Why App Store optimisation is important to publisher traffic

By Mark Challinor

Media Futures Consultancy

London, United Kingdom


App Store optimisation (ASO) is a mobile-related topic that has recently gained traction. It is also eating up a significantly large part of the marketing strategy development budget in companies around the world. Many news media companies still need to get fully on board, and it’s important for them to do so.

So, what is ASO? It is not search engine optimisation (SEO) for mobile. The App Store and the Web are two very different environments.

More than 40 different factors are considered when Apple ranks an app in its App Store.
More than 40 different factors are considered when Apple ranks an app in its App Store.

In essence, there are two things to consider when determining what ASO is:

  1. Search visibility. When searching for something in the App Store — whether a brand, a newspaper, news alerts, political news, or something else — you need to try to be on top of the search rankings.
  2. Conversion. Getting people to install your media’s app and then use it.

According to Apple analytics for 2019, 70% of all installs are discovered via search. Google is 65%. The App Store is pretty much the most important landing page. Whether originating from recommendations, television, or any other marketing efforts (however people get to the App Store), the traffic always goes to the App Stores (news or otherwise), so it’s imperative to use ASO to improve the conversion rate from App Store page land to install. For many brands, this is low.

It seems to be all about education. The App Store is a performance channel, not a product channel per se. Knowing the difference can save you enormous marketing spend.

Many media professionals think the service of optimising the app doesn’t even exist. Apple only released an optimisation guide about 18 months ago when the reality is the App Store has existed for many years. It’s been a dark art so far.

Apple considers more than 40 different factors when determining search rankings in the App Store, but many people are unaware of this. That’s why there are ASO companies providing services to help with this.

I caught up with two senior employees from The ASO Co (part of the Jellyfish digital agency) in London, CEO James Bott and COO Thomas Twigg. Both are co-founders.

Bott explained what The ASO Co does:

“Apple has been accused of just promoting their own apps in the past, and companies like The ASO Co try to manipulate the App Store against such practices. This also then allows for the customer experience to be its best rather than being manipulated by the store itself. Of course, algorithm changes by the App Store make it very difficult for brands to keep up. Again, that’s why companies like The ASO Co exist — to understand that and cut through.”

Bott noted that Apple knows search is huge, which is why it launched its own service of Apple search ads, which is quickly becoming a multi-million-dollar revenue source.

“Also, subtle changes like moving the search button nearer to the thumb has made a big difference,” Bott said. “It went from the left side to the right side by physically moving the button, which made a big difference. Little things matter.

“Historically, you’d have to be a really big business and generating significant installs in order to rank for relevant search terms. However, natural optimisation has come to the fore, and understanding the algorithms even as a small business can start ranking for good search terms.”

Bott also said Apple realised it can’t just give all the good search terms to the bigger companies. This segues nicely into the algorithms and how they work (more so on Google). It’s a good shift away from meta data through to the product.

ASO was originally just about keywords. However, it’s now about much more, including site speed and user experience. With both of those factors, Apple (and, more recently, Google) has been very specific, noting it’s not just about the number of installs and the company won’t promote an app unless it has a much better rating score overall across all the factors under consideration.

Search relevance grows in importance

“The way ASO companies work is to have a toolbox of services which will include metadata and keyword optimisations and a testing of creative assets,” Twigg said. “Creative was always important but is one of the most important factors now. Studying the analytics becomes crucial.

“Once the above have been tested, then the user experience is looked at and tweaked if need be. Finally, the product is looked at in terms of the environment within which it sits and the type of product it is,” Twigg said. “With publishers, this could be examining a freemium versus an outright fully paid-for app.”

Twigg said usage pattens could differ but revenue might not be generated with freemium products. “So, maybe if you ‘gate’ the content, different patterns emerge between drop off and usage. Balance is key. It’s an ongoing consideration.”

All the above enhance how an app performs within the App Store and requires specialist knowledge to make it work for you.

Companies like The ASO Co understand algorithm changes and can make huge differences in visibility, awareness, installs, and usage by analysing and tweaking your app’s performance.

So, how do you start? Research first. ASO is well documented; you can read a lot online. If traffic sources indicate you should take mobile seriously, you need to speak to an ASO company. The cost versus the results is massive.

eBay, for example, generates many organic installs. A 2% increase over a month could mean the difference of millions of dollars. Small companies and publishers may want to look into ASO tech platforms. You probably still need expertise in using them efficiently, but there are online resources that can help.

If, as a smaller business, you’ve not looked into ASO, you have a clean slate. This allows you to understand the results achieved by some of the bigger brands in the space.

ASO as an important part of mobile growth strategy

What feedback can you expect? This depends on what your business is and what tracking you use. However, initially, keyword movements then conversion rates and installs from referrers and Web (even though this can be a vanity metric) are the way to go. Then, simple revenue generation, impressions, store listing, and visitors.

Internally, who should manage this? Product marketing roles are increasingly common in media houses, and heads of products own product growth. They understand the metrics and how to use them. Product marketing teams can get results fast. They tend to know the value of your app users. If so, that pays dividends.

The future is (perhaps, obviously?) mobile. A lot of revenue is available here so there is an internal challenge. Task and offer bonuses to your sales teams on mobile. They won’t sell it as much as they should if you don’t. They will tell you they already have a myriad of things to sell. They need the incentive.

Then, pursue education. Don’t treat mobile as an add-on to other things. It is a premium channel in its own right and needs to be considered as such.

And don’t forget to update apps regularly.

ASO: It’s an important part of that future. There are lots of quick wins and ways to drive traffic to your app and to the store. As Bott said, “ASO can push publishers ‘properly’ into mobile and be a cornerstone of any company’s mobile strategy.”

About Mark Challinor

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