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.
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.
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:
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.
Looking at the top apps in the store, not only overall but by category or niche and a few trends for naming appear:
the stronger the brand, the less emphasis put on using target search phrases (keywords) in the app name/title
many top apps include a very specific search phrase as the tagline
Where You Want to Be
Ultimately, you want to be in a space that is automatically self-descriptive with your audience and needs no further expansion or explanation.
Facebook or Starbucks would be good examples of this state of wide public awareness. There may well have been a time when it was necessary to explain that Starbucks sold coffee, but it is no longer the case. People hear “Starbucks” and they are fully aware of all the necessary connotations. The brand has victoriously engulfed the product it represents.
Starbucks and Facebook are ubiquitous, but your app only needs to carve out a space in the niche you are targeting.
Consider EasyUp. Easy to remember, easy to tell a friend, easy to spell, and broadly describes the function – without requiring searching for “upload images from camera roll to snapchat”.
How Your App Marketing Strategy Gets You There
Some app marketers are clearly working to establish iconic status for their clients, so that they can gain the coveted position of being simply a name.
Others are supporting a brand with a tagline that helps them to be discovered in search – which we strongly recommend!
Looking at some recently touted music apps by way of example, TIDAL has elected to go with a strictly branded approach as its format.
While competitors such as Spotify and Pandora have both chosen to more-directly categorize themselves by making sure that the customer knows these are music apps.
What TIDAL may gain in having a ultra-simple app name, they lose loads of potential organic traffic that instead is split among the music app optimized for music-related search.
Not All Apps are Marketed Equally
While music app marketers have a wholesale product to sell—music created by all sorts of other people—game developers have a retail product of their own creation to bring to market.
This results in campaigns that are designed to make a more specific pitch to the public.
Mobile games like Boom Beach or Mobile Strike are almost completely self-descriptive in a way that serves as an overt campaign for its potential audience.
The intent here is not to establish the creator/publisher as a brand but for the creation to be able to stand on its own.
It is highly likely that most players of the various mobile game apps are rather unfamiliar with the entities which created those games.
Compare that approach with King – the makers of the Candy Crush series of apps. Candy Crush achieved iconic status, and the creators quickly sprung into action to offer a series of follow-up apps that are tightly bound to the original tentpole entry.
Everyone Can Play the Game
Of course, imitation has always been part of the marketing world.
Not only does an Angry Birds spawn Angrier Birds, but it also midwives a host of emulators that will take every possible detour off the now-established brand name.
An app that aims to confuse or misrepresent itself using another’s brand name will get denied and may even impact the publisher account – but apps that supplement or complement other popular services would do well to mention them by name in the app name/title.
In summary, there are basically three common approaches to naming an app:
Establish an iconic identity that supersedes the actual product on offer.
Buttress an intended iconic identity with succinct descriptive commentary.
Play off of another iconic identity in hopes of capitalizing upon the reflected glow of success.
When considering app store optimization, the second and third options have the biggest impact on indexing and ranking, but it can be helpful to step back and see what other apps are doing with success in the app stores.
A modern strategy of content marketing is investing in one great piece of content per week or month rather than posting daily articles targeting keywords. There is so much content being pushed on blogs and social media properties that to be discovered, read, shared, used – the content needs to be the best post for a given topic.
For example, Gummicube saw that most app store optimization guides were either lacking, incomplete or inconsistent with what we were seeing in the app stores with our clients. We thought we could build the best ASO guide and did.
This ASO Guide serves as a primary piece of “cornerstone content” for Gummicube and helps both introduce and educate clients and prospects.
(For those wondering, this approach is called the SkyScraper technique among other names.)
What does this have to do with apps?
Well – the same is true in the app stores. There are millions of apps available for download, how does your app find its way to the top of an app store category or relevant search results (without buying installs)?
Step 1 – Build the Best App for the Specific, Targeted Features
Your app needs to be the best option for the features, benefits, and solutions your app provides.
A narrow focus delivered beautifully is often better than mediocre at everything. The best “photo-editing app, using stickers and posting to Instagram” is better than the 50th best photo-editing app.
You likely already know the specific, differentiating features of your mobile app(s). You probably already know how they stack up vs the competition in the app stores. Before deciding to add new features – take a hard look at how your app converts app store views to installs and users.
If app store rankings are poor, it may be your app isn’t the best option for potential users. This ultimately results in low conversions and signals the app store algorithms that your app is not a good result for that search.
Step 2 – Invest in On-going App Listing Optimization
Feeling good about the benefits your app provides, and is the best option for a specific feature set?
Time to make sure every relevant search has a chance to see the magic you are providing in app form.
There are essentially two parts to the app store ranking algorithm:
how an app is indexed
where it ranks
Apple and Google don’t share the specifics of how their respective algorithms work. In fact, they often make changes without providing guidance.
This is very different than how Google manages web indexing and ranking of websites, often sharing details of expected changes to their algorithm months in advance and even naming the change or addition (Penguin, Panda etc..).
What an app is indexed for is driven a great deal by the app store listing. The words and phrases used in the app title, descriptions and Apple-only “Keywords” field gives Apple and Google an idea of what your app is about and its features.
Because app listing fields have character limitations, building an optimized app listing requires finding the most relevant words to describe the app’s key features.
Rarely are the best combination of keywords and phrases discovered in the first attempt, but rather continually and incrementally improved upon over time, with small adjustments made to changing market sentiments after a proven app listing foundation has been established.
Invest in the process, as organic traffic received as the result of an optimized app listing not only provides the foundation for the rest of your app marketing efforts, but is also much less expensive than paying for installs in the short and long-term.
Step 3 – Improve Retention and Engagement
For websites – terms like “bounce rates” and “time on page” (or “session length”) hold special meaning to web marketers/SEOs.
High bounce rates or low session lengths signal to Google that a user clicked a link in the search results, didn’t find what they wanted or didn’t continue to engage with the content.
How a site performs relative to other sites in the search results impacts where Google ranks the website in future searches.
While how users search the app stores is dramatically different than how they search the web (and what they expect in results), these concepts apply to mobile apps as well. Specifically, the signals conversion rates, retention (deleting the app after x days) and engagement (number and length of sessions) send to the app stores.
Improving retention and engagement will not only improve user LTV but your app store rankings as well.
There are several strategies outside the scope of this post, including notifications, gamification, social sharing and a great UI.
Step 4 – Use Your Data
Compared to web analytics, implementing and working with mobile analytics is a bit more challenging. For websites, add a code to your home page and the Google spider will index all of your pages and provide all sorts of data.
With mobile apps, every screen (or state) and button must contain an event in order to be tracked.
Encouraging app ratings and reviews, creating incentives to share your app and developing channels for user acquisition and engagement outside of the app can have an impact as well, but starting with the above 4 steps will provide the foundation to make incremental improvements that have a lasting effect.
Small, seemingly insignificant monthly improvements of only 5-7% each month result in a doubling after 12 months. That is – 5% better conversion, 5% better visibility, 5% better retention.
A focus on the above steps is more likely to result in monthly improvements of 20% or more, providing significant ROI and creating a long-term competitive position for your app.
Acquiring users for your mobile app organically starts with being ranked in the app stores for relevant search terms.
Rankings are established by the app store listing, as well as by several app performance metrics.
For example, an app listing that is optimized for travel deals might have great search term coverage, but the icon and screenshots are bad or confusing leading to low conversions. Of these low conversions, users don’t rate or review the app, or open it once and forget about it or delete it. Not good for rankings.
Organic users are acquired in the app stores by addressing the following:
app store visibility
conversion from app store view to install
engagement and retention
ratings and reviews
Let’s take a look at 8 ASO tools that help us address each of these areas.
App Store Visibility
All of the elements for ranking in the app stores and acquiring users work together, but app store visibly starts with app listing metadata and the words and phrases that are targeted.
Relevance is better than a “wide net”, modifiers can be helpful (free, new) but the key is tapping into and understanding how your target market is searching the app store for your app.
The two main tools for understanding how your target market searches for your app or similar apps are app store intelligence software like Datacube from Gummicube and focus groups.
Datacube is the software we use to collect and analyze proprietary app store data, and build app store optimization plans for our clients.
The main thing to look for when evaluating app store intelligence software or services is where the data comes from. Many tools use Google’s web search API as a proxy for app store search. The way people search the web is very different than how they search the app stores – so use a tool that is built on actual app store data like Datacube from Gummicube.
Focus groups are a tool that provides very specific feedback from a defined, target audience as to how they would search for an app given a set of features or benefits.
Using a focus group at the start of an optimization campaign to uncover terms and phrases used by your target audience can pay dividends in relevant search term coverage that your competitors are missing.
App Store Conversion
Your app has good, relevant search coverage but if it doesn’t convert at a rate expected for its ranking – your app’s ranking for that specific term will drop.
Alternatively, if your app converts better than expected given the ranking – it signals to the app stores that searchers find your app as a relevant and attractive result for that term- lifting your app up the results list
Design elements make up most of an app listing in search results. The icon and screenshots and even order of the screenshots have shown to have a huge impact on conversion rates.
For that reason, the tools we recommend for maximizing app conversion rates are focused on getting qualitative and quantitative feedback on the app listing’s graphics.
Different designs, screenshot order, icons and videos can be tested on a portion of live traffic by geo, until a statistically significant winner is reached. Even improvements on conversions of only 5% a month can lead to an almost doubling of installs after 12 months.
When first marketing an app, and before publishing in the app stores, learning from your target audience what they think about a design or their impressions beyond just the data provides insights and a direction that can then be tested on live app store traffic.
Engagement and Retention
There are several ways to measure engagement and retention. Number of sessions, session length, do users keep the app installed etc..
The primary focus of optimizing engagement and retention should be on maximizing lifetime value (LTV) however you decide to measure that. An increase in any of the above metrics will likely help your app store ranking.
Two of the best tools outside of app design, gamification and other elements of the app itself are notifications and deep linking or app indexing.
Notifications are sometimes referred to as push or local, depending on where the notification is triggered – but the impact is largely the same. Apps like Farmville and Candy Crush set the standard with notifications triggered by the end of a loop (the carrots are ready to be picked) or when you had “earned” new lives to continue playing.
Opened at a rate more than twice that of emails, notifications are a great tool for reminding users to come back to your app, in a short format they can immediately take action on or ignore.
App indexing and deep linking are closely related but the most relevant for this post is the indexing on in-app content for web search, Google Now and Apple Spotlight search.
App indexing allows app publishers to both tag web content that also is available in their mobile app, and add metadata to in-app content for visibility in Google Now and Spotlight.
A simple example is your recipe app has been installed, a user then uses Spotlight/Google Now/ Safari/Google for a taco recipe, your taco recipe is at the top of the list with a “link” directly to the content within your app.
Ratings and Reviews
The process for acquiring ratings and users from users is not great. App publishers cannot incentivize reviews in any way, and any request for a review means taking a user away from your app into the app store.
A report from Soomla showed across apps they tracked, the review rate for apps was consistent across geos – and it was consistently terrible – with roughly .5% of users globally taking the time to rate or review an app.
A general rule of thumb has traditionally been 1 in 1000 – so I guess things are looking up?
Hopefully Apple and Google will continue to put a greater emphasis on the actions users take (engagement and retention above) with apps vs some very small percent who take the time to submit a review.
That said, there are a few tools to help app publishers minimize bad reviews and prompt users to take the time to rate and review.
Apptentive is a complete in-app feedback system, with a primary feature being user rating and review prompts. One of the best ways to acquire user ratings is 1) to ask for them 2) at the right time 3) and funnel customer service issues away from the app store review system and to your service team.
Crashlytics is a crash and bug reporting tool acquired by Twitter and integrated into their Fabric app development suite. The best way to avoid bad reviews is to have app that doesn’t crash!
There you have it, 8 tools to help with your app store optimization and mobile app promotion.
The on-going use of these tools to impact visibility, conversion, retention and ratings will have a positive impact on rankings and ultimately on installs and organically acquired users.