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8 ASO Tools to Help You Promote Your App

8 ASO Tools to Help You Promote 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.

Datacube-example

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.

apple-app-search-results

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.

A/B Testing or multivariate testing of icons and screenshots is only supported in Google Play - but can be used to influence decisions across your app store listings.

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.

Focus groups provide data that no amount of multivariate (or A/B testing) can – and that’s qualitative feedback.  Test a wide range of icon and screenshot ideas with a focus group and you will learn not only which icons or screenshots converted best, resonated best or were prefered, but also why.

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.

Source: Apptentive
Source: Apptentive

 

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.

App Promotion

App Promotion Tips and Trends

As users have flocked to mobile and mobile apps, the number of apps have exploded.

Sure – there are tons of silly apps, “reskinned” apps and other apps with very questionable value, but there are also several mobile-first companies, and brands are just now entering with conviction.

Competing in the app store is not about rising above the volume, but connecting with your target audience.  

App store search still leads in app discovery, so any app promotion should be built on the solid foundation of  a well-designed app and an optimized app listing.

Where to go from here?  How do you promote your app after app store optimization?

App promotion free

There are several channels for paid install or impression campaigns, but let’s start with free ways to promote your app(s) that ultimately make any paid efforts more effective.

Add web interstitials

When someone from a mobile device navigates to your website where the content also is available in your app – suggest they install or open the app via an overlay, banner or other prompt.

Yelp provides a good example.

Yelp-interstital
Yelp Interstitial

The majority of local Google search (a search with a location component like “breakfast North Park”) is via mobile devices.  Let’s say the first result for the search “Breakfast North Park” is a Yelp listing.

When selecting the Yelp result, Yelp’s website recognizes the request is coming from a mobile device and presents an overlay suggesting the user open the result in the Yelp app (or install it if not installed).

Google has come out against the use of full screen interstitials but encourages app “banners”.

app-interstitial
Source: Google Webmaster Blog

Not unlike redirecting mobile vistors to a m.domain.com site, with the added step of asking the user to decide to install/open the app or continue to a web version of the content.

Set up incentivized sharing

Almost like an in-app affiliate program or viral sharing tool – incentivized sharing encourages users to share your app with their networks and rewards them for it.

A simple example is giving a user 100 gold coins for every install that is generated with sharing to their network. Sally shares her new favorite quiz game with 10 friends, 3 of whom install – Sally receives 300 gold coins.

branch-rewarded-referrals
Source: Branch.io

Here is an example from Branch.io who provides feature in their service amoung many other app promotion, retention and engagement tools.

Find a Social Network Channel

For many marketers, “social media marketing” all falls in one marketing bucket next to PR, SEM, content marketing, web etc..

What tends to get lost is your app may find much more traction on one social network than another. Facebook and Twitter are huge with lots of engagement, but developing a profile on Pinterest or Instagram may provide a better return on your investment.

Nathan Chan started Foundr magazine – a subscription app with new issues monthly, and drives thousands of new installs weekly by cultivating Instagram.

foundr-app-promotion

Driving traffic and installs via a social media channel only works when you find the balance of fun, engaging content with clear calls to action.  Nathan shared in his strategy for Instagram the balance is 5 posts to 1 “download this app” post.

Email your list(s)

Perhaps stating the obvious, but worth mentioning.  You have a huge group of people extremely likely to use your app – your company’s leads and current clients who are already using or familiar with your service.

A study of major retailers with mobile apps showed shoppers with the stores’ mobile apps shopped more frequently, longer and spent more than non-app users.

These retailers now include links to install their app in their weekly email “flyers” – as mobile users are valuable enough to make a prominent call to action.

Not unlike how you would have a link to your company website in your signature, consider adding a link to your app in your email signature as well.


The above are just some of the trends for app promotion in 2016. We’ll cover more app promotion tips, including deep dives into the specifics of implementing  in future posts.

App Deep Linking Tools

App Deep Linking Tools You Should Know

With the release and adoption of the latest versions of the two biggest mobile operating systems – iOS 9 and Android 6.0 Marshmallow – deep linking has moved mainstream.

Both iOS 9 and Android 6.0 include a private app index that can access specifica in-app content, and recall user-generated in-app content and actions. Spotlight search on Apple and Google Now on Android also now index in-app content in search results, funneling users directly to the relevant location once the app is installed.

Mobile deep linking

From an app marketer’s perspective, app visibility is not limited to only the app listing metadata. Mobile apps can now be indexed with depth and specificity. Performing a search using Spotlight or Google Now will surface in-app content of a user’s installed apps first – which impacts user engagement, retention and ultimately value.

Sounds awesome and simple right?

Here is why we need services and tools – there are several approaches to indexing in-app content, and several competing formats:

Facebook is driving App Links

Google is pushing App Indexing

Twitter has App Cards

Apple has Universal Links

Deep linking helps with not only app discovery, but new user on-boarding, retention, and navigating from Facebook or Twitter to content best viewed in an app.

With this range of goals and use cases comes a bit of a fragmented experience in actually implementing and supporting in your mobile apps.

Deep linking iOS

In iOS, there is a public index and a private index that uses multiple iOS APIs.

The best way to get started for indexing in-app content that has web parity (also appears on a website) is to use Apple iOS 9 Search Validation tool:

apple-app-search-validation-tool

This App Search validation tool will provide suggestions on how to tag content on the web with the in-app location.

Using Apple’s universal links, users can easily locate content in your app – even from a web or Spotlight search.

BUT – Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter do not support these universal links.

We’ll introduce a few tools in a bit that solves this problem.

Deep linking Android

Google’s approach to app indexing and deep linking is a bit different as their goal is to be able to index in-app content and display in relevant Google searches.  Google has dominated web search, app search – not so much.

Mobile has surpassed PCs, and apps have surpassed the web. Mobile apps are discovered predominantly through app store search, and search is moving to contextual (Siri/Spotlight, Google Now on Tap, Facebook M) and away from broad web search – with the result often a mobile app.

If Apple approach is to index in-app content for a better user iOS device user experience, Google’s is to pull in-app content into web search results (app deep linking SEO), even going so far as to preview in-app content without a user having to install an app.

Time will tell which approach the market will prefer, but mobile app publishers have another decision to make as to which standards to adopt in their apps.

Deep linking tools

As mentioned, Apple, Google, Facebook and Twitter each have different approaches to app indexing, tagging web content and tracking links.

Branch.io aims to solve this problem by creating a platform that supports all of the major platforms and lists content on search portals.  Branch also provides analytics and attribution, smart banners, tools for customizable/personalized on-boarding and more.

Source:  Branch.io
Source: Branch.io

If your app is available for iOS and Android, and is content-rich – Branch.io is well worth checking out.

URX.com provides a platform for monetizing a content-rich app with deep links into other, contextually relevant apps.

Source: URX.org
Source: URX.org

MobileDeepLinking.org provides a guide on mobile deep linking with contributions from many of the top mobile ad networks.

mobile-deep-linking
Source: mobiledeeplinking.org/

 

Whether used for on-boarding, acquiring app installs, syncing app and web content, retention or discovery – the benefits of implementing app deep links far outweigh the initial complexity.

Deep Linking and iOS 9 – How Deep Linking Affects Discoverability

Apple’s latest mobile operating system, iOS 9 introduces exciting new features not only for iPhone and iPad users, but for developers and marketers as well.

Siri and Spotlight now index and include mobile apps in search results. Apps are indexed not only by the metadata in the app store listing, but also metadata used for specific in-app content.

A user searching Safari, Siri or Spotlight for a taco recipe could see taco recipes from apps already installed on their device, and tap through to the specific location in the app.  In-app content is now accessible, instead of results being limited to websites or the top level of an app.

ios-9-search-results

We have seen some of this in-app content being indexed and discovered in Apple’s recent presentation of the AppleTV. The user searches for a movie, and results are apps with a direct navigation to the movie in the app.

apple_tv_lg

For “Ghostbusters” on the Netflix app to appear in AppleTV search results, Netflix added metadata to that specific piece of content within their app.

From a user perspective – locating relevant apps and navigating to the specific content in the apps is drastically improved user experience.

From a publisher perspective – indexation of apps and in-app content is not limited to the app listing metadata – which has primarily been weighted to app name and the 100-character keyword field.

The long-tail of search is finally here for mobile apps.

Optimizing your app and content for iOS 9 search can impact discovery, engagement and retention – which represent some of the biggest challenges for app publishers and marketers.

From Apple:

Search in iOS 9 gives people great ways to access information inside of your app, even when it isn’t installed. When you make your content searchable, users can access activities and content deep within your app through Spotlight and Safari search results, Handoff, Siri Suggestions, and Reminders. Making your content searchable helps you enhance the user experience of your app and improve its discoverability.

Introducing the Apple’s iOS Search API

A mobile app is indexed by Apple for the App Store using the app name and keywords field.

Description, ratings and reviews, category and related keywords also impact indexation (the search results an app is included in), but the largest weight for how an app is indexed is the app name and keywords.

For many apps, there was no way to capture all the content in the app that may be relevant to a search in just the app name and keywords field.

A search in Safari, Spotlight or Siri for “When does the new Star Wars movie play near me?” would take a user to a website, even if they had Fandango, IMDB or any other movie tickets app on their phone.

Same for any app with lots of content like cooking, recipes, travel, real estate, news – the list goes on.

How do Fandango and others enable Apple to index their in-app content? The Apple iOS Search API.

Apple has created two indexes:

  • A private index of on-device activities and user created content
  • A public index of publicly available data

For now, this is an important distinction to understand when contrasting with how Google (Android) approaches indexing in-app content.

This topic can get technical quickly, so let’s focus on the most important opportunities for marketers:

  • Core Spotlight – for indexing in-app content, and
  • Web Markup/Universal links – for syncing and indexing content that is also available on your website

Core Spotlight

Core Spotlight helps you make items searchable in the private on-device index; you don’t use Core Spotlight APIs to make items publicly searchable.

Apple uses the example for a news app:

  • Index the most recent, trending, and relevant articles and add attributes such as location or topic
  • Index articles the user marks as favorite or for reading later
  • Remove articles from the index after a period of time to keep the index fresh

Web Markup/Universal Links

Web markup allows the Applebot web crawler to index your content in the public index, which makes it available in Spotlight and Safari search results.

Adding universal links routes users to your app from search if they have it installed, and to your website if they don’t.

Apple has created a website for validating iOS 9 Search readiness called the App Search API Validation Tool.

ios-9-search-api-validation

You can then convert mobile website visitors to app users with an app banner prompting visitors to install your app.

Here is an example of an app banner using Branch.io’s technology:

smartbanner-branch

How Apple Ranks Content

If the rise of the app stores has taught us anything, it is that “Googling” or web search is not the only or even preferred way to search.

Apple, Facebook and Google all are invested in creating search channels that provide relevant results regardless of where the content comes from.

Here is Apple’s specific statement regarding how they rank content from various sources in search results:

iOS 9 users expect app search to give them the most relevant results, regardless of where the content comes from.

To deliver the best user experience, iOS determines the quality and ranking of a searchable item by measuring:

  • The frequency with which users view your content in the app

  • The amount of engagement users have with your content (determined by the engagement ratio, which is based on the number of times users tap an item related to your app and the number of app-related items that are displayed in search results)

  • The popularity of a URL in your website and the amount of structured data available

Indexing in-app content, syncing in-app and web content, deep linking, universal links, ranking specific in-app content by engagement all provide significant opportunities for those who invest in optimizing their mobile apps for this new mobile search paradigm.

Mobile App Discovery Challenges

Mobile App Discovery Challenges

Apple recently announced there are 1.5 million apps in their app store, Google Play has 1.4 million. Mobile app discovery continues to be a hot topic among mobile app marketers and publishers. From the broad perspective of all search, discovery and marketing , to specific discovery challenges in the app stores – standing out in the app store is becoming more challenging. Recent changes to Apple’s App Store make it even harder for apps to gain an initial traction previously found with a listing on the “new to the app store” section.

Get Used to Buying Traffic?

Benedict Evans of a16z suggests that the two “organic” options for discovery (of anything from mobile apps to books to furniture) are machine learning “If you bought this, you will like this” and curation. He is not bullish on either, stating machine learning can’t provide relevant enough recommendations, and curation ends up being too shallow. His conclusion:  get used to advertising (spending for traffic).

Tools Coming?

Mobile discovery specifically has some coming tools that may aid app discovery – namely deep linking or App Links. These tools partly enable apps to communicate with each other and direct link, and also “unlock” the content in mobile apps for indexation by Apple and Google. Presumably, adoption of deep linking would enable the app stores, Siri, Spotlight and Google searches to return relevant app results impacting discovery tremendously. Eric Seufert of Mobile Dev Memo and VP of User Engagement at Rovio isn’t as optimistic saying:

Deep linking is a marketing tool, not a quality proxy.

While deep linking is not mobile’s version of PageRank, it can be a tool for relevance if not quality.

Top of the Charts

Even if landing at the top of the app charts is extremely impactful, those spots are taken by portfolio apps (Facebook and Facebook Messenger) and apps who have made huge investments in buying installs (Clash of Clans, Candy Crush). Most apps are not competing with Facebook.  Most apps have a core audience and a feature set that differentiates their app and solves a problem for their audience. Connecting to that audience is the key.

Are we really competing with abandoned apps?

Consider 83% of apps in Apple’s App Store are “zombie” apps, or apps that do not appear on any top list (free, paid, grossing) for any category or sub-category for more than 20 days of the month being measured. At the time of the last report (before Apple’s recent app store changes), there were 23 categories and 18 subcategories each with free, paid and grossing top 300 lists. The number of apps, the top of the charts, even the vanity metric of “downloads” distracts us from our primary goal -to identify and connect with our audience. This starts with an app listing that utilizes modern app store optimization strategy, and continues to optimize metadata and creative elements for a changing marketplace. Your audience is frustrated with app discovery as well. By identifying the way your audience searches the app stores, you can rise above the noise and be exactly where they are looking in their app store search results.