Incipia blog

Key App Store Optimization Learnings Part 1

Gabe Kwakyi | June 17, 2016

Feature image credit: Apple App Store Top Free Food & Drink Apps

Uncovering new learnings about how to work with the various algorithms and auctions to deploy more effective strategies in the world of digital marketing is an almost daily occurrence; especially so in the growing world of app store optimization. Our Key Learnings Series delves into some of the trials that the Incipia team has established through building and executing ASO strategy and the techniques we have uncovered. Today’s article details learnings across screenshot creation, keyword placement and icon design.

App Screenshots

Flipboard's iOS app screenshots

Image credit: Apple App Store, Flipboard Screenshots

As the most visible element of an app's listing based on pixel real estate, screenshots are naturally one of the highest ROI areas to impact your app’s CTR and CVR. Yet, optimizing screenshots can be a devilishly difficult task, with test results often defying common logic or business sense. While at first most app marketers may think that apps with more visually appealing screenshots and captions will outperform apps without such design-work; however we have observed several instances where this was not the case and in fact simple screenshots outperformed new, visually appealing or keyword/use-case based captioned screenshots. After testing several different screenshot optimizations, we found that the following factors led to decreased ASO performance:
  • Veering into marketing copy vs describing the features or specific use cases of the UX displayed in each screenshot
  • Poster-type screenshots - these often backfire because the ability of each screenshot to tell viewers what to expect as a user of the app is compromised or minimized in favor of visual appeal
  • Putting too much information or keywords into captions - while tempting to leverage the screenshot real estate to talk more about your app, putting anything longer than a single sentence can require smaller screenshots, more lines of text or smaller font, each of which causes poor results
When performing ASO, screenshot designers should focus firstly on the screenshots themselves and ensure that the screenshot is fully in-view and the focus of the shot, rather than being carried away designing the area around and on top of the screenshot. Here are some proven methods for optimizing your screenshots for best results:
  • Use bolded, large-font caption text
  • Use UI to magnify or call attention to high-value features on-screen - but don't overdo it
  • A/B test the order of your screenshots to determine which do best at positions 1 and 2
  • Sometimes (though not always), showing the screenshot inside a device profile vs including just the screenshots themselves can improve results
Image credit: App Store, Any.Do screenshots here illustrates a couple different ASO tactics, such as using large caption font with bolding to call attention to specific areas of its captions and also opting to not use a device profile in order to increase the size of the screenshot (and legibility of what's in the screenshots themselves). iOS Screenshots

App Keyword Placement

Here are some app store optimization tips for optimizing your keyword placement your app's title and keywords space:
  1. Most apps do not take advantage of their title characters to include keywords for ranking, but from our research an app’s title is more than two times as strong at ranking terms than those found in the keywords space
    1. But be aware that Apple reviewers can reject your app if your title hast too many obvious “keywords or descriptors” in it
    2. Keep your title shorter than 100 characters to reduce your risk of being rejected
  2. Add terms into an app’s keywords space to see how your app ranks for those terms, then move those terms into your title as you determine which can maintain/grow a good ranking - this is a good tactic to optimize your keyword mix and gain better ranking with minimal risk.
  3. Try to capture as many exact matches for keywords that you care about as possible in your title, above and beyond just making sure each individual word is present. While the keyword space re-arranges words for ranking, your title is read and interpreted by both users and keyword ranking algorithms in the way that you write it, before looking for individual words. Here's example of this type of optimization for a recipes app looking to rank for “recipes,” “recipes cookbook” and “food recipes.”
    1. Assuming the app’s name is “tapfull - food cookbook & recipes app,” an optimized title could be “tapfull - food recipes cookbook app.”
    2. One caveat to note is that this type of optimization often brings competition between phrases - in our foodfull example this could apply if we cared about both “recipes app” and “cookbook app.” In this case proper keyword research to determine which phrase is more relevant, has higher volume and is less competitive will help you determine which phrase to use an exact match of.
  4. Using competitors in your keywords space is a hit or miss strategy. While you may sometimes rank for competitors, Google and Apple frown on this behavior and sometimes will not rank your app for known competitors. Don’t prioritize competitor keywords, but if you have room in your keywords space after all the important core and modifier terms are added, feel free to explore a competitor or two. Be aware however that Apple not only frowns on but strictly forbids using competitor names in your app title and will reject your app for violating that rule.
  5. Thankfully, Apple recently began ranking apps for misspellings and partial keyword matches, freeing app marketers from having to waste space on misspellings and also enabling apps to catch more long-tail keyword combinations that were previously impossible to fully account for given space limitations.

App Icon

app annie app results for to do

Image credit: App Annie keyword ranks for "to do."

An app's icon is another visual element that's important to consider in app store optimization given that it is part of the app preview that users see when searching a keyword and before clicking into your app's product page; as such your app's icon should be manifest to the main use case you’re looking to be known for. Meaningful icons outperform generic icons unless you’re a big brand whose logo is already recognizable.

For example, look at these apps above which return from a search for “to do.” Notice how nearly all the top 10 apps have some variation of a check mark icon, which is a direct correlation to getting what you have to do done. “Chat” below here offers another slew of icons that help users understand the purpose of downloading each app by using variations of a speech bubble icon, sometimes with a heart, indicating a dating-oriented focus.

Screen Shot 2016-06-17 at 1.42.54 PM app annie search for chat

Image credit: App Annie keyword ranks for "chat."

The caveat is that, while this type of realistic or skueomorphic icon design is effective, this can also lead to icon fatigue and create an opportunity for unique icons to draw attention by standing out

That's all for now folks! Thanks for reading - stay tuned to the Incipia blog or subscribe to our email list for more information on app store optimization and marketing strategies.

Incipia is a mobile app development and marketing agency that builds and markets apps for companies with a development speciality in high quality code architecture and keyword-based marketing optimizations. For blog/video or speaking requests, business or press inquiries please contact us at