Google is constantly changing the look and feel of its paid search ads, which is quite a headache for businesses. But that doesn’t mean you should stop trying to understand your users. StoreMaven’s Director of Marketing explains
Last week user acquisition specialist and quantitative marketing pundit Eric Seufert shared an interesting piece titled: “The end of SEO should scare mobile ASO devotees”.
These are Seufert’s main arguments:
- Google has always been experimenting with various ways of labeling paid search ads and its recent change further obfuscated that they are, in fact, ads.
- This change caused a significant portion of organic search traffic to click on paid ads. Thus, businesses that relied on significant organic traffic suddenly experienced a sharp decrease in traffic.
- Given that these changes are not under the control of these businesses themselves and any platform changes (in this case Google) could kill their organic traffic, Seufert concludes that “benefiting from dynamics that are not under a company’s control is not strategy; it’s chance”.
- Furthermore, Seufert calls out the death of SEO and warns that ASO will follow in its footsteps and die as well.
Let’s break down the main parts of these arguments.
Points #1 and #2: Platform changes can have a significant impact on business performance
Given these platforms are owned by a handful of companies that are trying to provide their users with the optimal experience (usually finding the best information, products, games, and apps), they’ll always make changes to the way they surface them to their users. As Seufert himself recognizes, user response has the biggest sway over the platforms’ choices and when Google’s search ad display became too similar to the organic results Google pulled back on the design in response.
Today’s world of (B2C) digital marketing is inherently dependent on platforms that take care of discoverability, promotion, and distribution. Rarely will there be a consumer-facing company with a digital product or one that is marketed online (like an app or a game) that won’t need to rely on a certain platform to get business. Google is the #1 way the world searches and finds products on the web. The Playstation or XBOX stores is the #1 way console gamers search and find console games and the main way developers have to distribute these games. Amazon does the same for retail. Similarly, the App Store and Google Play are the main platforms mobile users search and find apps and games.
The big thing to remember is that these platforms aren’t going anywhere. They’re the new marketplace and if you want to sell you need to be there. Businesses will always rely on directly driving growth through paid ads but the potential organic traffic they can get through these platforms is massive. Ignoring them or undervaluing them (as Seufert does) is like cutting off your nose to spite your face. We need to work with them and with their changes or face our own demise.
Change is inevitable, as sure as the seasons of the year.
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Point #3: Given that platform changes are inevitable, companies should never rely on them for growth
The fact that the weather constantly changes doesn’t mean that humans should not aspire to understand it. The power of understanding these changes led to weather forecasting and, although it isn’t 100% accurate, it’s existence has probably saved you from getting soaked in the rain more than a few times throughout your life.
Similarly, businesses can and should try to understand what influences their environment. Maybe they’ll never understand it with a 100% accuracy, but that understanding will allow them to adjust their actions to benefit their business.
In the case of companies that rely on platforms for distribution and discoverability, there is a lot of value in trying to understand how they operate, what type of behavior they reward, and what levers can be pulled to enhance discoverability and growth.
As I wrote earlier, there are factors that lead to these platforms ‘rewarding’ you with more traffic and success. At the end of the day, the common thread is that they reward products that seem like they are extremely valuable to users.
So investigating, experimenting, and building knowledge that allows a business to identify and pull these levers isn’t chance, it’s a crucial growth strategy. Now that doesn’t mean that it’s easy or even a one-time exercise. The platforms are always changing and updating; understanding them requires constant experimentation and investigation.
If you wanted to get ranked on Google’s first page for a competitive query and you tried to use the same tactics that worked in 1997 (for example keyword stuffing) you wouldn’t get far these days after Google tweaked their algorithm to reward useful, valuable, and informative web pages for their users.
Operating in a business environment where 85% of your users get to your app through the platforms’ discoverability mechanisms (search or browse) and just taking that for granted as a magical gift is a sure way to risk your business and lose out to the competition.
Point #4: Death of SEO and a warning for ASO
SEO is not dead. Google has been making changes to their algorithm for about 25 years. They even work hard to encourage companies and people around the world to understand the type of content they want to promote (content that actually answers the query question and provides valuable information) so they can create better content that provides a better experience for the user.
ASO is the practice of understanding 1) the factors that the app stores use to increase app discoverability and 2) how users operate in the app stores to find and install apps. ASO then leverages these insights to improve business performance and growth.
There will always be app and game publishers that understand that and win an unfair share of their market. Is it chance?
It is their strategy and methodical approach that focuses on understanding the most impactful marketing and growth activities in the app stores. If the platforms suddenly change the factors that lead to better discoverability (and therefore higher growth), these publishers will dive deep into the change. Then they’ll experiment, learn, and adjust their actions.
This will always lead these companies to achieve higher growth rates than competitors that didn’t make the same investment into properly understanding the platforms.
Again and again, we have seen with our own eyes, publishers who implement these strategies produced impressive growth and much success. Because of this, it’s hard to agree with the notion that it’s merely chance.
Moreover, ASO (and SEO) is not just a strategy but a place of learning. You can learn in a real-time environment what drives your users to choose your product and incorporate these learnings throughout your operation. There’s nothing new in marketers needing to understand their audience but the harsh consequence of treating ASO as a game of chance is that those who view it this way will lose touch with what drives their audience to install their product. That will inevitably lead to an ever decreasing product-market fit and decreasing growth or even worse.
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To recap, the fact that platforms continue to make changes doesn’t mean one can’t understand why and how they surface certain products over others that never get discovered. Developing and enhancing this understanding through a great App Store Optimization practice is a crucial strategy when you rely on these platforms for a large chunk of your growth. Not understanding that is one of the bigger risks for app business out there. The evidence is all around us. There are numerous businesses in the world that went bankrupt because they didn’t understand their distribution strategy and so neglected it. By failing to get their products to market, these companies were always facing an uphill battle and the quality of their product was irrelevant.
The app business is no different. Understand your distribution. Understand the app stores.