Are You Hurting Your Organic Success Without Knowing? Here's How to Check
Many app makers and marketers know the value of App Store Optimization but see it as a daunting task and don't get started, which really hurts their downloads.
The thing is, what's hurting them the most is usually an easy fix more than an elaborate and complicated ASO campaign.
ASO is a trend that's hard to ignore these days, and even if you're not doing it, your competition probably is. And they're taking your downloads.
So before you get too deep into advanced concepts, let me share a list of checks I run every time I look at an app or game. I use the same checks on apps that were never optimized as well as on apps that get monthly ASO updates, and it really helps to find the easy fixes fast.
I've built my list of "checks" over a long amount of time, looking at many, many (many) keywords and apps. In this guide, I'll share my list with you so you can find those easy fixes and correct them.
In this guide:
ASO Checks for Keywords
My list of checks is split into two sections. The first, which is the most important in my opinion, takes care of keywords errors which are always easy to fix.
ASO Check #1 - The Cardinal Sin of ASO
The first ASO check is to look for repeating keywords. You don't want those.
Keywords that are repeated between the app's name, subtitle, or keyword list, hurt your app's ability to rank and should be eliminated.
Some developers do this believing that repetition will get the algorithm to see the app, but the algorithm ignores duplication by eliminating it.
And it's not just the wasted characters.
When you repeat a keyword multiple times, the algorithm ignores all but the last instance, where it's not as strong.
Duplication is bad. Very bad.
Fix it by not repeating any words. The same word, singular or plural, is what you need to eliminate. Similar words don't count as duplication.
ASO Check #2 - Poor Keyword Placement
The next ASO check has to do with where keywords appear in your app's metadata. You want the important ones to appear at the beginning of the name, and less important keywords towards the end of the subtitle, with the not-really-important keywords going into the keyword list.
Why? It has to do with how the algorithm assigns value to keywords. First, it gives the most value to keywords in the name, then subtitle, and then keyword list.
So, important keywords have to go into the name.
ASO Check #3 - Prioritizing the Wrong Keywords
The next ASO check gets a bit more involved but is still easy to check. It requires looking up the keyword popularity of the keywords you optimize for.
What people search for on the App Store and Google Play is measured by popularity, which is a score on a scale of 5 - 100. The higher the score, the more people search for it and the more downloads you can get if you rank well in it.
Guessing popularity is pretty difficult, but that doesn't stop many developers from optimizing for low-popularity keywords.
You want to attract as many people as possible, so it's important that you aim high and not low.
One caveat is that higher popularity keywords also tend to have more competition. There's a check for that in this list.
The key here is to know the popularity of the keywords you're targeting
There are two ways you can do that.
For one-off checks, head into Keyword Inspector and search for the keyword. The popularity, as well as a few other metrics and the list of results, will be displayed.
To check multiple keywords at once, track them. Head into Keyword Performance, click the +Add Keywords button, select the "new keywords" tab, and type or paste them all in.
You'll then be able to see their popularity score, along with the top results and where your app ranks for those keywords. And, these will continue to update automatically every hour (or day, depending on your account) so you can track your efforts.
More on that below.
ASO Check #4 - Ineffective Keyword List
The keyword list is now a very important part of a good ASO strategy, but many don't utilize it correctly and waste its potential.
The check I run on the keyword list is really a combination of checks that I've learned from trying to reverse engineer Apple's algorithm.
I wrote a guide on what all those specific checks are, but here's the quick version. Break keywords into words, eliminate duplication, separate them by a comma without a space, and use the singular version of the words.
Things like quotes, spaces, and dashes should never appear in a keyword list.
Nor should competitor names, but that's not a concrete check.
Check out my guide on optimizing the keyword list in App Store Connect for more details.
ASO Check #5 - Known Algorithm Bugs
With the basics out of the way, the next ASO check is something I discovered somewhat recently, and it's a bug in Apple's algorithm not many know about.
The bug is pretty technical, but the simple version is that special characters, like
: count as one character in App Store Connect but as more than one character to the algorithm.
This forces the algorithm to truncate names and, in the process, potentially chop off keywords in the middle, ruining your chances at ranking for those.
I showed this bug in Keyword Teardown #47.
Fixing this is pretty simple. Make sure you double count special characters to keep your app's name shorter.
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ASO Checks for Performance
The second section revolves around performance, which requires understanding the competition. This part is as important, and with the right ASO tools, also easy.
ASO Check #6 - Who's the Competition?
When it comes to performance, it's important to know what you're up against. And, I don't mean which apps have similar features but rather which apps appear in search results for the keywords your app is targeting.
Often enough, apps you don't consider competitors rank for keywords you want. You can easily identify the apps you're up against using Keyword Inspector for one-off checks and Keyword Performance for multiple keywords. Much like check #3, but this time look at the top 5-10 results.
Important things to look at for those competitors are:
- Whether they're making any obvious mistakes.
- How many new ratings they are getting.
There are a few combinations you should look for, which will help you understand if you can even target these keywords:
- Competitors are making mistakes and have fewer ratings than you - You can easily rank here. Make sure you fix everything from the previous checks and get ready for downloads.
- Competitors are not making mistakes and have fewer ratings than you - You'll likely rank here if you target it correctly. If you have a similar number of new ratings, it may take a bit to rank, but if you have many more, it shouldn't.
- Competitors are making mistakes and have more ratings than you - This is a tough yet possible opportunity. The algorithm looks for proper keyword use and only then performance, so fixing the things I've outlined before will help you even when you don't have the ratings, in most cases. This won't be easy, but it's worth a shot.
- Competitors are not making mistakes and have more ratings than you - You won't find success here. Take the time and research a keyword that fits into one of the first three combinations.
ASO Check #7 - New Ratings
Ratings are a very important component of ASO. And not overall ratings but rather new ones. So for my last ASO check, I make sure the app or game is actively asking for ratings.
When and where is a topic for another guide, but the key is to make sure you ask, because you need a consistent stream of ratings to get ranked and to maintain those high ranks.
The algorithm prefers consistency over spikes, unless the spike is massive.
And Apple seems to be actively removing fake ratings, so they need to be real.
What To Do Next?
If you've followed along with your app or game, you should now have a decent idea of whether you're hurting your ASO right now or not. The nice thing about this list is that if you do, you also know what you need to fix.
When it comes to App Store Optimization, even small corrections can make a big difference.
So your next step is to make those corrections.
I usually plan two sets of changes after running through these checks. One quick set to take care of the easy problems to fix, like duplication and keyword placement. Then another to tackle things like replacing keywords and restructuring your keywords altogether, which require more time for research.
We have many more advanced guides that will help you find the best keywords faster, use them correctly, optimize your keyword list, and more. You can find them all in the ASO Guides section.
And here comes another important and super easy step in the process. Monitoring.
Monitoring is Critical
As you continue to update your keywords, it's important to track them so you can see if you're improving or not, when, and where.
To do that, head into Keyword Performance and add all of the keywords you are actively targeting there. This will ensure you can see the trend over time and get alerts when ranks change.
The goal is to always go up, so when you see a negative trend, make sure you figure out why. It's likely related to one of the checks being skipped.
I've given you my checks, now go and run them on your own apps. Want my team to run an ASO check for your app + show you how Appfigures can help you get more downloads? Click here.