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App Store Optimization : 5 Critical Steps

Mobile App Marketing App Store Optimization

To the question, is there such a thing as SEO for Mobile Apps? The answer is yes and it is called ASO

What is App Store Optimization(ASO) ?

ASO Stands for App Store Optimization. It involves optimizing both the Mobile App and App store page to organically rank higher in app stores search results. Higher rankings lead to more traffic, higher conversion rates and therefore lead to higher sales. App Store Optimization follows similar keyword-based rules to SEO but applies them to Apps instead.

There are 2 major App stores : Google play that owns 43% market share and the Apple Store with almost 33%.

Both use search engines that focus on delivering what the searcher is looking for. (See here to learn more about how search engines work).

But overall the main ranking factors for App Stores search engines are :

  • Text Relevance which is how the search is a match for your app’s title, keywords, and primary category.
  • User Behavior which are the downloads (quantity and download velocity) and the number and quality of ratings and reviews.

In both these stores a search is responsible for over 65% of all Apps discoveries.

There is no doubt, that the App stores are getting saturated with Apps which makes organic ranking more and more difficult.

Nonetheless, if you find your niche, you still have a good chance to get ranked high if you apply proper ASO although position #1 on a search result page will always be a Paid result.

How to implement App Store Optimization in 5 Critical Steps

Step 1 : Run an ASO keyword research

What is a Mobile App keyword research?

A mobile App Keyword research is the identification of strategic keywords that must be used in your App’s content and App store page to match searcher’s queries. It is a critical component of App Store Optimization (ASO) and helps better understand what your target audience is searching for and how it is searching for content.
Its purpose is also to help the app stores search engines index your content.

Keyword research is a data based process that help you understand:

  • What is the intent of your audience?
  • How many people are looking for an information?
  • In what format does your audience need the content?

There are 2 ways you can do this Keyword research.

They both have pros and cons but ultimately can complement each other if you have time to run both.

Mobile App Keyword Research method #1 : Finding keywords manually

App keyword research tools are used widely both for paid advertising and ASO purposes alike.

They are intended to give you a search volume and difficulty level on search terms for you to see if they are worth going after.

You can find a list of them in my toolbox.

But these tools are not perfect though and have a major weakness you need to know about

These tools do not have access to Googles database and have created their own and these databases are insignificant in size compares to the size of Google’s.

And because their databases are very small, they used extrapolation which means that they are only able to assess with any kind of accuracy, the search volumes of keywords with very high search volume.

And these are traditionally the kind of keywords you want to avoid since they are already so competitive.

This means that these research tools undervalue low volume keywords which is why a manual method is critical as a complement to ensure you run a quality App keyword research

Here’s how to run a quality Mobile App keyword research :

A quality Mobile App keyword research in 3 easy Steps

We will Take Google Play as the example, but know that it process is similar in the App Store.

Step 1: Run a search for your keyword in the Google Play app store search box.
Let’s say as an example,  I am interested in doing an App on teaching how to paint. If I want to know what the biggest searches are online, Google has autosuggest, which are the suggestions that appear on screen as you start typing your search.

These suggestions are best guesses by Google to help you get to your search as fast as possible in order to give you a great user experience.

You can see that as you type, the suggestions become more and more precise and narrow potentially opening some ideas you did not think of previously.

Step 2: Select the searches suggested by Google that seems the closest to you.

Look at each options suggested by Google and select one after the other all the ones that you believe are relevant.
To follow our previous example, it seems that “how to paint” is one of these interesting options.
Let’s now go to Step 3

Step 3: Now we have selected the suggestion, look at the available information that can give you valuable insights :

Publisher information : By selecting this it will give you an idea of the difficulty to compete with this App as usually publishers carrying more than one app benefit for a wider footprint for organic results.

Category : The Google Play App stores has over 35 different categories, some are more competitive than other and you want to assess this to see if you have fighting chance.

Volume : this is your quantitative data telling you how many installs took place.

Ratings : this is very much a qualitative piece of information that can provide some features insights that are liked or disliked for you to improve/developp your own app so that you get higher ranking

And this is how you can manually determine the topics that are going to be relevant to people searches and assess competition.

It is important to note that although this method allows you to bypass the issue of extrapolation, it is not really scalable as it would take too much time to get an overall view of your competition.
Also, it does not provide all the depth of information that a tool can provide such as : keyword ranking difficulty or popularity.

If time is a constraint it is therefore recommended to follow the method using a keyword research tool.

Mobile App keyword research method #2 : Finding keywords with a keyword research tool

There are many tools you can use and most of them have free limited access for you to try. You can find a complete list in my tool box section of my website.

For the purpose of explaining how an ASO tool works, I am using “appfollow” which I am not affiliated with.

Most ASO tools work in a similar fashion.

Since you know your business, you probably have a few ideas of keywords that you would like to rank for.

For example, is app you developed or are about to develop is a great place to start for keywords ( also referred to as Seed keywords).

By entering these keywords into the research tool, you will uncover other related keywords.

First select which App Store you wish to investigate and then start your keyword research.

For example, let’s do a search on “how to Paint” for Android.

And would discover highly relevant terms such as:

  • How to Paint
  • How to paint with acrylic paint
  • How to paint step by step

For each of the keyword suggestion you can then click them and dig deeper for further suggestions as shown below:

Every time you select a keyword by clicking on the (+) sign it will add it to your keyword list that looks like this:

The popularity index goes from 0 to 100 and indicates the amount of traffic per keywords. ) being a non-traffic keyword.

The Difficulty index goes from 0 to 100 and shows how difficult it would be to outrank your competitor for these search terms.

Once you have selected all the relevant keywords you can also look at the suggested apps the search is showing.

As you select the ones that you believe you compete with, these apps will also be added to your dashboard.

This is a great opportunity to reverse engineer your competition and identify additional keywords that you could use for yourself

This is what your dashboard would look like :

Some interesting data are :

  • The amount of organic downloads for the selected period
  • The organic conversion rate.

But these tools also give you the details of the keywords that your competitor is ranking for in shape of a map with 4 quadrants placing the various keywords based on their popularity and difficulty indexes.

By looking at the top left quadrant where difficulty index is below 50 and popularity index over 50, these are the keywords you want to add to your keyword list and where  you have a fighting chance.

Step 2: Use Traffic and Difficulty data to select keywords

Now you have your list of keywords, you can filter them to target the most optimum ones for you and find the sweet spot.

Ideally, you want to start with a popularity index over 50 and a difficulty index below 50

It is possible that the App you used provided you with traffic estimates instead of a popularity index.

In that case rank your keywords for the highest traffic to lowest and narrow down your choice to the difficulty below 50.

Remember, traffic information from Apps are estimates and should not be taken for their face values or used to make some traffic estimates for your own App.

Instead this is a relative indicator to choose between various keyword options.

In case you are using paid advertising in addition to organic, you can obtain additional information from either Google Play Console or Apple Search Ads.

Both platforms, in addition to provide you with volume estimates per keywords, also provide conversion rates for each keyword or combination of keyword that ultimately contribute to a download/conversion.

This way you find the right balance of volume vs conversion that suits your needs and cross match with the information provided by using other ASO tools.

Step 3 : Optimizing Your Product Page and App to rank and convert

It is important to note that there are 2 aspects of this optimization.

First, the optimization aiming at ranking on the top of search results pages.(This is technically ASO)

Second, the optimization attempting to convince the visitor to convert and download the App.
(I will call it CRO for conversion Rate Optimization in the explanation below)

Both are important and use the keywords you identified in Step #2

It is important to understand where and how to place your keywords to Optimize properly your app and app Store page.

Compared to SEO practices, The options in ASO are far more restricted which makes the ASO a trickier.

For the explanation below, I will use visuals from the Apple Store for and point out potential differences with the Google Play store.
(Source :

The elements used/indexed by the App store for search results rankings are :

  • The App Name
  • Sub Title
  • Keywords Field
  • In-App Purchases Display Names
  • Publisher Name if you haven’t published in the App Store yet.
  • Ratings and Reviews
  • Localization

All the other elements are critical for CRO but do not affect search results rankings

Let’s start by the top 7 elements that count for search results

1.App Name

Purpose : search results ranking

The app name can be up to 30 characters long.
Be distinctive and avoid names that use generic terms or are too similar to existing app names.

Pro Tips: The App Name has a lot of weight in the algorithm, this is where you should place your best keywords or key phrases (AKA long tailed keywords).

When using long tailed-keywords (which convert best by the way), don’t break them with other words.

In the App Name, order of the words matters: exact matches with the search query will make your app get a higher position in the search results page.

Shy away from abstract names. A name that includes your top keyowrds will carry much more weight.

If possible, use numbers at the beginning of the app name as to appear on the first page when users sort by name.


Purpose : search results ranking

A subtitle can be up to 30 characters long and appears below your app’s name throughout the App Store.

It is intended to summarize your app in a concise phrase.

It can be updated only when submitting a new version of your app to help you determine the subtitle that’s most effective for engaging users.

Google Play App Store specifics : Contrary to the Apple app store that uses a sub title and a description, the Google play store only uses one description allowing for 255 characters.

Pro Tips: On the search results pages in App Stores, users can only see your app icon, name, and sub title. Consider using this, rather than your app’s name, to explain the value of your app in greater detail.

3.Keywords field

Purpose : search results ranking

Apple has helped developers by creating the keyword field where they can use up to 100 characters to specify terms or phrases that your app should show up for in search results.

When it comes to keyword rankings, the keyword field has less ranking weight than the app name or subtitle. But it still has a huge impact on your overall App Store Optimization.

Pro Tips:

  • Avoid using special characters as they don’t carry any weight in the search rank.
  • If you are using numbers, write the digit, Apple will know that “6” and “six” are the same.
  • Use all of the 100 characters allowed. If after your optimization you have some spaces left, add a number in there to fill the gap. Why? Well if you already have keywords like “Best” or “Top” adding a number can provide another keyword permutation like “Top 6…” or “Best off …”

  • Consider using plurals and typos for English and other languages.

    Although the algorithm theoretically combines the results for the singular and plural versions, making no difference choosing between them.

    It is not always true.

    Look at these simple 1-word searches for “car” and “cars” and observe the difference in results.
Now Imaging the difference in results if you were to use 4 or 5 words in your search instead…

The same occurs when dealing with languages other than English.

  • Separate your keywords with commas and no spaces.

  • No need to use the words “app”, the name of the category or misspellings of your brand name as they are automatically indexed by Apple.

  • Distribute Search Terms Across Keywords, Subtitle and App Name Fields, the algorithm is smart enough to combine keywords so no need to duplicate.

    As an example, if you have language learning app want to rank for “language learning”, “online English course”, and “learn Spanish”, your app information may look a little something like this.
  • Do not use unauthorized trademarked terms
  • Use digits for numbers and not letters, meaning write “6’ instead of “six” to save some characters for other keywords
4.In-App Purchase Name

Purpose : search results ranking

The IAP item has its own display name (max 30 characters), promotional image, and description (limited to 45 characters).

Only the IAP name is indexed therefore valuable for keywords placement.

Users can view and start an in-app purchase from your product page.

In-app purchases is shown in a separate section on your product page.

5.Ratings and Reviews

Purpose : search results ranking

Ratings and reviews influence both how your app ranks in search and can encourage users to engage with your app from search results.

Google Specifics: In the case of the Google Play Store, some frequent keywords from your user reviews can be understood as relevant to your app and positively affect your Android app rankings.

So, focus on providing a great app experience that motivates users to leave positive reviews.

You can prompt for ratings up to three times in a 365-day period.

Reviews and responses can be updated at any time, but only the latest review and response for each user will display on your product page.

Pro Tips: Actually, according to a survey from Apptentive, 79 percent of customers check the ratings before downloading an app and 53 percent check the ratings before updating it. Hence the importance of 5 star recent reviews.


Purpose : search results ranking

67% of the world population has a mobile device and since not everybody speaks English, so translating/localizing your app is a must.

To do so, make sure to translate your app name (if possible) app description, keywords, app previews, and screenshots, for each of the markets in which you offer your app.

In addition to significantly increase your reach, localizing will generate trust amongst your users and help you identify where the demand for your app comes from.

Customers who use an app in their native language show higher engagement and retention rates and are more likely to spread the word about your app organically.

Pro Tips: Always proofread and check all localized content with a native speaker. Poor localization can harm your business and result in negative reviews and low download rates.

Let’s now cover the key factors for conversion purposes


Purpose : CRO
This is where you highlight the features and functionality of your app.
You can use up to 4000 characters.
The ideal description is a concise, informative paragraph followed by a short list of main features.

The first sentence of your description is the most important.

This is what users can read without having to tap to read more.

Every word counts, so focus on your app’s unique features.

While there is a short description area with a long description area on Google Play, there is only one description area in the App Store
No need to mention prices since they already show on the product page.

You can update your app’s description when you submit a new version of your app.

If you want to share important updates more frequently, consider using your promotional text instead.

Pro Tips: For App Store, don’t repeat the keywords that you have already use in the fields that have the strongest weight in search rankings algorithms.
If you have already used the keywords in App Name, don’t use them in Subtitle or Keywords field.
However, and when talking about Google Play Store do repeat the keywords as much as possible

8.Promotional text

Purpose : CRO

The Promo Text is a 170-character section that appears at the top of the description for the app and in the product page view.

It is not a mandatory field.

Unlike other parts of the App Page that requires an app update to be modified the Promotional Text can be updated at any time.

As a visible asset, promotional text is helpful for conversions even if it doesn’t provide keyword indexation.

Pro Tips: Use, the Promotional Text to let users know about promotions and upcoming feature updates for the app.


Purpose : CRO

An app preview demonstrates the features, functionality, and UI of your app in a short video that users watch directly on the App Store.

Previews can be up to 30 seconds long and use footage captured on the device to show the experience of using your app.

You can feature up to three app previews

App previews autoplay with muted audio when users view your product page, so make sure the first few seconds of your video are visually compelling.

10.Screen Shots

Purpose : CRO

Use images captured from your app’s UI to visually communicate your app’s user experience.

You can feature up to 10 screenshots.

Depending on the orientation of your screenshots, the first one to three images will appear in search results when no app preview is available

Focus each subsequent screenshot on a main benefit or feature so that you fully convey your app’s value.

11.What’s New

Purpose : CRO

When you update your app, you can use What’s New to communicate changes to users.
This text appears on your product page and on the Updates tab.


Purpose : CRO

Categories on the App Store help users discover new apps to meet their needs.

You can assign a primary and a secondary category to your app.

The primary category is particularly important for discoverability, as it helps users find your app when browsing or filtering search results, and it determines in which tab your app appears on the App Store.

Step 4 : Measuring and Testing during the Acquisition Phase

When the keywords are identified, analyzed, prioritized and optimized within the product page, it is time to track and gain insight from the results.

Tracking your rankings and benchmarking them with your competition to understand their user acquisition strategy and optimize further is essential in this process.

It is also part of a larger performance measurement exercise that goes across multiple on-line and off-line channels.

I have dedicated an complete chapter to Mobile App Marketing performance measurement in the Mobile App Marketing Made Simple : The 2020 Guide.

Step 5 : repeat

App Store Optimization is of course not a one-off. It is a continuous process that should be conducted on a regular basis for optimum results.

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About Gilles Argivier

picture of Gilles Argivier standing with crossed arms

He is an International marketing expert and visionary entrepreneur.

For over 20 years, he has been entrusted by world class organizations as a driver of top and bottom line growth through transformational business development, brand’s sustainable strategy, product innovation and powerful online customer centric experiences

He owns and operates his marketing consultancy firm out of the US.

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