App Store Optimization Ain’t kicking the Bucket

The death of SEO does not foretell the death of ASO. We no longer think ASO is simply SEO for the app stores. ASO Food for Thought from Feb 6, 2020.

Acquittal, chaos, fourth-quarter comebacks and an app that made headlines for all the wrong reasons. This week sure seemed to have it all.

It’s the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine

Recently, Mobile Dev Memo’s Eric Seufert published a piece asserting that the death of SEO should sow fear in the hearts of ASO devotees. While it’s an interesting assertion, Jonathan Fishman has some thoughts of his own.

The death of SEO does not foretell the death of ASO for one simple, simple reason. We have long moved on from thinking ASO is simply SEO for the app stores. Thank god we did or the outlook would be dire.

The original argument goes that “benefiting from dynamics that are not under a company’s control is not strategy; it’s chance.” And he’s right but unfortunately there’s one small inconvenient truth, the only place you can sell an app is on the app stores. Good luck selling an app at Best Buy. It just won’t work. We’re not all Fortnite. There is only one (type of) market place and it’s run by two supposedly benevolent emperors. If you want to play the game, you gotta get on the field.

Now Seufert is not suggesting we abscond from the app stores, merely the practice of ASO, that of trying to beat the algorithms and game the system. And he’s right. Hacks are chance. You’re chancing the system. But hacks are not ASO.

Just because you don’t control the ecosystem (and that you’re at the whims of those emperors, benevolent or otherwise), doesn’t mean you can’t strategize about how best to conduct your diplomacy. And it definitely doesn’t mean that that diplomacy — whether through relationship-building (read: schmoozing the bigwigs for featuring), keyword fiddling or creative optimizing — is not measurable in its effect. And consistent in its positive outcomes. That consistency is key. If it didn’t work, no one would do it. And as long as it works, it makes sense to understand why and learn how to make it work for you.

The more things change, the more they stay the same. ASO is not supposed to be a once-off task anyways and at the very least, these changes remind us to go back to the basics and learn as much as we can.

The wind changing is inevitable. And instead of getting capsized, we change course, tack right, tack left, tack right again. We adapt to the changing environment using all the knowledge we have at hand. And that is not chance. That’s a multi-pronged, agile strategy.

Explore, Expand, Exploit, Exterminate

It seems no matter how deep into February we get, some people are still on their 2020 predictions high horse. And we’re still happily riding because accepting that we’re not still at the (very) start of the year means that we can keep procrastinating with goals and planning and strategy instead of actually doing any work.

So let’s get procrastinating, I mean, working. 

Speaking of strategy, let’s focus on this top-grossing genre of mobile gaming, according to Deconstructor of Fun. Yup, Strategy beat out second-place Puzzles by a cool one billion dollars with a 25% year over year growth.

App Store Optimization Ain't kicking the Bucket - 1

And the child bringing home the biggest bucks in the strategy house? 4X by far. The other siblings aren’t doing too bad a job either but see those red circles above? They’re indicative of some major muscle as the red represents a sub-genre where only one or two big-name players eat all (well, at least 75% of) the pie. Hint hint: there’s room for more at the top. 

Strategy RPG and MOBA both impressed with triple-digit growth. And on the moolah side of things, 4X is pulling no punches. Or should I say kung fu kick as the sub-genre is dominated by Chinese developers securing their spot in Western markets. Last year Chinese publishers took home 76% of all the 4X revenues. 

So that’s what did happen, but what do they think will happen?

Well, 4X will continue to grow at a double-digit pace and the Chinese ain’t letting go of the steering wheel. Westerners will try Marco Polo their money and their noodles but as tempting as it all looks, there’s doubt on how much success they’ll have eking out their sliver of the Chinese 4X pie. 

As for the publishers trying to see how many ways there are to skin a cat, their re-skin ambitions are apparently still a futile cause in the competitive field that is 4X. Mobile gaming success is more than skin deep, they’ll need to focus on product improvements consisting of better UI/UX and possibly dabble in some tricks from across the genres. Elements from RPGs, Tactical Battlers and Build & Battle games might prove nifty in this regard. 

Look out for the new IP-heavy titles entering the market by those with existing skin in the 4X game. Avatar and Star Wars strategy games will (hopefully) launch successfully by the end of the year, able to take the heat away from Lilith’s Rise of Kingdoms (who topped the gross charts but is expected to be knocked down a few rungs by summer). The two strong IPs are in good hands, with FoxNext (now Scopely) and another-yet-to-be-named (but experienced) developer, they have a proven track record of not getting star-struck while building and operating complex games. More importantly, they have the capital muscle and resources to scale in a market with notoriously high CPIs. No skin off their back. 

Any wildcards waiting in the wings? Just Supercell’s new Clash of Clans 4X game that’ll bring in an influx of new players to the sub-genre. 

PSA: Us gals want more content aimed at us. We’re a key demographic and ripe for the taking.

Also, I’m bored with all the Kings and the Sultans. Let’s get more creative thematically. There’s money to be made here.

Something’s been bugging me

Anyone notice their search impressions decreasing while browse impressions inversely cooperated? It started on September 19th and today (yup, we’re hot off the press this morning), Apple confirmed that yup, they had an analytics bug. They fixed it 133 days later. The cross-industry graph of organic search impressions doesn’t lie. 

App Store Optimization Ain't kicking the Bucket - 2

The bug played around with organic search impressions, organic search conversion rates, browse impressions and browse conversion rates. App units in both funnels were immune though.

The bug only attacked the sweet-blooded iOS 13 (and up) devices with Apple going back to the chalkboard to re-run the numbers and update App Store Connect to reflect the real metrics. So whatever plans you made based on those last four months, you might need to go run a sanity check and see that those numbers and trends are still holding true.

A new day dawns

It started with the basics, ASO 101, back when we simply transferred SEO tactics into the app stores and called it a day. We’ve come a long way. We tried, we erred, we learned and we grew into ASO 2.0. We done good. We got wise to the algorithms and the importance of creative optimization. And now we’ve grown some more. 

No longer just a two-hander, UA and ASO can be more than just the sum of its parts. A new era is dawning and the horizon looks bright. 

This is ASO 3.0. And it’s all going down at MGS20.

Adam Rakib, StoreMaven’s Co-Founder and President, and Vanessa Rouhani, SVP Publishing at Jam City, will present what this evolution means for mobile games. 

We’ll be there, will you? 

Five things you must know about Custom Product Pages

    (And by ‘we’ I mean ‘they’, the much prettier, much taller, much more smooth management and client consultants that are attending instead of me. Schedule a meeting and see for yourself. )

    About Kim Feldman
    With a BA in Economics and Drama from the University of Cape Town and Honours Degree in Theatre Directing, Kim left it all behind to join the world of advertising before jumping ship to marketing. A recovering technophobe, she has now found a new home making sense of all things data, mobile, and hi-tech. At work, they call her the Content Marketing Writer but she’ll always be a copywriter at heart.

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