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Modern App Store Optimization: It’s no Longer SEO for the App Store. Incipia Miniseries

Gabe Kwakyi | July 7, 2023

Q: How is ASO changing? What’s new in 2019?

A: ASO is evolving quite significantly in the way that organic visibility is determined. At a high-level, there are four main changes afoot:

  1. The increasing shift of organic visibility from search to browse/explore (via features in iOS and related/recommended app lists in Android).
  2. The separation of ASO influential factors into offensive and defensive camps, with a rapidly rising need for supporting insights to understand how these factors are affecting your ASO strategy (positively or negatively).
    1. Offensive ASO refers to factors that can help apps capture a larger share of visibility.
    2. Defensive ASO refers to the factors which can reduce an app’s organic visibility as a result of a ranking penalty.
  3. The increasing monetization of the stores, squeezing organic visibility.
  4. The increased focus on thresholds or benchmarks, which govern the stack-ranking of apps before visibility is earned via rankings.

The stalwart of ASO, keywords while still important have gradually been reduced in influence of ASO results (especially in highly competitive markets) due to three trends:

  1. The aforementioned shift of downloads to feature-sourced placements (iOS) related/recommended app lists (Android).
  2. More developers actively working to research and optimize their keyword metadata.
  3. Keyword ranking algorithm updates reducing the impact of keyword metadata edits (think Google’s 2017 massive keyword algorithm update or Apple’s allowance apps to rank for competitor names, which represent over 60% of total store downloads).

In modern ASO strategy, primarily keyword-focused optimization is no longer a guarantee for results, rendering the old phrase “ASO is SEO for the App Store” now defunct.

Here is the hierarchical path to an organic download, re-drawn with the steps and factors of modern ASO. There are 7 steps:

  1. Step 0 establishes the initial relevance of organic rankings via an app’s category and metadata, as well as user data maps.
    1. User data maps leverage Google’s competitive advantage in algorithms to leverage mountains of user behavior (i.e. user search trends and app overlap download trends) which are much more difficult to influence/game than text metadata.
  2. Step 1 observes the performance of the app across a host of relevant defensive and offensive ASO factors.
  3. Step 2 compares performance from step 1 for each factor against either defined “bad behavior” thresholds (defensive) or peer/competitor benchmarks (offensive).
  4. Step 3 is where visibility is arranged, with rankings (and feature placements) determined.
    1. After iOS 11, features became more and more important for capturing a larger share of organic downloads. The importance of featuring also gained a boost due to Apple’s decision to place permanent editorials and Stories units in the search results pages, which has shifted some visibility from keywords to features.
    2. Related/recommended app lists, while a smaller source of downloads in iOS, are rising in importance with Android’s continued push to curate the discovery process with “apps you may also like.” This is especially important for ASO practitioners to consider, as these lists rely on user data maps, which depend not on keywords, but on other offensive factors like organic uplift and conversion rate, as well as defensive factors such as uninstalls and vitals.
  5. Step 4 is where visibility is actually generated (i.e. real impressions from people scrolling through rankings).
  6. Step 5 is where visibility is eligible to be converted into downloads via clicks and conversions.
    1. Keep in mind that users can download iOS apps directly from search and browse results and that Android does not show impressions, but rather only store listing visitors, which is one level deeper than an impression.
  7. Step 6 is where conversions from step 5 are earned by either an organic placement or an ad placement.
    1. Here another topic is important to consider, which is the cannibalization/incrementality of store ads. Ads are vital in modern ASO to maintaining visibility, but not all ads have the same level of incrementality (or ability to target highly incremental placements, i.e. UAC)
  8. Then the cycle restarts as data is fed back in via step 1, or new rankings are initially set via step 0.

 Modern app store optimization 2019 Incipia

For more information, check out the upcoming post on supporting insights from the ASO Stack, and if you are able to, consider attending the upcoming ASO Conference in New York City on October 3rd to discuss how ASO is evolving with other industry practitioners and expert speakers.

And as always stay tuned to the Incipia blog for more coverage on ASO and mobile marketing at-large.

Incipia is a growth marketing consultancy, with a specialty in advertising, App Store Optimization, and analytics. For post topics, feedback or business inquiries please contact us, or send an inquiry to