It’s getting harder and harder to stand out on the Apple App Store. In the very early days of the App Store, you could rely on things like word of mouth and review blogs to get downloads.
But according to these stats, as many as 100,000 new apps are being submitted to the App Store every month. That is on top of the millions of apps that are already live.
So how are people going to discover your app?
Apple’s stats say that 65% of all iOS apps are discovered through App Store search. This means that you need to be sure that your App Store Optimization is constantly tuned, so you have the best chance of being found in search.
Without great ASO, you will miss out on a ton of free organic downloads and get buried on the App Store!
So in this comprehensive guide, we will show you everything you need to know to master ASO for iOS and stay ahead of your competition. There is a lot of information here, so this table of contents will allow you to skip to the section you need right now.
Table of Contents
Testing is the Key to Success in ASO
Before we get into actual tactics, it’s important to get one thing straight:
Success in ASO requires a lot of testing.
Many app marketers (even at big companies) will test a couple of optimizations and give up when they don’t work. Like everything else in marketing, success usually only comes after a significant amount of testing.
How Our Customers Succeed
Our most successful customers report that they had to test for at least a couple of months before things really took off. So if your first couple of tweaks don’t work, keep going.
Remember that ASO is a continuous process and it has to be updated throughout the lifetime of your apps. This is because the App Store is changing constantly and Apple periodically updates the search algorithm.
You might as well get used to it, so let’s dig in and get comfortable with the process.
Split Testing Outside the App Store
When you are testing you should also look into tools outside the App Store, that can help you do split testing without doing an app update. Some examples are platforms like: TestNest, SplitMetrics and StoreMaven.
They usually require you to drive cold traffic from platforms like Facebook Ads or Adwords to test your changes. But a few simple tests can save you weeks of testing in the live App Store.
If you have the budget for it, this is a great way to accelerate your testing.
When we ask app publishers about ASO, most of them start talking about keywords. While this is only one part of ASO, it is important to start with keywords because everything else in this guide doesn’t matter much if people cannot find your apps in search.
There are two places where you can add keywords to your app, the name and the keyword field. Let’s take a look at how to optimize these fields and how to choose the best keywords for them.
What Makes a Great ASO Keyword?
If you are familiar with SEO, then most of this is similar. But you should still stick around because there are nuances that you may not be aware of, when it comes to SEO vs ASO.
There are three criteria that you should look for in a good keyword (in decreasing order of importance):
- Download Relevance: Are people looking to download an app like yours, if they find your app in this keyword search?
- Chance Score: Does your app have a good chance of ranking in the top 10 for this keyword?
- Search Score: How many relative searches is this keyword getting every month? There should be at least some traffic, ranking #1 for a keyword that nobody is searching for won’t help.
When you choose keywords based on these factors, it makes it much easier to identify keywords that have a lot of potential.
It may be tempting to target trademarked names and protected words, but using these keywords can get your app rejected. Even if you don’t get rejected, Apple may still delete these keywords from your app, without telling you.
Also stay away from special characters, unless they are vital to your branding. Using things like hashtags or Twitter handles may seem like a good idea, but they are rarely good keywords.
A key thing to remember is that in spite of all of your research, a keyword may not work out. The reality is that nobody knows exactly how the App Store search algorithm works, outside of a few key people at Apple.
If you cannot rank in the top 10 for a keyword, within 4-6 weeks, simply replace the keywords that you are not ranking in the top 10 for and test new keywords.
Should You Use Plural or Singular ASO Keywords?
Many app marketers recommend that you always use the singular version of the word because it is shorter.
That is generally good advice.
However, don’t do this blindly. There can be an advantage to using the plural.
The key is to look at the keyword metrics for both versions of a word, before you make any decisions. If the Chance Score is at least 5% higher for the plural, you should consider testing the plural first. This is assuming that it also makes sense in your other multi-word keyword combinations.
For example, here are a few singular vs. plural comparisons. The cases where the plural is more than 5% higher are outlined in red.
Yes, the Search Score (search volume) is also a lot lower in these cases. However, you will find that you can get more downloads these less frequently searched keywords because you will be able to rank higher for them.
Why are Long-Tail Keywords Important?
Long-tail keywords are going to help you get more downloads because your apps will be able to rank very highly for these keywords. They are also…longer.
Well, that is usually the case. But the length of the keyword actually isn’t what makes a keyword a long-tail keyword.
A long-tail keyword is called that because it is not searched for as often, compared to the most popular keywords.
This is the best illustration of keyword distribution that we have seen. It is from a study that Moz did on SEO keywords.
As you can see, there is only a small percentage of keywords that get a majority of the searches. The other 70% of the keywords are long-tail keywords. It’s similar in ASO too.
Some app publishers think that they need to go after the highly searched keywords, but that is why most people fail at ASO. Ranking in the top 10 for several lower competition keywords will help you get way more downloads than trying to rank well for the most searched and highly competitive keywords.
Longer keywords are often more specific, so that also helps with getting more targeted downloads.
Examples of Long-Tail Keywords
Let’s say that you have a new workout app and are looking for keyword ideas. You start by tracking a bunch of keywords that you think could do well.
If you sort the keyword list by Search Score, you will see the most searched keywords. As you can see, these keywords also have the lowest Chance Scores, so your app will have a harder time ranking in the top 10 for these keywords.
However, if you sort the list by Chance Score, you will see the least competitive keywords on the list. These are the keywords that your app has the best chance of ranking in the top 10 for.
Our Search Score uses actual App Store keyword volume from Apple, in the US App Store. When Apple releases volume numbers for other countries, we will add that to our platform, as soon as it becomes available.
Since the example above uses US App Store data, a Search Score of 5 can be considered almost zero. Therefore, you should start by looking for keywords that have a high Chance Score, but a Search Score greater than 5.
These are the long-tail keywords that you want to start testing. On this list, keywords like: “workout diary,” “workout plan” and “fitness log” would be good keywords to test, provided your workout app has these features.
You can try testing keywords with a Search Score of 5, but we prefer to see a little more traffic.
Keyword Field Optimization
Since the Apple App Store has a dedicated keyword field, this limitation needs to be taken to account when selecting keywords. Here’s what you need to know to optimize this ASO element.
100 Character Limit
Since you only have 100 characters to tell Apple what your app is about, the length of each target keyword matters. The more relevant, low-competition keywords you can fit in the field, the more downloads you will get.
So all else being equal, choose shorter keywords and look for multiple keyword combinations.
Adding Multi-Word Keywords
One common question in ASO is: How do I add multi-word keywords to the keyword field?
For example, if you want to target the keyword “fire truck game” do you use:
“fire,truck,game” or “fire truck game”?
Apple recommends that you put a comma between all individual words. So in this example, “fire,truck,game” is the right answer.
The great thing is that Apple will also automatically create a keyword matrix for you and the algorithm considers your app for all of the combinations of those individual words.
So your app can potentially rank for:
- “fire truck game”
- “fire game truck”
- “truck fire game”
- “truck game fire”
- “game fire truck”
- “game truck fire”
Obviously, not all of those keywords will be useful and some of them might be too competitive, so your app won’t be able to rank for them. But you don’t have to specifically target each combination.
Did you know that you can hack the App Store keyword field and actually get more than 100 characters for your keywords?
What if you could get 200 characters or more?
Would that help?
You bet. If you do it right.
The key is to understand Cross-Country Indexing. For example, if you localize your app for Mexico, the keywords you use in the Mexico App Store count towards you keywords in the US App Store.
To get details on how this works and see a complete list of the countries and cross-indexing, read this blog post.
How Long Should You Test Keywords?
Apple gives your app a keyword boost when it first launches. That means that your app will rank better for your target keywords, in the first week or so.
Then you will usually see your organic downloads drop off. This boost also happens with app updates, but to a lesser degree.
We mention this because it can be easy to see this drop and get rid of all of your current keywords. But if you understand that this is simply how the App Store works, you will wait until this boost wears off and see where your rankings stabilize, for each keyword.
Our most successful customers, like this guy, report that you should wait about four weeks for your rankings to level off. We agree and recommend waiting 4-6 weeks before updating your keywords again.
Where Do You Find Great Keyword Ideas?
There are several places where you can find great keyword ideas. Here’s what we recommend starting with.
Our Keyword Investigator module will show you the keywords that any App Store app is ranking for. This can help you discover secret keywords that are getting other apps a lot of downloads.
Use the Keyword Suggestions module to see keywords that your app is already ranking for and the most popular keywords of your competitors.
There may be keywords that you are ranking for, that you are not aware of. Adding one or two of these keywords to your app name might give your rankings the boost you need to get to the next level.
To get more high-quality keyword ideas from competitors, be sure to add more competing apps.
Ask People For Ideas (Scalable)
Another overlooked source of great keywords is surveying real users. The advantage of this approach is that you can uncover long-tail keywords, before they start getting popular.
Now you might think that this would be too much work to be practical. But if you use these strategies, you can reach a lot of people in your potential user base, with minimal effort.
You can also use Google Keyword Planner and Google Trends to get keyword ideas that people are searching for on the web. Look for keywords that are on the rise and you might catch a trending keyword before it gets popular.
User reviews can also be a great source of new keyword ideas. Our Review Analysis module gives you the most mentioned keywords in the reviews of any App Store app.
You can also search keywords in the reviews of an app to find even more keyword ideas. To get the entire guide to doing keyword searches in reviews, click here.
How Do You Know Which Keywords are Contributing the Most to Downloads?
There currently isn’t a way to attribute an organic download to a specific keyword search. But there are a few things that you can do to make a very educated guess.
Change a Few Keywords at a Time
Every app publisher has to experiment with keywords on their live app page. But if you change too many things at once, then you won’t know what’s working and what isn’t.
So whenever possible, only make a few changes per update. This will help you narrow down which changed worked well. Your first instinct may be to change as many things as possible to get quick results.
But that will actually work against you.
Utilize Apple Search Ads
Apple Search Ads allow you to target specific keywords and your reports will show you download results by keyword. If you have the budget to run some paid tests, this can be an easy way to test keywords, without doing another update.
Use Keyword Intelligence
Our Keyword Intelligence module estimates the percentage of total organic downloads that come from specific keywords, for every app on the App Store. This will give you some clues as to what is working for other apps and can help you find highly relevant keywords that you can target too.
To see our estimate of the best keywords for any app, simply search for the app in Keyword Intelligence and you will see a list of the app’s top keywords.
Common Keyword Selection Mistakes
The most common mistake is to choose a keyword based on search traffic alone. Some publishers think that even if they get a fraction of the traffic from a high-traffic keyword, they will still do well.
Nothing could be further from the truth. In reality, if you rank #351 for a keyword, nobody is going to scroll that far to find your app.
Another mistake is trying to rank well for a keyword that is not download relevant. For example, if you have an app that specializes in ab workouts, you might be tempted to target a keyword like: ‘well being.’
While that keyword is (very) loosely related, it can also describe things like meditation apps, diet apps and more. So get as specific as possible and you will start to see better results.
Understanding these two common mistakes will put you ahead of a lot of app publishers out there.
Optimize the App Name
Apple allows you to have a maximum of 50 characters for your app name. We recommend using as many of those characters as possible.
Our platform instantly shows you how many of those characters you have used.
Once you have a list of juicy keywords that you want to target, it is important to choose the top one or two that are the most descriptive and use them in your app’s name. You want to do this because keywords in your app name will be ranked higher than keywords in your keyword list.
When to Choose Branding Over ASO
But what about popular apps like Clash of Clans, that don’t use keywords in their app name? Well here’s the thing with those apps…
The publishers of these apps have chosen branding over ASO. Some apps can do this.
If your app is as big as Clash of Clash, and you can afford to spend millions of dollars a year on marketing, then you can also afford to prioritize branding over optimization.
The reality is that this is only about 0.5% of the apps out there can get away with this. Even so, every single app can benefit from name optimization.
Other App Name Considerations
In some cases, using special characters in your app’s name might make sense, from a branding standpoint. But keep in mind that your app name will also be your URL on iTunes.
So avoid special characters because they can mess up the SEO of your app’s page.
Since your app’s name might be truncated on certain devices, also put your most important keywords first. Keywords earlier in the app name have also shown to be given a bigger boost.
Examples of Effective App Names
Now let’s take a look at some great app names. Look through the top apps in your category to get some ideas.
The next most important thing that you should optimize is your app icon. This is the first thing that people will see when they find your app in search, so you want to make a great first impression.
Make sure that your icon is clear and properly conveys what your app does. Avoid using words on your icon and try to focus on one element of your app or one character, if your app is a game.
A lot of developers fall in love with their first design and leave it at that. But the more ideas you can test, the more likely it will be that you will find an icon that works really well.
You can also post different versions of your icon in Facebook groups like this to get feedback on your designs. There are some very experienced app developers in these groups and they can help you avoid common mistakes.
Examples of Great App Icons
Here are some app icons from the Top Charts apps in the Health and Fitness category. Notice how easily identifiable each icon is.
You can see more Top Charts here. This is a great place to get more icon ideas.
After keywords and your app icon, the next most important ASO element is your app’s screenshots. Here is what you need to know about optimizing screenshots.
- Always use a text banner to explain the screenshot. Don’t assume that people will understand what you are trying to show in the screenshot.
- Put your best feature in the first screenshot because that is the first thing that people will see.
- Use all of the available screenshot slots.
- Your screenshots should be in order of decreasing importance.
- Test your screenshots, sometimes a small change can make a big difference.
A great way to see what the top apps are testing is to use our App Update Timeline. You will be able to see the before and after shots of the changes and get some ideas for your screenshots.
Here is an update that Soundcloud recently made to their screenshots. They are experimenting with connected panels and it looks really cool.
They are still using text banners to explain the screenshots, but using angled phone shots and different types of text make the screenshots more dynamic and help them stand out from the competition.
The Evernote app highlights one benefit per screenshot. It also looks like they put the screenshots in order of importance. For example, the last screenshot features the ability of Evernote to read handwriting and make it searchable.
That probably appeals to far less people than the number of people who want to organize their life…which is in the first screenshot.
App Preview Videos
Once you have created compelling screenshots, the next step is to consider creating an App Preview Video. Obviously, this takes a lot more time to create than a screenshot, so this might not be for everyone.
In addition, an ineffective video can actually decrease your downloads, just like a bad screenshot. So if you are going to experiment with an App Preview Video, be sure to follow these guidelines.
- Follow all of Apple’s requirements for preview videos
- Since you only have a few seconds to catch the viewer’s attention, highlight the best features of your app at the beginning of the video
- Use appropriate music to keep things lively
- Keep the video moving at a good pace
- Use an eye-catching first frame
- Make sure that you can legally use all of the elements in your video
- Videos cannot be localized, so do not make them country specific
Example of App Preview
Create a Compelling App Description
Keep in mind that the app description does not factor into the keywords of an app. At least not yet.
So don’t artificially stuff keywords in your app’s description. It will just make your app look spammy.
But that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t put effort into your app description. If people find your app in search and they like your icon and screenshots, but are still skeptical about downloading your app, your app description can the final thing that can win them over.
The first 3 lines of your description are the most important because that is what people will see first on iTunes. So be sure to highlight your best features in the very beginning.
Here is an example from the Ballz game. The rest of the description should highlight why people should download your app. Using bullet points is also a great way to make your description easier to read.
Apple also recommends that you should not add pricing information into the app description. It is already on your product page and may not be accurate in other countries.
Once you have a great description, be sure to proofread it. Some people get really turned off by typos, so make sure that it is squeaky clean, before you publish it.
Our App Update Timeline will show you exactly what other apps are changing in their app description. Your description will evolve over time too, so don’t feel like you have to stick to your original description.
You might not think of pricing as an optimization strategy, but it can make a big difference in the success of your app. If you have a free app, then you can disregard this section.
However, if you have a paid app, there are two things that you should understand.
While you might think that your app is worth $19, users in your niche might be used to paying $1.99. So the first thing you need to do is find out how other apps in your category are priced.
The easiest way to get started is to use our Competitor Analysis module. It will give you a list of apps that you need to watch and you can also track your own custom competitors.
Use this list to find out what other apps are charging and where you should position yourself.
If you have a paid app, a Flash Sale can boost your downloads. There are several reasons for this, but you need to set it up properly, for it to work.
To learn this strategy, read this post.
User Reviews Analysis and Optimization
Positive ratings will help your app rank better for keywords and in category rankings. Plus it looks more trustworthy when you have a great average rating in the search results.
Getting positive reviews obviously starts with creating an app that people love. Make sure that your user experience is the best it can be.
Next, you want to implement strategies for getting more reviews. Most of the time, users will only leave a review if they are unhappy with an app. Experiment with in-app prompts and external methods for getting reviews.
Responding to user reviews can also turn negative reviews into positive ones. So take advantage of Apple’s response system to interact with your users.
Making your app available in other countries can dramatically increase your user base. This company increased their downloads by 300%, by localizing for Russia.
But doing a full localization can take a lot of time and money. So be very selective about which countries you target first.
In order to determine which countries you should target, there are a couple of things that you can do. First, you can use our Market Intelligence module to estimate where other apps are getting their downloads from.
You can also do a simple localization test by making your app available in another country and only localizing your app’s keywords. Obviously, if the rest of your app is not localized, you will probably get poor ratings, so you shouldn’t do this for too long.
But it will give you a good idea of how well your might might do in another country and you can use this data to make a decision.
When localizing your app, remember to use a professional translator or native speaker and not Google Translate. There are many language and cultural mistakes that can happen when you rely on what you find on the internet.
Competitive Research / Category Selection
Choosing a less competitive category can help your app rank higher. Not all apps can be listed in multiple categories, but if your app is so lucky, then take advantage of it.
A quick and easy way to gauge the competition in a category is to look at the Visibility Score of the apps in that are in your niche.
From there, you can dig deeper and look at each app’s ASO Report. This will show you how many top keyword spots each app ranks for.
If the competing apps in one category are noticeably weaker than the apps in another category, then you should consider listing your app in the weaker category.
App Update Schedule
Finally, decide how often you will release updates to your apps. Obviously, this can vary greatly between categories, niches, individual apps and app developers.
Frequent updates are ideal because they allow you to fix bugs faster, test new optimizations and cater to specific holidays.
There are three things that you need to consider.
App Development Bandwidth
Do you have the staff to do frequent updates? If you don’t, then prioritize and decrease the number of features that you add to your apps.
Type of App You Have
Does your app really need frequent updates? Some apps like casual games might not need to be updated very often.
If that is the case, then you shouldn’t do updates, just for the sake of it. Remember that your ratings get reset every time you do an update, so less frequent updates will help apps that get a lot of positive ratings.
What are other apps in your niche doing? When you research other apps using our App Update Timeline, you will see exactly what other apps are changing, and how often.
Final Thoughts on ASO for iOS
So that is everything that you need to know about how to optimize your app for the Apple App Store. This may seem a little overwhelming at first, but if you take it one step at a time, you will start to see results.
If you have any questions about your iOS App Store Optimization strategy, leave a comment below and let us know. We are happy to help!