The Importance of App Store Optimization

I’ve invested a lot of time into making LetterSlider look good and the game play intriguing. I also have spent a good amount of time trying to make LetterSlider standout in the App Store. Icon, screenshots and description are key. Speaking of key, so are keywords.

ASO (App Store Optimization) is something I’ve been investigating heavily the last couple of weeks. I’ve reached out to other developers in the industry, experts in the industry and tried to find tools to make the process more effective. Every avenue has provided more and more insight into my strategy.

I hadn’t planned on writing today, but felt a rush of inspiration to share some of the insight I’ve learned about ASO over the last couple of weeks. This is not even close to a comprehensive resource, but hopefully you’ll find something useful.

Icon: This is the first thing a user will see when determining if your app should be downloaded. It has to look good. Think of it as a reflection on the user. This is going to sit on their screen and there’s no reason it shouldn’t be damn awesome. Blue and green aren’t used often so those colors can help you standout even more.

Screenshots: If the icon catches my attention, I’ll usually head to the app’s page to learn more. I don’t read the description – pictures tell a much better story. The screenshots can’t just be five photos taken from your phone and uploaded. Add some text and effects. Make them look better then the app itself. If you look at all the top apps, they always have a little extra in their screenshots. And remember, most people pick apps from their phone. That means the first screenshot is the money shot, especially in the latest version of the App Store. Make sure it shows the most prominent feature of your app.

Title: This is an area I’ve struggled with. Not coming up with the name, but determining how many words to include. LetterSlider looks good as a standalone. With LetterSlider Free, I went with “LetterSlider Free – A Word Search Puzzle Game.” What this does is allow me to utilize more keywords, since search is largely based on title and keywords (which you’re limited to 100 characters). Then, last week, I noticed Amazon Kindle’s app. The title is “Kindle – Read Books, eBooks, Magazines, Newspapers & Textbooks.” They aren’t trying to be pretty there; they’re trying to utilize primary keywords related to their functionality. The new version of LetterSlider is expected to hit the App Store late next week or so. I’ve decided simple is not better, since the ultimate goal is downloads. I’m changing the title of LetterSlider to “LetterSlider – An Addictively Awesome Word Search Slider Puzzle Challenge.”

Keywords: 100 characters. That’s all the space you have to assign words that are relevant to your app. You need to be smart about this though. Everyone is using “fun” and “game.” Be different because there’s no way you’re going to hit the top in those areas, unless you have a lot of money invested in marketing. Do research. There are some great tools in SearchMan and AppStoreRankings that show your competitor keywords and help you pick new ones. It’s good to choose a couple that you’re competitors use, but also grab a couple others that don’t have a lot of competition. Also think combination. For example, “word” is a popular keyword — thousands use it. But “slider word game” only has eight apps in the results.

Ratings: The biggest thing I’ve learned recently is the importance of ratings. All apps have titles and keywords, so what is going to be the differentiator? The more people who leave you ratings and, hopefully, positive ones, the better your chances of showing up higher in search results. It’s not easy getting ratings. Apple doesn’t make it easy — you have to log in to the App Store, write some text, leave a star rating. I recently learned about a tool called AskingPoint, which uses analytics to determine who to try to get to leave a review. I definitely want to use that in a new app I have in development.

That said, I am a strong opponent of buying ratings, but people do it. I get the idea: (more ratings = higher rankings) = more downloads. I just find it to be joshing the system and never holds up, especially since ratings, to some degree, reset after a new version is released. Also, if the app stinks, people will see positive reviews and feel more inclined to post something negative.

Additionally, I’ve begun wondering how much weight the “Was this Review Helpful” link in iTunes carries. I wouldn’t put it past Apple to have that be a factor.

Description: Most consumers won’t read your description. Only the first line or two even appears before the user has to expand. That’s why a comment from a review site or consumer, store rankings or award should always lead here. The rest is just fluff. Don’t fully discount that fluff though, as Google has started indexing App Store pages. For instance, do a search for “LetterSlider” and you’ll see the top result being the iTunes link. The description should still contain keywords that organic search might present.

Also, look at the Top 5 search results for LetterSlider: iTunes link, website, Twitter, Facebook page, Yahoo! review and YouTube trailer. I’d guarantee that most apps who have these promotion points (the Yahoo! one might be the exception) would see a similar listing at the top of their search results.

This was just a small sampling of considerations when launching and managing your app. It’s not an easy process, nor is it a quick one. You have to invest time, but the payoff could definitely be a big one. Be smart and knowledgeable. Never stop strategizing.

I’d love to know if you have any suggestions or recommendations. Please feel free to reach out. I also hope to chat with some of the ASO experts to help provide more insight into this area.

– SMS

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