ASO is Changing in 2022 — 6½ Trends to Watch
App Store Optimization is changing, which is both good and bad for developers. Good because changes (usually) open up new opportunities for discovery. Bad because it means that things that were working before may no longer work. This is especially critical for apps and games that didn't do much but were still getting found through search.
If you've been reading my teardowns, you know I look at a lot of apps and games, and the more I analyze the more I can see what Apple and Google are looking at and where those are going.
I've rounded up the 6 (and a half) most import trends that will shape 2022 so you can leverage them to get more downloads.
FYI - Apple and Google were traditionally very different in their approaches to search, and while that's still the case, it's clear they're both getting closer to each other. I cover both the App Store and Google Play in this list.
In this guide:
- 1. Apple Search Ads Are Becoming More Competitive (And Necessary)
- 2. You Must Pay Attention to Your Keywords
- 3. Page Conversion Is Critical to Growth
- 4. You'll Need To Really Know Your Audience
- 5. Google Play is Cleaning Up
- 5. Ratings Drive Ranks - Both Good & Bad
- And the ½ - In-App Events & Offers are a Two-For-One Win
- The Tools You Need to Win with ASO
1. Apple Search Ads Are Becoming More Competitive (And Necessary)
When Apple released App Tracking Transparency last year it almost immediately became the only ad network that can offer a good return on ad spend. How's paid user acquisition related to App Store Optimization? Well...
With fewer places to advertise and in a system where costs are determined by a bidding system, more demand means higher costs. Higher costs mean less return on investment, which means more app and game makers will seek alternatives.
The best in-store alternative to Apple Search Ads is App Store Optimization -- Organic discovery.
As more companies moved their ad budgets to Apple Search Ads in 2021 costs went up, and more companies have started exploring ASO.
And that means more competition on keywords.
All of this means that you can no longer get by without optimizing actively.
One of the most common questions I get from readers and members start with "I used to be the top result for my keyword and now it stopped even though I didn't do anything".
As more apps fight for ranks, what you do (or don't) will only be half of the equation.
You want to do, in this case.
2. You Must Pay Attention to Your Keywords
How do you "do" ASO? Apple and Google look at slightly different things but they both have one thing in common and that's the keywords you use in your app's or game's metadata.
Metadata is lingo for the name and other areas where you can use text. Apple's metadata includes the app's name, subtitle, and keyword list. Google's includes the name, short description, and long description.
You want each of those to have words that tell the algorithms what the app or game offer, so it can place it in relevant search results.
Sounds easy, and you might be thinking "hey, I know this already!", but success with keywords relies on two things, and both have become more important in 2022.
The first is having the "right" keywords. The best keywords are ones that are relevant, not too competitive, popular, and ones you can actually rank in. That first one is fairly easy to guess, but the rest aren't. Get them wrong and you'll end up with keywords that aren't popular and no one cares about, ones that are too competitive, or worst, both.
This is where ASO tools become really critical. Whether you're monitoring a trend or looking for related keywords, having the right data to evaluate keywords is essential to getting more downloads, and in 2022 it's very likely your competitors are using tools to identify the right keywords so guessing simply won't cut it.
The second is where keywords are placed. Apple's algorithm, specifically, gives much more emphasis to words that appear at the beginning of the name. This has been the case for quite some time, but recently it looks like the weight is even heavier. It's also now giving more weight to the keyword list, which wasn't the case up until very recently.
I recently showed my process for identifying keyword opportunities, which runs through 4 different sets of keywords including AI suggestions, related keyword, and competitor keywords.
Check it out:
3. Page Conversion Is Critical to Growth
Attention spans are becoming even shorter and competition even bigger. When you put those two together you see that when someone lands on your app's page, there are only a few seconds to turn them from a viewer into a downloader.
And you want them to all be downloaders but turning a view into a download means you have to capture attention, show the value, and close the deal within a few short seconds and with very limited areas to customize (screenshots, mainly).
The odds of you getting it wrong are much higher than getting it right...
Luckily Apple has finally released an in-store A/B testing tool which lets developers test screenshots, videos, and icons, the things that have the biggest impact on the view-to-download conversion.
If you ask me, that's the most critical change coming to the App Store in a very long time, and one that will separate the successes from the failures.
What I mean by that is, much like I was saying before about having to "do" ASO, you'll also have to actively improve your conversion rate because if you aren't and your competitor is, they'll have an advantage.
Google Play had these tools for quite a while now, and they're amazingly beneficial.
Whether you're developing for the App Store or Google Play, there shouldn't be a time when you aren't running an A/B test.
If you need inspiration, here are 16 things you need to A/B test right now.
Also, a few months ago I invited Gilad from Moburst, an agency that runs A/B tests for companies like Google, to share how he and his team construct an A/B test, what they've tried, what worked, and what you should test.
It's a must watch:
4. You'll Need To Really Know Your Audience
Those shortening attention spans may seem like a problem, even with A/B tests, but they can also be seen as an advantage.
If you customize your app's page for a specific type of user, and do a good job at it, the odds of turning a view into a download increase a lot. And, Apple is now offering a way to do that right within the App Store with Custom Product Pages.
The idea is simple, you create a custom version of your page that gets a special link, and you then use that link when promoting your app or game outside of the store.
I wrote an entire guide on why custom product pages are a great feature + how to use them, and now in 2022 this is one of the features you have to take advantage of in order to get more downloads.
Google also offers page customization, but it's very limited and not exactly the same as what Apple's offering.
5. Google Play is Cleaning Up
Those of you with an Android app or game have had access to A/B testing for a while now, so that's not really new. But that doesn't mean Google Play isn't changing in 2022 because it is. Big time!
In 2021 Google announced a bunch of changes that will be rolling out this year, and those updates will have an immediate impact on ASO and on downloads, so you have to be ready.
- Shorter + cleaner names. App names are now 30 characters long, and cannot contain emojis, promotional words, or words that insinuate performance. This is a great update that will clean up search results and make it easier for users to discover what they're looking for, but for developers it means needing to rethink which keywords are important and which can be dropped.
This update is already out, so if you haven't updated your app's or game's name yet it's critical that you do it as soon as possible. Some will tell you to not make any changes so the algorithm sees more than 30 characters, but I say the opposite. Why? because if you don't, you'll be giving the algorithm control over which keywords are more important and when it decides to enforce this new limitation your app or game will likely suffer.
This is even more important for apps and games that rely on emoji in their name.
- New safety section (aka. privacy labels). Google is in the process of rolling out a new section that lists what apps and games do with user data. It's very similar to Apple's privacy labels.
On the App Store, privacy labels haven't really changed download patterns at scale. Google Play is known for being less strict so it's possible users will be paying more attention to these labels.
Regardless, it's one of those features you'll be forced to use so I would recommend doing it right and using it to your advantage as opposed to as an afterthought.
- Localized + per-device ratings. Ratings are becoming one of the most important signals for ranks, as you'll see below, and Google is finally showing ratings by country in Google Play as opposed to a global total.
This is important because it means now that it's rolled out, you'll need to invest in getting more ratings in every country you're optimizing for. That will likely require a new strategy that you have to work on right away.
This is yet another way in which Google Play is becoming more like the App Store.
5. Ratings Drive Ranks - Both Good & Bad
Speaking of ratings, one thing that's become clear is that new ratings are a very strong signal for ranks. I've been showing that almost every week at this point over in Keyword Teardowns, and all signs are pointing to that becoming even more important in 2022.
See, the algorithm looks at new ratings as a proxy for engagement. Google goes deeper and also takes usage data from the app, but Apple doesn't. It then uses that data, combined with keyword placement, to rank apps and games in search results.
Which means, that to rank higher you need more ratings. Not downloads. Not revenue. Ratings. Not even reviews. Just ratings.
Two important things to keep in mind when it comes to ratings are that 1. the algorithms look at new ratings as opposed to all-time ratings, and 2. that it's as much about the current ratings as it is about having a solid trend, so you want to make sure new ratings are being added fairly consistently.
A great way to do that is by asking your users. If you aren't doing that now, make sure that's a part of your next update. I can't stress the importance of this. If you are asking already, keep optimizing when and how you ask to make sure you have a high download-to-rating conversion rate.
And the ½ - In-App Events & Offers are a Two-For-One Win
Apple released in-app events fairly recently and Google is now testing an "Offers" section which isn't exactly the same, but the two offer a fairly similar benefit that you just can't afford to ignore.
What's the benefit? Easy - Discovery!
Google has a whole tab, front-and-center, for offers. It's a lot like getting featured, but with a discount. On the Apple side of things, in-app events do two things: 1. The event takes up the space of a result below yours, so by having one you'll be pushing a competitor down. And 2. It seems that Apple's algorithm is currently giving a boost in organic ranks to apps and games that leverage in-app events.
Google's offers aren't available to everyone just yet, but you should be ready to do that when it is available for you. Apple's in-app events are now open to all, and even though there's effort required to make events work, it's worth it.
These are the biggest trends I'm seeing in 2022. All are showing how Apple and Google are evolving, and in the process offering app and game makers more opportunities to get discovered. And discovery is the name of the game.
As always, if you have any questions or need help with your ASO you can ping me on Twitter.
The Tools You Need to Win with ASO
Relying on luck and gut feelings isn't how you'll get downloads in 2022. The App Store and Google Play are too mature for that. Instead, you need the right tools to get identify opportunities, spy on competitors, and track your app business. Appfigures has them all! Get started