We look at some of the best examples of app store optimisation (ASO) to show how they rank well on the major platforms, convince people to download and keep them using their app for the long-term.
Smartphone users in the UK spend 86% of their time on mobile inside apps (2019) but previous studies have also shown the average user spends most of their time using the same three apps.
To make an impact in the mobile app market, you have to build a solid presence on the major app stores and maximise downloads – but this is only half of the battle. You also need to keep users engaged so they’ll continue to use your app, otherwise it’s going to sit idle on their phone until they hit the uninstall button.
As we explain in our complete guide to app store optimisation, there are two broad aspects to ASO. First, you want to optimise your app listings to maximise visibility on each platform (Google Play, App Store, etc.). Next, you also need to manage the performance of your app to prove that your listing deserves to continue ranking well for relevant searches and categories.
Here’s a summary of the most important ranking factors for the iOS App Store and Google Play:
As you can see, the ranking factors for both platforms are similar but the differences are important. So, with this in mind, the examples we’re looking at in this article are broken down into the following three categories:
This will provide examples of app store optimisation for all of the key points covered in our complete guide to app store optimisation.
A quick search for “productivity apps” on Google Play generates dozens of results – here’s a preview of the first ten that popped up:
Already, there are a number of patterns you can spot between the top-ranking apps. The titles are all formatted in a similar way, vibrant icons help differentiate them all visually and they all have strong review scores.
The title of your app listing should start with the name of your app and then provide a brief description including your primary keywords, if possible.
Boosted is a perfect example of this, leading with the name of its app and then following with its two primary keywords in a concise, descriptive manner.
Seekrtech follows the exact same formula with the listing of its Forest app but only uses one keyword in favour of a more precise, branded description.
True to the app’s key message, the title itself is more focused and reads more like a call to action than a description.
Moving over to the iOS App Store, Forest uses the same title for its listing but Apple also gives you space to add a subtitle. You can use this to include primary keywords and it’s important to understand that Apple’s algorithm only recognises keywords in the app name and subtitle, as well as a dedicated keyword field that’s only visible in the developer’s module.
Meanwhile, Google looks at keyword density across your entire listing so you’ll also want to include some in your description.
Both stores compile apps into categories and also recommend apps to you, based on your browsing and download history. For example, once you’re done looking at the Forest listing in the iOS App Store, you might notice two sections for “More By This Developer” and “You May Also Like”.
As you can see, listings in the iOS App Store for search results, categories and recommendations look very different from the ones you’ll find in Google Play. The most obvious difference is the lack of review scores and all users have to work with are the icons, app name and the keyword category or subtitle.
You’ll see this across the iOS App Store and this means review scores play a much smaller role in terms of CTRs on Apple’s platform but they are still crucial when it comes to ranking and downloads.
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App listings house most of the information Google and Apple use to rank your app on their stores. More importantly, they present these details to users in a way that’s both informative and compelling – all with the aim of encouraging downloads.
So your first task is to make sure that you provide all of the information you can about your app and ensure everything is accurate. App stores want to see that your listing is complete with all of the details users need to choose between different apps.
If you want to see a good example of an app listing in Google Play, look no further than Google itself.
There are six key sections you need to fill out on your app for Google Play:
The key elements of an app listing on the iOS App Store are essentially the same, too:
Accuracy is important so make sure the details in your listing are correct – and double-check them after your listing goes live and any time you update your app/listing. Now, in terms of making your listing compelling, there are three elements that you should focus your optimisation efforts on:
Reviews are crucially important, but achieving a high review score has more to do with optimising your mobile app than its listing in app stores (more on this later). For now, let’s focus on the visual and descriptive elements that encourage people to download your app.
Your app icon should capture users’ attention on results pages, category sections and recommendations on app stores. This is a key element that makes your app stand out from all the other options available before users start scrutinising other details, such as your review score.
When a user clicks through to your listing, the app icon confirms users have landed on the expected page and places a brand image alongside technical details.
Your app icon should be bold, memorable and appealing to the target audience. It should also be reflective of your brand or, in some way, descriptive of the role your application plays. The best app icons capture attention and provide contextual meaning to users who need as much information as possible to choose between countless options.
The other key visual element on your listing is the section for graphic and image assets where you can place videos, images and screenshots of your app. This is the only space you have to provide a visual demo of what it’s actually like to use your app and the practical benefits users will get from downloading it. You really have to make the most of this opportunity.
If you’re going to include a video, make sure it’s professionally made and compelling to watch. With your images, focus on showing the key benefits of using your app with supporting screenshots of the relevant features or interfaces.
When it comes to the description of your app, Google says you should “focus on your users and what they will get from your app”. You should also check the description in the web store to make sure that the most important text is visible above the fold.
Start with a brief description of your app. Pinterest uses a total of 37 words in its short description.
The Google One app uses a single sentence of just 20 words.
The rest of your description should focus on the key benefits of using your app and you’ll want to include your target keywords throughout this description.
Apple provides some great guidance for app descriptions and other key listing elements that apply to both stores:
“Provide an engaging description that highlights the features and functionality of your app. The ideal description is a concise, informative paragraph followed by a short list of main features. Let potential users know what makes your app unique and why they will love it. Communicate in the tone of your brand, and use terminology your target audience will appreciate and understand. The first sentence of your description is the most important — this is what users can read without having to tap to read more. Every word counts, so focus on your app’s unique features.”
You’ll find all of the top-ranking apps in Google Play and the iOS App Store follow the same formula. They have complete listings, filled with accurate information and compelling visuals to capture user attention – as well as a description that specifies the key benefits of the app.
Here we have the listing for Minecraft in Google Play:
And the Todoist app in the App Store:
The general principles across both platforms are the same – especially when it comes to providing accurate and compelling information. However, there are some key differences that you need to address, which are especially important for ranking well on both platforms.
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The biggest difference between the iOS App Store and Google play is getting your app approved. Apple has very strict approval guidelines that you have to meet but the company does provide more in-depth feedback in cases where your app is rejected (Google doesn’t provide a great deal of guidance).
The good thing is that iOS apps tend to generate more revenue than their Android counterparts – so it’s worth putting in the extra work.
Assuming your app is approved on both platforms, the key differences in terms of app store optimisation are how the two platforms deal with keywords and a few other ranking factors. Here’s a quick reminder of how the two platforms prioritise ranking signals:
So, in the iOS App Store, the subtitle and URL are key ranking factors and the descriptions are primarily there for the user. In Google Play, your descriptions are one of the most important signals and Google looks at keywords across your entire listing while Apple only detects keywords in your app name and a keyword field, which you complete in the back end.
Likewise, the category you select for your app on both platforms is an important signal but Google Play allows you to add descriptive tags to provide more contextual information for its algorithm and users.
Google’s algorithm also looks for backlinks so there are ranking benefits to having your app featured in recommendation lists, reviews or news stories from trusted publications.
So how are these differences reflected in app store optimisation?
The best way to demonstrate this is by comparing the listings for high-performing apps available on both platforms. Let’s start by looking at the listings for popular streaming app Twitch on the iOS App Store and Google Play.
You can see how Twitch has optimised the title of its app with a greater emphasis on keywords for the iOS App Store. It also uses the subtitle to emphasise some of the key use cases for its app and search terms users are likely to type into the App Store and search engines.
With Google Play, there’s less emphasis on keywords in the title and more effort placed on description. Keywords are still present (and crucial in the title) but this isn’t the place Google can detect and use them to rank your app.
Another important note about Google Play is that the store encourages users to download apps more aggressively than the App Store. You can see this in the header section of listings Google places a prominent install button, review scores and any content warnings – as well as an option to place apps on a wishlist for later.
It’s no coincidence that more apps are downloaded on Google Play than the App Store. This should be a priority in your optimisation efforts for the platform.
Once you get past the header, app listings start to look very similar across the two platforms:
Image/video carousels sit below the headers and then you have previews of the app descriptions which users can click to expand and read in full. The main difference at this point is that your descriptions in Google Play are a significant ranking signal and keywords are detected while Apple doesn’t pay any attention to keyword density.
Once your descriptions are optimised, the rest of your listing mainly consists of user reviews and technical information. Assuming your listings are accurate, there are two main factors in building positive review scores:
We’ve already looked at how you can achieve the first of those and now it’s time to take a look at app performance.
Both Google Play and the iOS App Store look at a number of performance signals to rank your apps. It’s in the interest of both platforms that people trust the quality of apps available, continue to use them after the initial download and keep generating income through in-app purchases (and/or ads in the case of Google Play).
Here are the performance signals both platforms look at:
All of these factors contribute to arguably the most important ranking signal: reviews.
To perform well across all of these signals, you have to deliver in-app experiences that are engaging and generate revenue for the two platforms. Basically, Apple makes money from in-app purchases while Google generates income through a combination of in-app purchases and ads.
This is why there are so many more free apps on Google Play. Of course, Apple needs to have major apps like Facebook and Instagram on iOS, regardless of whether they generate in-app revenue for the company. However, there aren’t many free apps from independent developers on the platform that don’t involve some kind of in-app purchasing.
According to data from SensorTower (May 2020), the best-performing apps, in terms of downloads, were TikTok, Zoom and WhatsApp.
Unsurprisingly, mobile games are the best-performing mobile apps when it comes to in-app purchases with Coin Master generating the most revenue for Google Play worldwide in June 2020.
Engagement is perhaps the most difficult performance indicator of all with mobile apps. Data from Apptopia (2018) shows that the time spent in mobile applications is dominated by apps owned by Google and Facebook – backed up by more recent data from the US.
This shouldn’t surprise anyone and app developers can learn a lot from the design principles behind these apps. Forget the walled garden for a moment and think about what made these apps so engaging, to begin with.
Look at apps like Instagram and the psychological reasons for their addictive popularity and enviable engagement. The constant yearning for likes, approval and recognition makes it difficult to escape once you’re hooked while the idea that these apps keep you connected tell you that you can’t just stop using Facebook or Instagram – how else will you contact your friends?
Developers can tap into these conventions and even apply them in a more socially beneficial way, much like the team behind HelloTalk – a language learning app that uses instant messaging and social media to help people around the world learn from native speakers.
Let’s go back to one of the apps we looked at earlier, as another example.
Instead of taking inspiration from social media engagement, Forest looks to one of the other best-performing categories among mobile applications. By gamifying its productivity app, Seekrtech has created a genuinely innovative tool that encourages people to put down their smartphones and focus on more important tasks.
Habitica takes this concept even further by creating an RPG experience for personal productivity.
The app allows users to create their own avatar and rewards them with unlockable items for completing tasks on their to-do lists. These micro-interactions build up engagement, create a sense of reward for real-world actions and promote a sense of achievement for developing healthier habits.
By using the same UX engagement tricks as social media platforms and mobile games, apps like HelloTalk and Forest keep people using their apps, minimise uninstall rates and build a positive collection of reviews – plus they’ve captured the attention of review sites and global press.
None of these apps are going to make it onto the top 10 lists for downloads, revenue or usage but they’ve built success by learning from the apps that do.
Find out about our app store optimisation services or speak to our mobile team on 02392 830281.
Dave is head of SEO at Vertical Leap. He joined in 2010 as an SEO specialist and prior to that worked with international companies delivering successful search marketing campaigns. Dave works with many of our largest customers spanning many household names and global brands such as P&O Cruises and Harvester. Outside of work, Dave previously spent many years providing charity work as a Sergeant under the Royal Air Force Reserves in the Air Cadets sharing his passion for aviation with young minds. He can often be found in the skies above the south coast enjoying his private pilot licence.
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