What is App Store Optimization (ASO), and Do You Need to Learn It?

Just when you thought we hit capacity with all the different types of optimization that are required in modern marketing, along comes App Store Optimization (ASO).

Now along with optimizing conversion rates and search engine performance, we need to worry about how to get a mobile app ranked well in various app marketplaces.

But what exactly is ASO? Who needs to learn its core principles? And should most marketers be worried about figuring it out?

In this article I’m going to walk you through an overview of what ASO is, including the key components of a good ASO strategy. Then we’ll identify which marketers can benefit from learning this optimization technique (hint: most of us need to learn it).

Basics of App Store Optimization (ASO)

Like its predecessor SEO, ASO relies heavily on keywords.

This means that in order to affect your app’s rankings you need to have a solid understanding of the terms that people would use to look for it when performing a search in an app store.


If you’re unfamiliar with how to conduct keyword research, I highly recommend taking some time to review Chapter 5 of Moz’s Beginner’s Guide to SEO: Keyword Research.

They’ve been helping people get SEO right for years, and they can show exactly how to identify the keywords your audience is using.

Keywords in the Title of Your App

Once your keywords are set, it’s time to incorporate the most important into the title of your app.

Take your time over this step, because you won’t want to go back and change the title of your app later on if it has any traction whatsoever.

Of course, the debate here is whether it’s more important to have a catchy, memorable title OR one that includes an important keyword. It’s a debate worth having, and it will ultimately depend on your niche and your competition.

But, keep in mind, apps that have a keyword in their title rank an average of 10.3% higher than those without a keyword in their title:


Other research indicates that having a keyword in your app title can improve your rank 80-100 spots, so if you can make it happen, get your primary keyword into the title.

Beautiful Icons

The parallels with SEO continue. Just as a solid meta title and meta description help people trust your search result and click on it, a well designed and eye-catching app icon will drive more traffic to your app page.

Consider your audience and focus on their design preferences (not yours) when creating an icon. Don’t be afraid to test and iterate either.

If you’re looking for guidance or inspiration, check out Google’s Icon Design Guidelines, or this iOS icon gallery.

Clear Screenshots

Once you get people onto your app page, you need to convince them that your product is worth their time.

Screenshots are the best (and possibly the only) way to do that effectively.

Make sure your screenshots:

  • Illustrate interesting and useful parts of your app. The login page generally doesn’t qualify.
  • Take advantage of the full limit available in each store (currently 8 for Google and 5 for Apple).
  • Are high resolution.
  • Include written explanations of what’s included.

Ratings and Reviews are Key

This is the most difficult part of ASO for new apps, because without users you won’t get ratings and reviews, and without ratings and reviews new users will be leery of trying your app.

Like any new product, you need to be extremely attentive to your early adopters and listen closely to their feedback (especially if it’s negative).

Respond personally to any and all comments, and be sure to let those with complaints know what you’re doing to fix the problem they encountered.

If you combine this ultra-responsive style with in-app encouragement to offer reviews, you can start to chip away at the “need reviews to get users/need users to get reviews” problem.

Differences in Optimizing for Each App Store

For the most part, you can use the same ASO best practices for both Apple App Store and Google Play, but there are a few differences.

Apptamin points out these three key distinctions:

  • Google is now checking apps before publication, but the process is much faster than the Apple App Store. It is usually on the order of a few hours, while Apple can take a few days. This allows you to optimize your app faster.
  • The keywords for your app are pulled from your description, not from a dedicated keyword field.
  • Google gives you much more freedom, in terms of what you can include in your app promo video on the Google Play Store. Take advantage of this and get creative!

Google also parses keywords in your app description and uses it as your meta description. The first 167 characters will show up in search results, so be aware and include your keywords there as much as you naturally can.

Who Needs ASO Understanding

With mobile devices of all shapes and sizes becoming non-negotiable parts of our days, the importance of apps is growing all the time.

Search Engine Journal reported that there are 224 million monthly active app users in the US, and they’re using apps more frequently too. In Q4 of 2014, apps were opened more than 10 times per month.

What that means is that there aren’t many marketers who are exempt from the need to learn more about ASO. While many of us won’t be spending the majority of our time worrying about app store rankings and user review percentages, there’s no denying that apps are becoming an increasingly significant part of digital marketing.

If you want to add a little extra sparkle to your digital marketing skillset, take the time to get familiar with ASO. Even if your current position doesn’t include marketing an app, it’s likely that a nonprofit, or your brother’s roommate’s cousin, has an app that they could use help with.

Take time to learn by doing, and you’ll have a leg up in one of the fastest digital marketing niches out there.

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Andrea Fryrear
About the Author:

Andrea Fryrear

Andrea loves to dissect marketing buzzwords and fads looking for the pearls of wisdom at their cores. Her favorite topic is agile marketing, which she believes holds the key to a more fulfilling (and less stressful) marketing career for individuals and a more powerful marketing department for business. When not scrutinizing the latest agile methodologies, Andrea can be found on the volleyball court, at the park with her two delightful kids, or baking “calorie-free” cookies. Connect with her on Twitter @AndreaFryrear, or on LinkedIn.

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