“App Store Optimization” refers to the practice of enhancing visibility for a mobile application in the organic search results and categories of an App Store. A year ago, we published “A Crash Course in (ASO)” which, at the time, was accurately focused on optimizing textual ranking factors. While the presence of keywords still have a measure of influence, the search algorithms and subsequent ranking factors have significantly evolved.
App discovery startup, Chomp, was acquired by Apple earlier this year and was the major catalyst in driving both the usability and search functionality for the new iOS App Store.
If you're involved with an app development company below are some important factors to consider during your planning process.
Usability Tailored To Search
One App at a Time. The most radical usability change (adopted from Chomp) is apparent when viewing the app store search results. Search marketing firms will immediately recognize the benefits of how users are now shown one app at a time in a horizontal slide – making it less likely for users to scroll deep into the search results. This change makes ranking in the top 5 results significantly more valuable for app developers and marketers.
The “Genius” replaced “Categories” in the main navigation menu. The removal of “Categories” from the main menu is another indicator Apple is directing users away from hierarchical browsing while placing greater emphasis on search and its ability to recognize relevant applications unique to the user.
The New(ish) Ranking Factors
On its website (which now forwards to Apple.com), Chomp described its technology: “Chomp’s proprietary algorithm learns the functions and topics of apps, so you can search based on what apps do, not just what they’re called.” In other words, the iOS App Store now has a search technology that lets it more accurately understand an app and match it to the intent of a user.
Prior to the launch of Apple’s new App Store, many speculated that Apple was already employing the ranking algorithms of Chomp (or at least its own, evolved version). Whatever the timeframe, rankings in the App Store are no longer exclusively weighted on whether or not keywords are present. Instead, a new, more organic set of factors began influencing the top ranks of mobile apps.
Ranking Factors by Weight
Velocity of Downloads. The rate of which an app is downloaded seems to be one of the most influential of ranking factors. This was supported by a recent study from BTIG, showing apps that were in high demand were rewarded higher rankings. For instance, in a recent case for YouTube, the app was rewarded a #1 spot after it disappeared from users who upgraded to iOS 6 and was then, suddenly in high demand.
- Consider offering a Free / ‘Lite’ or iPad version of the app. Heavy adoption of these will help increase demand and search visibility for a paid counterpart.
- Cross promote and link to the App Profile Page(s) from your website homepage and other relevant pages.
- Consider integrating social sharing capabilities within your app and across digital marketing channels to help generate buzz.
- Look into strategic media buys or running ad campaigns promoting your app. Consider targeting your audience with ads on other mobile apps, search engines, and display networks.
...and always Optimize your App Profile with:
- 1. A great logo.
- 2. Engaging screenshots displaying your apps’ best, most popular features.
- 3. Clear value propositions.
Installation Base. A large amount of app installs suggests higher trust and leads to higher app store rankings. Conversely, the uninstall base is also taken into account. Apps that are often uninstalled can signify that users are not satisfied and therefore result in a drop in rankings.
- Maintain above average user ratings (3+ starts) and seek to earn positive reviews.
- Provide app updates with improved features and quick solutions to potential performance issues.
- For storage conscious users, keep the size of the app under 300MB.
Social Popularity. Before they were acquired by Apple, Chomp publicized that its algorithms considered all the information available on the App Store alongside mentions and other actions on Twitter, Facebook, blogs, and websites. All of this data is used to compile complete descriptions of an app and relevantly rank it. Combining this with the newly integrated Facebook “share” buttons for apps in the App Store, Apple has another useful signal it can directly feed into its algorithm.
- Monitor the sentiment of your app(s) on your social profiles and within your community. Seek to earn positive mentions and shares.
- Increase the likelihood of shares and mentions by adding social buttons on any internal web pages promoting the app.
- Facilitate social sharing by baking the capabilities into the app. For example, employ Facebook’s open graph.
Ratings and Reviews. An apps’ user ratings and reviews are also measured by search algorithms to understand what the app is used for and to help gauge sentiment. However, since user ratings and comments can be easily inflated, there is a fair amount of speculation that there is not as much ranking credit given. Still, with a holistic optimization strategy, good ratings and reviews can positively affect the app’s installation base, social popularity, and online reputation.
- Strategically send in-app prompts to remind users to rate and/or review your app. These prompts can be scheduled based on the number of times the app is used, days between usage, or after a significant event.
- Consider providing incentives for leaving reviews. For example, loyalty rewards or a coupon.
- Turn negatives into positives and manage your store reputation. Listen to your users and address any concerns. Let them know you are working on it and then deliver with an update.
With the new release of iOS 6 came some heavy updates to Apple’s App Store. The new front-end design is intended to increase search behavior. In the same vein, search results are only viewable one at a time; making the top 5 results significantly more desirable among app publishers and marketers.
Search rankings in the App Store are now heavily influenced by download rates, installation rates, social popularity, ratings and reviews. So really, App Store Optimization became less about semantic keywords and more about the demand and quality of the app.