The idea of App Store Optimization being SEO for apps and games is imperfect at best once we understand the implementation is not any more limited to the metadata optimization for the purpose of increasing an app’s visibility in Google Play Store and Apple App Store search results. Instead, we provide the following definition as a more suitable view of modern ASO.
App Store Optimization is the process of increasing an app’s or games visibility in an app store or play store and improving its appeal to users throughout the app’s lifecycle, the objective of increasing visibility to increase the number of downloads.
So, ASO not only aims to increase visibility in the app stores, but also to optimize apps and games that appeal to users with the goal of conversion which are downloads. In practice, App Store Optimization covers a big spectrum that ranges from the optimization of visual and text metadata by using strategy to inspire users to leave positive ratings and reviews, and also includes other efforts of increasing visibility by featuring on stores. Modern ASO requires multiple fields of expertise. This affects the formation of ASO teams.
Brief History of App Store Optimization (ASO)
When Google and Apple launched their stores in 2008, a new field of marketing was introduced which was App Store Optimization (ASO). This new field was accompanied by great potential; so marketers instantly grabbed this opportunity to increase the conversion and visibility of landing pages on the stores.
In early 2009, marketers increased their experience in SEO to speculate the impact of keywords used in an app’s metadata on its visibility in store search results; this also led to the introduction of the first tools dedicated to ASO. At the time only a few apps noticed the importance of adding keywords in app titles and selecting relevant keywords for their keyword field, at that time competition was low and many startups were able to take part with big brands that failed to optimize their store appearance.
At a maximum of 255 characters available for app titles, those marketers who used this massive space for keyword optimization were able to implement extremely long user-friendly titles. Initially there were lack of policies from Apple and Google also left the door open for black hat ASO techniques, for example the overt duplication of other app titles. This strategy filled lots of clones of one app and made it difficult for marketers to optimize their app as an original product.
However, increasing interest in ASO rapidly especially in the second half of the 2010s, Google and Apple increased their policies. In 2016, Apple reduced the length of app titles to 50 characters and changed it to only 30 characters in 2017; at the same time with iOS 11, a 30-character subtitle was introduced. In 2017, Google also increased the title character limit of 50 which was restricted to 30 characters, and went back once again to 30-character titles in 2021.
Much beyond the number of characters permitted in an app’s title, over the years Google and Apple have executed many significant changes that have changed ASO from a “growth hacking” strategy into a whole marketing effort and growth channel.
Let’s discuss the user-facing side first, iOS 11 introduced the editorial Today tab and the presence of creatives in search result pages. While Google Play did not completely follow the layout of Apple’s search results, both stores started giving developers more creative flexibility by permitting videos to be uploaded in apps creatives and improving the different formats available for screenshots. Both stores also introduced app recommendations with new editorial placements based on additional functionalities and algorithms.
On the developer side, advertising and store consoles steadily introduced more data specific to the store behaviour of users. In 2015, Google first added Play Store data on organic keywords as part of its Keyword Planner tool before disclosing organic keyword installs on the Google Play Developer Console in 2018. On the other side, Apple introduced Search Popularity scores for the US with the introduction of Apple Search Ads (ASA) in 2016; this was vastly increased to include data for over 60 additional countries.
The app stores added an extra layer of complexity by launching advertising into the growing discipline of ASO as app developers were now faced with a “pay to play” dilemma, complicating the work for those aiming to measure return on investment for their organic efforts in the stores. Changes in the stores over the years combined with the increasing investment of resources into the discipline have led to a complete transformation of the idea of App Store Optimization.