Acquisition & Engagement

The Future of ASO

Becky Doles

This is a guest post from Tom Leclerc. Tom Leclerc is App Store Optimization Manager at Wooga. He works to support developers of Wooga’s mobile and social games – from the fun, cuddly Jelly Splash to adventure titles, such as the story-driven Pearl’s Peril – with day-to-day keywording, testing and data analysis.

I remember a time, much earlier in my career, when companies I worked for would ask me, “so, what actually is SEO?” I’m now reminded of this on an almost daily basis, thanks to my current role as a trench-digger on the front lines of App Store Optimization. Everyone wants to know what ASO means, what it involves and how it works, just like the early days of Search Engine Optimization. Even those well versed in the magical art of ASO are interested in what others think the objective should be, and how far-reaching the role of an App Store Optimizer should be. Everyone in the app industry has questions – some far more important than those – but my question, the one I am constantly asking myself, is where will ASO be in 2, 5, 10 or even 20 years?

For an industry with pretty substantial lead times, this is a particularly salient question. Development is a slow process. In the time it takes to conceptualize fantastic ideas, create them with passion and pride, test them top to bottom and release them to market, a lot may have changed. Markets may have be radically different. Attitudes to brands, genres and technology can change quickly, as can the way users discover and search for apps. If there’s one lesson to learn about the app industry, it’s that change must be embraced, because change is coming, my friends, and it’s coming for us all.

Change of Tides As New App Stores Emerge

As seen with the recent WWDC 2014 announcements from Apple regarding app stores, a good deal of the change we will see in the future will come from these sea-change decisions by the two biggest players in the app store market. The implications of the changes made to iTunes are huge for the industry, and I strongly suspect Google Play will follow suit. This will not necessarily be with copy-cat ideas, but with analytics, data and alternative search technology that makes developers’ lives easier, and – most importantly – makes Google Play an even better place to search for and discover apps.

However, this, to my mind, is thinking in terms of rock falls, rather than earthquakes. Our industry – and user base – is divided roughly in half between two organizations that have two very different philosophies on apps and app discovery. These philosophies have very legitimate reasons for being. Google created its empire using an advertising model that, ultimately, led to an almost absolute meritocracy. Apple, on the other hand, has built one of the largest companies on earth based on a more trend-driven approach.

If you see it in these kind of polarizing terms, there’s room for a bigger change than simply those implemented by Apple and Google. Once companies like Tencent and AppChina start looking at moving into western markets, we’ll see big changes. This will happen, for sure. And almost certainly we’ll be seeing some kind of movement from China within the next 5 years.

The one thing about the Chinese market that leads me to believe this is that it is significantly more competitive than the West. Where there’s competition, you’ll find much more customer focus. This focus will lead to the winner of the app store wars in China (if there is one), having a true customer-first culture. Entering the Western market with this attitude and the incredible amounts of cash that being successful in China brings offers a fair chance of success.

Changing values

Moving away from the changes to the app stores, how can we better improve the way that we deal with App Store Optimization? Well, if you look at paid user acquisition and how different that was two years ago, you can get a better idea of the complexity of ASO in the coming years. Paid UA, with the help of more targeted data ­– and more intense competition – has become an incredibly complex place. Marketers are rethinking not only strategies, but the very metrics by which those strategies are measured.

And I believe that the future of ASO lies, much like in paid UA, in identifying value. For example, where now lifetime value is measured in, say terms of 6 months, spending time and money on responding to user reviews may not be worth it. However, if this metric changes, and LTV becomes viewed in terms of years, not months, this value proposition changes. And there are many, many examples of this, right across both stores. We, as App Store Optimizers, need to be on top of this. We need to be aware of these opportunities and jump on them when we see the value rising. Indeed, the very question of whether hiring a professional App Store Optimizer is profitable is one that’s fast becoming obvious.

Shifting metrics

I can see a real change in the future of ASO as developers begin to look past traditional metrics, such as DAU, bookings and MAU. Don’t get me wrong, these are still very important metrics, and ones that, ultimately, make or break your business. However, users aren’t numbers. As more complex metrics evolve, such as brand sentiment, we will see developers looking to create apps that include elements that work towards bolstering this metric. Again, there are many potential examples of this that I can see from things like reviews, ratings, brand trust, and even stock value.

Take a look at the world of SEO now, and the hundreds of ways you can analyze your web pages. This is where we’re heading. Why? Because there’s money in it. If there weren’t millions waiting to be snapped up by the people that can understand and take advantage of Google’s search algorithm, as well as the myriad metrics on offer, SEO wouldn’t exist. ASO is already a complex machine, and is headed towards even greater complexity in the coming years. What this means is that opinion and experience become more important. As data becomes less obvious, human judgment, and the ability to find the reality within this data, becomes ever more useful.

Prophesized pitfalls

What really worries me about this, and the reason that I want to educate and inform (find me on twitter or email if you want to talk about ASO, by the way), is that I’m worried about the misinformation, scamming and black-hat techniques that were (and to an extent still are) present in the world of SEO, finding their way into ASO. As the stakes get ever higher, the importance of ASO will only increase. However, there will always be those looking to create a veil of mystery around ASO to build an environment of fear. I’ve chatted with numerous people involved in ASO (not least of which my gracious hosts MobileDevHQ), and the one thing that unites people in this young, fresh industry is that education and freedom of information is essential to ensure that ASO doesn’t turn into a word app developers and marketers are afraid of.


But all that is rather airy and esoteric. How will the day-to-day business of ASO change in the coming years? Well, first and foremost, one of the key elements of ASO, keywording, will change dramatically. Currently, a majority of the keyword selection in the industry comes from either pure guesswork or keyword research based on balancing relevance, traffic and competition . It worked pretty well for SEO, and, in reality, there aren’t a whole wealth of other options available. However, the big problem with this is that apps stores are inherently different to web pages.

Users make much more of an investment in an app. They install it on their phone and allow it certain permissions to access personal data. This is a significant step up from a web page that you can leave with one click. In essence, what I’m saying is that there will come a time when keywording will become extremely different. Indeed, it’s already started. In the next six months, will we be keywording for search, will we be keywording for trends, or will we be keywording for related searches? We’ll have to see exactly how that pans out.

New data

What I do know is that we will all have to become more imaginative with keywords, and find them in different places. One of the most important elements of creating sales copy is learning the language your readers use. This best practice from copywriting lends itself well to keywording. Why bother imagining up all those keywords, and testing them when you have a ready-made stash of keywords right there waiting for you in your (and your competitors’) reviews? This already happens to a minor extent, and at Wooga, review mining – diving into reviews and pulling out applicable data – is already a part of what we do on a daily basis. If you’re not already doing review mining and sentiment analysis, get on it, as it’s the next big change in the way we do ASO. You can see below what some of the themes in the 5-star reviews for eBay are.

The way we analyze keywords is also likely to change soon. The upcoming changes to iOS8 equate to more available source- and campaign-tracking metrics, as well as bounce rates! Yes! Bounce rates. The Optimizer’s golden key. This will give us the ability to delve much deeper into our app store data, but it will also make life more confusing for those not entrenched in the day-to-day of app marketing. This means that to make sure you don’t fall behind, you’ll need some kind of ASO professional working to bridge the gap between developers and marketers. Whether that comes in the form of a consultant, a specialist suite of tools and professionals like MobileDevHQ, or someone in-house is up to you, but to maintain an advantage in the app store, you’ll need access to someone that understands all of this new data.

It’s a brave new world in terms of ASO. The biggest changes to ASO since the launch of the app store are coming in the immediate future, and within 5 years I predict the app store ecosystem will look very different. As developers refine their position within the app store ecosystem, brand confidence will become a hugely important metric, much as it is across every consumer-facing business you can think of. In reality though, thinking much past 5 years is a little futile. There’s so much opportunity present in the industry that anything can happen to change the face of our business. And that’s what makes it so wonderful.

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.

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