App Store Optimization: A Comprehensive Guide to Increase App Downloads

An image of App Store on a mobile device

Increasing app visibility is like climbing Mt. Everest — an uphill journey requiring preparation, grit, and strategy. It’s because the app store is a fiercely competitive market.

Imagine there are 3.55 million Android apps in the Google Play Store and about 1.6 million iOS apps in the Apple App Store. App visibility in major app stores is more than creating quality products.

You need to play by the rules of their complex algorithms that influence app rankings — that’s where app store optimization comes in.

Continue reading as we unpack the ins and outs of app store optimization in this comprehensive guide.

What is app store optimization (ASO)?

App store optimization (ASO) is an ongoing process of optimizing key elements of a mobile app’s product information, such as the title, app name, description, and visual assets, on the Google Play Store and Apple App Store. ASO aims to increase a mobile app’s visibility and app downloads organically.

📣 While this process shares some fundamental principles of search engine optimization (SEO), the latter is aimed at search engines like Google, Yahoo!, and Bing. ASO focuses on how an application ranks on an app store’s search results and category rankings.

Why is app store optimization important?

ASO is an integral part of app publishing because even if you have invested heavily in app development without a product-led growth strategy in mind, all your efforts and resources are wasted.

After the app’s pre- and post-launch stage, the exciting part isn’t just your day one in the marketplace — it’s the journey to consistently grow your user base for a greater impact.

Here are several compelling reasons why ASO is crucial to your app’s success:

  • 📣 Greater visibility and discoverability. On average, 1,307 new apps are released on the iOS App Store per day. Standing out is like threading the needle for app developers since most potential app users search the mobile app stores — not Google.
  • 📣 Cost-efficiency on marketing efforts. ASO is an excellent alternative to paid mobile advertising methods for acquiring users. By focusing on organic growth through optimization, you can reduce heavy reliance on costly ad campaigns, balancing free and paid efforts.
  • 📣 Higher quality and relevant users. ASO targets specific keywords and phrases that potential users will likely search on app stores. As a result, your app is discovered and bumped into by an app user likely to be interested in the features and services.
  • 📣 Improved conversion rates and increased revenue. By optimizing app store listings with compelling descriptions, eye-catching screenshots, and other visual elements, developers can use the ASO to increase downloads, directly impacting app usage and revenue generated from in-app purchases and subscriptions.
  • 📣 Continuous growth and stability. Regular updates and optimizations as part of ASO ensure that your app remains relevant and continues to meet user needs. This leads to sustained app growth, higher app retention rates, and long-term stability in the competitive market.

I could go on about the importance of ASO and why it should never be an afterthought if you want more visibility.

However, in the next section, we will uncover more details on optimizing from top to bottom.

How does app store optimization work?

App store optimization is also called app store SEO because it follows the basic principles of search engine optimization.

Apple’s App Store and Google’s Play Store use algorithms to determine which apps will be featured in their app stores. However, like the Google search engine, neither platform has disclosed the intricacies of its app store algorithm.

These algorithms are dynamic and constantly evolving to produce more relevant outcomes and combat exploitation by some app developers who might attempt to manipulate rankings using black hat ASO practices.

Interestingly, I’ve come across Phiture’s table comparing good and bad practices.

ASO: Image of a screenshot on ASO best practices

Source: Phiture

But even though it’s impossible to crack the app store algorithm mystery, it’s possible to deduce the key factors influencing the rankings.

How complex are app store algorithms?

I’ve listed some insights and analyses to understand app store complexity further.

1. 📣 Search results and rankings

These algorithms consider user queries, keywords, behaviors, downloads, app store reviews and ratings, click-through rates, usage patterns, crashes, update frequency, and other factors to determine visibility and positioning.

2. 📣 ASO factors

ASO specialists pinpoint key factors affecting app rankings: user experience, A/B testing, long-tail keywords, app localization, positive reviews, paid campaigns, in-app optimization, regular updates, AI algorithms, and app store analytics.

3. 📣 Algorithm updates

For example, the Google Play Store algorithm has been known to evolve, incorporating more variables into its process (you will know more about this later) to promote high-quality apps that match your users’ interests and needs.

Remember that Google always takes a user-first approach to providing results. They have rolled out The Play Report video series, in which content creators and Googlers share app recommendations.

Source: Google

App Store is also using algorithms for more personalized and relevant app recommendations. This suggests a level of complexity that requires your apps to be optimized continuously to maintain or improve rankings.

ASO: Image of iOS App Store

Source: Apple Insider

So, how does app store optimization work? First, you have to understand how stores feed search results to users.

Distinguishing the differences will eventually unravel the mystery.

Let’s do this in the next section.

How to do app store optimization on different app stores?

Numerous app stores exist — especially in Mainland China with 26 registered ones — but the Google Play Store and the Apple App Store stand out as the front-runners in popularity globally.

Each store boasts an expansive user base, yet distinct differences set them apart.


App Store

ASO: App Store logo ASO: Play Store logo
Audiences iOS users Android users
Keyword indexing Relevance based Popularity based
Listing process Open to anyone Subject for review


1. Google Play Store optimization

First, let’s unpack Google Play Store optimization and what differentiates it from the Apple App Store.

📣 Keyword optimization

  • Metadata. Including relevant app keywords in your app’s title, short description, and long description in the metadata influences ranking. It’s because Google indexes those fields to understand what your app is about and match it with user queries.
  • Developer name. Including keywords in your developer name can also help with visibility. Although it’s not weightier than metadata, it may still tell Google what you and your app are about. Even if there’s a 20% chance of influencing the visibility, it’s okay. That’s still 20% more than not having to try it.
  • Google Play Tags. This feature allows you to categorize your apps more accurately. Select up to five tags that best describe your app. By improving the categorization and relevance of an app in search queries, tags can indirectly affect an app’s ranking. That said, there are still many varying factors Google Play Store considers, so this is just a small piece of the pie in your optimization efforts.

Below, you’ll see examples of tags encircled.

ASO: Image of Google Play Store tags

Source: Google Play Store

📣 Custom store listings

Google Play allows you to create up to 50 custom store listings for your apps. These custom listings can have different text fields and creative assets, so you can target specific segments of your audience or highlight particular features or promotions.

How is this valuable for you? For apps with a global reach, custom store listings can highlight features and communicate your app’s strengths tailored to diverse audiences worldwide.

Here’s an example from Google summarized if you use multiple languages to market the app. It’s a comparison between the main store listing and the custom store listing.

ASO: Image of store listings on Google Play Store

Source: Google

This functionality is similar to Apple’s Custom Product Pages, which I will discuss later.

2. Apple App Store optimization

Now, let’s see what Apple prioritizes regarding rankings in the App Store.

📣 Keyword optimization

  • 📲 Keywords in the app name. Google Play Store also considers keywords in the app name. Still, Apple gives weightier value when you include relevant keywords in the app name, which can significantly improve the ranking. Choose a name that reflects the app’s purpose and tie this up with key search terms.
  • 📲 App subtitle. Introduced in iOS 11, the subtitle field allows you to include additional keywords that describe the app’s functionality or features. This field is indexed by the App Store search algorithm, providing another opportunity to improve search visibility through keyword optimization.
  • 📲 Dedicated keywords field. This is a unique feature that’s only available on the App Store, and it lets you input up to 100 characters of keywords for which you wish your app to rank. These keywords are hidden from users and are a direct way to tell Apple’s search algorithm which search queries should trigger the app in search results.

 📣 Product page optimization

Apple’s Product Page Optimization feature allows you to A/B test different app store pages (icons, screenshots, and app previews). This allows you to optimize your app’s presentation based on the actual user data. This way, you can test these elements to understand better how users engage with your page before downloading your app.


ASO: Image of Apple PPO

Source: Apple

These two major app stores rank apps differently, but ultimately, both prioritize users’ needs and preferences.

What are the other key factors to consider to increase app rankings?

Now that you know the differences between the two major app stores, let’s discuss the key factors that affect the ASO rankings of both iOS and Android apps.

1. Keyword

Boost app store rankings by researching pertinent keywords to optimize your app’s title, description, and metadata. This strategy helps identify the terms potential users will likely use in their app searches.

For impactful keyword research, leverage app store optimization tools like Sensor Tower, AppTweak, and ASOdesk. They track keyword usage in the Google Play Store and Apple App Store, providing insights on popular terms with mobile users.

Additionally, these app store optimization tools can help you track your app’s ranking in the app stores and identify opportunities for improvement.

To find the right keywords, monitor the keywords your competitors are using. The golden tickets are keywords with high search volume but low competition. These won’t be easy to find, but they do exist.

Canva includes keywords on its title to include relevant keywords related to what it offers.

For example, Canva includes keywords in its title that are relevant to its offers.

Your app name is a crucial part of ASO, too. This is where you want to include your strongest keywords. Research shows that brands that include relevant keywords rank 10.3% higher than those that don’t.

2. App reviews and ratings

Positive user ratings and reviews are crucial for app ranking as they indicate popularity and user satisfaction.

High ratings and positive reviews can boost an app’s visibility and credibility. Reviews and ratings also give potential users valuable insights into the quality of your app, helping sway their decision to download and keep them hooked for a long time.

Take a look at the following data:

ASO: stats about reviews and ratings

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Source: Apptentive

Our takeaway?

It’s important to actively encourage your users to leave ratings and reviews on your app’s page in the app stores.

There are different ways to do this, but some that have worked for many of our mobile app partners are the following:

  • Include links in the app. Make leaving app reviews and ratings easy for your users by providing links directly from the app.
  • Offer incentives. Providing rewards, such as discounts or bonus content, can encourage users to leave reviews and ratings.
  • Encourage positive reviews on other platforms. Include a call to action that links to your app, asking people to rate and review your app on your website or social media pages.

🚨One crucial reminder, though.

Before you plan out your review and rating campaign, take care of business first: make sure that your mobile app is indeed worthy of positive feedback. This means ensuring your app is engaging and offers a delightful user experience.

Remember, no matter how robust your campaign or how attractive your incentive may be, users will likely leave a negative rating if your app fails to deliver what it promises.

3. App name, title, and subtitle

The app stores are full of millions of apps. Consider your app’s name, title, and subtitle carefully to make yours stand out from the crowd. These are among the first elements potential users see on your app store listing.

A well-chosen app name, title, and subtitle can help boost your ASO ranking, making it more likely to be found by potential customers.

But how do you choose the perfect name, title, and subtitle for your app?

Here are some best practices suggested by our app developers:

  • 📣 Choose a catchy name. As with any product name, your app’s name must grab your users’ attention. A name that’s easy to remember and pronounce is also more likely to stick in someone’s mind.
  • 📣 Consider your app’s content. Make sure your app’s name accurately reflects your app’s content or purpose. For example, don’t include the word “game” if your app isn’t a mobile game.
  • 📣 Optimize your app title and subtitle. Use a descriptive and keyword-rich title and subtitle to boost ranking on search results.
  • 📣 Keep it short and sweet. The Apple App Store only allows up to 30 characters for the app title and subtitle. The Google Play Store also allows up to 30 characters for the title, but instead of a subtitle, Google Play features an optional short description with up to 80 characters. Anything that exceeds these limits will be truncated.

Let’s look at how MUCUDU, a social bar app and one of our new app development partners, impressively featured their app on the App Store.

MUCUDU chose an intriguing app name, an abbreviation for what the app offers: Meet Up Catch Up Drink. Using just six letters, MUCUDU sums up pretty much everything users can expect from the app.

ASO: MUCUDU logo in the App Store

Source: Apple App Store

MUCUDU’s app store page also features quality screenshots that are combined with short, actionable copy, giving users clear insights into the experience and benefits that await them.

ASO: MUCUDU App Store page screenshots

Source: Apple App Store

How do we know it’s effective?

Early in the app’s launch, MUCUDU gained 1,000 early adopters and recorded quarter-on-quarter revenue growth. They also secured multiple partnerships with prominent brands, including LION, one of Australia’s biggest beverage companies.

For a startup with first-time founders, MUCUDU’s achievements are nothing short of amazing.

Learn more about the successful app development journey of MUCUDU to see how they did it.

4. App description

Another important ASO factor to consider is your app’s description.

The app description is a short paragraph featured on your app store page telling users about your app. It’s one of the first things potential users see when they find your app in the app stores.

As such, crafting a strong app description is essential to make a good impression. Your goal when writing your app’s description should be to persuade users to download it by highlighting its best features.

Here are some tried-and-proven tips our app developers often suggest to our partners when crafting app descriptions:

  • 📣 Use keyword-rich phrases. Including keywords in your app description will help your app appear in more search results, making it more likely to be downloaded.
  • 📣 Be clear and concise. You only have a limited amount of space to work with, so it’s crucial to be concise and to focus on the most important information. Users, too, want to avoid reading a novel. They just want a quick overview of what your app does and why they should download it.
  • 📣 Include a call to action. Tell your users what to do once they’ve read your description. In other words, encourage users to download your app!

One mobile app that exemplifies a great app store description is Vello, a social app connecting celebrities and followers and among Appetiser’s app development partners.

ASO: Vello Play Store app description

Source: Google Play Store

ASO: Vello App Store app description

Source: Apple App Store

In both Google Play and the App Store, Vello has featured an optimized description that tells users the benefit of using the app clearly and concisely.

The impact?

A startup app that managed to build a database of over 1,000 high-profile celebrities and a fan base of over 150 million!

Find out more about the thrilling app success journey of Vello

5. Visual assets (app icon, screenshots, and preview videos)

Most users decide whether or not to download mobile apps based on their appearance. That’s why it’s important to include appealing visuals, such as app screenshots, icons, or preview videos, on your app store page.

Aside from ensuring that your visuals meet Apple App Store‘s or Google Play Store‘s specifications and guidelines, you can use a few other techniques to increase your app’s visibility and maximize your chances of conversion.

Here are some proven tips for choosing app icons, screenshots, and preview videos:

  • 📣 Ensure your app icon is unique. With millions of apps in the app stores, setting your app icon apart from the rest is imperative. Experiment with bold, more saturated colors that align your branding to make your icon stand out.
  • 📣 Highlight your app’s key features. Screenshots should give potential users a glimpse of what using your app is like. Showcase your app’s key features and any particularly well-designed user interface elements.
  • 📣 Keep your preview video informative and engaging. Some mobile app users would rather watch your preview video than read your app description. Make sure it gives your potential users a glimpse of what using your app is like.

This is a partial list of other key factors in app rankings. I included some more below briefly to make sure you also consider these as you optimize your titles and descriptions.

  • 📣 Frequency of updates. Regular updates can improve your app’s ranking as they reflect a commitment to the product and often lead to better reviews. Updating your app with new features, bug fixes, and performance improvements shows that you are responsive to user feedback and keeping up with new technologies.
  • 📣 User engagement. Apps with higher user engagement, such as frequent usage and longer session times, are likely to rank better. Engaged users signal to the app stores that the app is valuable and meets user needs.
  • 📣 Download numbers and velocity. The number of downloads and the speed at which an app is downloaded (download velocity) are direct indicators of an app’s popularity. Apps with high download rates are more likely to be ranked higher because they are perceived as popular and relevant.

Here’s a screenshot of app metrics from AppRadar, which can also help you determine how users engage with your app:

ASO: Image of app metrics

Source: AppRadar

One more thing: localizing app content and metadata for different languages and regions can improve an app’s ranking and visibility in those locales. This is beneficial where keywords in at least two locales can appear in App Store searches worldwide.

Apple is very keen to support developers and app publishers in this area. As of the time of writing, the App Store is available in 175 regions and 40 languages. The tech giant has a dedicated page for best practices if you plan to expand to other countries.

Frequently asked questions on app store optimization (ASO)

The world of ASO is like a spider web, you’ll find different major points of discussion and minor ones. For supplemental information, I have prepared these FAQs for your reference:

What’s the difference between app store optimization and search engine optimization?

ASO and SEO boost visibility and traffic, but with distinct focuses: ASO optimizes app stores and downloads, while SEO targets web search engines to drive site traffic. Each strategy employs unique ranking factors and optimization techniques suited to their platforms.

How can I increase my app rankings if I have low ratings?

To increase your app rankings despite low ratings, focus on analyzing user feedback to address common complaints and improve app quality through bug fixes and UI/UX enhancements. Engage with users by responding to reviews, encouraging positive feedback, and providing excellent customer support.

Use other channels to promote positive reviews and incentivize feedback within app store policies.

Regular updates, a seamless user experience, and ASO best practices can also contribute to improved rankings over time. Additionally, monitoring ratings and reviews and reporting inappropriate feedback can help maintain a positive reputation and visibility in the app store.

Can I do app store optimization for free?

Yes, you can perform App Store Optimization (ASO) for free. You can conduct keyword research, optimize your app title and description, encourage ratings and reviews, analyze competitors — all with your in-house team. But keep in mind that while you can do ASO for free, investing in paid tools and services can provide more in-depth analysis, save time, and potentially lead to better results.

How can I increase my app downloads organically?

To increase your app downloads organically, you can leverage various strategies such as search optimization to present your app to users in need, increasing brand awareness. You can leverage social media and experiment in implementing the freemium approach and prioritizing keywords for better discoverability.

Optimize continuously to maximize success

App store optimization is a complex and ever-changing process, but it’s essential to ensure potential users see your app.

Following the tips in this guide can give your app a fighting chance of being found and downloaded by people who will love using it — increasing the likelihood of app conversion and growth.

If you’re looking for an app development partner with an impressive track record of client success, consider Appetiser.

We are a digital agency built by entrepreneurs who want to push the boundaries of what an app development partner can be. Through design excellence, open collaboration, and tech perfection, we’ve empowered numerous partners to achieve:

🚀 $100 million+ app revenue

🚀 $20 million+ capital raised

🚀 11 million+ users

Best of all, we’ve helped our partners make an incredible impact through technology! This is how we measure success.

Contact us today!

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