Pokémon GO could benefit from ASO

Pokémon GO’s New Update Isn’t Enough to Win Back Users

It has been a wild ride for Pokémon GO. The hit augmented reality game took the world by storm when it launched in July 2016, and it had become the fastest app to reach $600 million in revenue by mid October. But lately, the Top Charts page paints a picture of steep decline for the game. It is clear that Niantic will need to adjust its long-term strategy if it wants to retain legacy users while drawing in new players.

Pokémon GO launched at number one on both the Top Free Downloads chart and the Top Grossing chart. It enjoyed a healthy few months at the top of the latter, where it reigned over the likes of Clash Royale and Game of War. Through a combination of heavy social media presence and nostalgia, Pokémon GO was able to achieve one of the strongest mobile launches of all time.

Ultimately, though, the game was doomed to drop. Unlike many top-grossing apps, Pokémon GO did not utilize many common ASO standards, and failed to branch out into relevant feature-based terms. Instead, the app relied on brand name to cement its top spot.

While Pokémon GO is certainly a top ranking app and still sits on both the Top Free Downloads and Top Grossing charts, it has shown an inability to maintain the consistent top placement that apps from Supercell and other mobile titans seem to keep up so consistently.

Part of this is undeniably thanks to the game’s update structure. While games like Clash of Clans have a robust endgame that pushes users into unpredictable encounters with one another, Pokémon GO utilizes a shallow Gym system that doesn’t have a lot of room for upward mobility or meaningful high level play. The post-launch updates have been similarly anemic, with only a few new Pokémon coming to the game since launch and no significant new features to speak of.

But there’s more to the story than just a lack of meaningful endgame content. Poor discoverability has also hurt Pokémon, and the app has dropped nearly 70 spaces on the Top Free Downloads chart as a result. Users just aren’t discovering or returning to Pokémon GO in numbers like Temple Run, Toy Blast and other big-name mobile titles. A proper optimization would help the game court new and returning players by placing it in a far greater array of relevant App Store search results.

For evidence of Pokémon GO’s lack of optimization, look no further than its most recent update. A handful of new collectable Pokémon were added, and Apple even ran a feature for the game. Use of the game quickly returned to its lower numbers, though, and the app currently sits at rank 69 on the Top Free Downloads chart and rank 9 on the Top Grossing chart. That’s frankly not great for a top-selling game just after a major update.

Part of this issue may stem from conversion as well. Pokémon GO’s App Store listing has yet to update any of its screenshots to reflect the new features added since launch. Even if returning players do manage to find the app again in Search, their interest won’t be piqued because the creative has not evolved alongside the app itself.

Pokémon GO may have been a major hit, but its reliance on branding over ASO has caused the app to suffer in the mid term. This trend will only continue in the long run, unless Niantic begin to utilize common ASO practices to increase discoverability and conversion.

Super Mario Run launched for the App Store on December 15.

Super Mario Run ASO Report Card

Like Pokémon GO before it, Super Mario Run hit the App Store hard when it launched on December 15th and quickly rose to number one on the Top Grossing charts. The game’s whirlwind success is certainly worth celebrating, and shows the enduring strength of Nintendo’s key properties. But in a market dominated by King and Supercell, will Nintendo have the savvy to keep Mario on top?

That is the question we aim to answer with Super Mario Run’s first ASO report card. Nintendo is still new to the mobile market, after all, and they are facing off against companies that have had years of practice creating lasting brands in the App Store. Apple conferences and press tours have given Super Mario Run a fantastic start, but Nintendo also needs to consider the long tail profits of the app.

With that in mind, it’s important to first examine the history of Nintendo products in the App Store. While Mario might be the most prolific of Nintendo’s characters to enter the App Store, he isn’t the first. Nintendo launched Miitomo in North America on March 31, and the app peaked at number one on the App Store’s Top Free Downloads chart. The app never got so high on the Top Grossing chart, topping out at just under 100 before falling back off. Today, the app does not place on either of the two charts.

Perhaps a more immediate point of comparison, though, would be Pokémon GO. While not technically developed by Nintendo, the Pokémon brand is partially owned by the gaming giant, and Pikachu is considered one of Nintendo’s most recognizable mascots. The game also launched to a similar level of success as Super Mario Run, placing number one on both the Top Free Downloads and Top Grossing charts. It eventually went on to become the fastest mobile game to gross $600 million.

But again, the initial success of the app was not necessarily indicative of long-term legs. Pokémon GO currently sits at number six on the Top Grossing charts (certainly not a bad position, but still a steep drop from number one) and number 50 on the Top Free Downloads chart. Keep in mind this is just after the launch of new collectable Pokémon, a time when the user base should be expanding.

The quick success and sharp decline of Miitomo and Pokémon GO tell a story of big brands drawing mainstream attention, but a lack of long-term marketing coordination to keep those brands at the top. As we pointed out in a similar piece about Pokémon GO, these trends have a lot to do with the app’s keyword rankings.

Pokémon, for example, failed to pick up rankings for feature-related keywords like “RPG, collect, catch, raise”, etc. It even missed out on rankings for famous Pokémon like Mewtwo and Charmander. Its rankings for more generic terms like “Pokémon game” and “mobile games” were strong, but ultimately it failed to reach out to a wider audience by neglecting feature-based keywords that users might be searching for.

At this early stage, Super Mario Run looks to be following this trend closely. Take a look at a sample of its relatively limited rankings below.

Super Mario Run ASO rankings

Currently, the majority of Super Mario Run’s rankings revolve around the Mario franchise itself – See “Mario Games” and “Mario Bros” above. A few come from the company itself, like “Nintendo”. The app also ranks well for its major characters – “Mario” and “Luigi” are number one, and “Peach” is number 33.

But when it comes to genre or feature terms, there are many highly-searched areas that Super Mario Run leaves on the table. The app is unranked for very popular, relevant terms like:

  • Platformer
  • Runner
  • Running Game
  • Kingdom
  • Build
  • Collect
  • Multiplayer

The absence of rankings for Running-related terms is especially surprising given the “Run” in the game’s name. The app also fails to capitalize on its platforming gameplay, its asynchronous multiplayer mode, or its kingdom-building feature in its keyword bank. These are all popular search terms that would serve to expand the app’s search rankings and notify users of important features.

If Super Mario Run continues with its current rankings, it’s not hard to see the app following a similar path as Pokémon GO or Miitomo. All three launched at a high point, but have limited rankings that fail to capitalize on all the app’s features. Super Mario Run in particular may drop farther on the Top Grossing charts than Pokémon because of its in-app purchase structure – Mario only has a one-time in-app purchase of $9.99 to unlock the full game.

Ultimately, Super Mario Run fails to capitalize on its features and genre. A strong optimization could expand the app’s keywords to more relevant areas, ensuring that it maintains a high place on the charts and expands to an even wider audience.

App store services are on the rise

App Store Services & Subscriptions on the Rise

Subscription-based services are growing on the App Store, and Apple has made no secret of their wish for more developers to start offering them. In an October earnings call, CEO Tim Cook detailed the company’s record-breaking Services growth in the fourth quarter front and center.

“We’re thrilled with the customer response to iPhone 7, iPhone 7 Plus and Apple Watch Series 2, as well as the incredible momentum of our Services business, where revenue grew 24 percent to set another all-time record.”

Those Service revenues contributed to “a new record [in operating cash flow] for the September quarter” according to CFO Luca Maestri.

In other words, App Store Services are here to stay, and they’re only going to become more commonplace as the market matures.

The success of Services on the App Store has already led Apple to incentivize their inclusion in apps. Earlier this year, Apple announced they would begin taking a smaller revenue split from Service subscriptions as long as customers maintained their subscription for over a year. After one year of consistent subscription, the traditional 70-30 revenue split will lower to 85-15, incentivizing more developers to offer quality subscriptions through their apps.

Some developers are already taking advantage of the change. Major services like Netflix and Spotify are no doubt anticipating the benefits of a massive increase in revenue from a loyal subscriber base.

However, subscriptions are no longer limited to services. Just look at Supercell’s Extra Builders service for Boom Beach. To quote their app description as of this writing, “Extra Builders is a monthly subscription service that allows you to build or upgrade two buildings at the same time. Extra Builders cost 2.99 USD/month (or local equivalent”.

At a low cost of $2.99/month, it’s a relatively harmless buy for hardcore fans of the game that offers a real, tangible in-game benefit. Expect to see much more of this spreading to games in the future as developers attempt to incentivize users to start up a subscription in addition to (or even in place of) paying for individual in-app purchases.

It’s not hard to see subscription-based shopping networks, dating apps and other services flourishing as Apple continues to incentivize subscription purchases, too.

As the App Store continues to mature, consider the market your app services and how your app can best approach monetization. If a subscription makes sense for your app, it could open you up to a growing new alternate revenue source.

App Store Search Ads are a great complement to your ASO strategy

How Search Ads and ASO Go Hand-in-Hand

Apple launched their Search Ads initiative just over two months ago, taking the world of App Store developers by storm. Many developers feared that these new ads, placed prominently at the top of search results, would nullify or somehow contradict the ASO work they had already done. In fact, the opposite is true – ASO and Search Ads go hand-in-hand.

To understand how best to incorporate Search Ads into your existing ASO strategy, you must first look at how the ads work and what Apple wants to achieve with them.

Why Search Ads?

When the App Store’s title limit was 255 characters, thousands of spammy apps cluttered the store. These apps crammed keyword after keyword into their titles and descriptions, attempting to manipulate Apple’s rankings system by targeting often-irrelevant high-volume phrases. These apps weren’t just sloppy, they looked sloppy on the storefront, too. It was the opposite of Apple’s clean, sleek aesthetic.

By removing apps with titles longer than 50 characters and introducing Search Ads, Apple has forced spammy developers to clean up or leave the App Store, without denying legitimate developers a way to increase their rankings in the absence of a long title field.

This motivation extends out past Search Ads. Everything Apple does in the App Store, they do to create a more streamlined, friendly experience for users.

How ASO Can Help

That said, Search Ads on the App Store work a little differently than other keyword-based ad platforms. While many ad platforms award placement to the highest bidder, Apple also takes an app’s relevancy into account. It is incredibly difficult to have your app featured number one in a Search Ad for a term it is completely irrelevant for.

This comes from the same philosophy that led Apple to remove long titles from the App Store. For Apple it’s all about user experience, and that means for Search Ads it’s all about relevancy. If your app isn’t relevant for a keyword, you won’t have any luck targeting it in an ad.

ASO is all about creating that type of relevancy. A standard keyword optimization always takes into account which words and phrases your app is relevant for, and which of those phrases are being searched most by users. ASO then becomes all about selling Apple on the relevance of your app to those phrases.

A similar process can be used to create relevancy for keywords that you wish to target in Search Ads. It’s all about creating context for why your app is relevant for the terms you wish to target.

Because a standard optimization already creates relevance, and App Store Search Ads require and thrive off of that relevance, ASO and Search Ads work together to bolster one another. It’s just another way in which all mobile marketing is beginning to center around ASO.

Apple's Holiday App Store Promo

Holiday App Store Optimization – Capitalizing on the Rush

The holidays are almost here, and the influx of new phones, tablets and gift cards that comes along with them will undoubtedly bring a wave of revenue to the App Store and Google Play. Whether or not last year’s record-breaking $1.1 billion in App Store spending can be beat remains to be seen, but regardless app developers would be wise to plan ahead for the holiday season.

A well-optimized app needs only a quick update to position itself strongly for the holidays. New creative assets, keywords and a blurb in the description can be enough to capitalize on holiday attention for an app that already has a dedicated fan base.

But what about apps that have yet to be optimized? The influx of users that occurs each holiday season can only be fully capitalized upon if your app is appropriately optimized. A strong optimization will increase the number of search terms your app ranks for, and during the vital holiday season, this change alone can make a huge difference.

On Apple, that means tailoring your title, keywords and description towards your target audience. Your app’s title should be descriptive and to the point, with a subtitle utilizing highly searched terms to flesh out your rankings and quickly explain your app to users. You only have 50 characters to work with, so be certain to focus on words that will improve your rankings. You want to target the most popular searches in the App Store while describing your app’s features at the same time.

Your keyword bank is where you have more room to experiment. Of course, you will still want to use highly searched words in your keyword bank, as these have more potential for putting your app in front of the most users. Focus on words that are relevant for your app and searched the most by users. You may also target competitor apps in your keyword bank, but be careful in doing so – many apps in the store target competitors in their title and keyword bank, but only a few are deemed relevant by Apple. In order to be deemed relevant, your app must have notable similarities to its competitor, and you must position your app’s description in a way such that those similarities seem reasonable. Smaller companies often have difficulty landing large competitors, too, so watch out for that.

On Google Play, optimizing your app works a little differently. Your app’s title is still important, but most notably, you don’t have a keyword bank to work with. Instead, Google crawls your app’s description for words that may be relevant to your app. Words that are placed at the front of sentences, or grouped together near similar words, are deemed especially important. That means the best way to optimize your app on Google Play is to create a description that features a bulleted feature list, almost like an outline, that details like features together with one another.

Another important element of a Google Play optimization is your app’s Short Description. This is an 80-character field that exists to give users a clear, concise description of your app. The words placed here are especially important for establishing rankings and guiding users to your app’s most important features.

By optimizing your app separately for each storefront, you can capitalize on the unique searches and trends that occur in each. And during the holiday season, with potentially over $1 billion being spent over just a few weeks, a strong optimization is more important than ever. If your app hasn’t been optimized yet, now is a great time to start.