ASO and SEO: What's Similar, Different, and How They'll Get You More Downloads

Ariel Michaeli Ariel Michaeli
Aug. 18, 2020
ASO and SEO: What's Similar, Different, and How They'll Get You More Downloads

App Store Optimization is often confused with being "mobile SEO." While the two share a similar acronym and a similar goal, they are not, at all, the same. Put together, ASO and Search Engine Optimization can work together to earn your app more organic downloads, each in its own way.

If you're trying to get more downloads, understanding the differences between ASO and SEO and (at the least) the basic concepts is a must.

In this guide, we'll cover what each is all about, how the two are different, and how you can leverage both to grow your bottom line.

It's All About Discovery

Getting more downloads, organically, requires getting your app in front of people who need what the app does. An excellent way to find the right people is through search results. People who need something search for it, and if your app shows up in relevant searches, they'll definitely see it and potentially download it.

App Store Optimization and Search Engine Optimization both aim to achieve exactly that—Bring you to the top of relevant search results. App Store Optimization, by its name, targets searches in the App Store and on Google Play while Search Engine Optimization targets search engines on the web, namely Google.

Both ASO and SEO involve strategies that use keywords in strategic places to "help" search algorithms find and place your app at the top of relevant search results, but while the goal is the same, they differ greatly in intent (what people search for) and implementations (what you can optimize), which requires separate strategies to tackle both correctly.


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The Differences Between ASO and SEO

There are two main differences between ASO and SEO:

Same Search Box, Completely Different Intents

The main difference between SEO and ASO is what people search for. Knowing what kind of searches take place on the web (SEO) vs. in the App Store/Google Play (ASO) means you'll be able to optimize for the most appropriate keywords on each.

Search engines offer organized access to the web, which has next to infinite content. That's why many searches online will be in the form of a question and will usually be more specific. Things like how-to articles or top lists are very common searches online because they result in content you can read and not an app you can use.

People usually come to the App Store and Google Play when they have a problem that needs solving. That's why searches will typically include an app's name or focus on a very specific feature or benefit. It could be the need for an app to show the news, a puzzle to help them pass the time, or a business app to help them track invoices. All of those are features, or problems, an app can help with.

That's why you shouldn't use the same keywords for SEO and ASO. Instead, take the time to differentiate between questions and features for your specific field, and craft a keyword list that targets those correctly.

For example, if you have a workout app, your ASO keywords could include "workout" and "exercise" while your website should have content such as "How to get fit", or "4 exercises to get a 6-pack".

More (or Less) to Optimize

In addition to what people search for, ASO and SEO differ in what you can optimize.

With Search Engine Optimization, your website in your canvas. You can create as much content as you'd like and have full control over every piece of text and image that goes into it. This makes optimize for the web easier, but at the same time, if you can do it, everyone can, so also more competitive.

App Store Optimization, on the other hand, has one area to optimize: the app's details page. That's limits the opportunities and levels the playing field for everyone. Where on the web, larger companies can write more content, in the store, all companies, regardless of size, have the exact same number of areas to optimize: one. That makes getting results with ASO more attainable.

While seemingly small, these differences don't just mean you need different strategies but also need to set different expectations for results.

How to Optimize for Search Engines (SEO)

Search Engine Optimization revolves around your app's website. If you only have a simple landing page for your app or no website at all, you're missing out on potential traffic from search engines. Building a website in 2020 is exceptionally easy. Between premade templates and site generators, all you really have to think about is the content.

Content... that's the pillar of SEO. Content can be a landing page for a particular benefit your app offers, an article that's relevant to what your app does, or even a tutorial on how to use the app. The key is to make sure the content contains the keywords you want the content to rank for.

Once you have your keyword list, you'll need to work them into the following elements in your content:

  • Title Tag - Search engines look at the title to understand what your content is about, so use your most important keywords here. Keep in mind, this is also what people will see in the search results, so make sure it's readable.
  • Headers - Search engines also read the content and pay attention to the header text you choose. Using keywords here will help convince the algorithm what the content is all about. You can use as many headers as you'd like, but we suggest only using what makes sense for your content, or else the algorithm may think you're trying to spam it. You don't want that.
  • Bold Text - Bolding segments of text draws readers—and search engines—to important bits. We recommend bolding text that includes your main keywords, but again, not to go overboard. Keep in mind that people will be reading this content, so you want to keep it legible.

FYI: There's a tendency to overdo keyword optimization when doing SEO. It's pretty easy and feels right. But... Google is very good at separating overdone content from useful content. You don't want to be in the former category, believe me, so it's best to write content that provides value, is engaging, and also targets the right keywords.

In case you missed it: This guide is a great example of SEO. Our keyword list includes "App Store Optimization", "ASO", "SEO", and "Search Engine Optimization" (in a variety of combinations). The keywords are in the <title> tag, in the main header (<h1>) tag, sub headers (<h2> tags), and in bolded text throughout the article. It wasn't written for SEO, but it's very useful in that way, too.

Neil Patel, one of the most popular voices in SEO, has a simple, step by step guide you may want to check out.

How to Optimize for the App Store & Google Play (ASO)

App Store Optimization focuses on using a limited number of keywords throughout the app's metadata in a very focused way.

ASO starts with identifying keywords that are relevant to your app and then working them into your app's metadata. For the App Store, that means working it into the app's name, subtitle, and keyword list. For Google Play, that means working it into the app's name and the short and long descriptions.

Let's take a closer look at each of these elements:

App Store

  • Name - This is the most important element to optimize. Apple's algorithm uses keywords from the name as a strong hint for where to rank the app. The app's name is limited in number of characters, so make sure to use your most important keywords here, and not to waste any space with repetition. The algorithm ignores repeats.
  • Subtitle - The subtitle is the second most important element to optimize. Its weight is a bit lower than the app's name, but the algorithm combines the two, so one should extend the other. No repeats here. The algorithm ignores them.
  • Keyword List - The keyword list is less important than the name and subtitle, but still has a lot of influence. It's limited in characters but combines with the name and subtitle, so you should include keywords that work well together. In addition, there are a few other optimizations you should apply to the keyword list, which you can find in this guide.

👉 How to Optimize Your App’s Name to Get More Downloads

Google Play

  • Name - This is the most important element to optimize. Google's algorithm uses keywords from the name as a strong hint for where to rank the app. The app's name is limited in number of characters, so make sure to use your most important keywords here, and not to waste any space with repetition. The algorithm ignores repeats.
  • Short Description - Similar to the name, this is the second most important element to optimize, and because it's limited in characters, make sure to use the most important keywords here as well. Repetition doesn't count here either.
  • Long Description - This element has the least weight but happens to be very flexible. Unlike the name and short description, you should repeat your keywords multiple times in the long description. That doesn't mean stuffing it with keywords, but instead building sentences that utilize those keywords in a readable way.

    Google's algorithm looks at both frequency (the number of times a keyword appears in the text) and the density (the number of times the keyword appears in the text divided by the total number of keywords). Too much repetition can hurt you, so we recommend keeping keyword density to around 2% overall.

👉 Learn more about App Store Optimization with our guides & ASO Teardowns

Should You Focus on ASO or SEO?

Yes. You should focus on both.

App Store Optimization and Search Engine Optimization are great tools to grow your downloads without having to spend money on paid ads. And when done right, both drive people who are looking for what your app has to offer right to it, which means it's not just traffic, but relevant traffic.

Instead of asking which to focus on, you should really be asking how much time you have to spend on both. And instead of asking, you should take that time to optimize both your app's presence on the App Store and Google Play, as well as your app's website in search engines (aka. Google).


Don't forget, monitoring changes is as important as making those changes!

Appfigures offers ASO tools that monitor where your apps (and your competitors) ranked in search results on the App Store and Google Play, give you a universal dashboard to track downloads and revenue, offer insight into your competitors' downloads and much more. Get started →


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