ASO Best Practices: How to Design and Run Better Screenshot Tests

You only have one app store page. No matter where people come from—whether it’s through paid user acquisition (UA) ads, word of mouth, app store search results, top charts, navigation tabs, etcetera—they all land on this single page.

You only have one app store page. No matter where people come from—whether it’s through paid user acquisition (UA) ads, word of mouth, app store search results, top charts, navigation tabs, etcetera—they all land on this single page. For that reason, it’s crucial that the creatives they’re exposed to effectively convince them to install.

Your Screenshot Gallery is one of the most important assets that visitors see, and it can make (or break) your overall app performance. This makes it crucial for you to implement a strong app store optimization (ASO) strategy in order to put your best Screenshots forward.

Given the power that your Screenshots have in driving conversion rates (CVR), we’ve compiled our data and insights based on over 4 years of testing and analyses of over 500M app store sessions to help you optimize this asset effectively. Our latest post will dive into best practices and lay out a framework for developing strong Screenshot tests so you can achieve sustainable success.

Why Your Mobile App Screenshots Matter

In both the Apple App Store and Google Play Store, 100% of your app store visitors are exposed to your First Impression Frame (everything above the fold). A majority of these visitors will make a decision based on the creative assets they see there, and they will only spend about 3-6 seconds looking at your First Impression before either dropping from the page, installing, or continuing to explore before making a final decision.

If you’re interested to learn more about the impact of App Store creatives on user behavior, we got you covered. We researched 500M users to uncover how they behave on the App Store and which asset are the most important ones to drive installs. Get it below:

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First Impression Frame: App Store vs. Google Play

On the App Store, the Gallery occupies the most significant amount of real estate on the page, making it one of the most impactful creatives you can optimize. In fact, we’ve found that a properly optimized Screenshot can increase CVR by up to 28%. With Google’s recent Play Store redesign, the Gallery is now above the fold and much more prominent since the Feature Graphic was removed from the top of the Store Listing.

Read more: Why Your App Isn’t Ready for the New Google Play Design

In general, visitors are much more likely to look at your Screenshots than engage with other assets, such as read the description, even if they’re visible above the fold. In fact, our data show that visitors are at least 10 times more likely to scroll your Gallery than expand to read your full Description.

Implications in Search Results

While many of the above benefits relate directly to your Product Page, on which paid traffic directly lands, your Screenshots also play an important role in the Search Results Page on the iOS App Store.

Although you should focus your testing efforts on optimizing for visitors who click into your app or game’s full Product Page, our data have shown that top apps receive receive around 60-80% of installs from search traffic. This makes it imperative that the Gallery assets they see while searching should be appealing enough to either convince them to install directly from search or entice them to click through to your Product Page.

App Store Search Results Page

To optimize for search traffic, you should be cognizant of how your Screenshots are displayed. On one hand, visitors aren’t just looking at your Product Page. You’re competing for their attention with all other search results on the page, which means your Screenshots should stand out.

Additionally, the number of assets that are shown depends on your Gallery orientation. If in landscape orientation, only your first asset will appear, and if in portrait orientation, your first three assets will be visible. As you can see in the example above, visitors are exposed to more variety of messaging when using portrait assets, but the Screenshots are condensed to fit within the same amount of space as the landscape assets. This can create visual clutter and make messaging more difficult to read.

Based on those differences, we expect landscape assets to have more of an impact on search traffic, which is an insight that’s also supported by our initial testing. We found that for one of the leading mobile games, a Landscape Gallery boosted CVR by 42% from the Search Results Page. We’ll get into more specifics about Gallery orientation later on, but you can also check out this guide to help you decide which Gallery orientation is best for your app or game.

Just as there’s a significant benefit to optimizing your Screenshots, there is also a cost associated with not investing resources in testing them. We’ve seen that untested Screenshots can harm CVR by 15-25%.

Framework for Optimizing Your Screenshot Content and Messaging

Now that you understand the importance of Screenshots, let’s discuss how you can begin to optimize them. When it comes to solidifying the messaging in your Screenshots, these are overall guiding questions you should ask:

  • What are your app’s major selling points?
  • What emotions are you trying to invoke within visitors?
  • What differentiates your app from competitors?
  • Is there a way for you to create a sense of urgency?
  • What are valid reasons that people decide not to install your app? For example, lack of credibility.
  • Is your UI/UX a key selling point? How much does it matter to your audience (before installing)?
  • How can you leverage social proof within the Screenshots?

Based on these questions, you can begin to…

Define Your Target Audience

One of the reasons many tests fail is because companies don’t strategically decide which target audiences to test. Driving traffic from a relevant mix of audiences is crucial to achieve accurate results that can be applied to the live app stores. You can define your audiences by:

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Location
  • Interests
  • Lookalike audience (in Facebook targeting, this refers to people who are similar to your existing customers)

In general, you want to ensure your Screenshots are optimized for the audience you care most about and that will drive the most value, whether that’s in the form of long-term retention or monetization. A common mistake most companies make is focusing too much on increasing CVR, just to discover they’re actually converting low quality traffic that won’t contribute to their return on investment (ROI).

Conduct Competitive Research

In order to differentiate yourself and find distinct Screenshot messaging, it’s important to monitor what your competitors are doing. Identify your top category competitors and analyze the main messages and features they highlight in their Gallery. You should also research how competitors’ Galleries look in the search results for keywords that you rank for.

What are their strengths and weaknesses? How do they use their Gallery to attract attention and convince visitors to install?

Understanding how they do this will show you where opportunity lies and how you can position yourself uniquely in the saturated mobile app marketplace. Tools like the ASO Tool Box, App Annie, and Mobile Action can help you conduct this research quickly and effectively.

Develop Strong, Actionable Hypotheses

As we discussed in our post on the best practices for optimizing Icons, developing a strong hypothesis is the pillar of effective ASO testing. Hypotheses are what drive the creative design and direction of every test, and without one, you risk losing relevant and valuable insights.

At the end of the day, you want to get into the mindset of the audience that you defined earlier. You need to know which factor(s) are most critical during the decision-making process and which will ultimately convince them to install your app or game. This is what you should build your hypotheses around. It could be an important feature to highlight, emotion to evoke, or character to showcase.

Weak Hypotheses

  • Changing the caption text font will improve conversions
  • Slightly altering the character, such as adding a hat, will drive more installs
  • Subtle changes like color swapping or changing the device color will impact conversion

As with Icon tests, weak Screenshot test hypotheses can lead to changes that are too subtle to make a significant impact on the performance or CVR of the app store page.

Strong Hypotheses

  • Visitors will react more positively to a well-known character than seeing actual gameplay
  • Testing caption text variations that emphasize different USPs will impact CVR
  • Gameplay Screenshots that include action and combat convert better than less exciting alternatives
  • Landscape-oriented Screenshots will convey the messages and convert better than portrait-oriented Screenshots
Snapchat Google Experiments Test

For example, let’s take a look at a Google Experiment Screenshot test that Snapchat ran. Other than device colors, the variations showcase different 2nd and 3rd Screenshots. Given this difference, we can assume the hypothesis driving the test is related to the order of messaging, specifically whether accessing content from around the world is more of an enticing feature (and should therefore be shown earlier in the Gallery) than being able to chat with friends.

Strong hypotheses like this can help pinpoint which specific features, characters, or elements of your app or game are most important to installers, and these are crucial insights to use in your broader mobile app marketing strategy.

How to Design Your Screenshots

Once you’ve finalized the content and messaging to include in your Screenshots, it’s crucial to find the most effective way to showcase them. Based on our work with leading mobile publishers, we’ve compiled our top Screenshot design strategies and considerations.

Design Styles

One of the most important things to do when testing Screenshots is to solidify the design style. Each comes with its own advantages depending on your app or game’s value proposition, and the styles will vary for apps and games.

Mobile App Screenshot Design Styles

For apps, we classify Screenshots into three styles:

  • Feature-oriented Screenshots are real screenshots of the app that showcase a variety of features and highlight unique value propositions. If your UI is a key differentiator in your app’s category, this approach may resonate well with your target audience.
  • Lifestyle-oriented Screenshots are feeling-oriented images or visuals that include real-world elements to convey a distinct style of living. These images tend to create a stronger emotional connection with the app. If your app UI is not necessarily where the advantage of your app lies, we recommend testing this approach.
  • Hybrid Screenshots are a combination of feature and lifestyle-oriented images. This style often offers the best of both worlds—visitors see an image that is both emotionally appealing coupled with an accurate representation of your app’s functionality.
Mobile Game Screenshot Design Styles

For games, we classify Screenshots into five styles:

  • Gameplay-oriented Screenshots showcase tactical gameplay and are used to show exactly how the game functions. This appeals to hardcore gamers who value high production value and elaborate, quality gameplay graphics.
  • Character-oriented Screenshots place more focus on characters within the game. This is most heavily done with games based on well-known IPs that have strong brand recognition and in games where the characters themselves drive the installs and a majority of the appeal.
  • Feature-oriented Screenshots highlight specific features of the game, such as the ability to play against others, collect characters, battle bosses, etcetera. This is a powerful design strategy to use if the specific gameplay mechanics aren’t a huge differentiator for your game, but the unique storyline and features are where the competitive advantage lies.
  • Art-oriented Screenshots are an artistic representation of the game or gameplay. They aren’t direct screen captures, but they artistically show assets, characters, or gameplay with interesting, high-quality graphics to more creatively convey the theme of your game.
  • Hybrid Screenshots represent any combination of the above. Similar to apps, this style tends to offer the best of all worlds as you can highlight recognizable characters over the backdrop of gameplay in order to attract a wider variety of installers.

Gallery Orientation

In addition to art style, another design consideration is whether to use portrait-oriented assets, landscape-oriented assets, or a mix of both. Each of the orientations comes with its own set of advantages and disadvantages, but there are a few givens.

Screenshot Gallery Orientation

When using landscape Screenshots, you showcase one main message in each frame since landscape assets take up the full width of your Product Page. With portrait Screenshots, you’re able to display multiple messages in each frame since more than one asset is visible.

Based on our analyses, apps are more likely to showcase portrait Screenshots. This is because a majority of apps don’t support horizontal use or functionality, and they’re more reliant on showcasing multiple features in each frame to garner installs. Games, on the other hand, have a wider mix of Gallery orientations because there’s more variety in the way they’re played. Game developers also tend to use more creative freedom when deciding how to showcase exciting gameplay, storylines, and characters, so they more often test different orientations.

Panoramic Galleries

Another trend to consider for portrait Screenshots is a Panoramic Gallery in which a design spans two or more App Preview Screenshots. This tactic is used to entice visitors to scroll through the Gallery and encourage additional engagement.

Panoramic Gallery

For iOS Galleries, use this guide to avoid design-related issues associated with Panoramic Screenshots. Unfortunately, it’s a little more complicated on Google Play since they allow you to upload varying Screenshot sizes and ratios. Feel free to contact us if you need help with creating Panoramic Galleries on Google Play.

Additional Factors to Consider

At this point, you’ve solidified the most impactful messages you want to showcase in your Screenshot Gallery, and you’ve determined how you’re going to creatively communicate that content through unique design—all supported by strong hypotheses. Those are the building blocks of an effective Screenshot test.

But, there are a few more things you must take into account in order to maximize the effectiveness of your Screenshot tests…

App Store Engagement Data

Once you’ve conducted tests driven by powerful hypotheses, you need to effectively analyze the results.

Which characters converted the best? What features do visitors care about the most? Most importantly, why are they installing my app?

Each of these questions can be answered using app store engagement data. The beneficial aspect of testing platforms is that they track how you visitors behave on each variation in order to extract valuable insights. Some of the core metrics that define successful Screenshots are:

  • Explore Rate (How many visitors chose to explore your page?)
  • Explore and Install Rate (How many visitors who chose to explore your page decided to install?)
  • CVR per Screenshot Impression (How well did each Screenshot convert?)
  • Gallery Scroll Rate (What percentage of visitors scrolled through your Gallery?)
  • Gallery Scroll and Install Rate (Out of visitors who scrolled your Gallery, what percentage of them installed?)
  • Gallery Session Time (How long did visitors spend exploring your Gallery?)

For example, perhaps you found that your 4th Screenshot had the highest CVR in your Gallery. In the following test, you can see how incorporating the message earlier in the Gallery, or even in the beginning of the funnel in paid UA campaigns, impacts conversion.

By isolating the messages, content, features, characters, etcetera that drive installs, you’ll know what to communicate in your Gallery and what you should be testing next. This is how we used Screenshot testing to help mobile e-commerce app Wallapop increase CVR by 26%.

Screenshot Order

It may sound simple, but your Screenshot order plays a significant role in conversion. Most of your visitors will not scroll through your entire Gallery, so you must prioritize the order wisely. We recommend putting your most important features and value propositions in the first two Screenshots and then running additional tests to find the most optimal chronological order for the remaining Gallery assets.

This will allow you to appeal to both types of visitors we tend to see:

  • Decisive Visitors, who make a decision solely based on content they see above the fold in the First Impression Frame.
  • Exploring Visitors, who spend additional time scrolling through your Gallery assets and vertically scrolling through your Product Page before making a decision.
Optimized Screenshot Order

Airbnb, for example, effectively summarizes the main value proposition of their app in the first two screenshots with a succinct caption—Search. Book. Travel. Explore. This captures the essence of the app and the attention of both Decisive and Exploring Visitors. For Exploring Visitors, though, the Screenshots displayed later in the Gallery also highlight Airbnb’s local experiences and in-app messaging features. These clearly aren’t the main selling propositions, but they’re still effective in capturing installs from travel lovers who will scroll to the end of the Gallery and be exposed to that messaging.

Many developers also assume that if they add a new feature, it should automatically be placed in the first Screenshot. This can only be verified through testing. In fact, we’ve seen cases in which showing a new feature in the first Screenshot actually harmed conversion because it didn’t highlight the app’s main selling proposition or properly explain what the app offered. This meant that Decisive Visitors didn’t understand the app’s value immediately, so they dropped from the page.

Through testing, you will understand exactly how different messages in different placements will impact your performance. This isn’t a one-and-done test; you must continuously test and optimize your Screenshot order in order to achieve sustainable success.

Limitations of Google Play Store Listing Experiments

Google developed its own tool, called Google Play Store Listing Experiments, to help developers test their app store assets and get a sense of the overall CVR increase or decrease each variation created. While you can use this tool to test your Screenshots, it’s important to be understand where it lacks in being a sufficient, standalone app store optimization (ASO) platform.

Even though you can identify which Screenshot variations converted the best, you won’t know why a certain variation won or even which Screenshot was the most impactful. Most importantly, though, you won’t have valuable visitor behavior data to uncover insights that will drive your next tests.

Why You Shouldn’t Use the Same Screenshots on the Apple App Store and Google Play Store

One of the major misconceptions that developers have is that you can use the same Screenshots on both the Apple App Store and Google Play Store.

Different Stores, Different Strategies

They are fundamentally different platforms, and they should be treated as such in the area of ASO. This is because:

  • The overall design of the stores are still not the same (e.g., no autoplay feature on Google Play videos, image resolutions are different, etcetera)
  • Developers often drive different traffic to each store (i.e., different sources, campaigns, and ad banners)
  • Different apps are popular in each platform so competition varies
  • The user base for Google is not the same as iOS—user mindsets and preferences are different.

Testing separately on both app stores will help you identify which Screenshot messaging and designs work best on one platform compared to another. There’s no “one size fits all” approach to app store marketing, and we’ve seen instances in which using the same creatives on both platforms led to a 20%-30% decrease in installs on iOS.

Why You Shouldn’t Stop at Screenshot Tests

It’s clear that Screenshot testing should be a critical part of your ASO strategy, but you shouldn’t stop there. Assets like your Icon and Video can also greatly improve your CVR and yield high returns.

One of the best ways to differentiate yourself is to create a holistic and long-term ASO strategy that incorporates all of the assets that visitors see on your Product Page. In this way, you can  truly set your app or game apart from competitors and positively impact the return on investment (ROI) of your mobile app marketing efforts.

StoreMaven is the leading app store optimization (ASO) platform that helps global mobile publishers like Google, Zynga, and Uber test their Apple App Store and Google Play Store marketing assets and understand visitor behavior. If you’re interested in optimizing your Screenshots and uncovering crucial app store visitor engagement data, schedule a demo with us.

About Jordan Bennett
Jordan earned a BA from the University of Southern California and has worked in marketing at companies in San Francisco, London, and Tel Aviv. In her spare time, she loves reading fiction books, finding the best vegan food, and traveling around the world.