App Store Optimisation For Google Play & iTunes

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The process of improving those factors is commonly known as app store optimisation (ASO). The App Store and Google Play do have some specific differences when it comes to optimisation, but the major mechanisms are the same for both.

Showing up in the top 10 results in an app store search isn’t luck – it’s a mix of keyword optimisation, positive reviews, downloads and lots of other factors, including links from external websites.

General stuff

The App Store and Google Play require you to pick a category. You can think laterally on this: a time tracking app is also a business app and a productivity app. Or maybe it’s a finance app or a tool. There’s a full list of categories here. The App Store allows a secondary category to be selected.

As with keywords, choosing the right category is important. Getting enough downloads to be a “top app” in a less popular category will be better than not getting top app status. Look at how many downloads your top 50 or so competition in a particular category have – and how many reviews/what average rating to find what level of competition you’re facing.

Both App Store rankings for categories and searches are based on the following factors;

  • Relevance to what was searched for
  • Whether the search term is in your app title (Google Play/App Store) or Description (Google Play) or Keywords (App Store)
  • The number of downloads, ratings, average rating
  • Even links from authoritative sites to your Play Store listing are believed to factor into how visible your app is – so don’t forget your Search Engine Optimisation

Keyword optimisation – the title

Put the keywords in the title after the brand name. i.e. “Timetrakkit – Time Tracking, Timesheet Management and Billable Hours” to optimise your title (partially) for “time management app”, “time tracking app”, “time billing app” etc.

Approximately, the first 25 characters show up in search results, although you have up to 255 characters.

If your app is free, you don’t need to waste characters including the word “free” in your title – the app store will display that detail or leave it blank in the space reserved for the price.

You no longer need to include plural versions of keywords.

It has to appear natural as “Repetitive and/or irrelevant use of keywords in the app title, description or promotional description can create a unpleasant user experience and can result in an app suspension” (Play Store Guidelines).

The yellow line is the DarkSky app’s rankings for “weather”. Can you guess when they changed their title to include it? Image courtesy of DarkSky.

Keywords tag (App Store only)

The App Store has an extra field called “keywords” which is very important for optimisation. You can specify up to 100 characters.

Words should be separated by commas or spaces (but not both). There’s no benefit to having complete words or phrases – “time tracking, billable hours” is no better than “time,tracking,billable,hours”

You don’t need to include singular as well as plurals or conjunctions or particles (i.e. “and”, “the”, “a”, “to”).

Apptamin has made a useful App Store Optimisation Cheat Sheet for you to print out.

The Description

The description is thought to help ranking in Google Play, but not on the App Store.

On Google Play, your description can only use basic formatting such as font colours, bold, underline and italics (details) in app descriptions. If you want bullets, you will have to copy and paste a • (bullet) character directly. HTML characters are also supported.

On the Apple App Store, you’re even more limited. Use UPPERCASE for headings and – or * for bullets.

The description can be very long – up to 4,000 characters on the App Store – but only the first 3–5 lines will be visible unless revealed. It’s usually four lines on iPhone/Android Phones or five lines on the Apple iPad/Android tablets.

You’ll need to effectively write two versions of your description, the 10-second version and the two-minute version below it.

The 10-second version should quickly convey what your app is about, its unique selling points and its benefits. Aim for about 300–400 characters in length.

  • A time-tracking app’s ability to “track time” isn’t a benefit, but “simplifying your life” is
  • Make a promise in this section. Remember “Someone buying a drill doesn’t want a drill – they want holes in the wall”. So promise them holes in the wall
  • Use calls to action in your copy, i.e. “Download {App Name} To {Benefit} Now”
  • Remember your five persuasive words (“You”, “Free”, “Because”, “Instantly”, “New”)

The longer description should focus on features and earning trust:

  • Break this up into easily scannable points using new lines
  • Use keywords and variations of keywords naturally within the copy. This helps with relevance and confirms that this is the right app for them
  • Testimonials vs awards? Go with testimonials!
  • Give support, complaints or “not working” instructions somewhere in here too
  • Ask for feedback and suggestions

Sylvain Gauchet from Apptamin wrote a longer guide about the description.

Writing more persuasive copy

You need to pre-emptively answer people’s questions in your description or they might not think the app is right for them. If your app has a feature they’re looking for, you need to tell them about it. But how do you know what people want to know?

  • Read other reviews from both the app store and external sites to see what features people have talked about
  • Read list articles like “best timekeeping apps” and use the information that the author has highlighted
  • Read advice articles on the problems people face that would cause them to need your app, e.g. search for something like time management tips for freelancers or “time tracking advice for small businesses” and figure out what they care about
  • Survey or talk to your sales staff. Talk to your customer services guys. Talk to your customers

It’s about persuasion – and just because it’s great, you should watch this Youtube video about the science of persuasion. Implement some of the principles outlined.

  • Scarcity – if your app is being discounted, mention that and how long it’s discounted for
  • Authority – your review quotes and testimonials
  • Consistency – remind them why they are looking for the app with questions like, “Need to improve your time tracking?”
  • Liking – is your app great for small businesses and freelancers? Tell them
  • Consensus – if your app is popular already, mention that

As you update your app, update your description to experiment with the layout and information presented.

All this advice is useful for writing your website’s landing page copy too.

Your icon

Review your competitors’ icons. You’re going to need to stand out but also communicate what your app is all about. Look at how many camera apps have a picture of a camera or a lens, for example.

Avoid text in your icon (unless it’s a graphical representation). Text doesn’t render very well when sized down and will just make things look cluttered.

Must be appropriate. Fun vs professional. Simplicity vs complexity. Remember your target users’ age and nationality.

Users will judge the quality of your app against the quality of your icon. If you don’t have the budget to get it professionally made, try 99designs or Fiverr to oursource it.

You’ll need to provide Google and Apple with your icon at several resolutions and you’re advised to follow their branding guidelines.

If you’re getting started, has some free Photoshop icon templates for Android and iOS.

Screenshots and videos

Google Play Stores needs at least two screenshots, but you can have up to eight and one video. Review their guidelines.

The App Store requires at least one screenshot to be added – up to five in total. If your app is optimised for iPad or retina display iPhones then you’ll need at least one screenshot from those platforms too.

Your screenshots must convey professionalism.

  • Put your best screenshot first. This is the one seen in the search results in the App Store but may be the only one they check
  • Use text overlays to explain what’s happening but don’t obscure people’s understanding of what’s happening. Users need to understand what it’s like to use your app
  • Show your features and screens. You can combine two or more images into one shot… but only if it’s logical

App Store reviews

Reviews are very important for your app. They act as “social proof” that your app is decent and also help your rankings in search. The first five reviews are crucial. If you have fewer than five, the App Store will not show the star rating and will say “no reviews”.

Ask friends and family to give them. Some sites recommend doing a closed beta launch for early feedback just to prevent negative reviews when things don’t work as intended.

If your competitors’ apps are linked to Facebook, get all your team to go on there and type “friends who use…” either a competitor or similar app. If you’re just looking for a listing of Android users, type “People who use Facebook for Android”.

tip from @romaindavid

Once you’re started, you need to be tactical when you ask your users for reviews.

  • Ask when a duration orientated (time using the app) or usage orientated goal has been achieved. People invested in an app are more likely to leave positive reviews
  • Ask for the review in a non-intrusive way. i.e. a slider that doesn’t block any features of the app. Don’t nag users if they choose not to review
  • Offering benefits for positive reviews is against Apple and Google’s rules and can get you kicked off. This is not okay!
  • Paying for people to submit reviews is prohibited. “Developers must not attempt to change the placement of any Product in the Store, or manipulate any product ratings or reviews by unauthorized means such as fraudulent installs, paid or fake reviews or ratings, or by offering incentives to rate products
  • Many apps now have pop-up windows that ask the user “yes” or “no” to the question of “Do you like this app?” If yes, they’re taken to a review screen. If no, they’re initially taken to an email feedback screen. This capability can be integrated into apps using providers like Apptentive

71% of consumers post their online complaint as a result of customer service failing. 23% surveyed said they do so seeking “revenge”.

80% of people surveyed by Cone indicated that seeing negative reviews about a product HAS made them change their mind.

Preventing negative reviews is going to be your priority.

  • Follow our pre-launch advice…
  • Make it incredibly easy to complain or get support. Add a button within the app – even a dedicated mini “email support” client they can use without leaving the app. Many people who see your app as potentially useful would rather help you make it better than simply complain if you’ve been honest in your marketing
  • List multiple contact methods – even Facebook and Twitter
  • iTunes requires support contact details, Android requires a rather more ambiguous “Email Developer” address. But your app description should push people towards contacting you in the event of issues
  • Respond to complaints quickly – even if it’s just to acknowledge that their issue has been received and to give them a timescale for your response. We recommend ZenDesk for its ability to scale and handy macros to help resolve frequent problems
  • If this isn’t possible, support forums can allow users to solve common issues themselves. Pay attention to what people search your forum for using Google Analytics and create FAQs
  • You’re going to need to make a better app (next section)

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