How to Kick App & Take Names: App Store Optimization

Help your audience find and want to install your app.

I’ve been building online and mobile games for about 14 years. I am not AN EXPERT, but I know a lot about some things.

And when it comes to apps, you never know everything. The devices change. The hardware tech changes. The software is constantly being updated. Algorithms can be as malleable as the wind.

Google and Apple are the masters of your destiny.

That last bit isn’t really the case. It can seem like it but think of those behemoths as the wild horses you have to tame. They represent all of the power and utility you want and need to grow a successful business or product, but that won’t happen if you just try to sneak up on them and jump on their backs and ride them off into the sunset.

You’ll just be thrown off and bust your ass.

App, that is.

Rather than rail off an unending parade of paragraphs, I’ll break some of what I’ve learned into a list format. That’s more user-friendly, anyway (free bonus tip).

In other words, you’ll never get a second chance to give a first impression.

Cliches are the best, aren’t they?

Your icon, your screenshots, even the way your description text looks (before a user even reads a single word) has great influence. Look through the top 50 apps in both Google Play and the Apple App Store, find the ones that have been there for months, and see just how much BETTER they all look compared to the majority of the other 2 million + apps you can find.

Do what they do.

You should show users what they will ACTUALLY find when they open your app, not Photoshop-doctored splash images.

Invest some time into creating an eye-catching, artful icon.

A video of your app in action is worth dozens of photos and thousands of words of description. Use a video. Or two.

ASO, App Store Optimization, the younger cousin of SEO, the arch-nemesis to many who have toiled in the trenches of the world wide web for decades.

A lot of this happens after your app has been around for a while, as long as you’ve been working hard to promote it and please your users.

Your ranking improves with every good review and download. It improves as your revenue climbs. Mentions on social media, especially for Android apps, increase ranking. The percentage of users who actually USE your app rather than just “installing and forgetting” affects your rank.

And just as with good SEO, much of the same goes for good ASO: use relevant keywords and backlinks. Use strong keywords that your intended users would be searching for. This is something you should know before you build your app in the first place.

By any means, you can imagine.

Obviously, avoid threats of bodily harm.

A hundred honest reviews from real users are far better than ten five-stars “I loved it.” reviews from your friends.

The best way is to simply ask in your app for a review.

And look for influencers related to your app’s audience on social media, send them an earnest request to review your app. At worst, they won’t respond. And if you have an interesting app that looks good in the app store, and you send this request out to as many influencers as you can find, chances are SOMEONE will at the very least install and check it out.

This, right here, is the secret sauce to good, sticky apps that users actually enjoy spending time in.

And the primary tool for achieving an optimized result with any software product, not just with apps, is the tried-and-true A/B test. Pick any one part of your app that you suspect may not be good enough, or that you KNOW isn’t good enough because users are complaining about it, and then devise a simple test to see if you can make it better.

The real trick to this is that you don’t stop there. Not with one test. Not with two. Not with three.

You do this over and over again. Build. Test. Integrate the best. Build. Test. Integrate the best. Ad infinitum.

This is (roughly) what evolution did to make us humans so darn good at, well, dominating all other forms of life on Earth. And you are the master of your app’s evolution. If you cease evolving it, it ceases getting better. And wherever that happens, at whatever point your app is in its “life journey”, that is where it will stay. Frozen in time.

If you keep making it better, those KPIs like installs, revenue, and reviews will continue to improve as well.

If you are having trouble gaining traction in your home market, try contacting outlets for PR in other countries where your app has users. This might not necessarily get you a ton of revenue, but it can get you a lot of installs and reviews you otherwise might not have gotten, which in turn will improve your ranking.

Devise some unique promotions. Not just limited-time sales or bonus packages, but partnerships with other brands that have some (buzz-word incoming!) synergy with your app. A fitness app is a perfect example: Find a brand of fitness wear or a supplement maker and join forces with them.

Create your own “commercial” for your app, post it on YouTube or Vimeo and link the whole world to it on social media. Make your app look like the best thing to ever happen to whatever problem you’re trying to solve or whatever audience you want to entertain.

Very, very rarely does an app ever take off without the above, unless it’s launched by a major brand that already has a huge audience.

Get to work.

Startup product manager. Sci fi, Fantasy and Science writer.

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A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store