App Store Optimization: The ‘What’, ‘Why’ and ‘How’

‘SEO for smartphones’ is probably how I would describe App Store Optimization.

App Store Optimization is a relatively new discipline.

While the concept of ‘optimizing apps for different app stores’ only came to the fore after the launch and emergence of cellular and non-cellular app stores, such as the Apple iTunes and Google Play (which was originally called the Android Market) somewhere in or around 2008, the popular usage of the term ‘App Store Optimization’, started somewhere in 2011-2012.

What is App Store Optimization?

In a nutshell, App Store Optimization – or ASO in short – is a concept that is closely-associated with, and is quite similar to SEO or Search Engine Optimization.

Apart from one significant difference: instead of optimizing for search engines such as Google, ASO is the process which aims to optimize the visibility of cellular/smartphones apps in different App Stores (such as the Apple iTunes, Android’s Google Play, Windows Phone Store, to name a few).

The ultimate aim of ASO is to rank a smartphone app (such as those available for the iPhone, iPad, Windows Phone, and Android OS phones) as high as possible in the app store search results – the app store equivalent of the SERP (can it be called the ASRP?).

In addition, since most app stores divide apps into different categories, App Store optimizers and marketers also ensure that an app ranks as high as possible in any and all relevant category pages.

Last but certainly not the least by any means, an important part of App Store Optimization involves staying on top of the search results and reacting to different updates and changes to the app store ranking and search algorithms – pretty much the app store equivalents of the Google Panda/Penguin!

Why is App Store Optimization important?

As of January 2013, there are  775,000 apps available on the Apple iOS (with 300,000 of them completely iPad-compatible). I’m quite certain that this number has crossed the 800,000 mark since then!

Android seems to be doing even better – as of February 2013, Google Play had already crossed the 800,000 app mark.

And while these two paltforms are clearly the undisputed kings of the cellular market, others such as Windows Phone aren’t doing all that bad either. The Windows Phone Store currently stocks more than 150,000 apps and this number is gorwing pretty quickly.

What this means is that your app is just a proverbial drop of water in the sea, without App Store Optimization, or optimizing your app for maximum visbility, your app stands little to no chance of being found.

With the power of ASO, however, your app and your business can create a strong presence for itself, and even give a bit of a challenge to the big boys!

Benfits of App Store Optimization

Plenty! For starters:

  • ASO allows users to find your app easily via search.
  • ASO gives your app a better chance of being found in an app store or in the category results.
  • Ranking as high as possible gives you, your app and your business more credibility.
  • It places you above the competition.
  • If your app gets better visibility, your business get more visbility!
  • It allows you to rank higher for, and be found easily for certain specific keywords that are highly relevant and valuable to you.
  • It also improves your SEO, as a high-ranking app will do well on search engines as well.
  • Most importantly though, ASO allows you to drive more downloads and sales for your apps!

The How: Methods of ASO

This is where it starts getting interesting!

Since ASO is a relatively new and hence an evolving discipline, we still don’t have proper, established methods of optimization and improving an app’s visibility in different App Stores – unlike SEO and the hard-and-fast rules of doing it.

So a fair bit of the App Store Optimization is trial-and-error at the moment.

There are however certain things that app store marketers can borrow from traditional SEO and use them for App Store Optimization:

  • Keyword research: keyword research is just as important as it is in search engine optimization. Use tools (such as this one) to know what terms, words or phrases people usually search for when looking for specific apps, and also provides suggestions for relevant and important keywords that your app should rank for.
  • Keyword optimization: this part is also quite similar to traditional SEO: you need to use your keywords in the metadata, headers, titles, description, and other fields, and optimize these fields like you would do with your website/blog.
  • Audience: Use Google Analytics to track your mobile and desktop visitors. There’s a tab in Analytics called ‘mobile’ which lets you do so. This will provide you with valuable marketing intelligence, and give you a better understanding of your cellular users.
  • Local: Try ranking well locally. If your app focuses on a specific demographic or is aimed at a specific niche, for instance, you need to optimize your app in order to try ranking well, by using relevant keywords whereever possible. This also includes limiting your app’s availability to certain areas or countries, which can be easily done, and will allow your app to be visible in those countries only.

Speaking of ASO tools, a great one that you can use is called AppCodes. It has different modules, each of which performs different functions: App Store SEO lets you check visibility of your apps, Competitor Tracking does pretty much what it says, and the Keywords Module  checks popular keywords for your apps.

Use the ‘The App Developer’s App Store Optimization Cheat Sheet’ (PDF, link here). It contains a nice set of tips, links and resources to improve an app’s visbility in the iTunes Store, and also provides valuable intel on app store algorithm changes.

In addition, use traditional methods of marketing in order to spread the word. This includes (but is not limited to) advertising on your websites, blogs and social media profiles. Add a separate page on your website visitors can download your software, and put a link to it on your homepage or the sidebar. Use your email list to spread the word.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, create the best apps for your customers. Give them the best-possible and bug/error-free experience, so that they leave you with a high rating. Higher-rated apps almost always tend to do well in the search results, so it’s free ASO for you!

Additional Read

This TechCrunch article makes for a good read on ASO – even though I totally disagree with the notion that ‘ASO is the new SEO’. But that’s a discussion for another day.


Does your business need an app? Yes, it does. Watch this space for an article on why it is critical for businesses to have an smartphone app.

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