THE ASO BOOK (2018)

12. Out of The Store

“What outside of the App Stores can affect my app’s success in ASO?” 

Product 

The app itself is not just the purpose for the existence of ASO, but also a major factor in the success potential for ASO.  With advancements in store ranking algorithm criteria that factor more signals in new and deeper ways into the rank scoring system, the app itself cannot be considered a separate set of levers that are ignored when considering ASO. 

Retention Rate 

As highlighted throughout the book, store algorithms are increasingly factoring for retention rate, which is naturally a heavily product-influenced outcome. While acquisition source is a major factor in user quality and retention, the product is the largest factor and can fail to retain users, regardless of the acquisition source. 

While the exact weighting of retention rate in the algorithm scoring system is unknown, the general ASO industry consensus is that retention is one of the major factors after download velocity and conversion rate, and alongside ratings/reviews. 

If an app cannot retain users, or even worse causes users to uninstall at a rapid rate, then the app’s ASO success will falter as the store algorithms reduce the app’s visibility in response to the app’s low retention rate or high uninstall rate. 

Pro tip: While the inner workings of the algorithms are unknown, it’s a likely bet that an app’s retention rate is compared to peer apps, either those in the same category or those ranking for the same keywords.  This means that, even if your app’s retention rate may be decent across the entire app industry, if your app’s retention rate is low compared with your App Store peers, then your app will still score negative points in the retention ranking component. 

Here are some reasons for which apps may have a low retention rate, or in other words cause higher churn:

  • Poor onboarding process: If the process is confusing, not educational enough, or non-engaging, it could cause users to open the app and churn. Moreover, if an app lacks an onboarding process at all and requires users to sign up immediately after opening the app, this can cause users to churn. 
  • Not enough features: If users expect or look forward to certain features in the app and fail to find them, this can cause churn. If the app listing is misleading in favor of increasing downloads, this can backfire in the  retention ranking component, which can cause the app to lose ranking and lose future downloads. 
  • Lack of a clear, fundamental value: If the app does not solve a problem or provide significant value to the user, it can fail to retain users. 
  • Lack of engagement: While too many push notifications, emails, and in-app messages can be a bad thing, the right mix can bring users back into the app who would have otherwise churned, and even make active users more active. 
  • Lack of updates: Apps that are released and never updated can lose users, especially if competitors continue  to innovate and release new versions and features. 

Ratings/Reviews 

Because they are most often sourced from within the app, ratings and reviews are also a factor that are influenced by the product, and not ASO. Yet, ratings and reviews are one of the major factors affecting an app’s ASO visibility and conversion potential. 

Additionally, recall that ratings are one of the most visible and objective social proof data points, and as such highly affect conversion rates, which is also a major ranking signal. 

To unlock an app’s true ASO success, the app must do a good job of encouraging users to leave positive ratings and reviews (both in terms of being a good product, and leveraging in-app rating prompts). 

Above and beyond prompting users for ratings and reviews, here are a few methods to use your product to raise star  ratings: 

  •  Add features users ask for. 
  •  Add features that competitors do not provide. 
  • Create an emotional connection with users by using in-app content, enabling people to use/benefit from the app with other people, or producing an impact on people in their real lives. 
  • Create an addicting experience; users who use an app on a daily basis are more prone to write reviews or rate the app. 

Crashes/Stability 

While crashes are not yet considered as a factor in the App Store’s algorithm weighting, they can affect retention rate,  as well as ratings and reviews, and thus indirectly drag an app’s ASO success potential down. 

However, in August 2017 Google announced that it would rank apps which drained user battery life or crashed often lower than other apps. More and more, ASOs must count the product team as a core partner in succeeding in ASO. 

Furthermore, while some apps that are not 100% stable may end up being featured, having good stability marks is generally a requirement.

UX/UI Design 

An app’s ASO can be directly affected by its UX/UI design in many different ways, such as determining:  

  • Components of the app’s experience that can be described in the assets. 
  • Keywords that describe the app and its UX. 
  • An app’s positioning against competitors, for better or worse. 

Furthermore, an app’s store listing is also built using visuals from the app itself, and therefore highly influenced by the branding/look and feel, and limited to what the product looks like in terms of screenshots and preview video content.  For apps with great design, this can be a great boon for ASO, and vice versa. 

As with stability, excellent app design is also a factor in being featured, as well as affecting an app’s ability to retain users, and earn ratings and reviews. 

App Features 

As a similar factor to UX/UI, features also shape the limits of how an app can be marketed in visibility terms, as well as terms of competitive positioning and conversion. 

Features determine what In-App Purchases users can buy, and thus which IAPs the app can index or be featured for. Features also determine what can be shown in the app’s listing, as the content that fills in the app’s UX/UI. 

Also like UX/UI and stability, features naturally affect an app’s ability to be featured, earn ratings/reviews, and retain users. 

Monetization 

Monetization is one of the most direct and fundamental product factors influencing ASO. Unfortunately, it often serves only as a bottleneck to success. 

While an app with a good monetization model does not benefit in direct ASO terms from earning revenue from its users  (except in the case of the top paid/grossing charts, per below), an app with a poorly executed monetization model stands only to lose success potential, as the app is at higher risk for a poor conversion rate, negative ratings/reviews,  poor user retention, and a lower chance of being featured. 

For example, consider three examples of apps which are each free to download: 

  1.  App A offers all its features for free and monetizes through ads. While app A may not have the highest ARPU,  app A will likely earn the highest visibility because more users will likely download the app, and users will likely use the app for longer. 
  2. App B offers a subset of features for free, and charges for the rest as an In-App Purchase. App B will likely earn a higher ARPU and earn more visibility than app C, but app B will likely earn less visibility than app A, because app B has more limited experience for users who do not pay. However, app B will benefit from being able to promote its In-App Purchases, which is an ability that neither app A nor app C can leverage. 
  3. . App C charges a paid download for its app. App C will most likely have highest ARPU and is eligible for bundles,  but will also have the lowest visibility and conversion rate.

In this case, app B could improve its ASO performance by combining ads with In-App Purchases, to offer users who do not pay a chance to continue using the app, and thus improving its retention rate. 

While it’s unknown whether revenue plays a factor in an app’s rankings, it isn’t out of the question, and monetization certainly does play a factor in the Google top-grossing chart, as well as the top paid charts, as the pricing model/level of an app will affect its download conversion rate. 

Alternative User Acquisition Sources 

As highlighted throughout the book, because of the algorithmic reliance on download velocity as a major signal,  acquiring downloads from other sources beyond ASO is of critical importance to earning and keeping significant growth. 

There are many sources that can provide downloads from outside of the store, and each can have a direct impact (albeit sometimes incremental) impact on an app’s ASO success potential. 
There are many sources that can provide downloads from outside of the store, and each can have a direct impact (albeit sometimes incremental) impact on an app’s ASO success potential.

For upper-range keyword ranks, apps can even use alternatively-sourced downloads to overcome the ranks on a keyword of other apps that don’t drive downloads outside of the store. Then, once in decent keyword rank position,  the usurping app can climb the remaining keyword ranks organically by converting users better than other apps. 

Additionally, we have also explored the fact that some apps use black hat methods to drive downloads from particular keyword searches, causing those apps to earn a doubly high score when ranking for those keywords. 

Again, not only do downloads outside the store affect the visibility of an app, but they also affect the conversion rate of an app. In the Google Play Store, users can see a range of the app’s total actual downloads, as well as an app’s best top chart ranking

Exploring downloads outside the store could fill the pages of a whole additional book (or two!), so to summarize: 

While there are still apps that almost only grow because of their organic visibility in the stores, it’s gotten a lot tougher nowadays with competition from millions of apps. ASO alone these days is not a sufficient strategy, and one should consider other mobile growth strategies in the Acquisition layer of Mobile Growth Stack to help get the most out of your App Store optimization. 

The Mobile Growth Stack
The Mobile Growth Stack 2017 Edition (see https://phiture.com/mobilegrowthstack)

Content Indexing 

emily grossman

Linkedin: Emily Grossman

App indexing is the ability of a mobile app to be displayed in a web search results page. Each app that is live in the App or Play Store is automatically displayed in web searches with a link to that app’s store permanent URL. While this is the basic definition of app indexing, most references to app indexing are with regard to indexing and deep linking to the content within an app, just like links to pages within a website are indexing in search results page. 

Indexing the content from within an app does not occur by default for all live apps. This is because in order to index the content within apps, developers must implement technology to enable an app to support deep linking. The reason for this has to do with the way an app is built; in short, while a web page has a permanent URL for each of its web pages, apps have dynamic screens that are loaded only based on user interactions, and cannot be assumed to live in a  permanent location within the app. 

In order to set up deep linking, a developer must either implement Apple’s Core Spotlight API or Google’s Android deep linking technology. You can also use tools to assist in app indexing setup, from MMPs (i.e., Adjust, AppsFlyer, Kochava, Tune) to free services like Branch Metrics. 

Both Google and Apple have a concept of public vs. private index of content, where public content is information that can be accessed by anyone and can be indexed for any user to see in search results (e.g. public profiles of stores in Yelp), while private content is information that should only be accessible to a particular user (e.g. direct messages in  Twitter), and will only be visible in searches made by that particular user. 

The most important thing to understand about Google App Indexing in 2017 is that only Android deep links can be indexed.  

For iOS, Google is not actually indexing any separate URLs—Google is merely indexing web URLs and counting on  Apple’s Universal Links directive to route users into iOS apps. With this in mind, when we talk about Google’s public vs. private index, we are talking exclusively about Android apps. 

The public index is available to any and all Android devices, and hosted centrally with Google. The private index is device-specific and hosted on an individual’s Android phone. The private index depends on app downloads and individual user engagement, so each Android user will have a different private index. An individual device’s private  index can be accessed via the Google Search bar on Android devices by clicking on “in apps.” 

Developers can currently get valid deep links indexed in Google’s public index through a few methods: 

  • Using http-scheme deep links and allowing Googlebot for Android to crawl. 
  • Calling Google’s App Indexing API (part of Firebase) on http-scheme deep links. 
  • Referencing http or custom-scheme deep links in rel=alternate link tags in the <head> of a corresponding web page or in sitemaps. 

Developers can currently get valid deep links indexed in Google’s private index by calling Google’s Firebase App Indexing API on app activities. 

Apple’s Spotlight Search engine also leverages a private and public index that can contain deep links to app content. Like Google’s private and public indexes, the private index is centrally hosted and can deliver results to any device. The private index is device-specific and depends on individual user engagement. 

Unlike Google, the private index isn’t independently accessibly via an “In Apps” feature; Apple mixes results from the user’s private index and general public cloud index when it presents search results to users within the Spotlight interface. 

Additionally, Google has begun indexing content within apps, allowing users to see content from apps that they have already downloaded appear in a Google search. 

Deep links will not show for apps that users have not installed, and after that, traditional SEO factors (e.g., CTR, keyword relevance, etc.) influence where in the SRP a deep link shows up. Additionally, Google claims that using the Firebase  App Indexing API gives deep links a rankings boost. 

As it relates to deep links vs. web links, in Google Search, deep links to apps are returned when the app is installed on a  user’s device, the app supports Google App Indexing, and the deep links are relevant to the user’s query. Results that link to the Google Play Store or iOS App Store (App Packs or Install Buttons) will be returned on mobile devices when the user’s query has strong app download intent (i.e., “kids games” or “to-do list” or “travel apps”). That said, according to Google, for content that is found in both an accelerated mobile page (AMP) and mobile app, the AMP result will override the deep link result for the foreseeable future. 

Using the Firebase App Indexing API will initiate indexing on Android apps, but there are ways to get public deep links indexed without the API. Similarly, using other parts of Firebase will not automatically guarantee indexing. 

When it comes to what control a developer has over how a deep link result shows, on Android, the app icon associated with the app will appear in search results next to the deep link. 

Publicly indexed deep links will pull the title and description set for corresponding web content through meta tags in the <head> of the html specified in the deep linking code. Via the Firebase App Indexing API, developers can specify a  separate or distinct Title (“mText”) that will appear for deep links when they are triggered in on-device search. 

Screenshots of deep app linking via Google.com Image credit: Andevcon
Screenshots of deep app linking via Google.com Image credit: Andevcon

For Apple spotlight search, developers input a title, description, and thumbnail.

Screenshot of a Spotlight search result. Image credit: Apple  
Screenshot of a Spotlight search result. Image credit: Apple

Further Reading: For deeper detail on app indexing, check out these resources:  

If you own an app, you can set up the Google Search Console in Google Webmaster Tools to report on your overall status of app indexing. On top of this, you can check individual URLs for indexing status with Google’s tool, regardless  of whether or not you own them: https://firebase.google.com/docs/app-indexing/android/test (“Test public content  indexing”) 

App indexing case studies: 

Content indexing subchapter was written, including comments, by Emily Grossman. 

Google App Packs 

In addition to regular results, Google.com searches also return app packs, which are groups of apps that are relevant for a particular web search from a mobile device (iOS devices will be shown only app packs for iOS apps, while Android devices will be shown only app packs for Android apps). App packs point to an app’s store page and are not deep linked to content to within an app. All apps that are live in the App Store or Play Store are eligible to rank within an app pack.

For iOS apps, app packs return 30 apps with three showing by default. The app title, description, in app purchases, and user reviews can influence which keywords an iOS app ranks for. 

Android apps return in app packs of up to 100 apps with six showing by default. While the title and user reviews are the best ways to directly influence which keywords an Android app ranks for, Google also ranks apps with other keyword associations identified by Google’s keyword ranking algorithm as relevant. 

Screenshot depicting app packs on Google.com 
Screenshot depicting app packs on Google.com

Daniel Peris

Linkedin: Daniel Peris

How to Use Google Search Console for Apps 

Google Search Console for Apps is the only way to monitor visibility (impressions, clicks, keywords, countries, etc.)  of your Android app in the Google mobile web search. This free tool gives multiple possibilities to track your app’s performance in web search. 

If you’ve already set up App Indexing, Google Search Console for Apps will report your app’s content visibility and possible issues with its implementation. 

HOW TO ADD YOUR APP TO THE GOOGLE SEARCH CONSOLE  (GOOGLE-ONLY) 

  1. Go to Google Search Console, click on “Add  property,” select “Android App,” and insert your app or game’s package URL name: 
    1. google search console
  2. Once you have submitted the app, you have to verify that you are the owner of this app, which can take up to  48 hours. 

There are two ways of doing this: 

  •  Automatic verification: Only available if you are the owner and have management rights on the app in  Google Play Console and are logged in with the same account in Google Search Console: 
  •  Enter the URL of your app using this format: android-app://{package_name}/ 
  •  Example: android-app://com.example/ 
  •  Ask the owner of the app already verified for Google Search Console to give you user/owner rights for this app. 

For this, the owner needs to click on Settings icon on his Search Console, select Users & Property Owners and select  “Manage property owners” or “Add a new user.” 

Additional Resources: 

https://support.google.com/webmasters/answer/6178088?hl=en 

https://support.google.com/webmasters/answer/6178045?hl=en

How to Track App SEO performance 

GOOGLE WEBMASTER TOOLS SEARCH CONSOLE 

To access the analytics and reports on SEO of your app, select “Search Analytics” in your App property on Google  Search Console: 

Screenshot showing Google Webmaster Tool Search console view
Screenshot showing Google Webmaster Tool Search console view

Similarly to Search Console for websites, in the App Search Analytics you can track the impressions, clicks, CTR, and position for ranked keywords, indexed content of the app (in case of App Indexing), and the breakdown per country or per device. 

All this information is available for a maximum of 90 days. 

Other sections include: 

  • Messages: Notifications and announcements from Google, error notices, advice, and tips. 
  • Crawl Status: An indicator of visibility of the app (how many pages Googlebot has indexed). This only applies if you’ve set up App Indexing. 
  • Fetch as Google: In case you use deep links in your mobile app, submit any of them in order to check whether  Google can access it. 

GOOGLE PLAY CONSOLE 

In Google Play Console, go to “User acquisition > Reports > Google Search (Organic)” to see which keywords bring  Installs with Google web SEO / App Packs:

Screenshot depicting the Google SEO row in acquisition reports 
Screenshot depicting the Google SEO row in acquisition reports

Here you can see which keywords are bringing Installs from Google Web Search: 

Screenshot depicting the keyword sources in acquisition reports 
Screenshot depicting the keyword sources in acquisition reports

Pro tip: Match keywords from Google Search Console and Google Play Console… Magic! Now you have impressions > clicks > Installs (> buyers) keywords data from SEO / App Packs!

On Backlinks and ASO 

In our experience, backlinks don’t have a direct impact on ASO. Maybe some of them, the ones that generate Installs,  have a little impact, but there’s no direct relation with ASO Search or Top Charts. ASO is not SEO and vice versa and backlinks are the main SEO factor. 

But, because mobile web search is growing in popularity, the role of the backlinks in SEO for apps is growing stronger,  too. Google does take into account backlinks (and anchor texts) to rank apps in mobile web search.  

While unlikely in ASO, in Google SEO for mobile apps, backlinks do play an important role. If more powerful domains point to your app, then the more visibility your app result will get in web search, the more clicks and the more downloads, as you can see in the following example. 

Screenshot showing the evolution of referring domains 
Screenshot showing the evolution of referring domains
Screenshot showing the number of organic keywords bringing traffic to Fidget Spinner
Screenshot showing the number of organic keywords bringing traffic to Fidget Spinner

The effect of high quality backlinks has been proved, in our opinion, for Google Web Search that now includes the App Packs and crawls app content (in case of App Indexing) and backlinks to put more weight on the apps/games that have stronger URL ratings. 

There are some tools that allow to monitor SEO backlinks, such as Open Site Explorer by Moz [https://moz.com/ researchtools/ose/] and ahrefs. 

USING AHREFS FOR APP SEO 

ahrefs provides comprehensive statistics about domain rating (apple.com and google.com) and URL rating, backlinks,  referring domains, organic keywords per country, estimates organic traffic, and paid keywords, and shows top referring  content and anchor texts: 

Image source: ahrefs
Image source: ahrefs
Image source: ahrefs
Image source: ahrefs
Image source: ahrefs
Image source: ahrefs

To track and improve the rankings of a mobile app in Google Mobile Web Search, there are certain best practices that  developers and marketers can use: 

  •  Track your app’s visibility on Google web search with Google Search Console tool (only for Google Play apps). 
  • Track your app’s backlinks profile with Backlinks SEO tools like ahrefs or Open Site Explorer by MOZ. 
  •  Optimize your app’s on-metadata for ASO + SEO: title/app name, short description (Google Play), long description, developer name, etc. 
  • Contact media to get some mentions and direct links to your app. 
  • Get more positive ratings/reviews from users. 

Users can organically find your app in App Stores, but they also can do it in Google mobile web search. This is why it’s  important to track your app’s visibility in every channel. 

Subchapter authored by Daniel Peris.

Final Words 

And there you have it! The unabridged guide to advanced App Store Optimization.  

We hope that you have gained a more in-depth understanding of how ASO works, from increasing your visibility, to raising your conversion rate, to learning about the tools available to help you in your work, to understanding how forces outside of the store influence your app’s ASO success potential, and everything in-between. 

If you enjoyed this book, please tell your friends and spread the word! And if you have feedback, we would love to hear from you! Send a note to info@phiture.com and hello@incipia.co. 

Visit the ASOStack Blog by phiture.com and the blog at incipia.co to learn more about our companies and stay up-to date on the latest and greatest content on ASO. 

THANK YOUS 

We would first like to give major thank-you to our editor, Regina Leuwer,  without whom we would have suffered greatly in staying on task writing and completing this book, and without whom we certainly would not have finished on time for the launch of iOS 11. 

We’d also like to give a thank-you to our book branding designer, Javier Prieto, without whom the book would not have been anywhere near as professional, visually engaging, and all-around stylish. 

Regina Leuwer (Editor) and Javier Prieto (Designer)
Regina Leuwer (Editor) and Javier Prieto (Designer)

Additionally, the cover of the ASO book has been made by Stuart Miller, and the second copy of the book was proofread by Robin Runyan

We also have a list of other folks that we would like to thank and acknowledge for helping us to create the book: 

Guest Authors (alphabetical order) 

Proofreaders and Other Contributors (alphabetical order) 

Tool Providers (alphabetical order) 

AppFollow: Anatoly Sharifulin, Evgeny Kruglov 

AppRadar: Thomas Kriebernegg 

AppTweak: Laurie Galazzo 

ASODesk: Sergey Sharov 

Mobile Action: Aykut Karaalioglu, Hugh Kimura 

Priori Data: Patrick Kane, Patrik Winkler

RaiseMetrics: Alexey Savitsky 

SensorTower: Randy Nelson 

SplitMetrics: Alexandra Lamechenka, Ian Artimovich 

StoreMaven: Adam Rakib 

TheTool: Katerina Zolotareva, Daniel Peris 

TUNE: Ian Sefferman, Patrick Haig, Tam Phan 

We would also like to thank the engaged and wonderful ASO Stack Slack community that has blossomed from just a  few folks, to now hundreds of ASOs from all across the world. 

Lastly, we would like to thank you, our reader, for whom this whole book was created. Thank you for reading! We hope that you will accomplish great things in the world of app marketing, and we look forward to hearing from you. 

-Moritz and Gabe

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