway, if you are using that platform. Google Play also factors in keywords within the review comments.

In addition to including your main keyword for your app name, you can reserve the most descriptive keywords and those with the highest number of characters for the title. This is not only done for ASO, but because users need to know what your app does in a quick glance and because the keyword field has a limited number of characters.

App Name/Title

Start understanding effective titles by watching my video on title optimization:

An app’s name serves as a ranking indicator, as we know. But it also plays an important role in branding success. And this is so difficult, Branding vs. ASO…

A name should be catchy but also encompass the app’s function. Ideally, one or more relevant keywords will also make it into the name.

This is not so easy: finding the balance of keyword-rich ASO and building a brand.

Developers and app publishers, who don’t care about the branding or the app itself, should use the title as the main mechanism to attract organic traffic.

Titles are vital for ASO, but that title can also be a clear indicator if an app is just “trying too hard” to rank.

Titles like:
 Surfer Flappy Candy Crush Bird in the Temple of Subway

…are titles that:
 1) Indicate a spammy attitude
 2) Will tend to be rejected or banned for “over optimization” or for trying to be too sneaky.

Brand Name vs. Generic Name:

When selecting your app name, you have tight character restrictions and it can be difficult to decide what terms will make the cut — branding terms or a generic but keyword-rich set of search terms.

Brand name is more important if you have already established your brand and have a good reputation. Any new series of apps or games should be branded accordingly.

Let’s say, I develop a series of cooking/recipes apps.

I could call my apps:

  • Gab’s lovely deserts.
  • Gab’s easy steaks.
  • Gab’s fancy Chinese food.

Over time users will begin to recognize the consistent use of “Gab’s” in my app names and this will strengthen my branding.

Branding has its purpose, but when it comes to optimization these apps may struggle to compete in the store environment. Do you want to let a name be the difference between ranking and not ranking?

When a descriptive name works:

It’s easy to see how Track Money Calculator, would fare better when searchers look for an app with that function compared to Chelyxe (a calculator name). This is not recognizable, nor easy for users to spell.

Where branding of app names works really well is in news and social media; use of brand names is popular there.

In short, an app name should shout to the world what the app actually does if you want it to be recognized. In the above case, the name “Track Money Calculator” clearly indicates what the app really does and this will attract users’ attention.

Choosing a good name:

So, assuming your brand isn’t a top name in apps just yet, keywords will be a main element of your choice of name: Keywords with good volume, that fit into a web URL and alt/heading tags (one that avoids special characters, symbols and acronyms).

Localize it:

The title is one of the factors you can localize to target a specific
 market. Without localizing the whole app you can still target specific regions and countries just by adding the localized term to your name. People are drawn in by stuff that is built specifically for them so tailoring the name may increase conversions.
 So titles like:

  • Aussie Road Map.
  • Canada GPS App.
  • Hawaii Hotel App.

…are attractive to a more localized market and will boost traffic and conversions.

The 2-part name:

There’s no shortage of creativity in the app stores. And with so many apps already out there, coming up with an effective and unique name can be challenging.

One strategy developers are using is the combo name that combines description with function in a short 2-part name.

Smart, creative names can indeed bring pretty cool combinations that not only are awesome for branding, but rich for ASO. Example:

Selfie Photo Editor
iSnap — Take your Baby’s Photos
VideoPad Free video Editor

So for branding… Simplicity often pays off in the mobile world. People absorb content in small bits — tweets are limited in characters — but obviously for ASO that is not so ideal.

In the branding world, recognition can come from short names like Florida Limo ride or New York Pizza. These names are short enough but they get the picture across loud and clear, so although they may not be super super ASO rich… they represent what the app does and that can increase conversion.

The keyword field — 7 tips

Back to keyword optimization.

OK so you must be saturated now with the “keyword” topic… and I know you “get it”…

So before we move to other topics of ASO I want to take a quick break and give you the “7 essential tips list” or, even better, the “Mistakes to avoid list”.

You’ll need these to maximize your ranking opportunities.

1) Use commas — Avoid spaces

Example: alarm,wake,up,clock,early

2) Be greedy — Use all the spaces

In Apple you have 100 characters granted: This means, if you have space left, add more keywords or reconsider adapting your keywords. Don’t forget you can add that horrible big word like “productivity” in your title and save space in your keyword field.

3) Choose 2 vs. 1

If the word is extremely long, like “awesome” consider using 2 words instead — maybe “fun” and “cool” with the same amount of characters. Don’t forget that in this way, you not only increase the keywords but also the potential combinations (long tail keywords) that can be created.

4) Singular wins

I get asked this question all the time: singular or plural? The reality is that the App Store (Apple) indexes only one word at a time… and using 2 words when we have such a limited amount of space for potential keywords is a crime.

So the answer is singular. Not only does the keyword tend to be more popular but also it appears first in autosuggest in the search bar. Ah and yes, if we use the singular we are also saving… characters.

5) Singular and plural

If I just said that singular wins in Apple, well, in Google it’s different. The reason is that Google has a bit more “brain” power than the poor old Apple algorithm.

Google understands plural and singular, so I usually suggest including them both. Not only does it help to rank for both but it prevents exact keyword stuffing; using the same keyword over and over is not ideal in Google as we well know.

6) Say bye-bye to egos

Users don’t care about your company name and, unless you are Nike, don’t bother putting it in your title. You already rank for your company name (your developer name is used in the algorithm) and guess what? Nobody is looking for it. So don’t use it again in your title.

So relax and let go… avoid the name of your company in your title. I get it, branding is important. If you want to bring some branding, you can include it in your icon or screenshots. A small logo in the corner of the icon can help the user identify your apps if you have a large portfolio.

BUT it’s important to keep your name away from the title… do not sacrifice traffic for ego ;)

7) Blue keyword blue keyword

Duplicates suck, duplicates suck, duplicates suck, mainly because you lose that space for other keywords. Developers know this but miss it easily, mainly because we are so focused on those keywords that we want to rank. Duplicating keywords from title to the keyword field is easy to overlook, so keep an eye and try to avoid that.

Outsourcing ASO

I’m going to be brief in this section because I know that as soon as I start talking about ASO services your “pitch alert” will start ringing. But the reality is that outsourcing ASO is more common than ever and every month I get tons of emails of app owners’ disappointment about outsourcing ASO.

My ASO sucks — is usually the sentence they use, and then when I ask why and the answer is…
 “I don’t know, it just sucks.”

So there are 2 types of outsourcing profiles.
 1. The: “I have no idea, therefore I outsource” Or, the advanced that goes to the next level:
 2. “I outsource because I know how to do it now”

The problem with the first profile person is that when he outsources he usually has no idea what he is outsourcing. He tends to hire the first person he sees in odesk, elance, or freelancer and he accepts the results as “the thing I’m supposed to receive for my money”.

But he never questions how those results are applied or how exactly the outsourcer came up with certain data.

This type of appreneur becomes an outsourcing addict and becomes “hooked” on the outsourcer in a way that he depends on outsourcing to keep producing ASO work.

Although this may work, it’s dangerous to depend on someone to provide you with results, when you ignore how the results are generated.

100% different from our profile #2, in which the outsourcing is done based on a specific system or strategy designed by the appreneur and NOT by the outsourcer.

This system empowers you (in case you decide to go this route) to tweak the process with time and to train your outsourcer, with every new update, to tweak and change. The goal here is that you are the one with ASO knowledge and you empower the outsourcer to use your system and hopefully improve over time.

Both strategies may work, but regardless of what strategy you use it’s important to be sure you understand where the results come from.
 I have seen ASO projects from odesk experts, where the only result is a 100 character list, with a stamp that says “trust me — I’m an expert”.

Can you trust a result that comes from mystery land?
 Is that the result you want your apps to depend on for your ASO strategy? You make the decision.

App Description

Since the app description makes no difference for iOS from a ranking perspective, except in conversion or copywriting factors… I will focus here on the app description only from a Google point of view and provide a quick overview of some aspects that, at first glance, are very logical. (We’ll look at how to optimize the description in the next chapters).

Description for newbies

A description helps users understand what they will get from your app and, in the case of Google Play, it helps the app search engine understand what your app is about. It’s an important contextual factor in the Google environment.

The differences in the way Google Play and the App Store use (or don’t use) your description for ranking means that you should have 2 types of descriptions, one for optimal performance in each market.

The description can focus on the user in the App Store and be aimed more at converting the users with good copywriting. While in Google Play, since keywords are a factor, it should be strongly ASO-focused with an optimal keyword density. Like SEO for a webpage, the keywords should be integrated and repeated for optimal performance (more on this later). Keyword placement is irrelevant in the App Store for ranking yet it is a strong factor for the Google algorithm.

Sounds good so far? Sure. Easy to implement? Not really.

So before I dive into the description world for Google Play, a word of warning regarding Apple and as I previously mentioned:

Even though the Apple App Store isn’t currently using the description for keyword signals, it is recommended that a readable, keyword-rich description be used in case a switch were made and it was suddenly made a factor in
 ranking. Not only that, but your iTunes app page is on the web and therefore can be indexed by Google.

What’s that you say? Google can send traffic to my iTunes page?

Of course! In many cases iTunes even outranks the webpages of the app companies themselves.

Considering web traffic in addition to app store traffic could help in ranking your iTunes page online which could drive traffic from outside the app store to your app.

Arrive at iTunes via Google — an interesting strategy, isn’t it?

Using conventional SEO, you can optimize your iTunes preview page including the title, description and keywords. Depending on the competition of your keywords, this could be enough to bring some organic traffic and get the page ranked in online search engines.

On the other hand, keyword stuffing and descriptions that don’t make sense due to too many keywords in use, could be harmful rather than helpful (consider SEO and Google ranking algorithms).

In the same way that keywords can be an online ranking aid, conventional SEO link building techniques may also help in ranking your app’s iTunes page. Since your page is indexed by Google, increasing the votes of confidence that your page is legit (inbound links from other sources on the web) should increase your organic ranking for your desired keywords on search engines like Google. This includes links from social media.

Make an immediate impact

First impression is everything and people don’t make too much effort to read the description. Therefore your description has to make an impact in the text they can see by default (without having to select to “read more”).

To optimize your description for the App Store, make sure to check for the appropriate line breaks. Each line can be 120 characters followed by a carriage return. Checking the character count will help control how text is formatted. You have a total of 3 lines i.e. 360 characters to display your description on one screen.

Get the vital information out in a clear way as soon as possible, in the first lines. Then, consider using any sort of bullet points and pictures to make the rest of the description easy to read.

The ideal app description… not sure if this is possible ;)

The best description for your app is just that — for your app. What works for you might not work for another app.

Fortunately, there are some guidelines to make your app description the best it can be.

Within the first characters you will need to flirt with the user and with ASO, while impressing them both…

Now that’s tricky.

Powerful copywriting that uses keyword-rich sentences can be challenge when you’re trying to come up with a cracker of a description.

A few strategies for an effective description:

  • Get straight to the point. If your app is the best for X or Y reason, tell me in the first sentences; don’t make me read the whole description.
  • Try to include those golden ASO keywords in the first sentence without being too spammy or obvious.
  • Again, get to the point quickly. Focus on the main and most important features of your app, that it’s easy and fun to use — avoid big, boring blocks of content.
  • Use it as a communication tool. Since there are not many ways to communicate directly with users through Apple, the description is a place you can tell users about a new update, about being featured, about a new award or a great review — even about technical problems or upcoming new levels or features.
     Actually, Apple’s guidelines stipulate that the description is only to describe what your app does and not to communicate with the users but you may want to take that lightly — at the end of the day, what’s the point of rules if we don’t break them a bit? ;)

Keyword density

With different rules in play for the different stores, keyword density can be a touchy subject.

A more liberal attitude is taken towards description keywords in the App Store which allows use of keywords as long as they are relevant and are not considered to be “spammy”. Mainly they know that it makes no difference and in many cases with Apple the reviewers don’t even read the description.

As we now know, it’s not the description but just the title and keyword field that we’re concerned with in the App Store when it comes to keyword ranking and density.

Google is another story.

Don’t be too aggressive when flirting with their app store search engine, by overdoing it on keyword density. Keep your classy “white hat” on firmly for Google and write to please users as well, by integrating keywords into readable ad copy. Stick to traditional guidelines around keyword density in body copy; the days of keyword stuffing are gone. At the end of the day, the effort you put into “outsmarting” the algorithm is a waste of time.

We can try, but Google is always moving the post further and further… what was okay one day regarding keyword density, tomorrow will be spam. What was okay today for link building, tomorrow will be a ticket to penalty land….

Trust me, I have been in that land.

Meet the Expert: Giacomo Balli

Giacomo Balli was one of the first marketers I found that was actively talking about App store optimization. Giacomo with is his clear Latin blood, is passionate and always ready to share his knowledge with the app industry. I highly respect his position towards ASO and his overall app marketing strategies and philosophy. Find more about Giacomo Balli at http://giacomoballi.com

Tell me when did you notice ASO for the first time and the impacts you have seen in ASO done right in apps you have consult for…

I got into mobile pretty much when it first started. I learned my lessons as things came up so there was no “first time”, it was very gradual. However, my first ASO blog post dates back to Oct 21st 2012 (https://twitter.com/BigBalli/status/259997646914203649) although to be fair I didn’t blog until that period… :)

I believe initially it was hard to see direct correlations because the number of app users was much smaller. Now everything is magnified so you can immediately spot minor tweaks and how the affect the outcome.

Lately, the past year or so, ASO has gotten HUGE. I see this especially with my own apps which is where I spend the most time tweaking and testing different techniques.

Are big companies doing ASO? what are the challenges big app publishers face while doing ASO?

ASO is still incredibly underutilized purely due to ignorance. People do not put the time to read about it and therefore do not do it. You’d laugh if you could see some of the keywords I’ve seen over these years, I’d be less embarrassed to leave the field empty!

The main challenges are surely when you have an app that doesn’t directly solve a problem i.e. a brand app, made solely to replicate or market other stuff.

I won’t get into the debate of whether this should be an app in the first place, but the main issue here is there is not much to play around with, a part from brand name, and common words or competitors to piggyback on.

The best thing to do in this case is come up with a spin to the big brand’s mission/product and create an app that “does” something.

Is it ASO fair? Do you think the ROI invested in learning, and potentially outsourcing ASO provides a clear return on investment?

The cost of ASO is certainly worth it. Whether you have an existing employee educate himself or outsource it, it’s hard not to do 2x, 5x, 10x downloads by implementing basic ASO (from nothing). For the ROI to be clear, however, since there are many moving parts in ASO, whoever is in charge of it needs to define a clear strategy, tactic and roadmap in order to identify and measure what works and what doesn’t.

Recently, I put one of my apps from free to 4.99. ASO was so strong that it actual makes more money.

What are some of your best tips for indie developer to get started with ASO…

Avoid common words, avoid piggybacking in most cases, always have a theme if you don’t have a specific functionality, think outside the box, consider different word combinations, make sure to have basic social (web) signals.

Beyond ASO, where do you see most appreneurs fail with their marketing strategy

Revenue models are poorly explored. Most just think about the app and then either attach a price tag or throw-in ads/inapp without embedding these in the actual user experience. Also, putting good effort on app icon and having analytics since day one to guide your future (testing) decisions. More info
 here: http://giacomoballi.com/aso-marketing-roadmap-for-mobile-applications/

What came first the egg of the chicken… what should we do first market research or develop the app and then focus on finding our own angle

Depends if you already have an idea… :)
 If you know what to build then you need to validate it.

If you are looking for ideas, the you do the research and most probably it will already be validated.

Where do you see SEARCH heading in the app store in the next 24 months?

Hard to say but I believe ASO will get harder since many are misusing it to “play” the store. We all know how the AppStore owners do not like this and will most probably make it always tighter.

Also, they will invest and tweak their algorithms more and more, just like Facebook, until what you see is purely up to them.

Screenshots

Screenshots are one of the factors that get less attention in the whole App store optimization talk.

We spent time making your name, description and icon the best they can be and have chosen the best keywords you can find, so let’s try to keep that momentum going, shall we?

Screenshots have powerful potential to influence the user and increase conversions, if used correctly. It’s a must to have them and it’s ideal to do them better than the competition.

Screenshots are one of those things we create and then we usually forget to test and analyze if the screenshots are really working for us. In this section of the report my goal is to provide you with a different perspective regarding how to increase conversion and attract users attention with your screenshot design.

Just as we discovered with the icon, it’s images that convert users to download your app. Visually appealing screenshots are extremely important.

Screenshots convert, inspire, invite us to click…. And this is vital — because people won’t download it JUST because it’s free. You still have to sell them on your app’s value and in many cases mediocre screenshots will deter potential users to download your app.

So it’s a bit ironic how we approach our app optimization process…
 We spend all this time doing keyword research to get people landing on our app

page, but we seem to forget to keep flirting with them.
 So it’s time to think of the screenshots as another great opportunity to push

people to download the app just as they start reading the description.

The icon got the click — they’re interested… so close that deal.
 It’s no silver bullet or golden ticket (no one specific element of ASO is!) but screenshots are one of the key elements of conversion performance.

Screenshots are at their best when:

  • If your app looks good then your screenshots have the potential to look good too. Consider your app design quality from the early stages, whether you hire help or do it on your own.
  • That being said… your screenshots don’t have to look exactly like the app. Beef the screenshots up a little if necessary. They should look like posters for your app. (I propose: Let’s change the term “Screenshot” to “AWESOME poster” or “app marketing material” to capture its real role)
  • Use them to their maximum potential. Use the full quota (8 in Google, 5 in App store) and don’t repeat the same info among them. Say it clearly once and users will get it. Don’t waste your ad space or the user’s time by reinforcing the same concept over again. Repetition is lost opportunity to promote your app.
  • The first screenshot says it all. It should reflect what your app is about and what makes it stand out.
  • Tailor them for the market. Translate screenshots and upload versions for different language markets. Especially when you plan to market your app globally. Your app page becomes much more appealing to people when it directly speaks to them.
  • Make them convincing and selective. What does someone who doesn’t know anything about your app need to know to understand what it does? Don’t make assumptions. You know your app inside out but outsiders don’t. Convince them why it’s great and perfect for them.
  • Tailor them for the audience. An app for kids that can’t read yet? The screenshots should be aimed at selling the PARENTS. Screenshots are your chance to “talk” to your potential buyer — so know clearly who that is and reel them in!

Optimizing Screenshots

The best screenshots are going to be screenshots where you move away from the typical 2D approach and you go straight to the way it’s going to look and feel using the app.

This is also vital if you want Apple to feature your app.

Apple or Google (regardless) WILL NOT feature your app if an of your graphic material is weak or something just doesn’t “feel right” to be in the frontpage of their app store.

This doesn’t mean your app screenshots need to be 100% perfect — it means that if something just doesn’t “fit” the editorial requirements, you will not be featured — period (trust me, they can be very picky).

Some of my favorite screenshots are apps where we can see apps in action… this is an example of an app where we can “visualize” what the app does. This is not very difficult to develop and it can really bring a “reality” factor to your app that can increase the conversion.

Mistakes to avoid

Some of the easiest mistakes to avoid if we put a little bit of effort are:

  • No calls for action — No “Download Now” — “Try Now” — “100% Free”
  • Some screenshots look/feel very similar to other apps in the market
  • Repetivive screenshots — Screenshot #1 is the same as #2, and #2 looks like #3… etc.
  • There is not a way to visualize what the app “feels like” while using it
  • Using white background is a BIG BIG no-no… your screenshots will loose power vs. competitors’ screenshots with strong colors.

Improving your screenshots: Features & visualization

Highlight features

Usually in any app, the features of the app itself can be highlighted in screenshots in a more “aggressive” way, increasing conversion.

This can be done with…

  • Arrows pointing to the features or a different color background in each screenshot to break the monotony.

Reviews

You can use the screenshots to highlight reviews of the app itself.

In the same way, you can use screenshots to create momentum, showing the sequence of the app and highlighting its features. You can also use the same strategy to feature awesome reviews from outside the app store from your users, app review magazines or even industry magazines.

Visualize it

Use screenshots to show how the app is “working”. This means, show us someone using the app rather than just a plain screenshot. If the app is an app about GPS tracking while we go runing…. Why not show us someone using the app while running .

Visualizing the way the app works is vital… my favorite screenshot approach is the type of screenshot where we can “see us” using the app and which uses “realistic” touches.

This is an unusual screenshot that will convert VERY WELL. So if the app is a social networking app, why not show teenagers using the app? If the app is an app for toddlers, why not show parents and toddlers using the iPad playing with the app?

Highlight updates

A good strategy is to highlight a fresh new version in the screenshot. Add the version number after each update, add the year or month of the latest update… Or even the number of downloads achieved so far.

The more the better… you can do all that INSIDE the screenshot.

Designing a better screenshot — DIY approach

If you’re taking a DIY approach to the design of your screenshots, or if you want to give your outsourcers some guidance, here is a video showing how to put screenshots together in Photoshop. In the video, Carter Thomas creates a professional screenshot, step-by-step, in under 5 minutes:

As Carter mentions, Apple does have specific guidelines to follow for the design of screenshots; if you want to be featured by Apple, you’ll need to get familiar with and follow them.

Reviews

If you were an app store engineer and you realized that every single developer in the world was trying to destroy your algorithm… trying to trick you, trying to find a quick scheme, trying to buy bulk downloads, or even worse “Practicing some evil, evil ASO”… ;) What would you do?

If it were me, I would change my algorithm. I would increase the weight of something developers couldn’t manipulate so easily.
 Say hello to REVIEWS.

Weight of Reviews in the App Store

It doesn’t take rocket science to know that user reviews and ratings can do a great deal to boost the popularity of your app.

Higher ratings mean higher probability that new users will download your app and, in turn, will share their reviews too.

Ratings have the capacity to boost or downgrade your ranking. Simply put: ratings matter. So work hard to get as many good ones as possible. Period.

How to get more user rankings? Some ideas here in my video:

Ratings and reviews are one element that divides Google and Apple. Apple’s App Store ratings and reviews provide little to no element of control for developers.

Users post reviews and developers have no way of influencing a user’s opinion or informing users that reviews are being taken into account. Only if Apple designates a review as offensive or inappropriate will they remove it. But in a few words: Apple’s lack of “response system” is just plain wrong.

On the other hand Google has integrated a review reply function for developers, empowering them with an opportunity to address user issues and interact with users.

The strong push for Google+ interaction and integration of more and more social media is pushing Google Play to have a strong social and community feeling.

It is not surprising that Google Play now uses Google Plus integration as the only way to leave reviews and, as I predicted in my first book, you can now see in Google Play what apps were downloaded or reviewed by your Google Plus friends or circle members.

Why Reviews, Why Now?

Because we, as marketers, we ruin everything.
 In mid-2013 rating-related ranking changes were reported across the developer community, after an initial article by Fiksu.

The report of the changes said that, from the initial analysis, 4+ star rated apps saw app store ranking increases while 2-star and below rated apps saw a drop, all despite minimal changes in download volume. Since then, developers have tested these theories and it is now well known that reviews are in fact a ranking factor.

The reason why algorithms change all the time is not just to improve the search experience, it is to prevent manipulation. That’s why Apple changed the algorithm — to give more weight to reviews in the ranking formula.

From Apple’s perspective it gives them more credibility and they can identify a bit more easily who is trying to manipulate the system by using mass download purchases via bots.

The goal is the goal that we all want, right? For the most highly visible apps to be the highest quality apps so users can, in turn, put more trust in the Apple Store to provide quality apps.

Previously, ranking was mostly influenced by the number, speed, and continued acquisition of new downloads over time. However, this system was fairly easily hijacked by apps that used inauthentic methods of obtaining downloads: Go buy 10,000 downloads from X provider and — boom — the massive rush of downloads would put you in top position.

Then… you just hoped you would get enough organic downloads to keep you up.

For a while this worked like a charm. It meant that apps with massive downloads could conquer the top charts regardless of bad ratings and reviews. Why? Bad reviews didn’t have any weight to downgrade the ranking.

But clearly that is not the case anymore.
 Now Apple (and even Google) use reviews as “signals”. The more “signals” the more “real” the app is.

More on the importance of reviews, specifically for Google, in my video:

So how do ratings really work with the algorithm?

Note: This is a quick introduction, for more in-depth info check our interview with AppReview.me in the following chapter.

The quality and volume of star ratings have been shown to directly affect App Store ranking. So this means it’s the score NOT the content that affects the ranking. So if the user writes:

Fantastic App! Love it!!!!

And makes the mistake of putting 1 star instead of 5… Your ranking may drop.

The problem is that this rating has different weights.

If the rating is for the current version the weight of the score is heavier than the rating given to Version 1.2, released 4 years ago.
 Makes sense right?
 In theory … yes…

Reviews in Practice: Flappy my world

As soon as Flappy Birds came to the top of the rankings every sour developer started to draw conclusions as to why this was the case — many claim that it was a mix of organic and inorganic strategies.

Some other sides of the community claimed that the Flappy creator was buying installs or using an “evil, cannibal, automated” download and review system. But the reality was a bit more simplistic and boring: Reviews.

In the case of Flappy Birds it is thought that main reason for the initial spikes in user reviews was a purposefully placed review button. In place of the Continue Play button, a review button was located at the end of each game session.

If it was done intentionally, this was a way to take advantage of user reflexes to tap the play button in the same spot at the end of the game — but instead the user tapped to the “leave a review” page.

Thanks to this function, the number of reviews was off the charts — from 600 per day up to 600 per hour.

To give a reference, this strategy gave Flappy an average of 700,000 reviews per month while the mega corporation King.com with Candy Crush was only getting 400,000 reviews in 18 months.

What happened with Flappy reminds us of the trend of “crazy products” in Amazon:

Crazy products are posted in Amazon all the time… and those products become a trend. Not because the products are awesome, but because they are so peculiar — writing a funny review becomes a “trend” in itself.

So with Flappy the same thing happened.
Writing reviews of Flappy Birds actually became a cool thing to do, because regardless what you think of flappy… the game is simplistic, stupid and addictive.

So Flappy didn’t buy downloads or purchase any software, it just took advantage of a trend and used the algorithm to rocket the app to top charts.

The massive growth speed achieved by Flappy Birds is attributed at least in part to the review pattern, showing the power of this indicator in ranking within the app store.

The Art of Getting Reviews

While Flappy Birds achieved viral success with their app reviews, this is an exception rather than the rule; you can’t expect that just building a great app will make it go viral.

Everyone is trying to be a 19-year-old dude. Everyone is trying to close too fast. Give it a little time. It’s so amazing what a soft sell can do. — Gary Vaynerchuk

If you compare getting reviews to dating, you can see how you need to be proactive without annoying your users. You don’t want to push them too quickly to post a review.

Tapping on some stars to rate the app doesn’t sound difficult but it’s hard to get users to return to your app page to do it.

There are various methods used by developers to encourage reviews — in-app popups, icons, and app messages… or by using a reward system.

This type of chasing can, however, cross over to what is called the “white line” and lean towards the grey — a concept explained by Harry Brignull in his blog post.

That white line represents the rules, and the grey is when you play the game while pushing the boundaries of the rules but not breaking them… but you’re not 100% strict to the definition of the rules.

To summarize Harry’s concept, he tells of a review “funnel” that directs users depending on the rating of their app review. Positive reviews reach the app store review section but bad ones never actually get there.

App add-ons such as Appbooster work in this way — they boost ratings and reviews by collecting the reviews and filtering the bad from the good. Bad ones are sent to customer support and good ones are sent into the app store environment.

Is this type of “marketing strategy” in the grey zone?

Grey but smart, really. In the jungle of the app store it seems developers are jumping on any opportunity to increase their ranking. The development of such software shows just how big and competitive this business really is.

When should you ask for Reviews?

If your app has an active system to request for a review, consider the user experience and pick the best time to ask for a review.

A huge part of the success of getting reviews is knowing WHEN to ask for it.

Find a good time to ask and wait for it. Don’t rush it or be too pushy. Be smart, be nice and polite and be fun.

Asking to marry me on the first date? How about we get to know each other a little first.

Reaching out to app review sites

Reaching out to new users during your launch is a good way to boost your downloads and get visibility.

By getting featured on app review sites, niche-related press sites and tech news sites you can get in contact with potential users and start spreading the word about your app.

The goal is to get them talking about your app online so that new traffic starts flowing towards your app.

You do need to pitch your app to these review sites and get blog authors to talk about your app. Unfortunately there is a cost to this, whether it’s the cost of your time or of paying for review services.

Evil review sites?

Are review sites unjust in charging for their online reviews? No, not at all. Imagine the number of reviews that they have to get through and the time it takes to consider, test and write them. It’s normal that review sites have a monetization model that helps pay for this time and effort.

As we all know, time is money.

Getting reviews on a budget

Large app companies have a proportionately large PR budget and therefore hire PR firms to take care of their app promotion.

Not an option for smaller, indie developers.

But, there are modest solutions that can fit app developers working with a restricted budget.

The DIY version of this is to send out review requests directly to each of the review site owners and app bloggers. Or, you can engage a review app submission service or PR media company if you don’t want to do all the
 work. Hiring an App PR company can sometimes provide more effective results if you haven’t refined your approach.

Review collaboration sites

One of the coolest ideas I have seen so far is sites like AppReview.me where you can review other apps and get karma points to get review-backs for your apps. This type of site gives the possibility for app developers to collaborate and benefit from a mutual review system without “gaming the system”.

(Find more about AppReview.me in the interview in the next chapter)

Reviews realities

Some apps get reviewed more than others — even on online review sites.

To make your app a priority for reviewers the “uniqueness factor” can help get your app reviewed faster; the reality is that reviewers have many apps to get through.

Not only that but some apps have more potential for a natural buzz and potential to go viral depending on their nature (fun, new, unique apps).

A new version of an old app may generate less excitement than a totally new and different app hitting the market for the first time. New versions of the iPod were interesting for some, but the launch of the iPad was an international event…
 Create something new and exciting and the buzz will follow.

How to get your App reviewed

Again, we come back to the dating analogy. Getting your app reviewed is a bit like dating — you need to master the initial contact and the approach to asking for a review.

My list consists of over 400 sites that, in one way or another, review, have reviewed or are willing to review apps. Each site, however, has its own way of working, its “rules of engagement”. They can’t all be approached in the same way.

If you’re thinking of an email blast — don’t do it. This generic approach will not suit all the companies and therefore will not work.

Maximize your approval rates in review sites:

  1. Know who and what you’re dealing with. Find out who is behind the site, follow the rules and be patient.
  2. Appeal them directly. Tailor your approach to highlight why your app is interesting to them and their audience.
  3. Pay attention to detail. The number of companies that forget to provide a download link in their pitch would shock you. Provide all the basic information they need to review your app.
  4. Keep in touch. This is like dating, remember? Don’t give up if they don’t get back to you right away. Politely follow up to show your interest. But, don’t be a stalker and consider their usual timeframe for completing a review. Then, if you don’t get the review you want, move on without complaining.

Finding the good review sites

What a good review site is will depend on your objectives. First, have a clear understanding of your objectives for contacting the site. It is to get traffic, social proof or brand awareness?

You may develop a different strategy to target bloggers, review sites or any type of online/offline media depending on your goals.

If your goal is increased credibility and social proof, you might contact sources that don’t have a huge following but that may influence other influencers to in turn promote your app.

For example: Promotion via a local newspaper in a column related to your app may not have a huge reach but it may flag up your story to other industry publications. This could bring you nice solid industry credibility.

On the other hand, if traffic is your goal, you can contact a generic app review site that already has a huge number of followers, traffic and engaged
 readers. They will have a much broader reach.

This second approach may have a wider reach but may also cost more money, since their promotional and review services are in high demand. Their efforts therefore come at a price.

Outside the box thinking — Niche websites

The biggest, best review sites are in everyone’s sights, but don’t forget about the smaller niche sites.

As with dating, it seems everyone wants to go after the cheerleader while they forget about the other cute girls in town.

Niche sites provide a strategy to position your app in the right market and getting a review can be easier if the local blogger or niche webmaster is less in demand than that of a major app review site.
 For the niche webmaster, your proposition will hopefully be a more interesting and exciting idea, compared to the reviewer that sees apps day-in and day-out.

You want as many reviews as possible but you can’t spend 24 hours a day contacting niche websites for reviews. So how can you make the most of your time and most effectively make contact with these site owners?

Do a bit of a background check to see the site’s target audience, their popularity and their style. A few important factors include:

  • Number of Facebook followers
  • Number of Twitter followers
  • Google Page Rank
  • Alexa Rating
  • Number of RSS subscribers

A totally unknown niche site may not be worth your efforts when you only have so much time in the day. Getting a featured review is great, but if no one sees it you won’t get any traffic. If that’s your objective then that particular site may not be right for you at this time.

It’s a balance. Your invested efforts weighed against the exchange of exposure, marketing and traffic.

A note for paid apps: The number of review requests you can make is limited by the number of promo codes you have to distribute.

Promo codes

Promo codes are a way to give “free access” to your paid app to Apple users in the App store.

The number you can distribute is however limited. With just 50 promo codes per app version you need to keep track of your code distribution and have a strategy around who you give them to.

Considering that this number will include distribution to review sites, means 50 is quite limited. Therefore, be aware of how and when your distributed codes are being used, and not used, so you know how many can be redistributed for additional opportunities for a review.

Promo codes are limited not only in number but also in their function. Promo code users are not able to leave an app store review of your app.

These precious codes are for creating a buzz with reviews outside the store and not to directly generate App Store reviews of your app.

Google Play and Promo codes

In contrast to Apple, Google Play doesn’t offer promo codes so your free app giveaway strategy won’t work for the Android market.

This issue challenges the small developer and their methods of getting reviews and creating a buzz in the industry about their app.

A way to get around this is to offer a free version of the paid app to push the sales of the paid version.

From app site reviews to app page ratings

So you’ve got the ball rolling, people are talking about your app and they are reading about your app in blogs, review sites and magazines. It makes you feel warm and fuzzy inside to be getting all this attention…

But what about the reviews INSIDE the app store? Off-page factors may help ranking, but what you really want is ratings that will DIRECTLY boost your rankings.

Right?

Be proactive in asking for reviews

Don’t wait for reviews. Ask for them.

If you’ve built a following of users then reach out to them to help out. Your app webpage, newsletter, Facebook fan page, Google Plus or Twitter followers are following you for a reason. They like your app — so go ahead and ask them for a review.

By showing the community that you care, that you’re not just trying to get reviews, you can also get important feedback about your app.

It can be intimidating but you do need to know what people actually think about your app. Feedback is the only way to know what users like and don’t like.

It’s the only way understand how to make your app better from the user perspective.

And if you don’t ask, you are missing out on an opportunity to get reviews from the people you know already like your app.

Recycle your reviews to increase CTR

Once you’ve got some great reviews you don’t have to stop there. Recycle the reviews into another way to sell your app to new users.

By highlighting your reviews in your app page description, new visitors are more likely to see them. Especially if they are reviews from older versions of your app.

Make sure your potential and current users know about your glowing reviews as it will up their confidence in your app and ideally convince the new users to make the click.

Meet the Expert: Tyler Kessler (appreviewme)

Sometimes you interview members of the industry and you get back way more than you expect. I didn’t expect Tyler to respond with so much information or throw my way content that was so awesome (EPIC, in fact). Tyler is the YODA of reviews, and in this interview, he exposes all of those theories about reviews and reveals how important reviews really are in the algorithm. Tyler is the founder of www.appreview.me

Q1: What is Appreview.me and how does it work?
 A:
AppReviewMe is a platform for independent mobile developers to exchange honest peer reviews to improve their app discovery and App Store Optimization (ASO).

With AppReviewMe, as an independent developer you can receive potentially unlimited reviews for your apps on the AppStore. AppReviewMe uses a karma economy to determine your app’s exposure to receive a review from your peers. Karma is never purchased, and is earned by giving reviews. The more reviews you give, the more you receive.

Related Resources:”
 1. AppReviewMe — http://appreview.me
 2. AppReviewMe Karma Economy — http://appreview.me/karma-economy “ 3. AppReviewMe Algorithm — http://appreview.me/algorithm
 4. AppReviewMe FAQs — http://appreview.me/faq
 5. AppReviewMe in Under 3 Minutes [Video] — http://appreview.me/video

Q2: Tell us about the challenges in achieving reviews for the “everyday” app developer or appreneur?

A:The biggest challenge is organically attracting your top users to write a review for you. Your top users not only love and use your app the most, but they can really speak to it on an emotional level. I believe this emotion can turn a good review into a great review through imagery and storytelling that naturally occurs when a user genuinely loves a product. “

Q3: How does the weight of reviews impact on ranking… and can you give us some of the examples you have witnessed?

A: There is a lot of debate on this due to Apple’s constant undocumented changing of how App Store ranking works. As a result, the developer community is left to share their own data with one another trying to figure out what effects what inside the store. Here’s my general take on what affects rankings. “

a. Number of installs weighted for the day combined with some the past week” b. Number of user reviews for the current version (ratings and reviews)”
 c. User engagement (aka. number of sessions)”
 d. Sales from downloads and in-app purchases” “

Easily the best example of this was Flappy Birds. Before it became a worldwide sensation and got the crazy downloads we dream about, it had two things going for it:

- Lots of user reviews.

Not just generic “great game”, but very intriguing reviews as many people gave 5-stars while giving a confession that often explained how the game was ruining their life. (I mean wouldn’t you download a game with that kind of review just out of pure curiosity?)”

- High user engagement.

Due to the addictiveness mentioned in the user reviews, the ranking moved up with the people opening the app trying to beat their terrible single digit top score. In time the number of installs came as they always will when you have an incredibly dedicated (also frustrated/addicted) user base who share their experiences with your app in the form of a user review. The rest is history.”

Q4: What is your take on the weight of bad reviews vs. good reviews?

A: What’s really great about the AppReviewMe community is the mastermind collaboration that occurs between our users. One of our earliest members actually picked up the phone and asked Apple about this, here’s what they told him:

1. Positive Reviews carry more weight the longer the app is on a device”
 2. The more user retention (revisiting the app), the more weight the positive rating has on ranking”
 3. If you delete the app in the first 24 hours it may not post to the App Store” 4. App Reviews take 24 hours to post most likely because of #3"
 I don’t have data to prove that bad reviews hurt your ranking algorithmically, but it’s clear that if there is a trend of bad reviews, then your number of installs will naturally decrease due to “social rejection”.

Related Resources:

- Apple’s Unwritten AppStore Rules: http://appreview.me/unwritten-appstore- rules “
 — How can I attract more positive reviews for my apps? [AppReviewMe Blog] — https://appreview.me/blog/how-can-i-attract-positive-reviews-apps/

Q5: What do you think is a healthy ratio of downloads vs. reviews?
 A:
My take on this is, who cares, just always be working to get more reviews. I don’t believe there is such a thing as a “healthy” download to review ratio. Like any business, every app has different attributes (RPI, user segments, total lifetime value of a user, etc.)

More positive reviews means more data for the App Store user, more social proof and thus more installs of your app. Most users are followers, and the number of reviews can help steer the majority of them on what app they should consider downloading.” “

Q6: What will be the ideal “review” strategy for a small or new developer… where should they put their energy to achieve a maximum number of reviews?

Immediately after app launch, it’s important to get your first 5 reviews as quickly as possible. Apple will not show an average rating on your app until you hit the magic number of 5 for the current version of the app and it’s important to accomplish this immediately after launch.
 Below are some of the top strategies to getting reviews:

1. Laser target your nag.

Nag only the right users at the right time with in-app popups.
 Don’t just slap on an install of Appirator and hope you get some bites, as you may attract the wrong type of review.

Instead make sure the user has been using your app for a while before asking to rate the app. This ensures you’ll receive the right kind of review, nothing complicated here.

Where it gets tricky, is knowing when to ask. It’s best to nag right after the user has accomplished some kind of checkpoint in the app, but every app is different and as a developer you have to be smart about when and where to trigger this to achieve the desired outcome.

Guidelines on when not to nag:

1. Don’t ask at startup”
 2. Don’t ask in the user’s very first app session or even first 10…love for an app takes time.”
 3. Don’t ask when a user hits an action button expecting something else (pause, navigation, share, etc.)”
 4. Don’t be a pest, only ask once per app version”

2. Humanize your nag.

Let the user know you are a real person. Tell your story in 1–2 short sentences when asking and let your personality show. It’s important to stand out from other apps, this can easily be done by letting them know there is a developer on the other end working hard for them.

This kind of personal touch leaves me wanting to help any developer by saying good things about the app, or conversely, I would be reluctant to leave a 1-star review as it would leave me with guilt. Personal touches make a huge difference in marketing and engaging users.

3. Build an email list.

Extend your interaction with the user outside of the app. There are many techniques on how to do this, but the point is that when a user is using your app, it’s not always a great idea to interrupt their workflow. Building a relationship with them outside of the app will lead to good things all around when it comes to future updates that need reviews. “

4. Ask for reviews in your updated release notes [simplest solution].

When you update your app, Apple allows you to explain what changes you made in the latest version of the app. Don’t be that developer that just puts “bug fixes”, this is your time to let your personality shine and again remind users that you’re a real person working hard for them.

Explain to them that you read every review and that you appreciate any and all feedback. The more you update and react to the user feedback (aka reviews), the easier this will get.

As a bonus, this will be seen when they users is already in the App Store, and is just a link away from being able to leave a review. “

5. For your first app…

I recommend asking your non-developer friends and family to provide these first 5 reviews for you. In my experience, you’ll find that they’ll be so happy to do this for you, but then quickly get annoyed, so just do this once.

To make this as easy as possible for them, I have found it useful to send email video instructions and templates on how to review the apps in the App Store. “

6. Post-Launch Activities.

Once you get a few apps under your belt, you may want to reach out to other developers through strategic partnerships and social media outlets where you can exchange peer reviews. AppReviewMe exchanges the most daily reviews and is the best platform, but hey, I’m biased :)

Resources:

  1. How can I attract more positive reviews for my apps? [AppReviewMe Blog] https://appreview.me/blog/how-can-i-attract-positive-reviews-apps/”
  2. AppReviewMe — http://appreview.me

Q7. What do you think is part of the success behind AppReviewMe?

A: Indie developers need more ways to get their apps discovered. I believe that we’ve created a fair way of doing this with our karma economy, and created a lot of value for indie developers.

Additionally, I am very active with our developer community. We ensure that we are always improving our platform just as our users are improving their own apps. Listening to them and giving the indie dev community what they need will always bring us success. “

ASO and SEO

Ok, we’ve already mentioned SEO several times in this book. We’ve compared ASO to SEO here and there so there must be something going on between them, right?

Conventional SEO, or Search Engine Optimization, for websites has a major influence on ASO but the two are not quite the same, since the app store environment is not the internet. On the other hand, they are directly connected so don’t forget about the main stream traffic (Google) when it comes to driving traffic to your app.

Despite their closely related names and acronyms, developers all too often forget the role of SEO in ASO. Google is still king and rules the jungle regarding organic traffic.

What this means for app developers is that Google could potentially drive as much traffic to an app page as the traffic coming directly from the App Store or Google Play respectively.

While the industry is always changing, and the future may see organic traffic from the App Store and Google Play becoming more relevant and valuable than Google traffic, for the time being it’s important to include Google as an important source of potential traffic and users.

When it comes to quality of traffic from Google versus the stores and their respective apps, the traffic quality depends on the market and the type of app.

In the “gaming” realm, research released by Ampulum showed that gamers found apps primarily by word of mouth and search within the actual app stores. More so than via ads or Google search.

Overall, it’s difficult to come up with a general rule for the way users behave. The app store, app type and market are all influential factors.

With all of that in mind, regardless of who exactly is using Google as a discovery tool for apps, the fact remains that Google Search can still bring in a significant amount of traffic to an app.

From my perspective, users do use the web to search for apps before they enter one of the stores to make the final download and it surprises me how many developers overlook the optimization of their own app websites. (That’s not the app detail page in iTunes online but the developer’s own website)

Simple numbers can help us understand the importance of SEO for app sites. These numbers were obtained from the infamous Google AdWords Keyword tool, with a very quick and light keyword research.

I based the search on an app for kids. Here are some keywords that could be interesting:

  • [Best iPad apps for kids] 2900 exact searches per month
  • [Fun apps] 3600 exact searches per month
  • [iPad apps for kids] 400 searches per month

The parameter I tend to use for keyword research is “exact searches per month” in Google keyword tool as it gives a “conservative” estimate of potential traffic I may obtain if I achieve a top position.

Out of these keywords above the “golden opportunity” from an SEO perspective would be a keyword like “best iPad apps for kids”, if you have an app for kids that is designed for the iPad.

To clarify exactly why, let’s do a basic analysis:

It’s about what we know about the searcher from the search term. Based on the keyword, I know the person “Googling” the keyword is…

  1. An App user.
  2. An App user with kids.
  3. An App user with kids looking to buy a good App for their kids to use on the iPad.

How perfect is that? How much more accurate can it get?

The keyword has a good balance of traffic, numbers and an ideal target audience. The term “fun apps” has higher search numbers but is less targeted and the other has lower search numbers.

Your app site should therefore be targeted to rank for those ideal keywords, not just high traffic or other loosely related words.

Apply a glossy coating of good ol’ fashioned SEO to your app website and make it shine.

SEO blunders that App companies make

App companies sometimes get tunnel vision when it comes to promoting their app.

They go as far as promoting their Apps only in their “corporate” or “company” website, but they don’t think to develop one website per App. This is more difficult to achieve the smaller the budget, but could pay off in the long run.

They even ignore opportunities to optimize the keywords for their own websites, by putting little effort into keyword research and implementing little to no SEO strategies.

Attracting any significant organic traffic then becomes very difficult.

Don’t be one of the developers that forgets SEO and your online search engine rankings. This is part of taking advantage of every opportunity to drive traffic and find your ideal targeted audience who is out there just waiting to find an app like yours.

If the competitors fall short on SEO, it also represents an area that you can be a step ahead of the competition.

What works and what doesn’t work nowadays?

I could write a whole book about SEO in 2012 after the famous Penguin and Panda Updates by Google. If you are not familiar with SEO, let me give you a brief recap.

Google’s algorithm used to be more predictable. The industry’s players, webmasters, SEO guys (me included), marketers and spammers, were able to exploit holes in the system to easily rank for any low or medium competitive keyword.

Myself included, we knew what to do and how to do it to rank sites fast and cheaply, and by cheaply I mean using tools or systems that didn’t require a lot of effort or quality.

As you can imagine, Google got tired of being manipulated and came up with hundreds of new variables that made SEO more complex and challenging, and much less predictable and exploitable.

SEO became part of a long-term inbound marketing strategy rather and just a way of ranking for 1–2 keywords.

The role of social media increased along with content generation strategies, which placed higher value on the quality and frequency of content publishing as well as the connection between that content and the social media world.

In short, the route to ranking has become more about hard work and dedication over the long term and about providing the best user experience. The cheap alternative had disappeared and SEO has become impossible to game…

What does this mean for app page SEO?

Google gets what Google wants.

Focus on providing tons of FANTASTIC content and by promoting that FANTASTIC content in FANTASTIC WAYS. (Yes, 3 times fantastic = great SEO)

Your app website should become a source of content and an authority in your niche.

No matter how small the market, you can work towards being an authority. You have to start somewhere.

For example: An app focused on effective time management tactics should eventually have an accompanying online community of time management enthusiasts (entrepreneurs like you and me). That’s what you should be working towards — building a community.

What this means for your website is that you should have a blog about time management and post about different ways to improve your productivity, reviewing potential tactics, books and even strategies. Then… people start coming to you as an authority on the topic, which builds your credibility and ultimately the credibility of the app. They will have to have it!

Then, keep adding different types of content — videos, email interviews with time management instructors and integrate them into your website content.

Sound difficult?

Yes and No.
Don’t let the idea of content creation intimidate you. The idea is simple — make an effort and provide good value and it will reach that level of fantastic for great SEO.

When it comes to SEO, more content equals more opportunity to trigger those long tail keywords, attract traffic and become a real authority. That’s an authority in the eyes of Google and an authority in the eyes of time management fanatics.

Doable?

Yes.

Worth it?

Absolutely.

An authority site can be a traffic generator that is more effective and constant than any type of marketing investment. It takes some hard work and some commitment to constant content creation, but it will be worth it when you no longer need to depend on pay-per-install or other types of paid advertising.

How is this possible?

It’s so obvious it’s like a smack in the face… People like good stuff.
People like to be inspired.
People buy from sites they trust.

You have a cupcake app?

Your site can offer free cupcake recipes with hints to insider secrets about making them great. Users could potentially upload their own recipes and photos.

You have a fitness app about chiseling your ABS?

Your site can offer fitness tips with a daily blog post about common mistakes people make when working out their ABS.

Or maybe you have an app about learning Spanish.

Your site can offer extra language tips, like slang words or videos to listen to different Spanish accents. The goal is to add extra content that will make people want to share the links and keep coming back.

Another cheeky idea for your Spanish learning site? Get a hot Colombian girl and ask her to teach pick-up phrases in cute and funny videos, and then upload them to YouTube.

The point? Have fun with it, take a gamble, roll with the punches, and see what happens. Be brave to be different.
 — — Before you ask… yes, I’m Colombian, so my previous advice is 100% objective :) — -

Targeting your competitors’ keywords.

One big difference between ASO and SEO is your opportunity and right to target already popular keywords.

Some tactics can get you kicked out of the App Store, including over- optimization and sneaky uses of keywords.

In the App Stores, if you are flagged you are unlikely to get traffic if you piggy back off of popular app terms like “angry birds” (or any combination of those words). Your app risks not being indexed or ranked for those words — or more severe penalization. Consider copyrights as well.

Some have concluded, though it has not been expressly stated by Apple, that this decision not to index such apps is a manual process and not related to the algorithm.

Basically, in the App Store there is risk in targeting certain keywords.

On the other hand…

Those keywords are up for grabs on your app website. No one can stop you from talking about or targeting app-related keywords online.

Those words that you avoid using on your app detail page in iTunes can be used on your app website.

Go ahead and target keywords like

  • Flappy birds alternatives
  • Flappy birds similar apps
  • Apps like flappy birds
  • I hate flappy birds
  • I love flappy birds

You may just get some SEO attention from those keywords and the App Store and Google Play won’t be able to say anything about it.

An App website done right

I have a particular opinion about how to set up an app website the right way.

Every app should have a dedicated domain name and website. Don’t just use one all-encompassing corporate site.

You need to add the basic pages. Every single App site should have:

  • Home Page
  • Features
  • Requirements
  • Updates section
  • Blog (this should be a category)
  • About us
  • About the app
  • Download/Buy now section
  • Contact us

The same theory goes for your social media strategy. Each app should have a page in each platform (each a fan page, a YouTube channel, Twitter and Pinterest accounts). It’s free and people are using it, so you should be too.

On that note, the more social profiles you have for an app the more potential for getting traffic to your app. Users have more ways to reach you.

Social profiles have the benefit of providing interaction with users, further branding (if kept consistent) and, from an SEO point of view, increases your page authority when these accounts are active and linked to your website.

These accounts will be sources of the social signals that Google wants to see. The more sites pointing to your site, the better for SEO. Google gets what they want again — but so do you.

You have 5 apps? Have 5 Twitter accounts. Tweet any update to all 5 accounts.

Extra tweets = more likes = more shares = even more online affection from Google in the form of authority for your website. Not to mention how much easier it is for your users to reach you.

Let me say it again. Don’t make it so damn hard to contact you.

Some time ago, I launched a site called an app review site…. (the site is dead now — it was a massive failure). I set out to get in contact with real app developers out there that I thought had created some cool apps. My aim was to find a human element behind each app. What I found was the human behind it all was harder to find than expected. I looked on their websites and it took a lot of effort to find out actually WHO was behind the app.

Sure, I understand people like their privacy and maybe you don’t want to post your family photos on the site, but there was a clear lack of contact information. This is unbelievable. Do they not realize that there are people out there trying to reach out to them and promote their app? Namely, me?!

Don’t make the same mistake — make it easy for people to connect with you.

From a user point of view this also provides an outlet for people to vent their issues. Without an easy way to connect with you, frustrated users may go straight to your app page reviews to tell you how they feel.

Link building strategies for your app page

Your app page is online alongside your website and they both can benefit from SEO.

This is one strategy to increase conversions and SEO

You can control some on-page factors for your app page but otherwise your SEO strategy will be based on link building.

Start with those reviews from app sites that we talk about. App review sites may help you as much with SEO popularity as they do with getting potential user & review popularity. AppCraver, 148apps and AppAdvice are a few of these type of sites.

This strategy can be simplified by saying — any site that talks about your app should link to your app. These links will ideally boost organic search ranking from search engines online.

Tips for Booming Link Building

Scenario 1: If your web page is basic with marketing information only and links to your app page, this doesn’t present much extra value for the user. The website is just an extra step to getting the download. If your goal is to get the download, better to link directly to your app page in iTunes.

Alternatively you could make your app downloadable from your website.

Scenario 2: If you want to drive traffic to your website, rather than directly to your app, make sure you build links mainly to your website. The app can be

offered as link bait. Though some directories and blogs may insist on linking to the app store or your website or both.

Anchored links are better than the linked URL address. This involves linking a specific keyword in the text to your website. Example: “Boxing app,” “cooking app” or “entrepreneur’s app” could be keywords you may use as anchored keywords to link to your site. You’ll need to specify the site owner that is linking to your page if you have specific keywords to use.

In my experience the most effective link building method is guest posting. This is part of a proactive approach to link building that builds relationships with website owners, bloggers and others in your industry community. Competitors will not be able to “match” these links. Used wisely, a guest post shouldn’t only be used for SEO value but also for branding and traffic.

Some of my other favorite strategies for link building are video marketing and link bait.

A final tip is to avoid those crappy link builders that make SEO seem easy. It’s not easy anymore and if it sounds too good to be true, that’s right, it probably is.

From Theory To Reality

So far everything in this book is just theories… and in many cases the theory and the reality are 100% different.

My editor told me that this article was just full of rants and no real solutions.

That made me wonder… can we really find a solution to those mega problems in the ASO world? Let’s see… to start let’s try to understand what really happens in the trenches, in the dirty world of producing apps and trying to beg… pray for some type of ranking.

The first thing you discover in any type of search game is that you are at the mercy of the algorithm. You learn quickly that SEARCH itself is never fair…

Let me be frank — it sucks. Sometimes you do everything fine, you do the perfect keyword research and once you have it all good, here comes the big bad algorithm or app store and… BOOM! You are gone.

In the SEO world, those of us poor old SEO combatants, we are used to being smashed and hurt by those massive knockouts provided by Google.

But in the new ASO world, appreneurs are young and naïve and every time the app store is broken or every time Apple makes one miniscule change, developers and the app industry community go into virtual riot mode, complaining about the unfairness of the app store.

Oh… so young… so much to learn about how life in an algorithm-based world is not supposed to be fair.

Yes, you read it right.

The app store doesn’t need to be fair, it is not the Vatican. It is a company run for the benefit of its shareholders; managed by humans, designed by dreamers and run by IT geeks… it is not supposed to be perfect. In fact, mistakes happen all the time… and here are my favourite “reality bites” moments in the ASO world.

Apple removing your keywords

Apple has a stupid, non-public policy to remove keywords from your selection of keywords. And the reason why I write “stupid” is because it is a childish attitude that Apple takes towards developers, which showcases how limited Apple is in establishing a serious keyword policy.

The problem resides in the fact that Apple reviewers are 100% random; their way of applying the policies is, in many cases, depends on the weather, mud, the account holder and obviously, the reviewer.

To prove my point, I have previously uploaded the same app in 2 different developer accounts to test the difference. The result: one reviewer accepted the binary code (the app) and the metadata, and the other reviewed by stopping at every step of the approval and later on, went sneaking to the backend to remove random keywords.

Check this video where I talk about it

So the question is: Why is Apple removing keywords?

At 1st glance, if you are a developer with a passionate heart you can claim that it is thanks to their unfair approach towards ASO. Now, if you ask someone like me this attitude from Apple reveals more about its own weaknesses than it does about its strengths.

Apple knows how relevant keywords are and also knows how incompetent its own technology is in avoiding or ignoring potential combinations of keywords to rank.

But wait… why would they want to prevent potential combinations of keywords to rank? Well the answer is simple: to prevent abusing the system with keywords like “angry birds”, “flappy birds” or other copyright material.

So Apple knows full well the power of ASO, but also has no capacity to prevent us using its own archaic algorithm to our advantage. Unless… unless… they decide to chop some keywords that to them may “seem” sneaky.

So the question here is… are you being sneaky or is Apple just simply, stupidly paranoid?

The answer is — both. In many cases developers deserve to be put in the naughty corner for bad behaviour, but in some cases the keywords removed do not follow any policy whatsoever.

This is not only disappointing, but also frustrating.

You do ASO, you do your homework… and a random reviewer decides for no reason that your keywords are trying to “manipulate” the billion dollar app store.

Simply ridiculous.

Should Apple change this?
 You bet…
 By simply having a direct communication with developer.

They need to set up proper channels — like Google has tried with Matt Cutts videos, blog posts and twitter presence, communicating with the webmaster community.

Letting the community know what is going on, or changes to come ahead, is not only the best policy but creates certain level of good faith towards Google.

[ Find out more about the way Google uses video to clarify the doubts that the web community has regarding its algorithm:

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCWf2ZlNsCGDS89VBF_awNvA

On the other hand, Apple ignores those developers that made the app store what it is today, and that community of developers is frustrated for the lack of communication, transparency and feedback from Apple.

Punish me but let the big boys go free…

Because the approval process in the Apple App store is done by humans (interns? teens?), Apple’s review process tends to lack “congruency” between the outcomes.

My account may have been flagged or my app rejected for 3 to 5 different reasons, but when I upload the same app with the same icon and same meta- data, that app can be approved in just a few seconds. The lack of consistency between different approvals is completely crazy.

Some app companies can get their apps approved with the wrong app screenshots or icon while other developer account holders will get every single app rejected. Apps with insanely long titles get approved (clearly spammy titles) and some with one or two more words than normal will get flagged and stopped during the approval process.

With this serious problem of “one day we apply one rule, the next day we really don’t care” Apple has lost the respect of developers, who now believe that getting an app approved is a matter of luck vs. merit.

We think that Apple will reject our apps if we use the same engine (game play technology) in more than a certain number of apps, claiming our intention to spam the app store, but at the same time some of the biggest companies in the app store use the same engine over and over.

Unfair, to say the least.

Flagged accounts and the effects on ranking

This is something everyone knows.

Everyone talks about it in social channels, but I don’t see anyone really posting information about what is going on… it’s time for someone to put it out there: Accounts getting flagged and its implications for ranking.

If you speak to anyone doing this full time and dealing with a serious level of apps, or managing a series of different accounts, the idea of an account being flagged is pretty common.

An account gets flagged after many “strikes”.

Account flags in Apple

The way it works is:

Your app reviews and the approval process start to suddenly become more complicated than ever. Apps take longer to approve and Apple will start rejecting apps for all sort of “theoretical reasons” vs. “factual reasons”.

Theoretical reasons are reasons where the reviewer defines that you are “intending” to upload apps that are not suitable even if they are.

You are (according to them):

1) Trying to spam the app store by submitting too many similar apps
 2) Summiting apps that are lower than the quality expected in the app store.

The problem is that those 2 statements are like the statements of the bully bouncer at the night club.

You are too fat, your shoes are not cool enough, or I don’t like your boyfriend.

Those decisions, many times do not follow any specific guideline. It is like when a police man stops you because he thinks you were trying to go too fast versus showing you how fast you were going.

So what happens after your account gets flagged?

Well that account life and the app health become compromised and after speaking to hundreds of developers we all agree that once an account has been flagged its ASO loses power.

Strange?

Not really.

Clearly, if Apple is going to flag an account some type of “penalty” needs to be incorporated and, in this case, apps being lunched from flagged accounts have significantly less success and downloads than apps coming from clean accounts.

Is this a real issue? Yes and no.

A penalty applied by an algorithm is normal, in fact it is necessary; it’s similar to a living organism attacking a virus. The algorithm needs to have defence mechanics to protect itself from spammers or people trying to abuse the system.

The problem is… these penalties are applied in silence; penalties without any transparent process or regulation. It’s a problem — especially when the penalty is implemented randomly and when the developer involved has no clear knowledge that a penalty is affecting his downloads and revenue.

If all of this wasn’t frustrating enough, the problem becomes harder to swallow when you realize that, thanks to these penalties being manually applied, many horrendously (love that word) designed and spammy apps live like kings in the valley of the app store.

Apps that clearly do not follow guidelines and that are designed to provide a horrible experience just for a quick buck are getting approved because Mr. Reviewer really wants to finish the day early and he/she is approving any type of crappy app that appears in his/her ticket system.

So let’s recap:

  • Reviews are done manually
  • The reviewers each have different standards
  • Crappy apps get approved on a regular basis
  • Good apps gets rejected on a regular basis
  • Apple will remove some of your keywords from the App Store for no clear reason
  • Apple will not explain why or provide any clarification
  • Developer accounts can get flagged without anyone knowing why and it affects the future health of that account and its apps

Welcome to the real world!!

So, if the grass is grey in Apple let’s look at the other option… Google Play.

If you thought life was random, you haven’t seen anything yet… wait for Google. Google’s top tool is its worst enemy: Its own algorithm

Google’s algorithm is like the FORCE in Star Wars. Strong and dangerous…
 The algorithm is fast, fearless and can destroy you in 24 hours without warning.

What am I talking about?

Account flags in Google

Well, when Google designed its algorithm, millions were invested in Harvard and Oxford brain cells. Google’s algorithm was created thanks to a huge investment of money, energy and hours of very smart cookies trying to develop the world’s best, “smartest” algorithm.

Google wants to define the way we search and every day they implement new changes to the way their search engine indexes, ranks and displays content.

Obviously, by Google owning Google Play, the apps in the app market are also at the mercy of the algorithm… and that is in fact good. The bad news is how “automatically” the algorithm behaves and how, like any machine, the decisions of the algorithm can be fast and unfair.

So how does this work in the real life of a Google Play developer?

Google algorithm will detect something … that something can be a range of different flags:

  • Your content is over optimized
  • Your content is trying to be sneaky and rank for a copyright

When this happens you get a notification from Mr. Algorithm. This notification is usually automatic; this means John, Peter or Roger (all of those engineers at Google) may not be directly behind the notification message. In fact this email comes directly from Mr. Algorithm, when “he” thinks you are doing wrong.

Unfortunately the algorithm is also designed to suspend your account if you get many warnings. Something like: 3 strikes, you are out.

Fair?
It could be…

If these notifications were sent by humans and not by a machine.It’s scary to think that the algorithm sending the notification has the ability to ban your account in less than 24 hours if it discovers 3 different anomalies in your account.

I have met a lot of developers who had their account 100% banned for life in Google Play without having ever tried to “trick the system” or be, in any way or form, “sneaky”.

So, this means that a developer can lose his/her apps without a clue of what is going on. Although Google has a mediation system once an account gets banned, recovering from a Google ban is almost impossible. “Once slapped, you are gone” — is the common belief.

So what is the solution?

There is no solution, to be honest. The only way we can play the game is to try to understand the rules and play with them.

So what that means is, if we know that Apple removes keywords let’s try to anticipate and start tracking, recording and even sharing what keywords they have removed.

If the keywords are getting removed, a pattern can be found.

The same deal with Google. Being paranoid is not just a nice thing to be… with Google is a must.

Having a professional read and re-check your metadata (description) in Google Play to be sure you are not upsetting the Google gods needs to be a proactive approach.

Meet the Expert Sylvain Gauchet

Sylvain Gauchet is one of those guys I have admired for a long time, his company not only produces simply the best solutions in app video marketing but the content they share in their blog is truly valuable for the app industry.
 More about Sylvain work and company can be found at @Apptamin http://www.apptamin.com

How important is Video marketing in the app industry?

You can have a successful app without doing a promo video. But at Apptamin we’re convinced that video is the best way for someone to assess your app, and that a compelling video is a great marketing asset. It lets you show what’s unique about your app and what’s different about your approach, in seconds.

It shows your product, you can get your point across, and depending on your budget you can even show your app used in context and do some storytelling.

Video is now used a lot on the web, YouTube is the second search engine, and using this medium is another way to increase conversions and get more customers.

Can you educate us about the right approach when planning a video marketing campaign?

The first thing, as with really any marketing effort (especially paid acquisition), is to not push a bad app. If you know that you do have something different (that users love) and that there is a market then that’s when you want to think about campaigns and bigger marketing efforts. And I’m not saying don’t do anything before your app is perfect: it’s smart to get feedback fast, and that might very well require some marketing.

Anyway, once it’s the right time for marketing here are some guidelines:

  1. Think about what’s unique, different or fun about your app/game and figure out the points you want to get across (what will matter to your audience). You can not try and tell everything here so you need to focus, especially for a short video (15s for Facebook video ads and most video ad networks for example).
  2. Write a script and plan exactly what content of the app you’ll show and how.
  3. Get feedback on your script from fellow developers or members of your team. Better now than when it’s over.
  4. Produce the video (or have it produced, in which case the company can help you with #1 and #2)
  5. Use your video on as many free channels as possible
  6. Try small paid acquisition campaigns using video. If you get good results, spend more.

What makes a good app trailer?

It needs to be short and to the point. You can’t be showing every feature (nor your app settings) or every level of your app. Focus on why your app is unique and worth trying. As much as possible, we try to stay within 60s and actually like the 30/40s format better (a 15s version is useful if you plan on trying video ads).

We believe that showing the product is important. You can have other elements, make it fun, etc. But showing your app is a safe best.

You also want to make sure that you mention the name of your app and where it’s available. Most likely in a call-to-action at the end showing your app icon, the app store badges, your website address etc. It seems obvious but it’s not always done.

Why do you think many appreneurs haven’t embrace video marketing yet?

Producing a quality video is not easy, and takes either time or money. Even though we see more and more appreneurs doing it, it’s still fairly new and for example you still can’t have your video on the app store (as opposed to the Google Play Store).

For a while it was quite complicated to take video screen captures of an app, but this is getting easier now. You then have to do some video editing, which can take a while (a safe bet is to keep things simple if you’re getting started). You need to plan for that time.

Can you give us some success cases (quick case studies) when video marketing was part of the successful launch of an app?

In all cases, just the video won’t be enough. It has to be part of a marketing strategy, but can make it much more efficient.

One success case that comes to mind is the Mailbox one. They’ve changed their landing page now but before their launch they had a beautiful trailer and a subscribe form. There was no app officially available, yet they managed to get many sign ups, which combined with other marketing efforts (getting influencers to try the beta, creating a sense of urgency, etc.) led to a successful launch.

What are some of the tools to go DIY with video marketing?

If you’re considering creating more of an explainer video, check out Wideo or PowToon.

If you want to make screen captures of your app, download Reflector (http://www.airsquirrels.com/reflector/) for iOS apps and use the screen record commands introduced with Android Kit Kat (http://developer.android.com/tools/help/adb.html#screenrecord) for your Android apps.

What do we need to consider before hiring a professional app marketing agency to develop our video?

Make sure you look at several examples of their work, and that they are actually the ones that produced the videos. Make sure they know about apps, at least enough to make the project process smooth. After about 300 videos we can anticipate most of the issues and challenges before getting started.

Don’t hesitate to guide them on what your message and selling points are, but also keep an open mind and listen to their suggestions. I’d advise not to pay anything until you know what kind of video you’re going to get and have defined the basic flow of the video (synopsis) with them.

Along the process, make sure you get feedback from other members of your team. It’s much better to change things up before the actual video production starts than afterwards.

Once we have our video… then what? what is the next step?

Now it’s time to use it!

Here are a few places you can use your video:

  • App website (above the fold, choose the right thumbnail)
  • Google Play Store (think about localization)
  • Alternative App Stores for Android apps (Amazon App Store, Slideme, etc.)
  • YouTube 
    - “Regular” video (optimize your thumbnail, title, description and tags)
    -Adwords videos — pre-roll ads (target niche-specific videos)
  • Bloggers and Journalist outreach (include a YouTube link in your email pitch)
  • Ad networks (Vungle, Chartboost, etc.)
  • Facebook Video Ads
  • Email signature (include a YouTube link in your email signature)
  • Trailer platforms / Video galleries
    -AppPicker (www.apppicker.com/video — register as a developer to submit your video)
    -Startup-Videos (startup-videos.com) — usually for higher budget videos (custom animation or on-location)
  • Pitch/Awards: use your video on stage or to convince a jury
  • Exhibitions: have a screen on your booth and showcase your video. Ask us for the uncompressed ProRes “.avi” file if that’s the case.
  • Others: social media, forums, Quora, etc.

Everyday App Store Optimization

A lot has been discussed so far, so before we go ahead let’s recap a bit…

ASO Basic Summary

An effective ASO campaign involves:

  • Proper keyword selection
  • App optimization
  • Conversion

Proper keyword selection

In keyword selection the objective is not to rank for all the keywords relevant to your app, but to at least rank for some valuable keywords that can bring you traffic and users.

If you’re new on the app scene then you should be focused on your RANK. What’s important is not necessarily how HIGH your app rank is but that it at least gets ranked.

Remember the ASO key strategy for choosing keywords:

  • Keywords that are most relevant to your app
  • Keywords with high search volume, and less competition

You will need to decide whether you want to opt for volume and competition or go for the less crowded market and have a chance of ranking better.

Don’t forget: High search volume doesn’t always equal more competition, but sometimes trendy keywords will bring more competition. It’s best to choose your battles wisely.

App optimization & conversion

Like the way we optimize websites with onsite and offsite SEO factors, ASO involves not only optimizing the app itself but also optimizing any and all variables that could positively affect the overall app ranking.

Once again… keep in mind that although we are looking for ranking: Converting traffic to downloads is the ultimate goal.

So, once you’ve implemented optimization strategies you’re bound to have traffic passing by your app?

Yes… but that doesn’t mean you are in “victory land” just yet.

The next step is to make sure as much of that traffic as possible enters your “store” and decides to buy what you’re selling. You need to get the click and get the download.

Organic Search results only bring potential users to your app page. There is some further convincing to be done before they take the next step to download your app over that of the competition.
 Search leads the horse to water but you still need to make him drink.

Your “app page” needs to convince potential users of your apps value.

This can be done via these main factors:

  • A bold app icon
  • Stunning screenshots
  • High ratings & reviews
  • Description

Once visitors are confident that you’re selling what they want to buy, then, and only then, will they decide to download.

As we’ve mentioned, even free apps are not guaranteed to get downloaded. Users want value and you can convey your app’s value with those main, crucial conversion factors.

Continued Optimization

So what’s next? We have done all those steps… now what?

Well, ASO is a continuous process of testing and tracking. As we know already, the first goal is to rank for our selected keywords and to achieve some type of downloads thanks to our ASO strategy.

But not all of our magic and ideal plans ultimately pan out and that’s when the process of “tuning up” takes place.

Many developers quit after their first ASO update.
 “I told you Gab!!! ASO is overrated!!! I did it once and it didn’t work.”

I hear you.
 I also went to the gym once and I didn’t get abs — what a scam!

The goal, once we manage to achieve certain level of success with ASO, is to go back to our list of keywords and select some higher traffic keywords to target (still relevant with achievable difficulty). This means to take out lower performing keywords from your metadata and enter the new words with higher traffic.

Tracking the changes is essential.

A key point to take away is that ASO and keyword optimization is not a static process. Constant tracking and continued optimization is essential to keep up with the dynamic app store systems — and to stay above the competition.

Get in and get your hands dirty

Whichever strategy you choose, there is an element of intuition and intelligent decision making in the ASO process. That’s why so many people fail at ASO.

They forget that because each app has distinctive characteristics and marketing potential, it’s important to consider the user perspective and understand the market by searching and using new apps regularly. As previously mentioned, optimization comes from tracking, testing, and adjusting — so you will learn more about each of your apps as you go along.

In plain English: you will learn more about ASO by doing it, than by reading this book…

Just like you learn more about how to speak a language by speaking it than by reading about it.

Don’t expect your first app to be in optimal ranking state on the first submission — expect tweaks and learn as you go.

ASO as you go

When doing ASO there are a few things that we need to keep in mind to help us understand the data we are reading and trying to analyse.

Here are some factors to remember during the day-to-day process of keeping our ASO strategy updated.

Everyday optimization — points to remember:

Ranking — Download numbers rule

  • Download numbers/velocity and rating numbers/quality are strong influential ranking factors

Updates matter

  • The freshness factor is also important — apps that are updated more often with recent activity will rank higher than older inactive apps (even if the older ones have more downloads)

Understand the dance

  • Charts fluctuate frequently in the App Store so you should track your app’s movement as well as that of your competitors in the charts. This can be called the App Store Dance (comes from Google Dance).
  • Bouncing up and down is normal but you need to keep an eye on other competitors to see if you are, or are not, the only one being affected by the fluctuation of the algorithm.

Track a range of competitors

  • I usually recommend tracking a healthy range of competitors, from the big boys to the small players that may be on your same competition level. Tracking a wide variety of different apps will give you an overall perspective of how are you going vs. “the rest of the app store” in your same niche.

If you are an Apple developer, keep in mind that Apple’s charts fluctuate often (more than Google Play’s) so you’ll need to look at any major changes in the fluctuation patterns, then analyze what changed to cause the increase or decrease.

Changing category is not the end of the world:

  • Testing categories is part of any type of optimization; if things are not working, why not change the category in your next keyword update. Trust me: if it doesn’t work you can always revert.

Niche — Although small can bring big $

  • We tend to think niche potential is less because it is a smaller market. Small doesn’t mean poor. Only 0.01% of the population are Ferrari customers. That is perfect for Ferrari, even having 0.001% of the population makes them a profitable and cool *ss business. Ranking in a niche category may result in higher conversion than if you cast a wider net in a broader niche.

Be scared of bad ratings

  • Use feedback to keep your app users happy without forgetting that the current version of your app will always have more weight in the eyes of the algorithm that previous one. So be scared of bad ratings… a bad rating can really, really sink your ASO efforts.

The Future of ASO

A while ago I asked to some awesome ASO evangelists what were their predictions for 2014.. here is what Niren Hiro from SearchMan SEO had to say about his forecast about ASO, you can find more about SearchMan at www.searchman.com

Get ready for some interesting predictions

1) Quality will rule

Search Rankings & Category rankings will weigh user feedback more heavily. App advertisers will poor ratings will see soaring costs (lots of clicks but few installs). Apps that publish ads and participate in ad exchanges (like MoPub Nexage) will see fewer bid requests if their apps review poorly because advertisers will want quality environments in which to show off their ads.

2) Japan

Everybody will rush in, now that its official that Japan is the largest market, which many have predicted all along. Keywords and other localization services will grow.

3) iTunes keywords might go away

As Apple’s app store search engine keeps improving, the need for 100 characters of tags may diminish

4) Youtube, Websites, and other Google signals

Developers will realize that they are hurting themselves by not having a youtube trailer, Web-SEO optimized websites with keyword tags, Google’s +1 sharing, and other “hooks “ into the Google machine

5) Facebook will become the 3rd largest App Store after App Store & Google Play

6) Google & Twitter will join Facebook in offering Mobile App Install Ads to developers, displaying ads on both their own apps and also across a network of apps

7) One of the Measurement partners will make it possible for developers to stop buying on a cost per install basis, and *start buying on a cost per actual revenue basis

8) Apps will start advertising on TV & Outdoor media

9) Asian Apps will get traction in the US, especially Line

10) Developers will finally realize that the screenshots they use on their store landing pages should perform the task of an outdoor billboard on a highway. i.e. great image, clear customer benefit, and clear call to action…not just a screenshot

11) App Store SEO consultants (like Gabriel) will grow like crazy [Not intentional in that plug]

12) Search Typeahead in the app store will become personalized to you (your interests, the apps you use, etc) and not generic

13) Smart developers will combine the launch of an optimized app update with advertising — in order to get maximum visibility lift

14) Telcos/Carriers will offer developers the ability to charge for content, and use this to lure them to carrier-operated stores, thereby reducing some of the monopoly-grip that the Play store & App Store have on the market now

Conclusion

I feel bad ending this book now.
 Deep inside I think, there are so many things I could have included.
 I’m pretty humbled to be able to share the content of this book with you.

The last 24 months have been a wild ride. I still remember the first time I begged a company to let me ASO their app for free, just to read their email telling me nobody needed App store optimization.

I’m especially proud of all the mistakes I made along the way, mistakes that in some way or form “put me in my place”.

The app industry has changed my life. It has given me a breath of fresh air. So many possibilities, so many amazing entrepreneurs, so many challenges.

Being in the ASO world, in the app world, surrounded by smart people — it is an exciting place to be.

ASO is not perfect. It is not a magic solution, but is for sure a smart way to empower developers and appreneurs to find their own market and increase the discoverability of their apps.

I wish to take all the credit of this book and announce to the world I learned it all by myself, but that will be a huge fat lie. Some of the amazing people that have inspired me are part of this book.

This book WILL be update it frequently, ASO changes, that’s what makes it fun, exciting and interesting.

As soon as I discover something new, I will let you know. Thanks for reading…

Gab
 @gabrielmachuret

www.asoprofessional.com