There are some 4 million mobile apps in the major app stores. Getting one discovered is one of the biggest challenges facing app publishers today.
I learned this the hard way. In November 2013, my company launched a gay dating and social networking app. My team members and I poured our hearts into this startup only to bring it to the verge of collapse shortly after its release because of a common rookie mistake: We had submitted it to the app store and thought our job was done. It was only a matter of time before we’d be swimming in downloads – or so we thought.
You can guess what happened next: not much.
The situation was dire. We had almost no downloads and our user base was shrinking every day. The app didn’t have any working marketing channels and Facebook had just banned ads related to online dating services. It got to the point where we decided that if we couldn’t find a buyer within six months, we’d pull the plug.
Thankfully, we brought in an expert growth strategist who was quick to explain that we couldn’t rely on Apple to bring in users and had to focus on ASO.
Five years ago, an Apple App Store release virtually guaranteed hundreds, if not thousands, of downloads within the first week. Times have changed, though, and startups must now actively work to secure their own steady user base.
That means app store optimization. The basic philosophy behind ASO dictates that you need to optimize your app through keywords in the title and description to get it to stand out in the overcrowded app store. Search results are paramount here; a high ranking on an app store search will likely lead to a boost in potential customer traffic and ultimately downloads.
There are many factors influencing the ASO ranking, but the most important are the number of downloads of your current version, positive reviews of users, keywords in your title and keyword section, high engagement of user in your app and your developer account authority.
Focus on metadata, such as having the app's title, keywords, and description properly set up. Due to the difference in search algorithms, you need a separate look for Google Play and Apple App Store. We sometimes use A/B testing experiment to see how people respond to different visuals and titles. Apple's App Store lets you have a long title, which is nice; Google Play titles must be shorter. Apple does a rating refresh when you put out a new version, so always solicit user feedback if you publish an app update.
Finally, to boost your app's growth, you also need to keep app localization in mind. If you want to attract international users, you need to find native speakers who can help you get the right title, keywords, and description.
ASO Is Only Part Of The Solution
Now, our app ranks No. 1 for the keywords “gay dating.” ASO has helped boost its organic downloads by about 300%. The app is poised to hit a $1 million annual run rate by the end of the year and is on track to pull in $10 million by 2018.
While ASO has undoubtedly played a large part in our app's turnaround, it wasn’t the only factor. We credit a stellar customer support system which helps drive five-star reviews on the Apple App Store and Google Play. In addition to a Twitter campaign and paid acquisition, we also partnered with a YouTube star to create videos; the first one was viewed more than 400,000 times and led to more than 15,000 downloads, which drove the cost per download to less than $1.
As our experience illustrates, there are many ways to resuscitate a failing app. But ASO should always be your first go-to solution. Once you’ve established a growing user base, then you can start exploring paid acquisition.
And keep in mind that while ASO is becoming a part of startups’ marketing strategies, the field is evolving. The landscape changes every few months. But, keep up with it and with any luck, you and your app will live happily ever after.
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