ASO - What it is, How We Do it and Why it Matters.
Sixty-three percent of all app downloads result from users browsing through the million-plus apps in iTunes not knowing exactly what they are looking for*. Since potential users don’t know an app exists before they start searching for it, having a strategy to manage an app’s presence in the app store is critical for increasing and maintaining downloads. Not having a strategy to manage an app’s presence in the App Store means you’re allowing its absence. A strategy for developing an app’s presence to garner downloads is usually referred to as app store optimization (ASO) and has two main components: discoverability and appeal.
The goal of discoverability is to get the app to appear in the top ten search results for as many relevant keywords, and combinations of keywords, as possible. The idea being, if an app shows up in the top ten results for a search, it’s more likely to end in a download than if a potential user has to scroll through 65 others apps first. Determining what keywords are best for an app is a nuanced iterative process, since there are a limited number of words that can be assigned to an app. The foundation for our process starts with researching keywords then prioritizing them in the following order; relevance, difficulty, and traffic.
Relevance: What does it matter if an app ranks #1 for ‘toys’ if it’s an app for doctors? The primary criteria for a keyword is that is has to be relevant. The users we want need to be searching for the keywords we choose.
Difficulty: Some keywords are much harder to rank highly for than others. Imagine a new game app is put into the App Store. Putting the word ‘game’ into your keywords is most likely a waste of characters. It may be highly relevant, but there are 350,000+ apps in the store that have millions of downloads with the word ‘game’. The odds that anyone looking for this app will find it by searching for ‘game’ are close to zero.
Traffic: Using specialized tools, we analyze the volume of searches for many keywords. If two words are equally relevant and equally difficult to rank in the top ten for, then we would pick the word with the higher traffic–most of the time. There are circumstances where iPhone word is slightly harder to rank for, but has substantially more traffic we might give that word a shot.
For a new app, part of our strategy is to use these criteria to appear in the top ten for less competitive keywords than 700th for some of the more obvious and competitive words. As the app accrues downloads, it becomes able to compete against established apps for those competitive words that are equally or more relevant and have the more traffic. There are also a few techniques which we use to boost ranking for certain words. One technique is to exploit the fact that a keyword in the title of the app weighs more heavily in the search algorithm than when it appears in the ‘keywords’ section. For example, when we put the word ‘drawing’ into the title for an app, it went from being ranked 751st to 51st overnight. Being 51st isn’t that great, but when combined with other words it helps greatly. ASO is never done, it is an iterative process of adaptation, revision, tweaking, and has no magic bullet.
Optimizing keywords is only the proverbial ‘bringing the horse to water’, but as we know bringing a horse to water does not guarantee it will drink…or in this case download the app. For instance, the app’s presence in the app store, particularly the images and description, must be polished and compelling. The app images need to quickly explain what thd app does and also appeal to the user. The description can have more than a thousand characters, but only 200 show up without clicking ‘…more’, so the first 200 characters need to be concise and appealing.
At the last WWDC in June, Apple’s CEO Tim Cook stated that there are more than a million apps in the app store and more than 60 billion downloads of those apps. It is a jungle out there, there is brutal competition for discoverability and downloads in the app ecosystem. You shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but you don’t even have that option if you don’t know the book exists! The best app in the world won’t get downloaded if it can’t be found. After all the hard work that it takes to put together an app, it’s easy to think that the merits of the app itself will lead it to get downloads and grow in popularity. However, with millions of apps in the App Store and most of them being discovered through searching – this is not the case. At Visible Health, we are intimately familiar with working through the optimization process with our apps and the apps of our partners. The importance of ASO is often overlooked or undervalued, but not at Visible Health. Let us put our knowledge and skills to work for you.
*European Technographics® Consumer Technology Online Survey Q4 2012