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More than just Ranking — The Different Stages of App Store Optimization

Over the years, app stores have become the digital equivalent of supermarket shelves — an overload of orderly lined up, similar products fighting for your attention to free them from their monotonous live on the store rack. Consequently, app marketing, just like retail marketing, requires a comprehensive set of measures to ensure that your product is found, purchased and used.

The ever increasing challenge of having your app found in the app store maze gave breed to the discipline of App Store Optimization (ASO). Historically, the focus with ASO has been with optimizing your app’s keyword ranking to increase visibility in the store. While I believe that keyword optimization is very important, it only touches on an early phase in the ASO funnel. In order to take ASO initiatives to the next level it is important to look at the topic holistically and focus on additional steps in the user journey. The App Store Optimization Funnel below aims at doing so, by separating ASO initiatives into four accompanying stages. These stages will help you to structure ASO initiatives and break them down into concrete measures. Further, you can benefit from activities in the later stage of the funnel, which otherwise might would have been forgotten.

More than just Ranking — The Different Stages of App Store Optimization
Stages in the App Store Optimization Funnel

Below, I will introduce the different stages in more detail, explain the ASO measures related to them, and touch on the metrics to measure their success.

Discover

Before you can get prospects to download your app, they need to find it first. This is what the Discover stage is all about — making users spot your app.

  • Keyword Optimization: Make sure that you rank high for the most important search keywords related to your product and industry.
  • Category: Ranking in the Top 10 in an app store category can be a big help with discoverability. Consider picking a category that fits your product, but can also allow you to rank high amongst the most downloaded apps (example: For a media app you want to consider switching from the lifestyle category to the news category just because it is highly unlikely that you will ever see the downloads of Tinder, Amazon and other strong brands in this category)
  • Brand: People need to know your name. With all the focus around optimizing for keywords, do not underestimate the impact of direct search traffic for your brand. Try to be in the relevant set when a potential new user is in the app store browsing the digital aisles.
  • Downloads: Having a lot of downloads helps with getting even more of them. App Stores increase an app’s rank in search results and top lists when its popular. Boosting your app’s downloads (e.g. through user acquisition campaigns) will thus also help with discoverability.

KPI:

  1. App ranking for important keywords
  2. Visits to app store page. If you are running user acquisition campaigns make sure to subtract this paid traffic source as it did not result from discovering your app in the app store.

Download

Once users discovered your app you need to convince them to perform one (if not THE!), most valuable action: They need to hit that Download Button.

Convincing users to save your app on their device might sound easier than it is, considering that you often see a+50% drop-of-rate on the app store page, meaning that over half of the prospects that go to your app store page do not download the app. The following is what you can do about it:

  • Store Screens: Use store screens to convince users that your app is the right solution for their needs. This article gives some very good tips on how to do this: https://splitmetrics.com/blog/10-tips-on-designing-screenshots-that-convert/
  • Ratings: Just as on amazon, users are influenced by ratings. Having a low rating score gets you in danger of not being downloaded while a good store offers positive reassurance to users.
  • Store Text: Got some benefits that none of your competitors can match? Won an award recently? Reached a milestone in active users? All those things need to go into your store text to convince the user that its the right thing to download your app.

KPI: Downloads / Visits to app store page. This measure will help you analyze if you are improving in convincing prospects to download your app. For an unbiased view, subtract downloads and store visits from user acquisition campaigns as it usually behaves very different to organic and direct traffic sources.

Activate

In this stage the user has finally left the store and has unpacked your digital treat. Even though this user left the app store environment, there is plenty of opportunity to optimize for future prospects . Also, the lines between what is product strategy and what is ASO are starting to get blurry. Doing well in activating and onboarding a user is not just beneficial for achieving product related goals, but also has an impact on how your app performs in the store. The main goal in this stage is thus to:

  • Prevent high uninstall rates: One core metric for app stores to decide on an app’s ranking is uninstall rates (the lower the better).
  1. Make sure your product lives up to the expectations created by the app store material. There is a strong chance that users will abandon your app quickly, if you overpromised on benefits or promoted features that are not all the way there yet.
  2. Have a proper onboarding strategy that helps users find value in your app quickly.
  3. Set the user up for further activation triggers like push, email and engagement loops.

KPI: Activated New Monthly Users / Downloads. How you define “activated” depends on the nature of your product. Some categories, like news or games, see more frequent engagement than others. For most product categories, I see a number of 2–3 visits per month as the minimum threshold for defining an activated new user.

Support & Endorse

We are now at the very last stage: You successfully managed to have the new user spot your app in the store, convinced with your app store material and made a good initial impressions on the first app visits — what else is there that a user could do for ASO? A lot.

We are now getting into the art of guiding the user into performing certain actions that have positive impact on app store performance. This is where we see the lines with product strategy becoming even blurrier, yet fortunately still complimentary.

  • Get heavy users to rate your app: By asking heavy users for a review in the App Store you increase the chance of having a 4–5 star rating, consequently improving your performance in the Download-Phase of the ASO funnel.
  • Trigger app opens: How often an app is opened is another signal taken into consideration when your app store rank is computed. Having triggers in your product that get users into visiting your app more often, thus also help with improving how you do in the app store.
  • Be social: Try to have triggers in the app that encourage sharing. Every share from your app is a chance to let potential users know about your brand. High brand awareness will help you in the discovery phase since people will remember you. Examples are status updates (brags) from a running app that a user pushes to social media accounts or information about a nearby event that is shared via mail with a group of friends.
  • Optimize your upsell funnel: Get your users to buy things. There is a Ranking for top grossing apps and for some categories its pretty easy to climb up the ranks with only little revenue. This will help you in gaining additional visibility in the discovery phase.
  • Support your product portfolio: If you have more than one app, think about ways to cross promote these. Not only will this help with climbing App Store ranks through additional downloads, but also bring valuable new users who trust your brand and usually do not abandon the new app quickly (a double win in terms of app store ranking signals)

KPIs:

  • Monthly users who rated the app / Monthly active users
  • Shares / Monthly active user
  • Visits / Monthly Active User
  • Avg Revenue per User
  • Downloads of companion apps

This is the App Store Optimization Funnel

More than just Ranking — The Different Stages of App Store Optimization
Full Framework: Stages in the App Store Optimization Funnel

I hope that the four stages of the App Store Optimization Funnel will help you in planning and structuring your next ASO initiatives. Also, it hopefully pushes the idea of a more holistic and user focused view of ASO.





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