How to optimize your app for the App Store and Google Play

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The app-economy competition is fierce. Facebook owns four out of the five most downloaded apps worldwide, but startups are still leaping into the fight to claim new and old markets. For these startups, Facebook is often the least of their worries as, according to research from Gartner, we only actually use between six and ten apps on average and end up neglecting or deleting the rest. It’s tough for app developers to break through the noise, let alone get into that top ten.

So what does this mean for startups trying to break into the space? You have to put your best foot forward to make sure users will not only find your app, but keep it.

Just as we have SEO for the web, ASO (app store optimization) for the app store has become an essential part of the app development process. In basic terms, ASO is a set of guidelines to optimize the discoverability of an app via Apple’s App Store and Google Play. From keywords to descriptions to icons, I’ll run through some best practice tips for ensuring your app can be found in the ever-expanding "app-mosphere."

Check the guidelines on Apple and Google

Apple is very stringent about its App Store guidelines, and it has human editors that review all submissions of new apps and updates to existing apps. Google Play’s review process uses a mix of automated and human editors and although its policy is a bit more lenient, there are practices that must be followed to pass the submission test. So before you even submit your app, let alone worry about optimization, make sure you are complying with these guidelines:



It’s all in the name

Yes, what you call your app is important. Both Apple and Google recommend titling apps to be as specific to the function of the app as possible -- apps that mislead consumers may be rejected, and of course the more specific your title is, the better the chances that your prospective customers will be able to find you.

Your title needs to be short and snappy. Apple’s App Store has a 50-character limit, while Google Play cuts it down to 30. This means that you need to ensure your title contains the right words within the right number of characters. And while the goal is to present your app as unique and creative, this can be difficult when you also need to include the popular keywords to get noticed.

Make your description concise

Your app’s description is also hugely important. This mustn’t contain flowery, over-descriptive language about your company, but keywords and concise information about exactly what the app does for its users.

Google Play offers two app description fields: long and short. The short description is what the user sees on the download splash screen: a pithy 80-character sentence. The long description can be up to 4,000 characters: this is your chance to introduce your brand, key features, and contact information. When you’re writing a description for Apple, however, you don’t have as much space, so keep it to exactly what the app does.

Beware of getting lost in the swamp of highly competitive keywords.  High traffic keywords means high competition, so make sure you thoughtfully use keywords that are unique to your app as well as popular.

Most importantly, include screenshots (at least three) and a video to really make your app stand out. These should mirror the app description but in picture/video form.

Your icon

A picture can speak a thousand words, and as the first impression (displayed in the app tray on your mobile), your app icon better speak positively about your brand. Moreover if people have your app on their home screen, the icon is a daily reminder of your brand.

My advice: create something simple and eye-catching, which works from a 50-by-50 up to 250-by-250 pixel basis for both Apple and Google Play.

Localize your app

English may be the universal language of the Internet, but it’s proven that translated apps for their respective regional audiences will get more downloads than English-only apps. This is particularly important on Google Play, which has more app users from around the globe.

But remember, translation is only part of localization. Whether it’s colloquialisms, symbols, or how people use mobile phones across the globe -- there are many cultural differences that you need to keep in mind beyond translations.

Get it right the first time

You have one shot to impact and impress consumers. Market research suggests that first impressions are crucial in the app store -- according to mobile marketing and analytics firm Localytics, 23 percent of people will only open an app once after downloading it. The firm also notes that, after a few months, the average app retention rate is 20 percent, so four out of five of your potential consumers could disappear in one quarter. Therefore, above all, it’s important to measure the impact and effectiveness of your app with target users before you launch to ensure that it’s optimized from the start.

You can’t wait for the second or third release to get these steps right. When you are building an app that you want people to love, ASO is a crucial first step to getting it seen by your target consumers. This is of course followed by the equally important user experience for when they do click the "download" button on your app, especially as consumers have become increasingly ruthless when it comes to selecting their favorite few. Get both right, and you should be on your way to achieving the ultimate goal of delivering an app that makes it to the homepage, and stays there.

Published under license from, a Future plc Publication. All rights reserved.

Andrew Green, UK director at Applause.

Photo Credit: ProStockStudio/Shutterstock

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