Your Guide to App Store Optimization (ASO)

App Store Optimization (ASO) is the field that deals with optimizing searchability and downloading conversions for apps. This is similar to Search Engine Optimization (SEO) for apps. As with websites, experience shows that it is seldom enough to release an app and then expect the users to find it on their own. The conversion rates you want can get a lot better if you spend a little time doing ASO. And as with websites, it works best if it’s something that is constantly being adjusted. The keywords and visual elements that work today are not necessarily as effective in six months.

According to Apple, 65% of app downloads are through a search in their App Store. With approx. 1,000 new apps published every day, it is important to be in the top of the search results. There are also figures that show that the first 10 apps in a search result account for 86% of downloads. Of that, number 1 account for 29%.

In 2018, The Tool conducted a survey among 60 app marketing specialists on which factors had the greatest impact on ASO. It turned out that there are several parameters you can tweak when you want to optimize for searchability and conversion for an app. In addition, there is a slight difference between the App Store (iOS) and Google Play (Android). In the following, I’ll give a few tips for both searchability and conversion on each platform.

Top 10 App Store Optimization facts

Data from: The Tool App Store Optimization Factors & ASO Trends for 2018 - Expert Survey

Get found in App store and Google Play

If your biggest challenge is to be found in the two app stores, look for search optimization. Here, keywords are some of the most important things to work with. When App name / title, subtitle / short description and keywords / description are listed as some of the most important ASO factors on App Store and Google Play, it’s because these factors help determine whether a given app is relevant to a given search. In order to be found, the words that the user searches should be included in one of these fields mentioned above. 

When I have to find relevant keywords I always start with a brainstorm. I try to find all the words that a user might search for and where it might be relevant to find the app I'm working on. From there I use tools such as Mobile Action, App radar or App Annie. I use them for two things: First, I use them to expand my brainstorm by coming up with other keywords that might be relevant - eg. by looking at related words or keywords competitors use. In addition, I use the tools to evaluate each keyword. These tools can tell me 3 important parameters that I use in the selection of keywords.

    1. To what extent is the keyword sought.
    2. How likely is to rank highly in searches for the keyword.
    3. How many others are using the same keyword.

One last parameter that I evaluate each keyword on is relevance. For example, how closely related a given keyword is to the core service of the app.

Together, these parameters can help me pick the best keywords. In this selection process, it is important to consider the app's competitiveness. A new app from an unknown brand has very low competitiveness, and should, therefore, choose keywords where competition is lower. Otherwise, it’ll end far down the list of search results. In that case, it is better to rank high in fewer searches than to rank lower in frequent searches. More well-known brands or apps that already have many downloads or good ratings can better compete on the popular keywords.

The main keywords selected will be included in the app's name or subtitle / short description, as these are of greater importance to the app's ranking. The remaining keywords are entered as keywords in the App Store or in the description on Google Play.

Caption for Ældre Sagen Example: Ældre Sagen's app is a good example of how keywords are used both in name and subtitle, which makes it rank highly both when searching for Ældre Sagen, Offers, Discounts, and Benefits.

Improve your download conversion rate

If you want to optimize your app's download conversion rate, then it’s more about convincing potential users that the app is high quality and can add value. In this context, both the visual expression and the ratings are important factors, each of which can lead to a conversion lift of 10-35%.

In my experience, ratings are not something that comes by itself - at least not the good ones. The bad ratings will probably come by themselves because if a user has a bad experience, they are more motivated to spend a little extra time telling people about it. All those who have good experiences, on the other hand, rarely post it by themselves. The best action, in this case, is that you encourage users to give it a rating via the app itself.

On iOS devices, it is even possible to ask users to submit a rating without having to leave the app. Our experience has shown us that with this simple initiative, the rating of our apps usually increases by +1, without any other measures being taken - simply because several of the happy users have rated it. A study done by Apptentive has shown that with a jump from two to three stars, an app could expect a conversion increase of +280%.

Visual elements

One last important consideration is the visual elements. This applies to screenshots, video, app icon, and, in Google Play, also a feature graphic. The visual elements must function as an eye-catcher for the user and partly express the app's quality. A sloppy presentation gives the impression of a bad app.

With the visual elements, it is important that the user can quickly decode the app's core functionality, and what value it delivers. On average it takes a user 3 seconds to decide whether or not they are interested in an app. Which essentially means you have a 3-second window to convince people that your app is quality! Here the app icon, and the first 2-3 screenshots, are absolutely essential, as they are the ones that can be seen on a search result. For example, the message can be clarified by combining images of the app's core functions with short texts describing them in the screenshots that are selected.

It is also highly recommended to produce a video for the two app stores. According to App Annie, this alone can raise the conversion rate by 20-35%. A video for the two app stores should be short and precise and, again, highlight the value the app can give and the core functionality it has, rather than conveying a mood. It is a tool for users to determine whether the app will be relevant to them. Most users will not see more than the first 12 seconds of a video.

A/B test

A good way to get better at ASO is by A/B testing your app's presentation. You can do this in Google Play, where you can easily set several different presentations up against each other and see which one leads to the highest conversion rate. Little by little, you’ll learn what works, and what doesn’t.

What else can you do? Well...

Companies today spend huge sums on the design and development of apps, but are often surprised when that doesn’t automatically lead to instant success and lots of downloads. It requires marketing and that you spend some time on the above.

At Adapt, we work to increase app ranking, conversions and to increase the number of users. We look at what motivates people to download apps - such as showcasing the value that any given app delivers. Do you need a hand with your ASO strategy? Then reach out to me, I’d love to help.


Christoffer Vinther-Høj
Senior UX Strategist