Drop the Optimization. Keep the App Store.
From the very beginning, the industry has gotten app store optimization all wrong. And it’s time we fixed it.
A quick google of the word ‘optimization’ delivers the following definition:
“The action of making the best or most effective use of a situation or resource.”
Most likely, the first thing that comes to mind when thinking ASO is a) keyword strategy and b) conversion rates of creative assets. As it stands, optimization in this context means that the app stores are the resource and changing keywords and/or creatives are the action. This way of thinking has turned ASO into a game of inches.
I read it differently. The stores are not the resource, they are the action. The ability to leverage them to make the most of our strategic business goals is how we should define optimization in our context. Strategic business goals (however we may define them to ourselves) are the true resource, the true goal.
Drop the Optimization
Don’t get me wrong, there’s tremendous value in driving up the discovery with the right keyword strategy and the role that app store creatives play goes far beyond merely conversion rates. But the focus should be broader than merely CVR metrics, it’s about driving more business and overall growth at the fastest pace possible.
Companies who successfully drive sustainable growth have built sophisticated and diverse ASO teams. They are capable of quickly executing a series of creative conversion tests, managing UA spend, planning and monitoring keyword experiments, and evaluating an app’s conversion rates on pre-launch and concept phase. It’s a simultaneous and multi-pronged approach.
To fully unlock the vast potential that comes with getting the app stores right, we must not look at it as an optimization effort but rather as a new acquisition channel with its own unique flavor. By doing so, we gain access to data that can completely change how we evaluate every other channel and eventually how we make business decisions altogether.
Mirror, mirror, on the wall
We used to see the app stores as a giant wall or barrier that users had to go through as part of their buying journey, frictious but necessary. We explored every nook and cranny, every dark corner we could find, in search of clues that could guide us in how to leverage the real estate that Apple and Google provided. We wanted to learn how to scale the wall the best way possible.
What we found was greater than anything we could have imagined, from the tiny minutiae to the big picture. We’ve been able to answer a range of questions: from the impact of your position in search results to the dollar and greater monetary value of climbing up specific category charts to the exact percentage of users who watched the 15th second of a product page video.
Over time, we have learned that the actions different companies take and how users engage with the stores are reflected back on themselves in their app store performance. The app stores’ wall is made of glass. And just like any glass, it can be turned into a mirror. Every greater action we take as a business to drive growth or engagement is reflected in our performance on the app stores. And just like any activity, once you understand it well enough you can reverse-engineer it.
Wait, what? Say that again.
An analogy we like to toy with internally here at StoreMaven is comparing the app stores to the stock market. Every day, companies are doing business, trading goods, hitting and/or missing goals, making the news, filing an IPO, etc. etc. and all this information is aggregated and reflected back by their stock value the following day. For mobile, apps are ‘trading’ with UA budgets, product improvements, store changes, the emergence of new competitors, etc. And instead of a stock price, it’s all reflected in their app store performance, from the volume of organic traffic to their movement on the charts/keywords.
The interconnectedness of these factors is more apparent than ever with Apple just recently releasing an official statement announcing 42 factors that are used to determine apps’ rankings on search results. Of the 42, four factors have the heaviest weighting and largest influence: downloads, rating, relevance, and user behavior.
It’s time to break the silos
Currently, we are analyzing information in silos, UA is UA, ASO is ASO. And this creates a measurement problem which blurs our ability to clearly see the full impact of our actions.
Breaking Down the Silos, What Impacts What?
Creatives play multiple roles in the app stores, directly influencing conversion rates for new and existing users on Search, Browse, and Paid and that shifting of daily install volume impacts ranking and from there browse impressions, CVR, and product KPIs. On a fundamental level, we know that rankings are impacted by UA, ratings, and keyword changes. We know that organics are impacted by discoverability and rankings, by search results (which are affected by search ads themselves). Competitor performance, seasonality, Application Not Responding (ANRs), everything. Everything has a knock-on effect on everything else.
The fact that some of these actions take place at the same time makes it even more complex and can lead many to assume that ASO cannot be measured or that the ratio of paid to organic traffic remains static. This is false, but it’s also the motivation to keep going. The attraction of ASO lies in its uncertainty. The channel has no single formula and it remains unchartered territory for many developers and publishers. We’re changing these paradigms, one day at a time.
Organics, or more accurately, unattributed installs
If you’re fortunate enough to have a significant portion of organics (and if you’re not fortunate, you should look to grow them), you’ve probably asked yourself where exactly do organic installs come from. Just like companies don’t get in touch with us at StoreMaven out of nowhere, organic installs are not gifts falling from the sky and they’re definitely not free. People don’t just wake up out of the blue and decide to install one app over another; it happens because they saw something or heard something or experienced something that inspires them to take action. That ‘something’ is hard work and the right combination of moves made by marketing, growth, UA, and ASO teams. To grow organics, we need to identify (and make use of) the levers that have impacted organics in the past. We need to keep experimenting to refine our understanding of these levers.
The data we collect around organics helps us understand the broader impact of the decisions that were made, actions that were taken by our competitors and it can help shed light on external industry events that take place to explain shifts in our own performance — from algorithm changes to layout changes to seasonality.
Due to factors such as differing definitions of ‘users’ and unique parameters, organics, as reported by attribution platforms, might not match the data you collect from App Store Connect and Google Play Console. There is no right or wrong; it’s merely a matter of understanding when to use which data source for what purpose. Your attribution partner’s data is helpful when calculating ROAS for your paid campaigns. That being said, when evaluating your movement on the charts or the holistic impact of your UA campaigns on organic performance, you would look to the data coming directly from the app stores themselves. But when it comes to the bigger, more holistic questions, understanding the pitfalls and blind spots inherent in the various data sources is vital.
Keep the App Store.
ASO is converging with UA and collectively they are becoming what we term Growth. Mobile marketing and growth practices are evolving and maturing. ASO is breaking out of its silo and is no longer considered a nice-to-have but recognized as a vital part of marketing and/or growth teams. By working together, UA and ASO teams can truly amplify their impact. The role of ASO managers will expand well beyond their current focus into educators for their organizations on the broader impact of the company’s growth activities.
Are you asking the right questions today to access the right data that can help you answer them accurately? Are you breaking down the silos?
ASO is no longer merely about optimizing your creative store assets or keywords. In fact, it’s no longer about optimization at all. It’s about using data to inform better decision making on the most strategic, high-level moves we make. We’re not optimizing for inches, we’re striding in miles.
It’s time to leverage the app stores, not their assets.