The REAL Definition of App Store Optimization by Todd Dunham

search visibility

Todd Dunham

Todd Dunham, CTO and Co-Founder at The ASO Project (and all around ASO guru), shares with us some insights on ASO. He breaks it down for us, explaining how keywords research, search visibility and tracking is just a snippet of ASO, and that there are more factors that play into this ‘new buzz term’. He further goes on to explain what you can do to increase app conversions.

App Store Optimization, or ASO, is the new buzz-term in the app world right now, but do you know what it is? I mean, what it really is? A lot of services and platforms offer keyword research and tracking, which helps, but it’s not the full answer. ASO encompasses a lot more than keywords. We’re going to explore those other factors and what you can do to get more downloads.

Some quick store stats and information for you:

  • The Apple App Store and Google Play Store have over 3.5 million apps combined
  • Every day there are thousands of apps submitted to the app stores
  • Over 60% of apps downloaded in the App Store come from search
  • The App Store sees 300 million visitors every week

The fact that the search functionality is so heavily utilized by the average user provides an enormous opportunity for developers to capture “free” organic downloads.

Search visibility

search visibility
In the App Store, the main factors for search visibility come from the app title and the 100-character keyword field. There are a few challenges when it comes to crafting the perfect title and keyword list:

  • Keyword Value – How competitive is this keyword, and what kind of search volume does it have?
  • Keyword Relevancy – A keyword has a lot of searches, but will users want your app if they find you using this search term?
  • Spammy Titles – It’s extremely beneficial to use additional keywords in your title, but again, staying relevant and avoiding spam is crucial!

Apple can be hit or miss on titles. Some apps are rejected for a title that’s too long, or contains too many vague or spammy words (according to Apple). Avoid sounding spammy, and put together a title structured as a tagline, implementing top keywords. Some of the basics when it comes to putting together your title and keywords for the App Store are:

  • Avoid duplicates between the title and keyword field
  • Keywords should all be words, not phrases
  • Comma separated keywords, with no spaces

search visibility
When it comes to the Play Store, Google’s algorithm is much more complex than Apple’s, and needs to be approached differently. The title limitation of 30 characters, and lack of keyword field puts the ASO pressure on your app’s description. A lot of people look at these 4,000 characters as the opportunity to inject tons of keywords. The reality is that there’s an art to writing a compelling, ASO-friendly, Play Store description. Google’s algorithm is smart enough to know if your description is “human-readable” and makes sense. The key to an effective description is the positioning, density and frequency of keywords. Google is complex enough to determine the position and usage of a keyword within a sentence in order to determine the “weight” of this keyword in their algorithm.

Conversion rates

Search visibility is the main thing people think of when they hear the term ASO, but your conversion rates are equally as important. Let’s say you’ve mastered search visibility and your app is at the top of all the relevant keywords. Thousands of people search those terms every day, but you’re only getting 200 downloads. Why? It’s time to dig into your conversion rates. In both stores (more recently the App Store), you’re able to see the number of users that viewed your app’s page, and the number that actually installed it.

What are the elements of conversion rates?

search visibility

  • Icon – The icon is the face of your app. It will be on the user’s device and it’s the first impression of your app (especially on the Play Store).
  • Screenshots – The user’s first time seeing your app’s screens. The chance for you to show off your app and add in extra “keywords” and describe your app.
  • Short Description (Play Store) – Your app’s “one-liner” to grab the attention of users.
  • Description – Users don’t like to read. Make the first portion valuable and get to the point!
  • Video – The preview video is the test drive of your app. A well-produced video that highlights your app’s features can be extremely beneficial to conversions.

All of these factors play a major role in ASO. But how do you know if a certain screenshot order, or icon color will help? You TEST! Split testing is the most beneficial thing you can do for your conversion rates. There are a lot of resources available (TestNest being one of them) that provide split testing functionality and deep analytical feedback. Something to keep in mind is that you need to test relevant things. If you’re testing things that are too similar, or both are low converting, it’s not going to benefit you. Venture outside the box in your testing, use completely different colors, change your icon to stand out from competition, you don’t know it works until you test it!

Increasing your conversion rates can increase downloads exponentially, especially if your search visibility is already high.

App quality/retention

Retention? App quality? I thought we were talking about ASO? We still are! Your app quality and user retention is another major piece of the pie. If your search visibility is high and your conversion rates are great, but your app just isn’t up to the standards of today’s users, your ASO will be negatively impacted. Retention is a large factor in the Play Store and has growing importance in the App Store. The lifetime of your app on a user’s device is essentially telling Apple/Google if your app is the best option for their users. If your app is downloaded through a certain keyword, but uninstalled by a majority of users the same day, your rankings will sink for that keyword.

The solution is to be sure your app is up to par with your competitors. Stay on top of development trends and new technologies within iOS and Android. Both Apple and Google appreciate developers who keep their apps current, often featuring apps when new technologies are released.


The bottom line is that the REAL definition of App Store Optimization is a little more complex than just keywords! All of these things contribute to an effective ASO approach. One of the most important things to keep in mind is that none of these factors should be a one-time modification. The app stores are always changing and evolving and your ASO needs to keep up. Granted, you don’t want to be manipulating textual elements too often, but you should always be split testing your on-page graphics.