With expectations of revenues reaching $1,091 billion by 2022 and no signs of slowing down, the online travel industry is becoming not only one of the most lucrative markets but also one of the most competitive ones. With many travel providers selling more and more via apps, some even exclusively, the need to differentiate your app from the competition in order to continuously drive higher conversions from quality installers is increasingly important. This is especially the case in an industry where competition doesn’t just come from other apps, but also from desktop and mobile websites, sometimes even your own.
But how do you even begin to find the most effective way to convince users to download your app instead of simply searching or booking online?
One of the most impactful ways leading travel apps have begun to address this challenge is through the adoption of a well-planned app store optimization (ASO) strategy.
The travel industry itself is broad and includes a wide range of sub-topics (e.g., hotel booking, flight booking, ride-sharing, trip planning, travel deals, vacation rentals and experiences, navigation, etc.). Despite the market diversification, ASO can help every travel app facilitate, advance and improve the transition from desktop to app, while staying on-brand and visibly relevant to their customers.
While certain aspects are highly personalized, there are three actionable and valuable ASO tips that every travel app should consider when creating their app store page. These insights were accumulated from working with some of the top mobile travel brands and an in-depth analysis of data from our internal databases, based on the behaviour of more than 500 million users in the Apple App Store and Google Play Store.
Tip 1: Identify your app’s unique value proposition that resonates with mobile app users
You only have one app store page that visitors from a variety of traffic sources will land on. Whether they come with higher intent from your desktop or mobile website, or if they happened to click on an ad, the creatives and messaging they see upon landing on your page should be compelling enough to convince them to install.
Sounds straightforward, right? In reality, some of the major challenges that travel brands face is solidifying that messaging and ensuring they’ve positioned themselves uniquely within the broad and saturated travel landscape.
An important first step in pinpointing your app’s competitive advantage is understanding the market. To get you started, try to answer questions such as:
- What key messages do your competitors highlight in their app stores (e.g., do they emphasize travel deals, app features, variety of options, etc.)?
- What overall trends do you notice (e.g., design styles, Gallery orientation, Video vs. no Video, etc.)?
- Where is the opportunity for your app? More specifically, how can you differentiate your app and its unique benefits from other travel apps?
As you begin this research, we also recommend using tools like the Chrome extension, ASO Tool Box, to see how competitors in different markets use their app store pages to communicate value. There are also platforms like AppFollow, Mobile Action, and App Annie that can provide you with insight on industry benchmarks, how your top competitors perform in this category, how they rank compared to you, how they position themselves in different GEOs, and more.
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It’s Time to Define Your Unique Messaging
Once you have a more comprehensive understanding of the travel app landscape and your competitors, you’re better equipped to define the specific (and unique) messaging you should test.
There are four common messaging styles we tend to see in the travel industry:
This messaging style is used to convey the emotional experience of booking a trip, and it positions your app as a travel partner that people can trust. Both VRBO and TripAdvisor use this type of messaging to appeal to the positive feelings associated with traveling—the happiness that people feel when they ‘find [their] perfect place” and the safety of having “the ultimate travel companion” when they’re exploring unfamiliar destinations. This is an effective tactic to attract users who are motivated to take action by the strong, positive feelings that traveling brings them as well as how this product can benefit them on a personal level. For example, VRBO’s Screenshot illustrates how traveling allows users to spend quality time with their family and create lasting memories.
Another style is focusing strictly on the functionality of your app. What specific features does your app have, and what does it enable people to do better? Airbnb does this well by consolidating their app’s functionality into a concise statement in the first Screenshot: Search. Book. Travel. Explore. They keep their messaging short and to the point, which appeals to travelers who value ease and want to use a single app that can do everything they need.
Some apps choose to focus on social proof in their messaging (e.g., how many people rely on this app, how it ranks compared to other apps, travel awards they’ve won, etc.). This is a useful tactic to alleviate any concerns about the app’s reliability. Visitors can be comforted that your app will work and provide value because millions of other users trust it.
One could argue that given the challenge of persuading desktop or mobile website travel bookers to install a dedicated app instead, this is one of the most important messaging styles to use. By highlighting the exclusive deals, savings, or features that users can only access in the app, you provide a significant, tangible benefit to installing it. This is an especially critical topic for apps of all industries to address because you’ll always have visitors who question why they should install an app over simply using the website. Testing will ensure you have an optimized and compelling answer to that question.
To bring it into the real world, here’s how Hotels.com used Google Store Listing Experiments to test messaging in their Feature Graphic:
As you can see, each of the creatives is identical design-wise except for the caption. We can assume this means they’re trying to pinpoint where their competitive edge lies by using messaging that relates to app functionality. Is it the ease of use, or is it their offering of deals/savings that makes them unique and resonates the most with potential installers? This is something they can most effectively (and confidently) discover through testing.
Tip 2: Convey your unique messaging with optimized design styles
Once you’ve solidified your messaging strategy, you need to find the most effective way to bring that messaging to life through your creatives. Based on our work in the mobile travel industry, we’ve found that most travel app galleries use the following design styles:
Feature-oriented screenshots are real screenshots of the app used to showcase different features and UI. If using this style, it’s important to help visitors focus on the relevant parts of the UI and enforce the connection between the textual caption and visual so they quickly understand the image. If your UI is exciting or a key differentiator in your app’s category, this approach may resonate well with your target audience. On the other hand, if this design approach isn’t well executed, you run the risk of losing installs from users who might glance over small UI elements and not understand the value they offer.
Rich Branded Experience
Compared to the previous design styles, the brand-focused trend is less common since it’s only effective if used by companies with established brand recognition and association. Kayak uses its signature orange color in the visual assets of their product page, and TripAdvisor’s recognizable logo is also prevalent throughout different assets. Implementing well-known brand elements can prove effective in converting users who are familiar with the company and want to ensure it’s a legitimate and trustworthy app.
Hybrid Screenshots are a mix of both lifestyle- and features-based approaches, highlighting features over a (typically) lifestyle background, or simply switching off between lifestyle-oriented images and feature-oriented in one set. This style of design typically offers the best of both worlds—an engaging image that draws curiosity combined with an accurate visual representation of how the app functions. In the travel industry, this design style is typically used to showcase aspirational travel imagery in the background with direct app UI in the foreground.
Tip 3: Take localization and cross-platform adaptation into account
In today’s saturated and global travel market, it’s not enough to showcase your unique messaging and design styles and immediately expect to see an uplift across all geos. You must ensure that your app store pages are tailored to specific regions and that you take the clear differences between iOS and Android users into account.
Here’s how to do this…
Localization and Culturalization
Some of the major drivers of global app success are localization and culturalization. Localization is the process of adapting an app store’s metadata (i.e., app name, description, keywords, and screenshots) to different countries and their languages. Culturalization takes this one step further and involves creating a custom app store for a different locale/language based on that region’s unique values and beliefs.
Looking at top brands, the potential CVR lift of localizing your app store is between 5.1% to 24.6%. Plus, in almost all tests that had both a translated version and a culturalized version, the culturalized version was the winning variation. Despite the clear benefit, most travel brands aren’t doing this.
This represents a huge opportunity to set your app apart in each of the markets you’re trying to target. Plus, the changes can range based on your available resources. Kayak, for example, incorporates more subtle changes. Within their Screenshots, they showcase the same app UI across markets, but they change the destinations and hotel room options that are displayed in each screen. This is immediately relevant to locals in different markets who are inherently interested in unique destinations based on where they live. There is room for improvement, however, to highlight the app’s value proposition in a more visual way than strictly focusing on UI with small captions.
Alternatively, you can design entirely new app store page creatives per geo, similar to Hotels.com, in which they changed the assets and messaging in the short description based on the unique preferences and interests of the locals in each of those regions.
Since most travel brands don’t update their stores by location beyond just translating their assets, there is a lot to be gained from spending additional time testing and culturalizing your app store creatives.
Use Different Creatives on the App Store and Google Play
Another common trend we frequently see is using the same creatives on both the Apple App Store and Google Play Store, especially after running a Google Play Store Listing Experiment to find the highest converting creatives. However, we’ve found that implementing the same creatives on both platforms can lead to a 20-30% decrease in installs on the Apple App Store.
Although they are both app store marketplaces, they differ in a multitude of ways:
- Android users are simply different than iPhone users—the two audiences have distinct behaviors and preferences.
- Despite the Google Play redesign, the layouts are still different (e.g., no autoplay on Google Play, different image resolutions, etc.), which creates varying visitor behavior.
- Competition differs across both platforms.
- Google Experiments itself isn’t a sufficient ASO tool on its own, so in general, it won’t reveal enough insights that you can apply to iOS in the first place.
In order to optimize your conversion on both platforms, you need to have separate ASO strategies and test distinct creatives.
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Managing an app in the travel category comes with quite a bit of risk, but also a significant amount of reward if you prioritize your marketing efforts wisely. The demand for travel apps is only growing, and the industry itself attracts millions of users around the world. But at the same time, marketers who neglect to optimize their app store messaging and creatives fail to gain a competitive advantage and differentiate their product from the rest.
ASO offers you a unique, data-driven way to feel confident that the messages you’re showcasing are effective in attracting your target users. Although this post focuses more on flight/hotel/trip booking apps, the insights are relevant and can be used by apps in all the travel sub-categories.