The 6 Fundamental Principles of Good ASO

It seems every great philosophy comes with its own set of guiding principles, neatly numbered and easy to follow. Think the 10 Commandments, the 12 step program, 7 Habits of Highly Successful People, 3 Blind Mice and so on.  And it’s high time us app store optimization (ASO) folks got our own. 

We decided to analyze the best ASO teams in the world to see what’s common amongst them; what drives their high-growth rates, world-class store visibility, and their higher-than-average conversion rates. So we did some stalking and here’s what we discovered.

Read them, absorb them, and present each member of your team with a framed watercolor print of them to replace that weird family photo on their desk.

1) Think long term.

Successful teams have a long-term mindset. It’s about winning the war, not the battle. They do not believe in quick hacks and wild moon shots to nail a few quick install gains. They create a methodological, scientific, measurable process for all ASO activities. 

In this regard, they understand that creative testing is not simply about finding a one-time winning variation, it’s about understanding users: their tastes, their behaviors, their triggers, and their needs. These insights are far more valuable than a single creative update and inform decisions throughout the marketing funnel, not just in the stores. Their testing plans are multi-staged and continue to iterate based on previous findings to create sustainable growth over time.  

graph showing the amount of creative updates per year

They fundamentally understand that app store marketing is a marathon, not a sprint. 

2) Great research leads to informed and valuable hypotheses.

All tests start with a hypothesis. And great tests start with great hypotheses; clear, specific, and informed. 

Without properly thought-out hypotheses driving your tests, the potential for your tests to be somewhat meaningless is almost a guarantee. Yes, you can learn that a certain shade of purple converts people at a 0.2% better rate, but it’s far less valuable than understanding exactly why users choose to install and doubling down on it. (Pro tip: it’s not because you used a slightly brighter tone of purple.)

To form great hypotheses you need two things:

  • Strong market research skills – It’s more than simply conducting an internal brainstorm, it’s about getting out there, observing how users make decisions, and when it comes to localization, having a strong framework to understand the new local culture you want to grow in.
  • Data – self-reporting and surveys are misleading. If Apple had created products based on what people wanted, the iPhone would never have existed. If Henry Ford had asked the masses what they wanted, they would have said better horses. Instead, great teams have access to industry data and they use data about what users actually do — instead of what they say they want to do — to inform their hypotheses. 

3) Strong hypotheses are nothing without effective, well-executed creatives. 

The main way that you communicate with your users in the app store is through visual assets. As such they are the elements with the highest potential for improvement (as opposed to descriptions, reviews, etc.). What we discovered when (s)talking with the best teams out there is that they have the ability to guide designers to accurately convey the specific marketing messages (and nuances) needed for the hypotheses in the visuals. 

It’s not just extremely important, it’s vital. Tests can (and will) fail if the creatives used in them aren’t effectively conveying the messaging your hypotheses are based on. 

 different icons conveying different hypothesis

4) Know your audience (and the specific audience you should optimize for at any given time).

Just because the app store environment limits the ability to diversify messaging for audience segments (there is only one app store page per GEO/local) that should never hold you back from creating messaging to convert a certain audience. 

The teams we looked at think long term (see point 1 again) and this means that they strategize about the type of audiences they should care about (and when) and then create a traffic strategy to bring in these specific users into a test. From quarter to quarter the most important audience/s changes and the ASO team change their priorities to match. 

Not all installs are created equally and smart teams target high-quality audiences. And test to see how to target them most effectively.

5) Good tests lead to actionable insights.

The goal of all ASO is to increase installs. At the heart of that, is figuring out why users choose to install or not. And at the heart of getting into the minds of your users is creative asset testing. 

Good teams don’t just test for the sake of testing. They are obsessed with extracting as much information about their users as possible.  After each test, they dive into the data. More than just the bottom-line conversion rate, they drill into the users’ journey and figure out which messages, at which points, were the most impactful in users’ decision to eventually install or drop. Knowing what messaging works, and for whom, can then be incorporated throughout all marketing efforts. 

These results are not only used to decide what to implement in the real store, but they are also used to evaluate the long-term growth strategy and iterate accordingly. 

Flow showing different user journeys for different behaviors

6) Don’t get stuck in silos. Collaborate across teams. 

One of the major themes currently in ASO and mobile growth is about breaking down the silos between the different organic and paid growth teams. Smart ASO teams work together with user acquisition (UA) teams to maximize growth. They understand how paid traffic can affect their store visibility and growth so they work hand in hand. They all have the same overall goal and it’s about maximizing resources across departments to enhance each other’s work, instead of fighting each other at cross purposes for conversions. Real growth should not be calculated linearly as organic + paid, because UA wins (positively) affect organic performance and vice versa. 

Success is more than just the sum of its parts. 

 

Armed with these six principles, all that’s left is to get started. 

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