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App Store Optimization (ASO): The Next Space

It’s not something that many people are talking about in search: App Store Optimization (ASO). Apps on mobile/smartphones have transformed how consumers/people interact with brands and information. Whether we’re using it to enhance workflow/function in our everyday lives (think Maps and Tools), using it to connect socially to the people around us (think Twitter, Foursquare, Pinterest), or taking our desktops with us wherever we go, it’s the App that’s making this evolution possible.

The Guide to App Store Optimization

It’s certainly not a newsflash to anyone who’s been paying attention the last few years. It’s the big wave that finally broke onto the shore: the mobile revolution. And it’s an app-world. Over the last two years, it’s been somewhat of an Arms Race of app-building; companies and brands building apps just to build them. Just to be in the space, just to tout that they are “cutting edge”. It’s a entirely different question if these companies/brands are building apps well.

App Store Facts (Apple Apps and Google Play Apps)

With nearly three-quarter of a million apps on each of the major platforms, thousands of apps competing for the same space, how does your app get found? That’s where ASO can play a role. [Just a note:] this post will lean heavily toward Apple’s App Store. I will fill in with Google Play-specific App Store as applicable. While it’s a little like Bing and Google’s search algo’s (each being completely unique), there are going to be certain elements that are constant in each.

App Store Search

Search; it’s how people find what they’re looking for. And the app store is no different. Per Business Insider’s Intelligence Report from Q3 2011 (granted it’s over a year old and before iOS6) has searching at 63% for both Apple and Google, with WOM (word-of-mouth) a very strong second. See the graphic below.

Per SearchMan, App Store search is utilized 56% of the time when users find their app, with WOM and Ads running a distant 3rd and 4th. Ranking (or how Apple and Google’s app store algo order the results) was the #1 way users found their app.

How Consumers Discover Apps in the App Store

Image from: Business Insider Intelligence

From everything I’ve read, both Apple and Google keep a very tight lid on App Store statistics, which also explains the real lack of meaningful data surrounding ASO. Regardless, search in the App store is an important channel to consumers when they’re discovering and researching. So the question is, how do you help ensure that your app gets the best visibility possible?

The Basics of App Store Optimization (ASO)App Store Optimization: The Basics

A lot of this is really common sense. But then again, it’s common sense to SEOs and not necessarily developers (the ones who are submitting the apps to the App Store). SEOs tend to think with end-consumer in mind. We use our optimization skills to drag the consumer out of their cycle(s) and into our funnel(s). Like any website we’d touch, we’re looking to pull consumers/users through to our sites at every step they take in their process. Here too, we’ve got to do the research, study the behaviors, and get them at every step of their app search journey.

It’s important to note Apple’s acquisition of CHOMP in February of this year. In essence, Chomp is a app-based search engine (touted in their CrunchBase profile as the only one that uses an algorithm based on what the app actually does). This is important as we discuss iOS6.

App Name

With the app name you want to be as targeted as possible, describing exactly what the app is/does. Unlike the Page Title, you’ve got about 19 characters to play with (as that’s all that will display). Which means you’ve got about 2 or 3 words to get to the core of what your app is/does across to users. Not a lot of room to work with at all, but, hey, we’re marketers right?

It’s also important to note that you can’t (well, you can, but I wouldn’t) use any special characters in your app name. No ™, no ® and no ©. App Store uses the app name to create your app’s URL in the store. If you do use those symbols, Apple, in particular, will revert back to your Apple ID.

It’s also been noted by several folks that the app name doesn’t carry nearly as much weight as it used to (i.e. think EMD). There’s a great presentation on this here: Kolinko’s New Rules in App Store Search.

Summary: Be targeted and explicit with your app name. Get your targets in the first 2 or 3 words (19 characters) and don’t use any special characters.

App Keywords

This appears to be a major area of optimization for apps, in particular Apple’s App Store Algo hones in on it), but unlike web pages, you’re limited to 99 characters worth. But make no mistake, there’s still room to spam in 99 characters.

If you read Kolinko’s presentation above, and from some of my own App Store searches, Apple has gotten better with plurals, which can save you desperately need characters. It also appears that the “phrase-match bonus” is also of bygone era. It’s here that keyword research will play a role; you’ll want to hit the spectrum of consumer behavior if you can. Meaning, even though you don’t have to create phrases any longer, you still need to be working in mid-tail and long-tail phraseology into your app keywords.

For instance, if we wanted to optimize a photo editing app, we probably want the keywords to look something like this:

[free,photo,editor,editing,program,effects,program,best,creator,collage,(company name)]

Under the 99 limit (assuming your company name isn’t incredibly long) and hits several consumer/user avenues in their discovery process. It’s here you’re going to win your battle in the App Store search. Be smart, do your research, and build in the best keywords possible for your app.

App Description

All the research I’ve done on this, and again through App Store searches, makes this field meaningless to the algorithm (a lot like the meta-keywords field). With the iOS6 update, app descriptions are no longer searchable or incorporated into the app card. But, like an actual meta-description, is where you have to sell yourself to get the click-through.

On a desktop, only the first 3 lines of the app description are visible to the user. If they want the rest, they have to hit the “More” button. That means you have to make those lines count. And, although iOS6 helped to slow down the search process and make users examine the apps more carefully, you’ve still got to get the “why me” and elevator pitch in the first 3. You’ve still only got about 5-10 seconds to convince someone.

That said, you want to clearly explain the “what” and the “why” up-front. Include any awards/achievements your app has won in here. Nothing says quality like an award. And, if you haven’t got that, any mentions from TRUSTED resources (i.e. NYT, Wired, WSJ, Well-Known Blogs). If you’re going to put a mention about your cousin’s blog calling you a “must-have app”, don’t. It’s razzle-dazzle time, thank your cousin with a nice email instead.

After those first three lines, hit up the benefits and features of the app. Drop in some quotes of user reviews, and add in some information on the company. It’ll help to make a nice, well-rounded app description.

App Screenshots

Here again, this isn’t weighted in the algorithm, but essential to convincing the user to click-through and download. If you’re not displaying the breadth, depth, beauty, and functionality in the first couple screenshots, you need to be. This is literally is the “show me” portion of your app. Like Google Local, you want your most important and gorgeous screenshots first.

In Apple’s App Store you get 8 screenshots for your app, and in Google you get 5 screenshots. Use them all. It may be the 6th or 7th screenshot that makes the user pull the trigger and download.

App and User Ratings

It’s hard to discern if ratings actually play a part in the algorithm in the App Store, but if I had to guess, I’d say it’s a factor. And, beyond, that, crappy app ratings are certainly going to dissuade the consumer/user from downloading it. Moreover, if you’re like me, you’re hard-pressed to rate any app (even if you like it). It just feels like a time-suck and, really, damn annoying that they blast you with a “HEY, RATE OUR APP!” at regular intervals.

But, iOS6 has attempted to circumvent the Rate-My-App process by allowing users to contact you directly. And, with the introduction of Facebook Likes to the App Store, is adds to the social marketing element. Here are some tips:

  • Fill out the iTunes Support fields for your app. If a user/consumer wants to get in touch with you, make sure they can. Not doing it will only lead to a hell-hath-no-fury review.
  • Leave contact info in your app description
  • There are app-specific tools like TapStream that not only can help you get analytics on your apps, get you more social with your apps, but also encourage users to leave your good reviews with their Review Bar.

App Store Optimization is the next space for SEOs to climb into. A few are already thereASO - Branding for the App Store (publicly), some are there privately, and for many of you this might be your first introduction to ASO. With mobile accelerating at an unheard of pace, and apps becoming as commonplace and superfluous as the desktop experience itself, the next battlefield of consumer engagement and mindshare for brands will be here. In this space. Make sure your brand is prepared and optimized.

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