Being two of the most competitive markets in the world, the App Store and the Google Play store always created a need for differentiation. An App Store Optimization (ASO) strategy has always been how smart marketing teams gain that competitive advantage.
An ASO strategy which is a subset of a broader app marketing and growth strategy is a set of ASO tactics that aim to work together to increase an app’s visibility in the app stores as well as improving its ability to convert app store visitors to installs and users.
So what does an ASO marketing strategy entails?
- ASO Keyword Optimization – the practice of creating and executing a keyword strategy to maximize App Store & Google Play search performance.
- ASO Creative and Conversion Rate Optimization – the practice of experimenting and improving App Store & Google Play store listing creatives (icon, screenshots, videos, title, etc.) with the goal of increasing app store conversion rates.
- ASO Measurement – the practice of measuring the impact and value of different ASO tactics on organic and overall mobile install growth.
Since their inception, both marketplaces have exploded in terms of the number of available apps and with that, the opportunity for an app to be discovered has diminished.
This has pushed app marketers to focus their efforts on getting their app noticed and increasing installs among the growing competition. And low and behold, App Store Optimization (ASO) came into being.
Over the course of working as an ASO consultant for top app developers, I have personally witnessed ASO mature from what Adam Rakib describes as “a simple marketing task to a dedicated team within marketing, growth, or product departments.” Despite this growth, ASO is still in its infancy, and few models exist for how to develop a long-term, successful ASO strategy. Based on my work with top app developers, I identified 5 key components of a winning ASO strategy.
1. Understanding Your Target Audience
Getting to know your app target audience is one of the most crucial components of an ASO Strategy
Most app marketers start off on the wrong foot because they don’t know their target audience. Unfortunately, the “How Did You Hear About Us” form doesn’t exist in the app store and users come for infinite reasons. In order to develop a winning ASO strategy, you must identify your target group (or groups) and tailor your app marketing efforts accordingly.
Choose a particular group of users at which your app is aimed and create a target profile from there. Your target user profile should consider age, gender, culture, education/socioeconomic level, place of residence, etcetera. All of these attributes play a critical role in the decision to download your app.
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You should also be cognizant of how and why people are using your app—their interests (it’s not always as straightforward as you may think). For example, many people use dating apps for different reasons. Some people use them because they want to find a life partner, others use them to find less meaningful relationships. These are pretty straightforward user interests you may consider. Let’s dig a little deeper. There’s an extremely popular dating app that offers a unique feature in which users only have one match a day. While this feature may seem annoying to the average user, it works because many users are drawn to the idea of a romantic, unique chance of meeting. More specifically, this feature offers users a more meaningful story behind meeting through an app—and it’s this unique user interest that plays a crucial role in why users download the app. The point is, there are likely varying reasons people use your app that aren’t so straightforward and these reasons can be different across different social groups or locales—explore these varying interests.
After you identify a group of app users to target, you will start to get a sense of their preferences and can then begin building an initial strategy around those users. Ask yourself, is my app metadata (i.e., app icon, app name, app description, keywords, and app preview videos/screenshots) designed according to my target users?
Here’s the thing, understanding your target audience isn’t a one-time effort. Your audience is forever changing and the users you target today may not be the users you target next month. Just like traditional marketing, your ASO strategy will ebb and flow with the market. The key is to keep testing in order to learn and evolve with your market.
2. A Strong ASO Strategy Goes Far Beyond Keyword Optimization
I have found that when many developers think of ASO, they predominantly think of improving discoverability by optimizing the keywords they use in their app’s metadata.
Keyword optimization is unarguably an important component of a healthy ASO strategy, and can certainly help you achieve more organic growth through better discoverability by ranking higher in the app store search results. The thing is, keywords and creatives complement each other. When you’re familiar with the major terms that drive impressions for your app, creatives that appear in the search results page—and appeal to your target user—will increase your “tap-through rate” and/or conversion rates. The higher your “tap-through rate” and conversion rate is for a specific keyword search, the higher the search algorithm ranks your relevancy, and the higher you rank for that keyword.
Beyond that, it doesn’t really matter how many people are visiting your page unless visitors are downloading your app. And what’s even more important than visitor volume is optimizing for the number of quality installs. For that, it’s crucial to test your app store creatives. Hence, a strong ASO strategy focuses on both optimizing for discoverability and conversion rates (CVR).
3. A Successful ASO Strategy is Underpinned by (Good) Hypothesis-Driven Optimization
A strong ASO strategy is built on hypotheses of what combination of creatives and messaging will cause most users to download your app. Without (good) hypothesis testing, you risk wasting resources on unfocused experimentation.
A good hypothesis is a precise statement that can be proven or disproven and should be used as a starting point for further investigation.
The key is to first think broad, do research and use any existing data to hone in on ideas that can have an impact on your target users, and then create categories of ideas to test. To help you get inspired:
- Put together an audit of competitors. You can use tools like the ASO Tool Box to preview (and download) the creative assets used in your competitors’ app stores or the app stores of big players in your app category. Get inspired by what’s out there and try to also come up with new ideas.
- Explore your current app reviews and feedback. Learn what users are saying about your app and how they’re saying it. What is potentially drawing users in and pushing users away?
- Identify which features of your app users engage with the most.
- Explore what ads have worked the best for you and why.
- If in an early stage, are you lacking credibility (social proof). How can you address this?
- If you had 3-6 seconds to a) inspire a specific user sentiment and b) convey the functionality of your app, what would that sentiment be and how would you go about conveying both?
The biggest pitfalls we see in unguided testing are hypotheses that are based on design changes that are too nuanced or changes that do not lead to valuable insights. If we continue with the example of dating apps…
- Dating app visitors prefer to see a yellow background logo.
- Dating app visitors prefer to see screenshots containing UI images without the phone frame.
The issue with the hypotheses above is that either users won’t notice the changes or the hypotheses themselves don’t lead to significant learnings about your app store visitors. Ok, users prefer a yellow background color logo—now what?
- Dating app visitors prefer messaging about the quality of the app user base over the volume of the app user base.
- Dating app visitors prefer messaging in the First Impression Frame that relates to the “one match a day” feature (one USP of the app) over messaging that shows social proof.
Good hypotheses are precise and framed in a way that will advance your understanding of your app store visitors.
4. Strong Creatives And Messaging Are Integral to Running Successful Tests
Based on our analyses of over 500M user sessions, we have identified the most impactful app store marketing assets in terms of potential CVR lifts…
Our data shows that app store creatives (i.e., App Preview Videos, Screenshots, and Icon) are the most impactful app store marketing assets. More specifically, we’ve seen top mobile apps improve their CVR by 11-40% just by optimizing their app store creatives.
But how to do it right?
After you have a test hypothesis and you want to begin designing creatives, there’s a number of things to consider:
- Visitors have a short attention span: The average app store visitor will make the decision to download or drop within 3–6 seconds of landing on an app store page. Visitors’ attention is limited at best so don’t expect users to watch your full video, browse all screenshots, and make an informed decision. In fact, our data shows that 60% of visitors decide to install or drop without ever engaging with the page. That means, these visitors are only exposed to the creatives in your First Impression Frame (everything above the fold). So make your First Impression creatives and messaging strong and to the point.
- Mobile screens are small: Remember the size of the canvas and paint accordingly. Too much information in too small a space is confusing to visitors and causes them to drop.
- Crowdsource: You know your app inside out. Your average visitor does not. Therefore, what might seem like a big difference in creatives and messaging to you, could have little to no impact on the average visitor. Take your designed hypotheses, walk downstairs to the coffee shop in your building, and ask people what the main message of each hypothesis is. Seriously. If they can’t explain your app’s value based off the creatives, your visitors won’t be able to either.
5. A Winning ASO Strategy Is a Cycle Informed By Data
You’ve run the test, you’ve found the winner, now what? Here lies unarguably the most important component—translating the data into insights that further guide you.
A healthy analysis stage looks something like this:
- Analyze app store engagement: assess page asset performance to understand what users best respond to, and identify the strengths and weaknesses of all variations.
- Determine if there is a winning variation we should push to the live store.
- Quantify CVR lift in the live store.
Use the findings from your post-test analyses to come up with and create new hypotheses. It’s the ASO Circle of Life. This is precisely why a strong foundation is necessary for a successful ASO strategy—each stage is informed by the previous stage.
Your strategy should be a cycle also because your market, competitors, and users are constantly evolving. Hence, you must constantly evolve. In fact, our data shows that leading apps test their creative assets at least 2-4 times before each app release. We have also found that leading apps update their store creatives 1-2 times a month.
The bottom line… a successful ASO strategy is more than just a game plan that will bring a one-time CVR boost. Rather, it’s about creating a strong, long-term strategy to allow for ongoing performance optimization of your app store.
If you’d like help building your ASO strategy, feel free to reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org!