Acquisition & Engagement

The What, The Why, and The How of ASO (Presented at SMX)

Becky Doles

Last week, I presented and was on a panel about App Store Optimization at SMX East. The session consisted of a presentation by myself entitled, “App Store Optimization: The What, The Why, The How,” a presentation by Jennifer Wong of HasOffers around the global impact of ASO, a presentation by Justin Briggs about the impact of traditional web SEO on apps, and a lively Q&A with the audience. Below is a copy of my slide deck and a summary of the presentation.

That What

ASO (App Store Optimization) is the process of driving more downloads for an app by rising in the app stores search results. What SEO is to the web, ASO is to the app ecosystem (e.g. iTunes, Google Play).

The nice part about ASO is that it has a number of factors that all influence each other. If done right, each factor can be used to help boost another one. For example, paid installs can influence organic search by driving up your total downloads and your download velocity, which in turn helps you rank higher for the keywords you are using. If you are using the right keywords, your higher search ranking will then lead back to more downloads, which will in turn lead to a place in the Top Charts, which again, will lead to more downloads.

The Why

To understand why ASO is important, you have to first be convinced that mobile is big. The growth in mobile has been huge. Mobile traffic increased from 1% of global internet traffic in 2008, to over 20% in 2013, and is projected to surpass 30% by 2014. The numbers don’t lie, mobile is big, and it is getting bigger.

Once you understand that mobile is big, you need to also be convinced that mobile usage is synonymous with app usage. A study by Flurry, found that 80% of the time spent on mobile devices is spent within applications. That’s eight out of every ten minutes. Again, number’s don’t lie, time spent on mobile means time spent within apps.

The next step is understanding how users find their apps. Multiple sources, including studies by Nielsen and Forrester, have found that 65% of consumers find apps through app store search.

Lastly, you need to believe that ASO works. We have the data to prove that it does in our two case studies. The first is on a children’s game, and the second is on a UK survival simulation game we helped. On average, our consumers find a 20% increase in downloads within the first month. In July ‘13, we helped apps using our product increase 16,597 spots in search ranking. Numbers don’t lie, ASO works.

The How

And now, a few high level tips on how to optimize your ASO. Similar to on-page and off-page for SEO, ASO is split between on-metadata, and off-metadata, and although both are important, it is important to distinguish between the two.


On-metadata are all the elements of your app that are in your direct control. These consist of things like:

Keywords: Choosing your keywords for your app is not vastly different from choosing them for your website. When picking keywords you take a number of factors into consideration such as search volume, how difficult it is to rank for a word, which category of app the keyword shows up most for, words that might be trending, and head vs long-tail words. A few different ways to find and research keywords are through keyword tools, the web, your competitors, and by analyzing your reviews for common words or phrases.

Title: Your title is a great place to add extra keywords you might not normally have room for. If you can, you should pull the keywords that you think are most important and try to fit them naturally in the title. Apps tend to rank higher for the keywords they use in their title than the ones they use in the normal keyword field. Remember that although it is important to leverage your title, do not spam it with overly long strings of words or phrases.

Screenshots: Screenshots are one of the first things that users see when they are browsing through apps, so it is important to get these right. Having a generic picture of your apps interface won’t cut it anymore. Use text in your screenshots, and take the opportunity to make them promotional graphics. Explain (in just a few words that don’t take too much room) what exactly the user is looking at.

Icon: Similar to your screenshots, your icon is also important. Use this is an opportunity to show off your professionalism. Make sure the style of your icon is similar to your platform, make it unique, and make it stand out and memorable. Don’t take the icon lightly, put some effort into it because your users will see it every time they scroll through their apps.

Description: Your apps description will vary by platform, but one thing stays consistent. The description is key to converting anyone who might be on the fence about trying your app. All the other on-metadata factors make sure your app gets in front of the right audience and catches their attention, but the description is what can really sell someone who wasn’t looking specifically for your app. Make it short and succinct, and have a list of your key features (not all of them). It is a great place to expand on your screenshots with text, so take advantage of it.


Off-metadata are all the factors that are out of your direct control. These are not to be taken lightly, because they can have huge influences on your ASO. off-metadata factors include:

Ratings: Ratings are having more and more of an influence on your ranking in the app stores – especially the Apple App Store. Although you might think the only way to help your ratings is to build a great app (which is mostly true), there are some other very useful tools that can help you. Be proactive and get good ratings!

Reviews:One technique to help ratings is to comb through your reviews. As we can see here, scanning through your one-star reviews are a great way to find bugs in your app. Fixing these promptly and letting your users know you have fixed them is an integral part of boosting your ratings (and not getting negative ones).

Links: “Getting people to write about your app improves your search ranking in the Play store.” – Google I/O, June 2012. This is where the web can play a role. To put it simply, get bloggers and publications to write about your app. Give them beta-access, free features that normally might have to be paid for, whatever you need to do to get some online attention. It will be worth it.

Social: Social is another way the web matters to your ASO. Although it matters more in the Google Play store, getting people to Tweet about or +1 your app can drive a lot of downloads and increase your ASO. Using in-app features to optimize this is helpful, so don’t hesitate to ask for a Tweet.

Lastly, I’ll go over the differences between the iOS app store and Google Play. We’ve covered a lot in this post, so I won’t go into too much detail. But the higher-level differences are in the slide below. I hope you enjoyed the post, if you have any questions reach out to us over Twitter @MobileDevHQ! Thanks!

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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