Four Ways COVID-19 Has Changed App Store Optimization

Emphasizing remote work, pushing brand awareness and highlighting contact-free customer experiences. Here's how you should tackle App Store Optimization under the COVID-19 norm.

This post was created in partnership with Sensor Tower and was first published on their site: To learn more visit SensorTower.com.

The global impact of COVID-19 has radically reshaped nearly every aspect of daily life. From sheltering-in-place to social distancing, people around the world are adjusting to limited contact and removal from once commonplace activities including commuting, shopping, and gathering in public places. More than ever, the smartphone serves as a primary conduit to the outside world, supplementing areas where ordinary life still remains impossible. As a result, 2020 is already well on its way to being the biggest year in the history of mobile apps, in terms of both adoption and consumer spending.

For growing mobile companies, it is critical to adjust organic acquisition strategies to meet this unique time. As user behavior has changed, some of the most mature mobile app companies across all categories have made significant alterations to their approaches in order to keep up.

Based on Sensor Tower and Storemaven findings, here are four critical ways COVID-19 has changed App Store Optimization (ASO) in 2020.

Emphasizing remote work

One of the defining trends amid COVID-19 has been the unprecedented rise of organic installs of business and education apps in the stores, leading to a record year for both categories. Global downloads for business apps in the first half of 2020 increased by nearly 150 percent year-over-year to 1.9 billion across the App Store and Google Play, while education apps saw 42 percent Y/Y growth to reach nearly 2 billion. With more developers than ever cobbling together remote office and classroom tools, consumers are directly searching for the services they need or are required to have by their employers and schools.

According to Sensor Tower data, searches for Zoom, Google Classroom, and Microsoft Teams have seen huge gains by traffic score growth compared to the same time period in 2019, meaning that consumers know exactly what they want and are searching for it directly. This search behavior has also contributed to all three services experiencing record downloads throughout Q1 and Q2 2020. Zoom has seen the largest increase overall, achieving record in downloads for a business app and becoming the most downloaded app globally in the second quarter.

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With working from home the new reality, many app publishers have addressed this shift in their ASO messaging and strategy, positioning themselves as facilitators of remote work. These copy and image changes have addressed the new reality of remote work interactions, in order to maintain appeal during COVID-19. For example, Square reacted quickly to COVID-19 by changing the first screenshot for its Square POS app—the business operations companion to its consumer payment app—on both stores to emphasize the ease of selling online through its use.

It’s critical for apps across all categories to consider their relationship to facilitating remote interaction, especially in relation to business and education. Prioritizing access, ease, and remote interaction are strong immediate steps that can be taken to keep up with the shift in how users are searching for online tools to make the best of this time.

Focusing on brand awareness

While more users than ever are directly searching for what they need, changes in traffic for non-app names varied, highlighting the turbulence certain categories are experiencing as shelter-in-place and reduced contact initiative continue around the globe. More holistically, general search terms and passive browsing have declined, indicating that there is an overall lack of exploration of mobile app stores by consumers compared to the year prior.

According to Sensor Tower data, search traffic for terms such as “weather,” “maps,” and “podcast” has decreased during COVID-19, highlighting a handful of the hardest-hit categories during the pandemic as consumers are indoors and not traveling or commuting. Indeed, even as ridesharing and travel apps such as Uber or Expedia have seen light recovery in the weeks following the 200th confirmed case of COVID-19, there’s little hope that they will be able to make a full recovery to pre-pandemic levels this year.

A dive into Storemaven data shows that Browse impressions decreased by 46 to 60 percent after late February of 2020, potentially spurred by a combined decrease in passive exploration and an overall strategy by mobile companies to reduce or change user acquisition budgets and strategies in the face of uncertainty.

With the lack of browsing-driven discovery becoming an overall trend over the past several months, it’s key to focus on word-of-mouth as a valuable marketing tool in combination with organic and paid mobile search strategies. As consumers continue to search for apps by name, marketing campaigns that focus on referrals could have a unique appeal.

Staying supportive

One of the challenges of COVID-19 is that it’s a global event—a stressful and abnormal sequence of events that has forced the world out of its known routine. It’s hard to acknowledge that things have changed without being gloomy or awkward, but it’s critical that mobile app markers take extra care when communicating with customers.

According to Storemaven, mobile developers have sought to meet the moment of COVID-19 by changing their overall tone and positioning on the App Store. Within store descriptions, images, and even update notes, companies have gone out of their way to insert supportive and encouraging messaging within their store profiles.

One example is Gumtree UK, the online classified advertisement website, which completely shifted its positioning focus to the community perspective of local second-hand shopping and its new delivery product feature. The app also highlighted the ability to get groceries delivered and chat with your neighbors, in order to make the best of living with awareness of COVID-19.

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Companies worldwide have considered it beneficial to identify particular pain points and struggles related to COVID-19 in their user base, and connect with them on a more personal level. Through showing a more authentic side—one openly acknowledging the unique challenges of the past few months—apps are able to build better brand trust and connect with their customers on a deeper level.

Highlighting contact-free experiences for essential services

In addition to acknowledging the uniqueness of our lives amid COVID-19, many apps have taken to highlighting minimal contact as a selling point for their services. According to research by Storemaven, when social-distancing became the present need, companies increasingly changed their messaging and creatives to showcase their safety.

For example, food delivery and takeout service Doordash added “contactless delivery by default” messaging directly on its app’s store page. By also altering the first few seconds of its page video and third screenshot on the page, Doordash highlighted the safety measures Dashers would be taking to ensure food was delivered safely.

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COVID-19 has not been ideal for food delivery apps, with minimal boosts in interest countered by closures of area restaurants for the sake of public health and safety, as well as the overall decline of food delivery for the sake of saving money. However, DoorDash in particular has seen a slight improvement: According to Sensor Tower Data, after three straight quarters of declining installs between Q2 and Q4 2019 in the United States, DoorDash saw record downloads in Q2 2020.

Where applicable, highlighting the safety and precautionary measures taken during COVID-19 is a great way to deliver peace of mind and convert interest to installs. Although needs may fluctuate in this ever-changing time, being open and transparent about public health is another great way to build lasting trust.

In conclusion: Roll with the changes

Although we’re months into the COVID-19 pandemic, circumstances continue to change day-to-day. While some countries appear to be in more prolonged and hopeful periods of recovery, others, such as the U.S., are still struggling to adjust to the lasting effects of managing a public health crisis. It’s important to remain mindful that authenticity and utility will continue to stay at the forefront of consumers’ minds for the foreseeable future, so leading communications with empathy will be one of the most valuable decisions any app publisher can make.

Jonathan Fishman
About Jonathan Fishman
Jonathan is Storemaven's Director of Marketing. Before joining Storemaven he spent ten years commanding tanks, working on Wall St., consulting high-growth companies, and exploring Black Rock City. In his spare time, he likes building things from wood, writing, and listening to Frank Zappa.