The Need to Know on ASO: Part 1 – The Fundamentals

The search bar inside Google Play is the single most important tool for getting your app discovered. So, use it! Here is the first in a series of posts explaining the art of app store optimization…

It was all so easy on day one of the app era.
When Apple launched its App Store on July 10, 2008, there were 500 products to choose from. A quick browse and you’d seen them all.
By November 2009, there were 100,000 apps. Two years later, half a million.
Then came Google Play, launched in October 2008. The Android store grew even faster. Today, it offers over 3.8 million apps.
These remarkable stats are a cause for celebration among the developer community. They show the huge and enduring appeal of the app format.
But success brings complications.
For smartphone users, it’s this: how the heck do I find the app I want?
The answer, of course, lies with the search bar. Indeed, research by Tune shows that typing into the search box is how 53 percent of consumers discover the apps they download.
Well, this sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
Yes, it’s the Google internet search box all over again.
Now, the thing about search engines is that you can game them to ensure your listing comes out near the top. There’s a whole industry for that: search engine optimization (SEO).
Can you do the same for apps? Of course you can. And so, we finally come to the point of this article.
Welcome to app store optimization (ASO).
What’s going on with ASO? Let’s keep this very simple. When a person types a query into a search box, the system generates a list of suggestions. How does it do this? Randomly? Alphabetically?
Obviously, the answer is with algorithms – ‘rules’ that analyze all the apps on the store and then make a judgment about which ones are most relevant.
Naturally, there’s a massive incentive for an app developer to understand how these algorithms work. After all, why let consumers discover someone else’s app when they could be finding yours?
Now, the tricky bit is that – as with the web search box – Google does not make its exact ranking algorithms public. Also, it constantly changes them. You have to stay on top of these updates to ensure your app is always highly ranked.
That said, there are some ASO fundamentals to observe. We’ll drill deeper into the nuances in subsequent articles. But for now, here are the basic Google Play components.

App name
Obviously, what you call your app is the single most important piece of metadata used by the ranking algorithms. Google permits 50 characters. So, use them all if you can. And don’t be too clever. Stick to factual keywords. And make sure you localize your app name for multiple languages if you are selling in more than one country. It’s also a good idea to use an emoji in your title.

Short Description
This is the 80-character field that users see before they expand to reveal the long description (see next entry). It should highlight the best features of your app while including keywords that move you up the rankings.

Long Description
Here, you have 4,000 characters to get users really excited about your product. Use it to provide a clear and comprehensive description of your app’s features and purpose. As elsewhere, you should include keywords a few times, especially at the beginning and end.
Other tips are to write in short paragraphs, use bullet points and include bold formatting. You can use icons and emojis to jazz things up. And make sure to mention any awards and social media/web links. Always include calls to action.

Developer Name
If you haven’t named your company yet, why not name it with ASO in mind? It can be a ranking factor.

User reviews
Google ranks up apps with more and better user reviews. Obviously, reviews are not under your control, so you can only hope for good ones! That said, you should still monitor them to see which keywords are being used and to get useful feedback information about your product and communications.

Screenshots and Video
Google Play will support multiple screenshots on the app page. Use them! And make sure they showcase every device, and that they incorporate your key marketing messages. If you have a short promo video, definitely include that!

Every Google Play listing comes with a unique URL, which you can configure. The URL will affect ASO, so make sure to use keywords in it.

App Downloads
The more downloads and engagement you get, the higher you will rank. Obvious, right? But self-evidently this is not something you can directly control.

In the world of SEO, backlinks to your site from other sites really matter. Is it the same in ASO? There is some disagreement about this. However, why not do it anyway? You should definitely link to your Play Store URL from your own website, blog and social media URLs.

These are merely the basic factors affecting ASO. And, to repeat, Google does not publish its algorithms and frequently changes them.
For this reason, it’s important to track your app’s performance constantly. You need to analyze:

  • Volume of installs (organic and non-organic)
  • Keyword rankings
  • Chart rankings
  • User ratings and reviews

And you should use this data to abandon keywords that are not performing, try new ones and then A/B test until you start to see some improvement in your rankings.
Ultimately, ASO is both a science and an art. This short introduction has just scratched the surface.

Over the next few weeks, we will re-visit the topic and reveal some hacks to help you get your app discovered.