App Store Optimization: What You Need to Know

opinionThe following is a guest contributed post from Jonah A. Berger, VP/Director, Performance Content, Performics Worldwide.

When I’m asked about app store optimization (ASO), a quote from Dr. Emmett Brown in the film “Back to the Future” comes to mind: “Roads? Where we’re going we don’t need roads.” Everyone’s heard about app store optimization. Well, everyone except Doc Brown, because in 1985 the mobile web and apps didn’t exist.  Thirty-one years later our still-necessary roads are the mobile web and ASO is where the flying DeLorean is headed faster than 88 miles per hour. But this doesn’t mean you need to slam your lead foot on the gas when it comes to setting ASO in motion.


ASO is about optimizing an app for visibility in stores like Apple’s App Store and Google Play. It’s SEO for app stores and is sizzling hot right now for brands and performance marketers. By 2017, mobile users are expected to spend an estimated three hours and 23 minutes daily in-app versus only 52 minutes on the mobile web (eMarketer, 2015). That’s nearly three times more time spent peering at app content without a hint of a mobile web URL, browser or Google query being typed by impatient fingers. And let’s not forget that Apple and Google in the last year unveiled app-install ads in their platforms to take advantage of our hunger for apps, and the competitive environment in which they’re found.  As more mobile users rely on apps as conduits to all-things mobile content, brands and performance marketers will need to sit down, take a breath and talk it over.

Before you spend thousands of dollars and man hours to peer into the future of ASO, examine the state of your app and learn how to optimize and promote it.  Like SEO, ASO changes need time to sink in.  A tweak here, a tweak there – whatever’s needed to fill gaps with a solid ASO foundation. To help you get started, here are five points to consider as you’re sitting in the DeLorean:

1) Know your audience
Content works best when you create it for your intended audience and answer its needs at the right place and time. Before you optimize your app for stores, study your website analytics to learn who your visitors are, what interests them and even the keywords for which they searched.  (One way to do this is by activating “Site Search” in analytics.) What about top converting products? Most highly trafficked pages? The more data you crunch, the better the app you present to your audience.

The available tools for keyword research and the app market are far from perfect and a little “wet behind the ears,” but to understand how people search for apps check out Google Keyword Planner, Mobile Action, Sensor Tower, SearchMan and App Annie. Play around with each – especially Keyword Planner – to learn which suits you best.

2) Know your competition
Chances are you’re not ranking in the top spot for all the keywords related to your app. To know the competition can only be beneficial, so search the app stores for your target keywords to see who’s most visible and then try to explore why. Do they have better app content? Maybe a hip title and description? What about the icon they used? Images? Videos? How are they promoting the app on their website? In social media? How many reviews and ratings do they have? Once you understand what competitors are doing, use it to your advantage by enhancing your current efforts. Think differently and differentiate as necessary.

3) Optimize what you can control

This is probably the most important point. Why? Because owned assets are totally in your control. Just like a title tag in SEO, it’s your call as to which keywords are used and how elements are structured. In order to make the most of owned assets in app stores, you must ensure that target keywords are included in the Title, Keywords (Apple feature only – more on this in a bit), Description, Icon, Screen Shots and Videos.

4) Learn the difference between Apple and Google

Are you surprised there are ASO differences between the Apple App Store and Google Play?  The keywords field only for Apple is just the beginning. To optimize most effectively across the two, you need to learn these differences (Note: icons are the same for both – you only need one so make it stand out):

Title: A maximum of 255 characters, with truncation after 23.
Keywords: A maximum of 100 characters.

Description: Optimize at least the first three lines.

Screen shots: Upload a maximum of five, with priority placed on the first two.

Videos: You can upload a maximum 30-second promo.


Title: Truncated after 30 characters.

Keywords: No keyword field so optimize the description (see below).
Description: A maximum of 4,000 characters, but focus on optimizing the first 167.

Screen shots: Upload a maximum of eight, with priority placed on the first two.
Videos: You can upload a maximum 2-minute promo via YouTube (Big G owns it after all!).

5) Promote

Taking content from your website and distributing to the masses that frequent your slew of touchpoints is important. This promotion can happen at the local, regional or global level depending  on your target audience and goals. Google Play optimization comes with an obvious advantage over Apple App Store since it’s a platform owned by the world’s leading search engine. But you should take advantage of building links to and extending outreach efforts for not just apps that reside in Google, but for Apple as well, whenever applicable.

Don’t ever sell any of your assets short, and don’t forget to promote them on social media properties to bloggers and influencers with whom you’ve developed relationships. Any website that can help spread the good word about your app is beneficial to your overall success. As you realize more and more app visibility across touchpoints near and far, and note an increase in downloads, ratings and reviews will likely follow.

Sometimes faster than 88 miles per hour.