10 ½ Advanced App Store Optimization Secrets ASO Experts Will Never Share!
Everyone wants to get ahead on the App Store and on Google Play. Everyone with an app or a game, that is. App Store Optimization is a great (and free) tool to do that, but over the last few years more developers have learned how to do it and the basics that used to work before are now requirements to even be competitive.
But there's a lot more to ASO than the basics! I've analyzed thousands of apps and keywords (for the App Teardown and Keyword Teardown series), and have identified a variety of things that can help you get more visibility. Or, make your efforts futile if you do these wrong.
I call these "secrets" because they're not intuitive, unobvious, and are usually guarded by others who figure them out. In this guide, I'll share a few of those with you, so you can get more visibility for your apps and games.
FYI - If you're looking for a simple list scroll all the way down.
Not Your Basic ASO Tips
I'm going to assume you know the basics of App Store Optimization if you've landed here. By basics I mean that you need to use keywords in your app's name, that you should never repeat keywords, optimize for keywords by their popularity score and not your gut, etc.
If you'd rather start in the beginning, I'd recommend starting with our ASO Checklist, and then continuing with this article.
Although these are "advanced" they aren't harder or more complicated, they simply build on top of the basics.
10 ½ Advanced Tips for App Store Optimization
While this list is numbered, each tip can be used alone. I'd recommend experimenting with as many as are relevant for your app or game, but not making too many changes at once.
Let's get into the tips!
1. Promote an In-App Purchase
This is a pretty simple one. Apple really likes it when apps use things its platform offers, and that extends to features of the App Store. One such feature is the ability to highlight an in-app purchase.
Apps that promote an in-app purchase seem to rank better by Apple's search algorithm. So, head on into App Store Connect and promote an in-app purchase.
I've seen countless examples where apps that do this get a rank that their performance alone can't get. A good one can be seen in Keyword Teardown #31.
Note: I'm not sure how long this will be relevant, but it's certainly working now. If you have an in-app purchase or subscription you can't go wrong with featuring it.
As an added bonus, promoted in-app purchases push other apps down in the list of results, giving your app more visibility. It's a win-win.
2. Implement In-App Events
Much like promoted in-app purchases, apps and games that are running in-app events also get preferential treatment by Apple's algorithm. Now, you might be thinking, "running an event is a big deal...".
That might be true, but... lately I'm seeing a lot of apps and games that run in-app events for things that aren't exactly events, and Apple allows them in. I'm not saying you should fake an in-app event just for the ranks, but I am saying the bar isn't high.
You can see this in action in Keyword Teardown #44
3. Game Center Gives you Super Powers
Similar to the previous two power-ups, games that leverage Apple's Game Center, which I thought was dead a loooong time ago (but it isn't!) seem to get ahead without having the right performance to compete.
Implementing Game Center isn't as easy as promoting an in-app purchase, and are still more difficult than creating an in-app event. So this secret is going in reverse.
See, normally I say you should pick keywords in which you can compete, meaning you have the proper performance to get a top rank or are close enough.
If you're using Game Center you can aim higher. You can optimize for keywords that you don't necessarily have enough new ratings to challenge the top results, because having GC you'll get a boost from the algorithm.
How high you can "jump" will rely on who you're competing against, so it's worth experimenting with different keywords if different difficulties.
And, this goes for the first two as well.
You can see this in action in Keyword Teardown #56
4. Don't Use All 30 Characters If You Use Special Characters
I stumbled on a bug in the App Store's search algorithm that's not at all obvious and seems to catch a lot of apps in its ugly claws.
This is a bit technical, but this is an advanced list so you've been warned.
The bug is that the algorithm reads special characters, such as
&, as two characters even though they're just one. This may seem harmless, but! The algorithm only reads the first 30 characters of a name or subtitle, so if one character is counted twice, the last character will be ignored if you use all 30.
Once I saw this I dug in deeper and continued to find more of this in the wild, so I'm fairly certain this is a bug and not the expected behavior.
What this means is that you should either stay away from special characters, or don't use all 30 characters when using a special character.
You can see this in action in Keyword Teardown #47
Note: I don't expect Apple will fix this any time soon, but they might, so this may not be an issue forever. For now, better safe than sorry.
5. New Ratings are the Currency of App Store Optimization
The algorithm uses keywords to determine which apps are relevant for a search, but it sorts them in order of how users rate their popularity. More specifically, by how many new ratings the apps have received in the last few days.
That's right. Ratings. Not reviews. That's something many get confused by.
Another thing the algorithm isn't looking at is the average rating. To the algorithm, a new rating is the currency of choice because it indicates popularity. Apple doesn't use downloads to rank search results, leaving it with the next best thing, and that's ratings.
And to that end, a new rating is an indication of usage, whether it's good or bad.
So, focus on getting more ratings. Here's how WeTransfer grew ratings by 3,000%.
What's NRDR and how you can use it when optimizing. I use a simple metric to benchmark how good the competition is at getting new ratings. I do this so I can quickly figure out how many downloads I need to beat them. I call this metric NRDR, or, New Ratings from Downloads Rate.
It's a mouthful, I know. If you have a better suggestion please let me know.
Calculating NRDR is really simple - take the total number of new ratings the app received in the country you're analyzing in the last 30 days and divide it by the estimated downloads in the country in the last 30 days.
I use 30 days because it's as close to what the algorithm is seeing, from my research.
This division will give you a number that, when compared to your competitors, will tell you if you're better at converting new downloads into ratings. It'll also help you track how good your app is at converting downloads into new ratings over time.
Your goal is to have the highest NRDR of all of your competitors. And that'd mean that you need fewer downloads to get more ratings.
6. On Google Play, Keywords in Reviews Count
Speaking of reviews, one thing I never understood on Google Play that weirdly enough is working (and can be very dangerous) is that Google's algorithm will read your app's reviews, identify keywords being used, and will rank your app for those that come up often enough.
On the surface this might seem simple and useful, but user reviews are generated by users, which means... they can be gamed.
Now, I'm not saying you should go out there and buy fake reviews and stuff them with keywords. Don't. That's bad any way you look at it, and risks having your app banned from the store. We don't want that.
But, knowing Google does this means you can now see which keywords Google Play's algorithm associates with your apps and optimize for them. If they're relevant, of course.
Using the reviews report you can easily see all of your reviews and also all the reviews for any of your competitors. Analyze yours to see which keywords you should optimize for, and analyze competitors' to see, well, also which keywords you should optimize for.
FYI - Knowing this relationship exists, a black hat ASO can also turn this into a weapon and hurt the competition. I don't promote any black hat ASO though so I'm not going to get into that here.
7. Keyword Placement Is More Important Than You Think
I said I won't talk about basics, and this one might seem like a basic one, but I see so many developers messing this one up and letting their competitors win that it may not be as basic as I think it is.
Let's talk about keyword placement.
Where you place your keywords in the name, subtitle, and keyword list (or long description, on Google Play) matters. A lot.
The algorithm reads from left to right for shorter pieces of metadata, like the name and subtitle, and top to bottom in the case of the long description on Google Play. It then assigns a weight to every word it reads, giving the most to the ones it reads first.
That means that if you're trying to target a keyword it should be as early as possible into the app's name. The same goes for the app's subtitle or short description, and for the keyword list or long description.
The closer it is to the beginning the more Apple and Google see it as relevant for your app.
It's really simple, but there are lots of keywords where the top results don't do that, which means a "weaker" app can squeeze in by just changing the placement of its keywords.
Brand first or keyword first? That's a question I hear from developers often and the answer is very simple. If people search for your app by brand more than by what it does, brand first. Otherwise, keyword first.
You can see this in action in Keyword Teardown #38
8. Don't Split or Reverse Multi-Word Keywords
Speaking of keyword placement, it's not just where you place your keywords but also how you handle multi-word keywords.
When optimizing for keywords that are made up of multiple words you'll have to break up some, but, when you do, the algorithm assigns them a lower relevance and ranks your app lower in search results.
That's why you should always keep important keywords together.
Even worse than splitting a multi-word keyword is reversing the order of it. To the algorithm, "app analytics" and "analytics app" are not the same. So if I'm trying to optimize my app for one, the other won't get me as good a rank.
You can see this in action in Keyword Teardown #66
9. Don't Just Optimize for Keywords. Look For Keyword Opportunities.
This might be the most important secret on this list, and it's a pretty useful one!
When you're looking for keywords, it's always tempting to aim high and go after keywords that have more searches but are also more competitive. If you can challenge the current top results, great, but if you can't you're wasting characters.
But there's a better way to go about selecting keywords that's still relevant in 2022. I say that because I see a bunch of those in the wild all the time. Many of the recent Keyword Teardowns showcase opportunities, and you can clearly see this in action in Keyword Teardown #69.
First, what's a keyword opportunity? Simple - a keyword opportunity is a keyword where the top results aren't directly optimizing for the keyword.
Second, how do you find them? Using Keyword Inspector and a combination of Competitor Keywords and Related Keywords, browse keywords and look for instances where all, or most, of the top results don't use the full keyword, not split, in the name.
Third, how do you take advantage of a keyword opportunity? Simpler - once you identify a keyword opportunity that's relevant for your app optimize for it by using it as the first word in your app's name.
10. The Algorithm Doesn’t See “You”, It Sees You AND Your Competitors
One of the biggest problems I'm seeing is developers aren't optimizing with their competitors in mind but rather in isolation, as if the algorithm only sees their app. But that's not at all the case.
The algorithm has one "simple" task and that's to identify and show the most relevant results for every search. Relevant for the user, not the developer...
So, when optimizing, most scores are not absolute but rather relative. How many new ratings you need, or NRDR, also becomes relative. And another important thing that changes when you start thinking about ASO this way is that who your competitors are changes.
Normally, when you think about a competitor you think about an app that does the same things (or very similar) your app does. But when it comes to App Store Optimization, your competition is whoever's ranking for the keywords you're targeting.
And it's not always direct competitors.
Bonus ASO Secret - The Algorithm "Fixes" Misspellings
I left the one that's possibly most confusing to last and marked it as a bonus not because it's not worthy of being a secret, but rather because it's a hard one to harness.
Nevertheless, I think it's important to know about it.
The algorithm attempts to turn keywords that seem misspelled into proper keywords. In Keyword Teardown #65 I came across an app that has the word "fltr" in its name, which the algorithm read as "filter".
So even though it didn't optimize for the word "filter" in its visible metadata (name or subtitle), it still managed to get a top spot in search results with its new ratings and this "quirk".
It's hard to tell which words the algorithm can "fix" and which it won't, making this more of an interesting thing to keep in mind vs. something actionable. But... you can experiment with relevant keywords and see how far that takes you.
Getting ahead on the App Store and Google Play is still possible, but it's no longer just about the basics. But the advanced tips aren't too too complicated if you know them.
Now you do:
- Promote an In-App Purchase
- Implement In-App Events
- Game Center Gives you Super Powers
- Don't Use All 30 Characters If You Use Special Characters
- New Ratings are the Currency of App Store Optimization
- On Google Play, Keywords in Reviews Count
- Keyword Placement Is More Important Than You Think
- Don't Split or Reverse Multi-Word Keywords
- Don't Just Optimize for Keywords. Look For Keyword Opportunities.
- The Algorithm Doesn’t See “You”, It Sees You AND Your Competitors
Bonus: The Algorithm "Fixes" Misspellings
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