Optimizing for the App Store & Beyond

Optimizing mobile applications ensures that these important digital assets can be discovered by potential users.

This process, however, can be as complicated as optimizing a website for the search results - something SEO professionals have spent more than a decade working on. Not only must today's brands focus on delivering exceptional experiences, but they must also take several other steps to help users find their assets - on the app store and beyond.

Most end-users discover new apps through the app stores, of course, so the attention of marketing optimization professionals must first be focused on these platforms (Apple's App Store and the Google Play Store, specifically). What factors and elements should be considered and optimized for those looking to generate more awareness for their application?

A failure in understanding who the application is intended for is perhaps the primary reason that most app store optimization (ASO) initiatives fail. Those responsible for ensuring their mobile apps top the results page should concentrate their efforts first on formulating a clear picture of the target user, the possible motivation for using the app and the language they use to describe it. From here, everything else can fall into place.

COMPETITIVE RESEARCH: It is quite unlikely that an app - however innovative - will be the only application in its category; there are likely many others. Understanding the competitive advantage of the app being optimized, how other apps currently rank and possible opportunities for ranking are an essential practice within app store optimization.

A research study from TUNE last year found that of the top 25 ranking positions, apps with a relevant keyword in their title, on average, ranked 10.3 percent higher than apps without a title keyword. Pretty simple, right?

KEYWORDS: Consumers leverage keywords to help identify mobile apps, but each app marketplace has a different way to support their behavior. The App Store (for Apple/iOS) uses a 100-character keyword field, while the Play Store (Google) scans app descriptions for relevant keywords.

DESCRIPTIONS: Concentrating efforts on the quality of an application's description is one of the best uses of time for an ASO initiative. Develop a description targeted to the audience, address the gaps of competitors, and, of course, include keywords that provides optimizers with increased confidence that users will find their application when searching.

VISUAL ASSETS: While there is little evidence that the inclusion of visual assets (images, videos) play a direct role in ranking mobile applications on the app stores, they do certainly influence engagement. Interactions can in turn impact where developers' apps show up on the search results, so focus on developing visual assets that spark engagement.

Just as interaction is said to influence position on the search results of app stores, so do user ratings and feedback. Mobile apps with a large volume of positive ratings, a consistent flow of positive reviews and a strong average rating are strong determinants of ranking well on app stores.

Beyond the App Stores
ASO requires a strong understanding of not just the ranking algorithms being used by app stores, but also the data being used by consumers to locate and identify the right apps for their wants and needs. Increasingly, however, consumers are finding applications targeted to them without ever visiting an app store. Applications are regularly advertised through mobile channels like Facebook and Instagram and are even being indexed by at least one search engine - Google.

In fact, it is now estimated that upward of 40 percent of all searches are turning app indexed results. The digital world is obviously quite mobile, so how can those responsible for generating more exposure (and, of course, downloads) develop a presence that can be indexed?

In the past, ensuring mobile content (be it on a mobile website or in a mobile app) was accessible required separate URLs for desktop and mobile content and apps. Today, those responsible for such initiatives must ensure they are correctly implementing what is known as deep linking (e.g., linking to a particular screen within an app) for apps that have comparable Web page content, to allow for the app content to rank in mobile search.

Implementing deep linking can be a rather cumbersome technical project (review a detailed guide to implementation at wsm.co/deeplinknow), but the benefits of doing so are many for brands developing Android and iOS apps.

In the case of Android apps specifically the benefits are twofold; users searching on an Android device who have not yet installed an app will see the app show up in mobile search results; and Android users who do have the app installed will get query auto completions when they use browser search, which can include results from an app as well as seeing enhanced display elements in the SERP (such as the app icon).

Once set up, Google can crawl through app content and present the Android app as a destination to users through its search results, when that content corresponds to a Web page that is owned by the brand. It is a mobile world and that means brands that take app store optimization efforts as seriously as their organic app content indexing are those that will be best positioned in the future to capture attention, clicks and engagement from end-users.

Google Penalizes Poor App Performers
Google is reportedly rolling out a change to its Play Store so that apps which experience fewer crashes and do not drain smartphone batteries will be ranked higher than apps that do have such  reviewsperformance issues. The company obviously has a vested interest in ensuring that lackluster applications are downranked and that the best receive more exposure as it can lead to increased app usage and engagement (and revenue). Google did not provide much in the way of specifics, but is likely exploring the use of various quality signals to determine the ranking.

In addition to crashes and battery usage, Google could consider a number of other variables including the number of uninstalls (or the time from initial download to uninstall) or the number of negative (i.e., one-star) reviews. The reason for the ranking change came, according to Google, after it realized that approximately half of the one-star reviews on the Google Play Store were related to app stability issues. There are well over 1 million apps on the Play Store currently.