Apple gave developers a look at the latest update to iOS last week at WWDC, and it's clear this isn't a maintenance update. There are improvements and new features that will resonate with almost everyone who's using an iPhone.
That's great news for us developers because it means more downloads. But that's not all. Apple also packed changes to the store that will improve discovery and, best of all, tools developers can use to get more of those downloads. If they try.
Here's what's new in iOS 15 for ASO and how you can use it to get more downloads:
FYI - There are features Apple has made available but didn't document or announce. We'll update this article as we discover them.
In-App Events in Search Results
iOS 15 will make it easier for apps and games that run events to promote those events and get users engaged with what Apple calls "In-App Events."
In-App Events will be displayed prominently in the app's page and also in search results and editorial content.
You may be thinking, "how is this relevant for ASO?". Well, App Store Optimization is about improving discovery, and with In-App Events, Apple is handing apps and games that can take advantage of this feature new avenues to get visibility (and downloads).
What to do: This one's simple, if you run events in your app or game, register them with Apple as early as possible. If you don't, think of whether you can. It'll earn you another spot in search results, and it's also known that Apple likes to shine its spotlight on apps and games that take advantage of new features, so you could get even more visibility.
The big streamers and popular games are sure to take advantage of this one day-one, but Apple usually features big and small names, so that's your chance to get in front of a large audience.
But... If you can't, don't force it.
More Search Results
In addition to a standalone placement in search results, In-App Events will also replace screenshots in search results for apps and games you already have installed. What happens when an app or game you already have installed doesn't have an In-App Event to promote? Its screenshots are hidden!
This wasn't announced by Apple, so it might change, but so far, we've seen that apps and games that are already installed don't show their screenshots in search results.
How's this relevant for ASO? It means that search results could now include more results without any scrolling.
What to do: More results = more chances to get seen even if you're not the highest-ranked result, so to take advantage of this, you'll need to go back to basics and spend time optimizing the keywords where you're close to be closer.
- Find all the keywords your app or game is ranking in but not high. You can do this with the Discover report filtered to show keywords with a rank between 5 and 20.
- Optimize your keyword list, subtitle, and app name (if you can) to target those keywords and push them up just enough, so they enter the top 10. Here are a few tips on how to optimize your keyword list, which will likely be most helpful here.
Even More Discovery with the App Store Widget
Another nifty little addition that didn't get a lot of screen time in any of the sessions was a new widget Apple is making available in iOS 15 that will display editorial content (aka. apps that are featured) in a widget.
Getting featured on the App Store gets a lot of visibility, and with the new App Store widget, people who aren't even logged into the store will see your app right on the home screen
What to do: Get Apple to notice your app so they can include it in editorial content or feature it on the Today page. Getting featured isn't the kind of thing you can force Apple to do, but there are certain actions you can take to get closer. Here are my tips for how to get featured on the App Store.
Custom Product Pages
And now, let's move to the big changes, starting with Custom Product Pages, which is exactly what the name says.
In the new App Store, Apple will allow developers to create different variations of their apps' or games' App Store Page.
With Custom Product Pages, you'll be able to create a page that has different screenshots, App Preview, and promotional text than the default page. This custom page will have a unique URL that you can give anyone outside of the store.
You'll be able to curate the content different groups of users will see when they get to the App Store, so they see exactly what's most likely to help them understand the value of the app or connect with a game quickly, leading to a download.
Let's look at an example: Say your app gives sports news and scores. You're probably promoting it to fans of a variety of teams. You also try to show as many teams as you can in your screenshots, so fans get to see their team at some point. That's pretty challenging.
With custom pages, you can make a page for every team, and when you promote your app in that fan club's forum, use the special link to take those fans to the app's page showing their team all over.
That's a lot more likely to earn you a download.
As with everything good we get from Apple, you'll be limited to 35 pages, but what makes up for it is that you won't need to release a product update to create or update a custom page.
What to do: If you're promoting your app or game to different types of audiences, think about what they would find useful or engaging first and set up a unique page that shows that off. It might be a specific feature or a game character, but it has to be something that would resonate with that particular audience best.
It could be a shuffle of screenshots or new ones altogether. There's a lot of time before this feature is going live, so you have enough time to research and put together new screenshots.
FYI - Here are my top tips for designing screenshots that get downloads.
A/B Testing with Product Page Optimization
And now, for the most important update to iOS since dropping the ratings-reset in iOS11: A/B testing in the App Store. Apple didn't call it that for some reason, but it is.
A quick primer on A/B testing: Colors, fonts, and composition are a very subjective subject, so it should come as no surprise that some combinations of those get more downloads than others. It's not always intuitive what's the best combination, so good marketers try a few for a short time and use the one that performs best.
For example, research around the impact of colors on conversion shows that orange is associated with friendliness while blue is associated with trust.
Do users want a friendly app or a trustworthy one? You can experiment by setting up two variations of your screenshots. The first will have an orange background and the second blue. Then, for a short amount of time, let's say 30 days, half of the people who see your app in the store will get the orange variation while the other half will get the blue variations.
After 30 days, you'll compare the number of page views and downloads between them, and the one with the higher conversion rate is your winner.
After running a few A/B tests, you'll wonder why you guessed before. That's what happened to me...
FYI - I'm such a big believer in A/B testing that I recently published a guide with 16 A/B tests you must try to get more downloads. It's one of my most popular guides.
Ok, primer over 👍
Up until iOS 15, you couldn't do any of this directly in the App Store. You could on Google Play, but if you wanted to try this with your iOS apps, you'd have to resort to 3rd party services that fake the App Store. Those weren't terrible solutions but weren't all that great either (and cost a pretty penny).
When the new OS launches later this fall, we'll be able to A/B test right in the App Store. I hope you see why this is so exciting now!
A few technical details:
- With Product Page Optimization, you'll be able to test screenshots, App Preview, and the icon. The latter is a bit of a headache—more on that below.
- Your tests can have up to 3 variations of the page in addition to your default, so it's not just an A/B test but potentially A/B/C/D test.
- A test can run for up to 90 days. Unlike other limitations, this one's probably for your own safety because A/B tests should never run longer than that. Even 90 is long.
The metadata you use in your experiments needs to be reviewed by Apple (duh) but, all experiments that only include screenshots and/or App Preview don't require an app update. YES!! Testing the icon does require an update...
That's because Apple prefers users see the same icon in the store as they do on their device after the app or game is downloaded.
When testing your icon, something you should do, all the variations need to be uploaded to App Store Connect and also be included in your app bundle. Apple will automatically select the right one based on your experiment. Ideal, no, but cool, absolutely!
What to do: Start by thinking of a few things to test. I suggest starting with screenshots because they usually have the most impact. You can test pretty much anything, be it color, font face, size, text, etc. Refer to the link I have above for ideas. But, I recommend testing only one thing at a time. If you're testing colors, change only that. If you're testing caption placement, don't also change the color. When you mix experiments, it's hard to tell which element won and which got a free ride.
Once you know what you'll be testing, make a variation of it. A couple of things I learned about A/B testing:
- Two additional variations are usually enough, but if you don't have a lot of page views, two should be your max.
- The variations should be done at the same quality as your primary set of screenshots, not less. Just because they're experimental doesn't mean you can cut corners. I mean, you absolutely can, but it defeats the purpose of the experiment.
When Product Page Optimization launches in the fall, you'll be able to start experimenting right away, which means you'll get to more downloads more quickly.
There's a lot more to A/B testing, which I'll be talking about in the future, both in article format and on our Mastering ASO series of live videos, but this should be a good start for now.
If it wasn't clear before, the release of iOS 15 is a clear sign that apps and games have to invest time into optimizing their presence on the App Store to get (more) downloads. If you've built an app or a game that's truly great, you have to make sure everyone knows about it.
Optimizing isn't complicated or impossible. It requires trying and experimenting. Apple's built-in tools give you the start you need.
Better ASO Requires the Right Tools
ASO is part creativity and part science. The creativity comes from you and your knowledge of your app or game. The science comes from tools that surface suggestions, give you insight into the competition, and offer intelligence to help you validate your decisions. Not using our ASO tools yet? Get started →