The Definitive Guide to App Store Optimization (ASO)

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Over the last few years, the mobile app space has grown into a multi-billion dollar industry. Research estimates 1.2 billion mobile app users in 2012 alone, and that number is expected to grow 29.8% each year. The app industry is broken down by 2 major players (Android and Apple iOS). In terms of OS platform share, comScore (a leading digital research firm) released the following numbers for OS platform market share as of August, 2013:

  • Android: 51.6%
  • Apple: 40.7%
  • Blackberry: 4.8%
  • Microsoft: 3.0%
  • Symbian: 0.4%

After reviewing the numbers, we can easily see the app store industry is essentially a 2 horse race between Apple and Android. According to ABI Research (March 2013), the number of total apps downloaded by platform type is:

  • Google Android: 58%
  • Apple iOS: 33%
  • Microsoft Windows Phone: 4%
  • BlackBerry: 3%

These numbers show us that Google Play is slightly ahead in the race, but this is based solely on total apps downloaded and not actual revenue. In fact, Apple makes more revenue than Google’s Play (Android). But, for the purposes of this article we are looking at total market share of apps alone and not factoring in revenue.

The app store industry is a completely different world compared to search. One of the main reasons is the app store industry is not dominated by a single player (Google). In the app store eco-system, there are two evenly matched players competing for the same space. So unlike on-line search, internet marketers have to consider more than just Google.

As SEO practitioners, we will need to optimize apps for both Google Play (Android) and Apple’s iOS store. This presents more challenges, but also more opportunity. If you are thinking of creating a mobile app or already have one in the market, the steps outlined below will help you optimize your app in both app stores.

Google Play

© CC-BY 2012 ooglek

© CC-BY 2012 ooglek


This will be a familiar area for those in the SEO field. The Google Play store will probably be a bigger player over the next 5-10 years because of the open source nature of the Android platform. Also, since this is a Google product, the store has access to search indexes collected by Google. Yes, that means back to some traditional link building for the Google Play store! Below are some quick tips on optimizing for your app in the Google Play Store:

On-Page Optimization

  1. App Title: The foundation of any optimization is the title tag. This is very similar to a website’s title tag. Make sure it is descriptive and clearly explains what the app does. Due to android being used by many brands and different screen sizes, it’s hard to tell how many characters are optimal. The best strategy is to keep the app title as short as possible, so that searchers can read it in its entirety. Nothing kills user experience more than a lengthy title that gets truncated because it’s too long.
  2. App Description: Very similar to the Meta Description tag on a website. Clearly and effectively explain what the app is, what it does, and its benefits. Again, since there is no actual website, this content will be your primary leveraging mechanism to market your app. Hire a professional copy writer if you must. There is a 4000 character limit on descriptions – use it wisely.
  3. App Icon: believe it or not, the actual icon of the app does make a difference. Look at all the large, popular brands (Facebook, Twitter). They all have one thing in common – an iconic logo/brand. Make sure your icon or logo clearly and creatively expresses your app.
  4. App Type: Google divides apps into two main “types.” They are “applications” and “games.” Mark your app appropriately.
  5. App Screenshot: Everyone likes to see what an app/software or game looks like. Humans are visual creatures, so use this to your advantage and display some eye-catching screen shots of your app in action.
  6. Category: Properly define your product by a specific category. If your app has multiple categories, try to pick the most appropriate one.
  7. App YouTube Demo: This is a relatively new feature in the Play Store which allows you to upload a YouTube video of your app in action. Use this as another sales pitch and highlight all the best parts of your app.
  8. Leverage Google Plus: All apps have a Google Plus plugin. The more pluses your app gets, the more visible it will be in the Play Store and maybe even get bumped to the front page carousel. Let’s face it – Google Plus is a Google product, so I’m sure there is some biased towards it.

Special Note: Google clearly states that any “Repetitive and/or irrelevant use of keywords in the app title, description or promotional description can create an unpleasant user experience and can result in an app suspension.” Tread carefully here.

Off-Page Optimization

  1. Overall App Ratings: This is an important factor for ASO. Not only from an ASO perspective, but also from a conversion perspective. If we see that 1200 people gave 5 out of 5 stars, we assume it must be a great app. Ratings are also a direct reflection of your app’s performance – a great app will get great ratings. Keep in mind, front page placement seems to rely on a combination of reviews, ratings, downloads, and Google pluses.
  2. App Reviews: just like ratings, reviews will certainly help in conversions. You want as many app users to leave genuine reviews of your app. The more favorable reviews your app receives, the higher the conversion rate. Also, make sure you pay attention to what people say! You should use app reviews as a feedback to continuously improve your app.
  3. Total App Downloads: This certainly affects searcher psyche. The more downloads your app has, the higher the chances someone else will download the app as well.
  4. Link Building: Welcome back to the world of link building! Because this is a Google product, The Google Play Store has access to Google’s search indexes. This means links from popular and authoritative websites will certainly help.

Apple iOS Store


© CC-BY 2006 Adrian


Implementing ASO for iOS apps is slightly more straightforward than Google Play. This is partly because Apple does not have access to Google’s search indexes. The Apple Store relies mostly on user reviews, ratings, downloads,  and general on-page optimization.

On-Page Optimization

  1. App Title: Again, this is the most important piece of ASO. Apple recommends fewer than 25 characters for your app’s title. Make sure the app title clearly describes the app and what it does, but keep it short. I have seen many app titles that are too long and get truncated. As we know, this kills user experience.
  2. App Description: this is probably the second most important part of ASO. This is where you sell your app on all its great features! Again, keep it short and concise. People using cell phones are not viewing it on their desktop monitors, so time is of the essence. Make every word in your description count.
  3. App Logo: This is a great way you can creatively express what your app does. Consider hiring a professional to create a stunning app logo. Get inspiration from the large brands like Facebook, LinkedIn, or Amazon. This part should not be overlooked.
  4. App Screenshot: People like to window shop. Make sure you have clear and detailed screenshots of your app and highlight all the best parts of your app with multiple screen shots.
  5. Category: Make sure you categorize your app appropriately. A lot of searchers jump straight into specific categories if they are looking for something. Apple also allows a secondary category in the event your app fits into two categories, but always treat the primary app as your most important category.
  6. Keywords: Quality should trump quantity here. Stay away from questionable techniques such as using a competitor’s brand name. Apple also recommends using unique keywords over highly generic ones. Make strategic use of your keyword selection.

Off-Page Optimization

  1. App Reviews: This is an extremely important part of ASO in terms of conversion. Searchers will always download apps that have positive reviews. Sometimes reviews reveal a great deal of information about the app that may convert a potential searcher. Make sure your app has a sufficient amount of detailed and genuine reviews.
  2. App Ratings: This is another great conversion factor. People will almost always download an app that has a high percentage of positive ratings. Make sure you develop a great app, so that users can leave a great rating.

Like any online marketing effort, test and re-test to find the most effective strategy for your specific application: this applies to both Google and Apple.  Mobile apps is still an expanding industry and we will continue to see many new changes as this industry continues to grow. This explosion in growth will clearly have a high impact on how ASO is implemented, and we may see many new on-page and off-page ranking factors.

Update: Learn More About ASO on #MarketingNerds with Anne Ahola Ward

Learn more about app store optimization on this episode of Marketing Nerds with Anne Ahola Ward of Circle Click and Kelsey Jones, the Executive Editor of SEJ. They cover best practices in mobile SEO and how to get ahead in the app stores.

Zain Shah
Zain has been in the internet marketing space for several years helping small and mid-size businesses increase their online visibility. When he’s not analyzing traffic and conversions, Zain likes to travel the world and visit exotic new countries. Zain is also the head honcho of Search House Media, a results driven inbound marketing agency.
Zain Shah
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  • James Halloran

    Very interesting post, Zain! They say mobile is going to reach a new record level of use in 2014 so that definitely means app use will increase as well. Just like there’s steady competition of SEO for the SERPs, I definitely agree with you that there will be an increase in “ASO” competition for the app stores.

    I like that you suggested app makers provide screenshots and a YouTube tutorial when possible. I think these two things will be far more important than ratings in the future, especially since people are going to download an app based off how useful or entertaining they find the app, not how useful or entertaining someone else finds it.

    And people will obviously rate an app according to their own personal sense of utility, so it’s not going to be an “end-all” situation there.

  • Hugh Kimura

    What’s your opinion on app engagement? How do you think they will measure it and how much of a factor will it be in ASO?

  • Zain Shah

    Thanks James. I hope the article was informative and useful to you.

    Hugh, you bring up a great point. If I understand you correctly, you are referring to how many users uninstall an app. I think this will play a huge role in ASO because it demonstrates how accurate an apps marketing is in relation to the app itself. If the marketing is misleading or overly hyped, people will tend to uninstall the app quite a bit. I do know that both app developers (Apple and Android) can easily track if the app has been uninstalled. How much of a role it will play remains to be seen as there are so many factors involved in why a user would uninstall an app ranging from freeing up disk space to getting bored of the app itself.

  • aceclue

    Thanks for sharing this. It is quite interesting to hear that Android leads the race of app download. This is not anyway unexpected. Android sprang out of vantage environment of Google brand. But what are the likely factors mainly responsible for the lagging revenue claimed by the Android OS apps.

  • Steve Sklepowich

    Really excellent article! There are powerful products like appnique, which enable product managers to optimize their mobile apps in the app stores (ASO) for organic acquisition, and then use this insight to better target paid campaigns on mobile ad networks.

  • Neha

    Excellent article..i am doing seo job so your article is really beneficial for my carreer ..learnt about ASO.great points to learn and implement…thank you …Informative…!!!

  • Kruti Patel

    Is there any limit for keywords characters for iOS ASO? I have little confusion.