Five app store optimisation techniques we used to generate 400,000 downloads – StartupSmart

App store optimisation (ASO) is a practice to improve your app store ranking. It’s SEO for mobile apps.


Here are our top five ASO techniques we used to generate over 400,000 downloads on iOS and Google Play for our startup Native Tongue.


1. Make incremental changes to your app description


For our app description, we aim to make one change at a time or a limited set of changes that support one hypothesis, which we can track. This can involve adding or editing one line, several lines or a paragraph in the app description. We also keep previous drafts of the app store copy so it can be compared.


After changing the app store description, the next step is to track the ranking on the app store for keywords and downloads. We will manually track the rank in the app store position on a daily basis for specific keywords in a spreadsheet. Now there are tools which do this, such as App Annie’s ASO keyword feature.


By making incremental changes we can understand the impact. If the change caused the app to fall in its rank, the changes can be rolled back. If the change caused the app to rise, then we can understand what worked and continue with more changes. We use the lean startup methodology of hypothesize-implement-measure cycle for not just the app description but also our app marketing, app development, and design.


2. Choose relevant keywords


Customers will search on the app store using search terms, so it is important that we choose relevant keywords for our app. We consider the relevancy, search volume, and the difficulty for ranking for those search terms. You may be able to rank very highly for a niche keyword but there may not be a great volume of searches. Conversely, a search term which has a lot of volume may be hard to rank given the number of competing apps. Tools such as Sensor Tower provide keyword rankings, keyword optimisation and can compare keywords in competitor’s apps.


We also find out what keywords our customers are using. One way to do this is by asking customers that make enquiries how they discovered your app and what search terms they used. We discovered through this process that our customers were searching for “Learn Mandarin”, “Chinese vocabulary game”, and “Learn Chinese”. So the app was optimised for these terms by including them in the app description, app name and keywords.


3. Ask engaged users to leave a review

When we have more app reviews and ratings, particularly 4 or 5 star ratings, our app would increase in its ranking. To date, our apps have an average rating of 4 or more stars on Android and iOS. We targeted customers that enjoyed using our app. So we asked them to leave a review after they have opened our app 10 times. A customer that has used our app at least 10 times is probably engaged and likes using our app.


Ideally, you should ask a customer that is engaged and happy to leave a review. This could be after progressing several stages, achieving specific milestones or after a certain number of plays. A positive review isn’t solely based on asking engaged users, you also need to have a quality app.


4. Impressive annotated screenshots


A decision to download an app can be made in a few seconds of seeing the app screenshots. Customers can skip the app store description entirely and go straight to the screenshots. So it is important to show the best visuals for your app.


We annotate the screenshots with the features or benefits of using the app. Our screenshots tell a story and excite the customer by annotating each screenshot. The annotated text shown is “Fun Arcade Style Gameplay!”, “3 stages and 41 levels!”, “Unlock bonus levels!”. We also constantly iterate on the screenshots by making changes to the text and the screenshots shown.


5. Launch and make changes on Google Play first


On iOS (Apple), you can be waiting for approval for four days or longer depending if your app gets rejected. On iOS you are also limited in changing your app screenshots, keywords, and app icon with every app update. Google Play (Android) has an advantage as there is no approval process and your app can be available in the app store on the same day of submitting. You can also change the icon, screenshots and marketing assets at any time.

By launching our apps on Google Play first, we can understand how customers will use it and improve the app based on feedback. We also make ASO changes on Google Play first. Based on our learnings on Google Play, this is then replicated on the iOS store.


For more ASO tips, see this presentation on “Advanced App Store Optimisation Tips and Tactics”.


Matthew Ho is head of product development at Tapmint, a consultancy that provides mobile app marketing, design and development services.

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