App Store Optimization: How the Top Apps Do It

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App Store Optimization

Just like in any industry, App Store Optimization (ASO) has its own standard procedures and tricks down its sleeves. In this article, we’ll examine the best App Store Optimization strategies (even the downright sneaky ones) that developers thrust in the battlefront of app marketing. App Store Optimization: How the Top Apps Do It doesn’t discuss though the strategies used by popular brands that crossover to the app industry. Most of these brands have a strong following and uses App Store Optimization to market their product to a new market – an advantage that indie and studio apps do not have. So we will be focusing on breakout apps and the most noticeable App Store Optimization qualities about them. (Note: Because of the app store’s volatility, apps featured in this article may no longer be in the top charts after its publishing)


App title: the name that ranks

It is advised that the app title contain the main keyword. But it’s almost always not enough that it’s just there. Some developers utilize some adaptive App Store Optimization strategies to maximize the effect of the keyword.


The catch line

Intrigue, curiosity, and interest are some of the reasons why someone would click on your app. The title and the icon would be your first line of defense so the two should complement each other.

App Store Optimization: How the Top Apps Do It - Alpha Betty Saga
AlphaBetty is an excellent play on the word “alphabet”. It seems like they developed the gameplay around the title, creating eponymous characters Professor Alpha and Betty as the main protagonists together with a sidekick we will not name.


A catchy title can also help in the name recall. It could sound funny or weird that your audience can’t forget about it soon enough that it creates a buzz, gaining your app free advertisement.


App Store Optimization: How the Top Apps Do It - Plague Inc.
Plague Inc. provokes a certain reaction within the audience. There is an instant interest in the mechanics of the app. The app ranked number 1 for the keywords [plague], [disease] and [infect] among many other related words.

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Other examples are WhatsApp, Shazam, Dubsmash, aa, Zomato, Bloons, Geek-Smarter Shopping, and many more.


The subtle stuffing

Keyword stuffing is a no-no but it doesn’t mean that you can’t do it with style. You can use permutation and conjugation; this is so that your keywords will rank with every variation of the word.  This can be effectively used in the descriptions since there is more leeway in the number of words.


Let’s have a look at this app for example:

App Store Optimization: How the Top Apps Do It - Videoshop

Videoshop had been in and out of the top 500 overall ranking since 2013 but it seldom went below the top 500 overall in the photo and video category. Recently, it is constantly in the top 50-100 download ranks in popular countries.  It actually ranks for the keywords included in the title and description (iPhone data only); videoshop (rank 1), video (rank 10), videos (rank 15), editor (rank 13), and editing (rank 132).


App Store Optimization: How the Top Apps Do It - Pic Collage


This one would probably be banned in Google Play Store (it’s a June 2015 iOS version of the app) because of the keywords it uses. Even though the app isn’t really ranking for commonly searched terms like Youtube Videos, Maroon 5, Beats Music, Universal Pictures and Sara M. Lyons; this can still be considered keyword stuffing by the virtue of using these words as references. Be careful with this but Pic Collage actually used these keywords since they are relevant to the services offered by the app.


Who said that I can’t spell?

Of course, you can spell your keywords right but that won’t be the same keyword anymore! You can actually target a huge market by taking advantage of some searchers’ spelling shortcomings. A great example would be the developer Ahmed Ismail’s “Walkthrought”.

App Store Optimization: How the Top Apps Do It - Walkthrought


This is an ASO strategy in order to gain traction in a very competitive market. There are many cheats and walkthroughs out in the app store targeting keywords that are not used by competitors. Due to the “fat fingers” phenomenon, there are a lot of misspelled words that can be used as permutations of keywords. Ahmed’s keyword [walkthrought] ranked number 5 for iPhone and iPad until it reached rank 3 but only for one month (April 2015).

Another strategy is to make the app’s spelling distinctive or homonymous.  Examples include Swype, Joinz, Lyft and many more.


App Icons turned eye candy

Crossy Road – Endless Arcade Hopper’s top keyword is actually [chicken], you can tell why. App icons can create an impression that can stick into the audience’s mind that even if they can’t remember your app’s title, your app icon would represent your brand and market the product for you. Amidst many crossy road game apps, this one stands out because of the unique graphics that is well represented by its icon.


App Optimization: How the Top Apps Do It - Crossy Road
The “chicken” is actually just one of the many diverse characters of Crossy Road – Endless Arcade Hopper by the developer Hipster Whale.


App Store Optimization: How the Top Apps Do It - Clash of Clans
This guy looks persuasively intense.


App Store Optimization: How the Top Apps Do It - Five Nights at Freddy's 3
You can’t call this an eye candy but it’s quite eye catching.


App Store Optimization: How the Top Apps Do It - My Very Hungry Caterpillar
Some icons are intricate works of art.


App description that rocks

Why type when you can Swype? Right? Descriptions also need to be catchy but most importantly, informative of what the app is all about. The description length limit is 4,000 characters but most app description doesn’t reach the limit. Detailed overviews are often delegated to the release notes that are also limited to 4,000 characters. But probably the most important part of the description is the first 1,255 characters that are located in what is called “above the fold”.


App Store Optimization: How the Top Apps Do It - Waze
Providing solutions for common day-to-day problems can be a great selling point.


App Store Optimization: How the Top Apps Do It - Calorie Counter and Diet Tracker
“What is in for me?” and “Is there a better alternative?” are some of the questions that your description needs to answer.


App Store Optimization: How the Top Apps Do It - Billionaire
Catch your audience hook, line and sinker. Who doesn’t want to be a billionaire?


App Store Optimization: How the Top Apps Do It - Surgeon Simulator
Nothing draws more crowds than “massive sale” also, it sounds like so much fun.


App Store Optimization: How the Top Apps Do It - Subway Surfers
Make a call for action. This will give the impression that your app is engaging and exciting.


Bite-size app showcases


App screenshots

It is through screenshots that potential downloaders judge the quality of the app. But this can also be misleading. It’s not uncommon for some apps to show high-quality screenshots that don’t actually represent the actual graphics used in the gameplay.


App Store Optimization: How the Top Apps Do It - Monument Valley
Monument Valley’s screenshots are truly pieces of art. Aside from its breathtaking beauty, the screenshots are also of high quality and are suited for Retina display.
App Store Optimization: How the Top Apps Do It - Candy Crush Saga Screenshots
Texts can also help in showcasing the features or mechanics of the app especially if the screenshots aren’t self-explanatory.


App video preview

Video previews not only increase downloads but also ratings. Not all of your target audience would spare some time reading through descriptions; if they do, it might not be convincing enough. In this age of visual learning, anything short of high-quality video and graphics can stimulate your audience.

Sky Guide is a stargazing app and it did not fail to deliver in this video preview, showcasing the beauty of the universe.

You can use video previews to show actual gameplay and to further explain features.


Previews can also introduce a storyline that can make games more interesting.


Riding on a trending coattail


Banking on Hollywood

There is a trend wherein game themes are based on what is trending at the moment to ride into the popularity of the search keyword. A couple of these actually make it to the top, but most of the time it’s just until the trend wanes. Some of the common themes are from movies, pop culture subgenres, and controversial celebrities. Some examples include Kim Kardashian: Hollywood, Star Wars: Force Collection, and Despicable Me: Minion Rush among others.


“Emulating” established apps

Some apps, on the other hand, are based on other apps as a form of spoof or reskin. Examples are the many clones of Flappy Bird, Block City Wars – Mine Mini Game Edition based on the hit game Minecraft, and Crossy Roads based on the popular Frogger arcade game.


App Store Optimization: How the Top Apps Do It
Block City Wars actually ranks for the keyword [minecraft] and other Minecraft-related keywords.

Being indexed with the big brands

Apps for big online brands like Twitter, Instagram and Facebook do not only ride on the success of these companies but also on their names. Being indexed with these big names is almost like being on the first page of Google SERPs. Tweetbot 3 for Twitter actually ranks number 19 for the keyword and number 15 for the keyword [twitter] (both for iPhone (June 23, 20016).


Cross-promotion is the way to go

There are actually a couple of ways to cross-promote your app.


Using cross-promotion networks

Chartboost is a cross promotion network created by app developers. Here you can either promote your own apps or publish ads for advertising apps. Candy Crush, DirtyBit, and Rovio are just some of the developers that made testimonies about this network’s efficiency. Other alternatives are Playhaven, AppFlood and TapForTap.

Your apps promoting each other

There’s this handy icon at the upper right hand side of Candy Crush Saga that not only informs you of new games Candy Crush Soda Saga and Candy Crush Jelly Saga but also gives you a direct link towards the game if it’s already downloaded into your device; not to mention the animated ads at the lower right hand side of the screen promoting other King games.

App Store Optimization: How the Top Apps Do It - Candy Crush Saga Screen Grab

This is actually a nifty strategy. You aren’t just advertising your other apps but also convincing the downloader to patronize your brand.

App bundles

According to a report from App Annie in mid-2014, 98% of Google Play Store’s income comes from freemium apps. Convincing someone to buy your app needs a push in marketing but when they do buy your app and actually enjoy it, you can actually convince them to buy your other apps in bulk.

App Store Optimization: How the Top Apps Do It - Toca Toy Box

Toca Boca AB actually has a couple of bestselling apps. What they did in this bundle though was group the least popular apps with the most popular so that their exposure will increase, together with the downloads. And since you can save 40% in buying the bundled apps, it’s safe to say that one app is actually a giveaway, a good deal if you ask me.

Make the most out of your brand

Once you established both you and your app’s reputation in the app store, it’s easier to market consecutive apps – especially if it bears the trusted name with it.

Create sequels

Grand Theft Auto is quite a successful franchise. Rockstar Games made 26 apps out of this series and even has bundles.

App Store Optimization: How the Top Apps Do It - Grand Theft Auto
Grand Theft Auto’s mechanics and theme allow for almost infinite sequel options.

Expand your app monetization scheme

Aviary is a photo editing app acquired by Adobe.It  now extended its reaches beyond in-app purchases. Aviary now sells licenses for the incorporation of their UI in  apps. An app developer can download the Aviary SDK and become a “partner”.

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