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App Store news and ASO tools from 2021

Mobile Marketing - Member Content

Dave Bell, Co-founder and CEO of Gummicube, looks at the new tools and features available to app developers in the Apple App Store, and offers advice on how best to leverage them.

Apple introduced many new features and policies to the iOS App Store in 2021, making it both an exciting and challenging year for developers and mobile marketers alike. The introduction of App Tracking Transparency with the release of iOS 14.5 in April posed new challenges for optimizing user acquisition campaigns. Ongoing litigation over antitrust allegations changed the conversation regarding purchasing methods and how developers can communicate with their users. Furthermore, the new tools that came along with iOS 15 – like In-App Events, Product Page Optimization, and Custom Product Pages – opened up new ways to explore A/B testing and user acquisition methods.

With this year of changes, it can be daunting to reconfigure your App Store Optimization strategy with these new tools in mind. Thankfully, with the help of an experienced ASO expert, you can navigate this changing landscape smoothly and easily.

New policies
In April, Apple released an upgrade to its operating system, iOS 14.5, which introduced a brand-new privacy policy called App Tracking Transparency. This new policy requires developers to explicitly ask for user permission in order to track and collect sensitive and personal information. Many mobile marketers dreaded this change because down-funnel conversion events can no longer be tracked at a granular level.

For any developers who weren't investing in ASO services, this left them at a loss on how to optimize their app for target demographics. Thankfully, the aggregate data that Apple provides in App Store Connect, combined with the tried-and-true methods of A/B testing for user conversion, can alleviate some of this lost insight.

Many developers and mobile marketers may look to one specific demographic and pursue optimization tactics only geared towards these people, but this leaves so much untapped opportunity. When you combine proven ASO tools and technologies with a fundamental understanding of what drives users to download certain apps, then the ultra-granular data that is no longer available is not as critical to performance as it seems.

Through iterative A/B testing, keyword research, and an understanding of category trends, you can optimize your app with the confidence that you are widening your funnel for users who are likely to convert, instead of just users that you think will convert.

News headlines
There were many entities that were dubious of Apple’s intentions in retiring the IDFA and implementing App Tracking Transparency. Some larger corporations insinuated that Apple merely wanted to break into the advertising market, apparently evidenced by the introduction of App Store search tab suggestion ads. Apple maintains that its primary concern is user privacy and security.

This wasn't the only instance in 2021 where Apple was the subject of controversy, as Epic Games v. Apple and other antitrust lawsuits dominated the headlines for much of the year. In the Epic Games v. Apple case, judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers determined that Apple was not guilty of violating antitrust laws in the verdict released on 10 September. Despite ruling primarily in favor of Apple, the court did find Apple guilty of violating anti-steering laws in the state of California.

This led to an injunction that Apple may not prohibit developers from including links to alternative payment methods inside of their app or in their App Store metadata, and that communication with users regarding special deals or promotions must be allowed if the user has opted in. Apple did push back on this injunction, and while the inclusion of alternate payment links was stayed, the ability to communicate with users via email shall persist.

In addition to the Epic Games v. Apple case, Apple also settled out of court in a class action lawsuit with small business mobile app developers. This led to new policies as part of the settlement, including lifting Apple’s restrictions on emailing promotional information to users who have opted into mass emails from the developer, and a $100m fund that was made available for developers who have consistently made less than $1m per year since 2015. There are antitrust and similar court cases still in trial around the world, so we shall see if 2022 heralds more changes to Apple's policies.

New tools
Arguably the most exciting developments in the App Store are the new tools available to developers that were announced at WWDC 2021. In-App Events, Product Page Optimization, and Custom Product Pages all offer developers new ways to conduct A/B testing and user acquisition campaigns from directly within the iOS App Store.

In-App Events are an excellent new tool that can bolster user engagement through time-based events. Developers can create and promote In-App Events on their Product Pages, and by designating the event's purpose, Apple will recommend events to users that the algorithm has determined will be interested.

Performance metrics for In-App Events are available in App Analytics, and allow developers to view downloads, acquisition sources, event impressions, event details page views, app opens, and how many users chose to be notified when the event started.

Custom Product Pages are another fantastic tool to supplement user acquisition campaigns. Custom Product Pages allow you to use your app’s store listing to run targeted user acquisition ad campaigns on third-party channels and platforms. This new tool allows you to create 35 unique Custom Product Pages, and each of these Product Pages can test variations on assets such as screenshots, preview videos and promotional texts.

Individual Custom Product Pages are associated with a deep link URL that can be placed into third-party ads or referrals. This allows developers and marketers to create Product Pages that reflect the environment from which a user is directed, such as the content of the page where the ad appeared aligning with the features showcased on the App Store. This effectively allows targeted advertising to be created using aggregate data, while also providing insight on what creative treatments best drive conversion overall.

Finally, Product Page Optimization has been one of the most highly anticipated features announced at WWDC 2021, and it aims to bring straightforward A/B testing to the iOS App Store through App Store Connect. Developers can create up to three variations of their default Product Page and run tests on which treatments are most effective in driving user conversion.

This was an incredibly exciting announcement that turned the ASO world on its head with the realm of possibilities it promised. While this is still a powerful feature, in practice it does have significant limitations that will hopefully be addressed early on this year.

Some of these limitations include the fact that only one test may run at a time and, while this single test can apply to multiple territories and devices, app analytics only returns aggregate data on the full campaign. This can make it difficult to determine what is converting best in certain countries and which creatives drive conversion for which devices.

Additionally, when any new release is pushed live it will automatically end Product Page Optimization tests that are currently running, and these prematurely-ended tests cannot be restarted. This can be a frustrating experience, as any accrued performance data will be nullified once the test is ended, and it can take some time for significant results to appear.

While it is true that Product Page Optimization review is separate from the traditional App Store Review process, it can still take time to get your test approved if you're adding new assets, as opposed to simply testing the order of your screenshots, for example. With these limitations in mind, Product Page Optimization may not be the extolled all-in-one solution for every developer that we hoped for. However, it can still be helpful in certain applications.

Overall
2021 was an exciting year for App Store Optimization. Developers and mobile marketers have new tools at their disposal, while also having changes to policies and guidelines that must be kept in mind. While this is not a comprehensive list of everything that has gone down on the iOS App Store this past year, for anyone who is wondering how to put these new tools to work, we hope this is a great start.

About the Author
Dave Bell is Co-founder and CEO of Gummicube. Gummicube is a global leader in App Store Optimization with more than 11 years of experience optimizing and marketing apps. We offer the leading enterprise ASO technology and agency services, providing support to clients around the world. Our company is trusted by thousands of enterprise brands and leading startups including Microsoft, LinkedIn, Bethesda, SWEAT, GrubHub, McAfee and many others.