Acquisition & Engagement

ASO Is Not A Silver Bullet

Becky Doles

apple app store search ads

“How long until we see an impact from our changes?” This is one of the most asked questions I get. Whether it’s nervously asked by an executive needing to report to her higher ups, or by a mobile marketing manager eager to show off an increase in downloads, my answer never really changes: “It depends.” The most widespread misconception about app store optimization is that it can increase downloads overnight — that performance increases are just one app update away.

While this can certainly be the case, and I’ve seen it happen, more often than not it doesn’t happen that way. ASO, or app store optimization, is neither a silver bullet, nor does it consist of silver bullet tactics. An increase in organic downloads and keyword search rankings is often the product of hours and hours of rank tracking, competitive research, internal analysis, and repeated app and metadata updates. While one specific tactic may look like a silver bullet (e.g., including keywords in your app title), sustained positive ranking and download growth comes from constant learning and iteration.

ASOs Need Updates

Unfortunately for ASOs right now, the learning and iterative process is pretty tough. We’re hamstrung by the product update cycle (especially for iOS). Even in mobile-first companies, updates may only come around once a month. With such a slow learning cycle, what kind of impact could be expected? This restriction produces the predominant mindset out there among execs and managers that everything hinges on this update. I often hear:

  • “If there’s no noticeable bump here, it looks like ASO isn’t making much of an impact,” or
  • “This update didn’t really change anything – can you explain that?”

Instead of only looking at one update (which is still important, as you want to analyze what you’ve done), it’s critical to realize that ASO is a long-term strategy. It’s unrealistic to expect ASO to 10x your app’s downloads with a tweak here, or a tweak there.

Until ASOs can iterate faster, I want to lay this expectation to rest. Don’t expect massive changes after one update. You may get a win from a keyword or title change, but expect to be in the ASO game for the long haul. Expect to always be changing keywords to reflect new product features, or market-level changes, such as seasonality or fluctuating demand. Expect to constantly test new app titles, or new description copy. Expect to spend a lot of time in ranking, download, rating, and review data. Bottom line: expect to test, learn, refine and do it all over again.

Product, Product, Product

In the end, though, even all the ASO help in the world can’t help some apps – you need to start from a solid product. This is when I cannot emphasize enough that ASO is not a silver bullet. I’ve worked with some brands that just didn’t have the product strength to push any ASO results; the user demand and happiness just wasn’t there. You can optimize your keywords, title, description copy, ratings, and reviews, but if you don’t have demand for your app, it still won’t go anywhere in a significant way.

But all is not lost. ASO can help from a product perspective. You’ve got a repository of customer feedback within your reach – ratings and reviews! Top-level quantitative analysis of ratings/reviews definitely helps as a performance indicator (as many ASOs already measure), but approaching them qualitatively can produce big wins, too. A lot of the companies we work with have thousands and thousands of reviews, just waiting to be sifted through. Fortunately, we have the technical capability to parse through them and make ASOs lives a bit easier. The information gleaned can be invaluably applied to the product.

Even more, the best ASO solutions out there put a bonanza of competitive information within your reach. Curious how often a competitor updates? Yep. Want to see what they update with and tease out their product strategy? Sure. Want to see what their users are saying, en masse? No problem. While this approach to ASO requires a good, healthy relationship between product management and mobile marketing (more on that in a later post), when taken advantage of, these tactics can help your app become better from a product perspective which can help your overall ASO effort.

ASO is a pretty new field — we all know that. As a discipline, it’s come a long way from its humble beginnings and has a lot more room to grow. But it has produced, and will continue to produce, significant gains for those who treat it as an ongoing concern and put in a good amount of leg work, instead of a one-and-done silver bullet.

Want to know more about TUNE’s history of mobile marketing expertise and affiliate marketing innovation? Drop us a line at [email protected].

Becky Doles

Becky is the Senior Content Marketing Manager at TUNE. Before TUNE, she led a variety of marketing and communications projects at San Francisco startups. Becky received her bachelor's degree in English from Wake Forest University. After living nearly a decade in San Francisco and Seattle, she has returned to her home of Charleston, SC, where you can find her enjoying the sun and salt water with her family.