7 billion people inhabit this planet, and over 3.7 billion of them own a smartphone. Nearly half the world owns a smartphone (unless there’s a serial smartphone hoarder we aren’t aware of yet). The number of apps striding into the market is also shooting up exponentially, with about 2.9 million apps available on Google Play, and nearly 2 million on the Apple App Store.
That’s about how many grains of sand could fill a 250mL cup (yes, I was curious). In our world, no grain of sand is more important than the other, or at least to the extent of our understanding yet – in the app world, it pays to try and be that important grain of sand. In Facebook’s case, their app comes preinstalled in certain regions now.
If you’re a developer or tech lead building an app, this article is here to teach you how to optimise your sandcastle (app) with ASO (app store optimisation) and prevent it from being washed away by the waves.
What is ASO?
If you were getting enthusiastic about the sand talk, unfortunately, ASO does not stand for Abrasive Sand of the Ocean. It’s App Store Optimisation, and it’s the building block that lets your app climb to the top of the tower to get seen and downloaded. The more visible your app, the more likely it will be downloaded.
This starts with having a very thorough understanding of your target customer and the language they speak. A tasting plate of the factors to pay close attention to include:
- Title and name of your app
- Keywords and description
- Total number of downloads
- Ratings and reviews
Prepare your appetite for more on each of these soon. About 40% of apps are discovered through app store searches, meaning it’s practically the largest discovery channel for new apps. You may have created an amazing app with plenty of talent and time poured into it, but it will be for nothing if you don’t get it seen by the world.
What’s the difference between ASO and SEO?
You may have heard about SEO (search engine optimisation). The difference between these two is the ranking factors. To get seen first by Google, there are [more than 200 SEO aspects](https://appradar.com/academy/aso-basics/what-is-app-store-optimization-aso#:~:text=App%20Store%20Optimization%20(ASO)%20is,%2Dthrough%20rate%20(CTR) to achieve this rank. It’s quite a feat.
ASO is much kinder because it requires a shorter list of factors. These include, but aren’t limited to, the factors in the table below:
How do I optimise my app?
In order to optimise for optimal eyes, be prepared to put in the back work to make sure the supporting systems are in place. After you’ve taken the 10 steps before starting an app, you’ll need:
- Get to know your market
You’ve created a fantastic, new shiny app, but now it’s time to convince potential users why your app is worth sacrificing storage space for.
This is where you’ll need to figure out exactly where to find your user. Create a user profile that gets down to the specifics of what they get up to day-to-day. What kind of language are you seeing? Casual or formal? The more refined this is, the better idea you have of targeting your app so they can see it.
What keywords are they typing into the app store or Google? Compile these and use them to your advantage to slash through the other million apps that are weaker than yours.
- What’s in a name?
The hardest part of all – picking one name for your app to be known by. Knowing which words stick and which don’t may be the deciding factor between being the next Instagram, Headspace, Spotify or Up Banking. Don’t complicate it.
You have 50 characters to sacrifice to the Google Play board, and 30 characters for the Apple App Store. Keep these things in mind when conjuring an app title:
- Relevancy to your app
- Easy to read
- Unique to you
This will pay you back by being more likely to rank higher for keywords in the app name. As some examples, “Spotify: Play music, podcasts & playlists” or “Headspace: Meditation & Sleep”. The name, plus a couple of words immediately tell you what the app does.
- Keyword search
If you’re unfamiliar with keyword search, it’s the phrases and words you type into any search function. Think of what you type into Google when you’re looking for a recipe, DIY fix or holiday. “How to fix sink”, “what to cook with old bread” and the like. This is what your audience will be doing when they search for an app that meets their needs.
When you've logged your research on trends your potential audience is typing in, a tool like Google Keyword Planner will help you work your content around keywords that might be extremely popular or less common. This is linked to the type of traffic you will attract, and how much they can potentially engage with it.
These are some useful questions to have in your kit when brainstorming these keywords:
What are the names of similar apps?
What category is your app in?
Which similar words describe the features?
What terms are commonly used in this category?
What are the main features of your app?
How will you receive feedback?
App development is never a ‘set and forget’ thing – if you don’t evolve and adapt to new trends, market changes or consumer demand, you’ll be forgotten. People forget about this when it comes to feedback – it's a two-way street. Like any form of customer service, the feeling of communicating with a real human emulates a sense of being heard and appreciated.
Take a look at Up Banking – they operate a live chat tab for issues and feedback, pointing users in the right direction, messages even sprinkled with your name, a couple of fun GIFs and emotes. You are speaking to a human.
That said, create a loop where your users 1) can communicate feedback to you and 2) genuinely feel like they aren’t speaking to a bot. Hop onto the Google Play Store and you’ll find some developers taking the time to reply and understand any limitations the user is experiencing.
How will you retain your users?
In any industry, an age-long debate still stands. What’s more difficult? Gaining a new customer or retaining them? Attracting a partner, or keeping them? These same concepts apply to how you maintain your app.
I'm a firm believer that there’s always more beneath the surface, so because an app looks attractive and something I would click on upon first impressions, using it and getting to know it may be the complete opposite.
Here are just a few things that can turn off a user and have them uninstalling your app quicker than it took for them to find it:
Bad onboarding experience: Skip the paragraphs of text. Keep things simple and humanise the journey by praising the user, asking questions and showing value to your features.
Clingy push notifications: Give your user some space while they’re out of the app. Spammy reminders telling you to come back every few hours is a rush job for your app to be removed. Sorry Duolingo owl, but you make it seem like you’ll stab me in my sleep if I don’t finish my Japanese lesson today.
Paywalls: These can be very difficult to implement well if you aren’t creating a game. They should be used tastefully, such as an ‘exclusive’ or ‘premium’ feature that gives a deeper experience of your app. If you want to learn how to scale the paywall, take a lesson from Candy Crush. Just gaining those extra 10 moves, that extra life, for the mere price of $5 is too sweet of an offer to refuse. And almost a sickly-sweet deal for Activision, who raked in over $850 million in 2020.
Constant crashing: There’s nothing worse than trying to reply to an important message in an app, only to have it crash when you haven't even finished typing. Test and update your app regularly to prevent this.
Battery drain & data consumption: Avoid having high-functioning background processes on your app, as this is a large part of why battery drain can happen so quickly. Like any aged technology, it’s inevitable for a smartphone’s insides to slowly fry up and struggle to operate.
Differences to remember with Google Play Store & Apple App Store
When the time comes to launching your app, remember the review process for Apple and Google will vary slightly. Apple’s App Store takes about 3 days before it goes live, whereas you’ll only have to wait about 24 hours for Google Play.
When it comes to keywords, their evaluation is also different in the way of indexing. Google Play will consider all the textual elements when your app is indexed, so you will need to repeat any high-impact keywords across 3 to 5 fields to rank.
On the other hand, Apple makes the process convenient by dedicating a field to keywords, which you don’t need to repeat across any additional fields. Below is a diagram that specifies exactly what each app store ranks by.
All that effort put into creating your app should transfer to it being seen by the world. If you want to learn more about setting your product up for success, we share a free guide that you can download here.