What is ASO & How to Use it to Increase Downloads of Your App

By Nick Epson on November 22, 2021

One of the quintessential parts of having an app or website that you want people to find and use is, well, making sure they can find it – you can’t just pop up on the market and expect people to flock to you which is why ASO (App Store Optimization) will be your friend. Like the notion of a “complete breakfast” always mentioned in the sugary cereal commercials some of us grew up on, ASO should be part of a much bigger, interconnected marketing effort.

If you think of your marketing effort in terms of a complete breakfast – as you should – then ASO would be like a healthy, filling cereal with granola and random seeds that is “actually, really good.” In many cases, ASO marketing will be the absolute cornerstone of your marketing efforts. Here, we’ll first explain “what is ASO” then discuss the basics of how to do it.

What is ASO?

We’ve talked about the subject here and there as ASO is a big part of app marketing but not everyone looking to build a digital product is crystal clear on what it entails or how to do it. Quite simply, it’s a process that’s much like SEO (Search Engine Optimization) as both rely on keywords and their placement to help drive views in hopes that users will stick around for the term.

But before you can worry about matters like retention and churn, you need to start somewhere. This leg of marketing essentially requires you to tailor your content according to how prospects are searching the web and app stores to rank as high as possible. Of course, there are other factors too, such as popularity which acts as a boon for your search ranking.

As such, some approach ASO like how many people build highly-focused characters in video games by only investing in one or two stats – truly, some apps will be best served by directing most efforts into app store marketing to get as many eyes on the product as possible. Of course, it all depends on different factors in play such as the keywords used and their competition to reputation and app store ratings.

Fortunately, many aspects of SEO and ASO overlap, meaning that much of what you will be doing for SEO will also apply to your ASO efforts. Because of recent changes on mobile platforms with the deprecation of app identifiers like IDFA, tools like Apple Search Ads are more valuable than ever which has made it harder than ever to stand out. This means that solid ASO is a must to get the attention of prospective users. Of course, there will be always differences between the two that need accounted for – think of how you’re able to easily find products on Amazon with a Google search but by using their search, comparing, and “related items” tools on the site or app, you find better results.

How to do ASO

One thing to understand before we start is that each platform is a little different. Each uses different algorithms, even though there is some similarity to the overall design. Search engines like Google also work to populate direct app store links but this too is independent of either app store’s systems though search engines do read and reference the same content found in the app stores.

ASO is usually something your marketing will help with – as a digital product agency, this is a task we often handle for most of our clients. For those who want to tackle this task on their own, this is the gist of how to do it.

First, get familiar with Google Keyword Planner – it’s mostly free to use at least until you start running actual campaigns. This will allow you to find keywords and related keywords as well as reveal some insight about their volumes. While this won’t reveal the exact same set of keywords in either Google Play or the App Store, it will give you a general idea of what to target. Keep in mind that 1 out of 4 people find apps through search engines so bear in mind the weight these hold in your app’s overall discovery potential.

Make a descriptive title 

And no, don’t keyword stuff it. In fact, this is something you can’t really do anymore – if you watched the podcast featuring Jackie Chu from Uber from one of the above links, you’ll notice that she mentions how today you only have about thirty characters to work with in an app title. She also points out that it’s especially important to use keywords in your title for Google apps as the console lacks the meta fields for keywords that iOS apps heavily rely upon. Note that app stores don’t quite parse synonyms the same way so be sure to use everything directly in the body of the app description.

Use keywords throughout (but not too many)

Don’t make your app content read like a Wish ad: keywords should be placed according to density throughout the body of your app’s description. There’s a formula that states your keywords should be found around 2% to 3% of your text. You can use a little math to figure this out or take advantage of a tool like the one from ASOdesk. Like SEO content, keywords should be spaced out evenly, included in the app title, and ideally in the first sentence of your text.

One issue you may encounter is related to messy long-tail keywords which simply don’t seem to fit well into proper sentences. This happens in SEO content all the time so get creative and do your best. Ultimately, you’ll need to work them in but do whatever it takes (e.g., use it in the form of a question, put it as a point in a bullet list, etc.)

Write great content & use slick imagery

Unlike the slop you text your friends and old college roommates, put some effort into your content. Have you ever read an app description and looked at all the pictures only to still wonder what it does? Don’t be like that. Your description should be informative and to the point – you have plenty of other opportunities to tell your origin story and discuss other matters on other channels.

For a good example of how to use effective imagery, check out the JAXJOX app on iOS and notice how they use pics to call out some of the platform’s key features. 

Add a preview video, if it makes sense

When it comes to games, you will certainly need a video for all your different channels. Much like how the video and content of Super Mario Run on Google Play work together to show you that the game uses a common auto-run formula to propel the character while the player times jumps to stomp Goombas and snag coins among other things. Business apps and others should also consider implementing something along the lines of an explainer video which you’ve likely seen in the past for other products and services.

To get some inspiration, rewatch the Mr. DNA Sequence video from the first Jurassic Park. While it might be fiction, notice how well it explains the fundamentals of the story’s dinosaur cloning process.

Jurassic Park – Mr. DNA Sequence

Jurassic Park – Mr. DNA Sequence

Use an app analytics product

Each app store will provide some analytics but you’ll get better insights using a third-party service like App Annie, App Radar, Sensor Tower, or one of the many other reputable providers on the market. This will be especially necessary when you have multiple apps or are on multiple platforms.

Over time, keywords can wane and content can become stale after updates so keep an eye on your analytics to see what’s working. These systems are also helpful in A/B testing that can reveal how different variations of content will yield different results with respect to the number of downloads that occur. Staying on top of ASO should also tie in with ongoing maintenance, such as ensuring that your app meets Google Play and App Store guideline updates, as well as guarantee that your content always accurately represents your product.

Respond to customer reviews

Though not all reviews will merit a response, you should still take care to respond to good and bad customer reviews. Early on, some users might say things like they “wish” for a certain feature – if this feature is a “for sure” on your development itinerary, say something as this might not only help this user decide if they’re going to keep using your product, but it can help others as well. Not all users will understand (or care) that almost all products need to go through an MVP phase and a period of limited functionality but many early adopters that see potential in your product will stick around if they understand how you plan to grow your product.

We drive discovery for the apps we build

At Blue Label Labs, we do it all for the products we create: we design, develop, and formulate a strategy as well as tackle the marketing portions. We use ASO to help our clients gain users and grow their platform a central part of most app marketing strategies we help execute. To learn more or to talk to one of us about how we can help you build or better your product, get in touch.