ASO 101 – Your guide for long-term success

Mobile Marketing - Member Content

Dave Bell, Co-founder and CEO of Gummicube, offers an exhaustive, in-depth guide to App Store Optimisation.  

Let’s be real – navigating the changes surrounding app store platforms can be a confusing process. With operating system updates, algorithmic changes, and ever-changing consumer search trends, it’s difficult to cut through the noise. And in the context of App Store Optimization (ASO), finding the right information to better equip yourself for these changes might lead you to dive into troughs of information that is either irrelevant or unactionable for your App Store Optimization needs. 

App developers are often left wondering as to how exactly these changes could affect their app store performance with questions like:

How will my app store performance be affected by these changes? 

Is there a one-size-fits-all approach to ASO? 

Should my ASO strategy evolve with these changes?

If you have found yourself asking these questions at one point or another, you are not alone. 

To increase the ROI of your ASO strategy, it is paramount to keep up with trends and changes in the app store environment that directly affect your app store performance. Doing so will not only set you up for future success but establish a framework for future updates to work in your favor. 

In this 101, we’ll be taking a deep dive into how ASO works across Google Play and iOS to help address some of the key questions you may be asking yourself regarding app store changes and how these changes affect your ASO strategy.

User-focused ASO
Have you ever wondered how users navigate through app store platforms? While the answer may seem simple, the user’s journey and navigation through an app store varies drastically based on a multitude of factors and exposure situations like referrals and external marketing efforts. However, when it comes to users finding the apps they are looking for, the search bar reigns superior.

Over 70 per cent of all organic downloads are attributed to Search. For app developers, this presents a lucrative opportunity to:

1) Better understand their target audience

2) Better match their positioning and unique value to the users they target. 

Organic search results are generated based on two factors: volume and relevancy. This means that the search results are both user-derived and user-driven. To reach these users, app developers must speak the user’s “language” while simultaneously harnessing the power of the indexation process. This is where ASO comes into play.

With all the different search terms that populate when users look for particular app features, functionality or brands, it can be difficult to pinpoint what exact search trends you want to target with your metadata and creative assets. 

Keeping the user at the forefront of an ASO strategy is imperative. However, user search trends provide a plethora of data-rich insights that show us what is relevant to them and what they want to see. Data from these insights can be used to increase app discoverability and ultimately, conversion. 

Factors of ASO – metadata and creative assets
App Store Optimization isn’t just user-focused. Reversely, the factors that make up a fully-functional ASO strategy involve the complementary synergy of user-generated insights and app store indexation to achieve organic app store growth. 

Metadata components on Google Play and iOS serve two vital functions: 

  1. Marketing: users looking for information on app features and functionality look to certain metadata assets to obtain the necessary information involved in making the decision to download. Users often try to scan for the features they seek to make more informed decisions as to whether the app meets their needs and criteria.

  2. Keyword indexation: metadata assets allow app developers to inject keywords and terms that users search for. This process allows app developers to better understand and address the target audience directly by using the terms users use to find the app they are looking for. Keyword indexation directly affects visibility. 

Depending on how developers want to position their app and what audience they want to target, creative assets present opportunities to directly speak to the user and introduce them to key app features in a way that is informative, entertaining, and effective. 

Think of creative assets as an elevator pitch or a business card; you have limited time and resources to make a good first impression so putting your best foot forward is imperative to boost those conversion rates. 

The factors that contribute to a robust ASO strategy require diligence in addressing user search trend changes. Without taking action to address these factors, app performance can stagnate over time. 

To understand how ASO works, it’s important to understand that no two app store platforms are alike. Metadata indexation processes and creative assets are all showcased, exhibited, and incorporated differently across both the iOS App Store and Google Play.  

Let’s examine some of these differences a little more closely.

iOS and Google Play
While the purpose of ASO remains the same across iOS and Google Play, how metadata indexation takes place and the way creative assets are showcased vary drastically.

Being mindful of these variances is crucial. Oftentimes, app developers are led to believe that app store performance solely relies on the explicit, or at times implicit, consistency in branding across both platforms, with little to no regard to the nuances in potential performance on each platform. Although app branding is crucial, there are algorithmic and consumer-facing elements to be cognizant of when publishing an app on iOS and Google Play and how they affect app performance. 

In these differences lies an opportunity to fragment your approach into two separate ASO action plans built to maximize and harness the potential they bring in their own unique way.

ASO for Google Play
Google Play is the Android device-servicing app store platform. With a catalog of over 2 million apps across a multitude of app categories, Google Play houses a seismic and highly diverse user pool. As the largest app store platform in the world, the Google Play app marketplace is highly lucrative and highly competitive. 

Google Play – metadata and indexation
Unlike iOS indexation, Google Play “crawls” through metadata to find any relevant keywords your app may be trying to rank for. This process takes app metadata and scans through all components of metadata fields and logs them for repetition of keywords and relevancy.

Despite a few key similarities between iOS and Google Play, Google Play relies on different metadata fields for its indexation process. 

For Google Play, indexation occurs in the following metadata assets:

  1. Title
  2. Short description
  3. Long description

On Google Play, the title is the most heavily indexed out of all the other metadata assets. Additionally, the title is one of the first points of contact an app developer presents to the user, so titles also offer app developers an opportunity to make a great first impression.

Short descriptions 
Short descriptions are also a place to optimize metadata. With 80 characters in total, developers can utilize this space to further introduce their app. Short descriptions also offer an app developer additional space to rank for high-volume and high-relevancy keywords that may help with their indexation efforts. 

Full description
Finally, Google Play indexes keywords in the full description. As a general rule of thumb for Google Play, any keywords that a developer decides to target should be written as-is. On Google Play, maintaining readability is crucial, but keyword placement is also just as important.

Google Play – creative
Creative assets on Google Play give app developers more freedom to convey app value to its potential users. With eight screenshots total, Google Play creative assets offer an invaluable space for app developers to directly increase their conversion rates. Capturing the user's attention with engaging feature videos, creative value offerings, and informative copy plays a fundamental part in transforming a searcher into a user. 

Google Play offers the following creative assets to feature:

  1. App Icon
  2. Screenshots 
  3. Feature Video and Feature Graphic

Google Play – App Icon
App Icons are a great way to reinforce app branding. Creating a stunning and unique app logo is fundamental to building app recognition against competitors, but it also has the power to convey a theme or mood to a user. 

Google Play – Screenshots
Unlike iOS, screenshots on Google Play only pop up in search results when users look for specific branded terms like “Coinbase” or “McDonald's”. General search terms like “food delivery”, or “symptoms tracker” populate search results with the app logo and title in a spread that looks more like a bulleted list of apps.  

Google Play – Feature Video and Feature Graphic
Feature Videos are an excellent way to engage with a user through a more immersive app marketing experience. Feature Videos should range between 15 to 30 seconds – enough time to give a user a taste of app features without taking up too much of their time.

ASO for iOS
The iOS App Store is the Apple device-servicing app store platform. It’s the second-biggest app store platform compared to Google Play, which takes first place. The iOS app store is home to over 2 million apps, and with the most recent rollout of the iOS 15 operating system, there are a lot of new features that may affect app store performance.

To start understanding how the new iOS 15 system affects app store performance, developers must double down on basic ASO concepts revolving around iOS performance. Knowing exactly how iOS metadata and creative assets are indexed and showcased is imperative to understand how these new developments can affect long-term ASO performance.

iOS - metadata and indexation
Unlike Google Play, iOS indexes keywords through phrase building. In iOS metadata fields, keywords and phrases don’t necessarily have to be meticulously and consecutively placed. Instead, iOS takes keywords and strings together multiple phrases that build out possible search phrases. 

Indexation for iOS takes place in the following metadata assets:

  1. Title
  2. Subtitle
  3. Keyword bank

Unlike Google Play, iOS allows app developers to index for keywords in a manner that is hidden from a user's eyes. On Google Play, all metadata is user-facing and thus creates a need to make metadata fields readable, and keyword indexation-friendly. 

The title and subtitle of an app on iOS provide a space for further metadata indexation. With 30 maximum characters allotted for each, developers have additional space to inject keywords that further introduce app features and introduce keywords that help build out phrases for indexation. 

However, iOS allows a developer to hide elements of their metadata through a keyword bank. With 100 maximum characters, app developers can strategically build out phrases that when combined with the phrases in the title and subtitle, create full keyword phrases that help with further indexation. 

iOS – creative
Creative assets give users a snapshot of app features in a way that is easily digestible. On iOS, search results show the app icon, like the title, subtitle, user rating, and the first three screenshots. Since these elements are the first to be showcased, it’s crucial for app developers to understand the potential these visible assets bring forth. This is especially true of the creative assets which don’t get indexed for keywords. Instead, they serve two exclusive purposes. That is, to inform and convert. 

iOS offers app developers to showcase the following creative features:

  1. App Logo
  2. Screenshots
  3. Feature Video

iOS – App Icon
App Icons are a great way for developers to reinforce their brand. Playing on uniqueness, aesthetics, and recognition are great ways to engage the user with an app logo that stands out against competitors. 

iOS – Screenshots
Screenshots offer a user a glimpse into what your app offers. While iOS allows app developers to use up to 10 screenshots in their set, only the first three screenshots are visible to the user in the search bar.

iOS – Feature Videos
Feature videos are a great resource for app developers that may want to include a more engaging mode of app introduction. Feature videos offer a way for users to see an app in action. They offer a great way to introduce more dynamic features of an app and in-app functionality. 

What about iOS 15? 
Apple rolled out its new operating system update iOS 15 on September 20th, 2022. It came into the scene with massive new features that promised to connect Apple product users in new and exciting ways. 

The COVID-19 pandemic drastically shifted the dynamic in how people communicated. More and more people began to use apps that boosted interpersonal communication during a time when it was extremely limited. Apple took note and developed an operating system that has more interactive elements and features meant to engage its users.

So how exactly did Apple go about achieving this?

Spotlight Search
Spotlight search is one of the many features Apple reinvigorated in the iOS 15 update. It now allows users to download apps directly from Spotlight search. To appear on Spotlight search, it’s paramount that an app has updated metadata to address search terms more broadly associated with features and specific needs users may be looking for. 

With this new and seismic update, users have more control over how they manage their time discovering apps on the app store; they can read and engage with apps with specialized Spotlight categories. 

New features that impact ASO performance
Out with the old in with the new. iOS updates often come with a slew of new features and OS functionality. Sometimes, these new features may render certain apps in the app store obsolete. 

However, with every new update comes new opportunities to give your ASO strategy a competitive edge. With that in mind, Apple’s new features can empower your iOS ASO strategy and overall strategic approach to marketing your app.

With the newest iOS 15 update, the following features have been added:

Product Page Optimization (PPO)
A/B testing offers app developers an opportunity to test different variations of app creatives. In the new iOS 15 updates, Apple rolled out its own native A/B testing platform called Product Page Optimization. 

Since its official release last December, app developers for iOS platforms can now take the guesswork out of creative optimization. PPO now offers developers the tools to gather information about user preferences to figure out what works and what doesn’t in their ASO creative strategy. 

Currently, Apple’s PPO offers the following features to test app creative performance:

  1. Icon, screenshots, and app previews can be tested
  2. Maximum of three product page variations can be tested at once
  3. A maximum of 90 days allotted to run testing

Despite the new A/B testing capabilities, there are a few limitations to consider in the initial stages of the PPO introduction:

  1. Limited testing outreach: PPO treatments will only be visible on devices currently running iOS 15 or later. Opportunities to test for older OS versions are limited. 
  2. Limited treatment submission: submissions for different treatments can’t be performed simultaneously. Submission of compounding tests will result in the current test to stop. 
  3. Limited accessibility: To use PPO, an app must first apply to In-App Events.

Despite the limitations of Apple’s PPO feature, A/B testing on the iOS App Store was inconceivable in months prior. Google Play has had its platform-specific A/B testing available for a significantly longer period. 

Thus, some of current the kinks and the new additions with Apple’s PPO might require developers to take some time to master how the new A/B testing feature performs, and what kind of results they can yield to boost ASO performance. 

In-app events
In-app events are an immersive, new way to experience apps on the iOS App Store. In-app events can be located across an app product page, search results, and App Store editorials. There, users can find additional images, videos, event invitations, and even an additional short description to fully immerse the user with a one-of-a-kind, interactive app experience. 

In-app events offer app developers a chance to create deep links that take the user through to a single or a series of selected app landing pages. This encourages users to participate and interact with an app and any relevant features it may offer to the user. 

In-app events are also shareable. Users and developers can share links to In-app events through digital marketing, social media, and email. This opportunity to share In-app events could directly affect app conversion rates and visibility, as the way in which users are funneled through the user journey is different from traditional search query discovery. 

Publishing an in-app event on the iOS App Store is simple. To do so, app developers must do the following:

  1. Log in to your App Store Connect Account
  2. Submit separate event-relevant metadata and creatives for the regions or countries you wish to target.
  3. Submit your event proposal for review and approval

In some of the limitations of PPO, we mentioned that an app must apply to In-app Events prior to treatment submission. Just like PPO, In-app Events can also only be accessed by devices running iOS 15 or higher. Limiting the exposure of In-app events to only iOS 15 devices makes it more difficult to target users who may be using an older operating system. 

Hide My Email
Added security features were also a big component in Apple’s iOS 15 rollout strategy. With security concerns looming over the minds of consumers, Apple provided their users with a new feature, aptly named, Hide My Email. 

Hide My Email allows users to encrypt their email to create unique and random email addresses for apps, websites, and mailing lists. This feature allows users to protect their emails from potential scams and keeps their private emails untraceable. 

Users can enable Hide My Email from their general settings and manage all the emails in one, secure, easy-to-find place. 

With this added layer of security, businesses, marketers, and app developers may find it increasingly difficult to connect with their target audience. This new feature could potentially spell trouble in the mobile marketing space with mitigated opportunities for lead generation and maintenance of mailing lists are populated with encrypted emails that lead to dead ends. 

Navigating app store changes doesn’t have to be a daunting task. The difference between an app that shines and one that doesn’t come down to how an app developer uses fundamental ASO basics and supplements them with new information using the right ASO technology. This process allows developers to make more informed and strategic ASO decisions that are data-backed and timely with help from ASO experts

With the rollout of iOS 15, there appear to be many more opportunities to grow with the changes rather than being set back by them. Knowing the ins and outs of new features allows app developers to gauge their external environment for new opportunities to compete and stand out in an ever-changing app store marketplace.

About the Author
Dave Bell is Co-founder and CEO of GummicubeGummicube 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.