App Store Optimization: Keywords, Titles, Visuals and Reviews

App Store Optimization
Brendon Boshell
By: Brendon Boshell
November 22, 2016

With over 2 million apps available on Google Play and the App Store, it is more important than ever to stand out amongst the crowd. App Store Optimization (ASO) is a critical tool for any serious mobile app publisher, helping a mobile app reach its audience in an organic and cost-effective way.

In this post, we explore the 4 key themes of app store optimization. Follow these guidelines on improving your discoverability and rank on the app stores.

Keyword Research

The basic aim of app store optimization is to improve the visibility of your app on Google Play and the App Store. The vast majority of installs via this medium come from searches, either for specific apps or for ‘types’ of app. So you need to think carefully about the keywords you wish to target.

  • Brainstorm keyword ideas. The first step of app store optimization is keyword selection, since keywords are the most critical part of app discoverability and rank. To start, you should create a huge list of keywords that might be relevant to your mobile app. Use autocomplete on Google, Play Store and the App Store for ideas. And look at which keywords your competitors are ranking for or targeting.
  • Consider popularity, competition and relevance. Once you have your list of keywords, you need to filter down to a smaller list that you will target. You need to consider popularity (how many people search a keyword), competition (how many apps target a keyword) and relevance (my app matches what people are searching for). There are many tools that can help you, although a simple risk matrix is suitable if you do not have reliable data.
  • Content or ecommerce apps should look at user data. If you have a content or product orientated mobile app, you should look at actual user behavior for inspiration. If users are consuming a particular type of content or searching for a particular product, you should consider using that data to influence the keywords you target for app store optimization. This approach can expose niche keywords that drive quality installs.

Title and Description

Once you have chosen your target keywords, you need to influence the ranking of your mobile app in favor of these terms. Although there is a keywords field on the App Store, you will need to think about the impact that keywords have in your app’s title and description.

  • Include a keyword in the name of your app. The title of your app ideally contains a keyword that users will search for. Since it is a bad idea to change the name of your mobile app, you should think very carefully about its suitability now and in the future. There is a limit of 30-50 characters so it must be short and descriptive.
  • Repeat your keywords in the description. On Google Play, the description field is an important factor in search ranking. As a rule, you should repeat each keyword you are targeting 4 or 5 times in the description. The short description also becomes the meta description for web search, so it is worthwhile thinking about your keyword choice here.

Icons, Screenshots and Video

Improving your rank for specific search terms is only half the battle. It is equally important that users on search results pages click through to your mobile app. And once they are on your app store page, you must compel them to download and install your app. These two conversions help boost mobile app installs and can positively feedback to your rank.

  • Create a clickable icon. On app store search result pages, the icon and title are the only two aspects you have control over. You should create a simple, eye-catching icon that aligns with your wider brand identity. But you should consider A/B testing to get the best results, either on the app store itself or within ad creatives.
  • Perfect your screenshots. You need to spend a lot of time on your screenshots. You should assume that users will look at your screenshots before they read your description, making the screenshots the first impression they have of your app. So make sure your screenshots show the 2-3 core experiences of your mobile app. It is a good idea to overlay or wrap your screenshots with contextual information that concisely describes your mobile app and its features.
  • Include a video trailer. Generally speaking, smaller app developers do not have the skills or time to produce video trailers in house. But it is worth creating a video trailer as soon as you can, because it greatly improves your app store ranking and conversion rate. You need a video before the app stores will feature your app.


Ratings and reviews play an important role in app store optimization. Google and Apple consider ratings in their ranking algorithms, both in number of ratings and average rating. There are a couple of things you can do to encourage reviews from your existing audience.

  • Consider prompting users for reviews. It is common practice to ask users to review your mobile app. You can deliver an in-app message or push notification to remind users to rate your app, but you should target these messages to your individual users. You should think about segmenting your most engaged users and target only this group, as they are more likely to give the coveted 5 star rating.
  • Do not use a two phase rating. It was (and still is) common to ask users “What do you think of this app?” with the options “Great”, “Okay” and “Poor”, for example. If the user clicks “Great”, you push them to leave a review on the app store. Otherwise, you show a feedback form. The users who answer “Great” are more likely to leave a 5 star rating and most of the ASO guides out there recommend this two phase system. But Apple has started to reject apps that use this approach and I suspect they will become more aggressive against these practices in the future, since it undermines the app store review system.

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