Optimizing Apps For Maximum Findability

Up Close SMX West 2014

Although platforms like Apple’s App Store and Google Play are “closed” environments, content can and should be optimized to be more easily found. App store optimization requires SEO techniques that go beyond the usual web optimization processes. During the App Store Optimization session at SMX West 2014, panelists discussed the best ways to get your apps found by mobile and tablet users.

Barry Schwartz (@rustybrick) moderated the panel, and the speakers were Ian Sefferman (@iseff)of MobileDevHQ, Jennifer Wong (@JenerationY) from HasOffers and Justin Briggs (@justinrbriggs) of Getty Images.

The Elements Of App Store Optimization (ASO)

Ian kicked off the panel. He started with the basics of app store optimization, outlining the main goal of driving incremental app downloads through increasing rankings in the app store(s). It’s important to know that the app stores work very differently, so tactics will vary from store to store. Most of the focus, of course, is on the big two stores, the Apple iTunes store and Google Play, but there was also some discussion around Amazon’s app store.

ASO matters more now than it used to because mobile usage worldwide is increasing at a rapid rate. In fact, I pointed out earlier this month that in the US, more internet usage occurred on mobile devices than on the PC, for the first time ever.

So, what matters in ASO? Ian breaks up the world into “on-metadata” and “off-metadata” elements. The former are analogous to on-page SEO elements – title, description and keywords and the latter refers mostly to ratings and reviews. And, just like SEO, you need to do both in order to be successful with ASO.

Ian also pointed out that it helps to think about the two main stores and their origins when determining what strategies to use for each store. The iTunes store has always been concerned with media – songs, movies, etc., so they’re more likely to care about on-metadata elements (title, etc.). Conversely, Google’s background is more in algorithms and signals, so when optimizing for Google Play it’s more important to pay attention to off-metadata elements like links, ratings, reviews and social signals (G+).

Ian mentioned a few other points that I really liked. He talked about using videos in the app store and how brands were seeing great success in doing so – deeper engagement and more downloads. He also mentioned app indexing, which I’ve been involved in with our apps. It’s a great new feature that will allow android phone users the ability to deep link into your app from a mobile search results page. It’s early stage but it’s gonna be big!

Going Global With Apps

Jennifer Wong from HasOffers pointed out that some of the most popular apps in the US were actually developed in foreign countries (angry birds, cut the rope). She did a nice job of outlining some steps that an app marketer can take to start “going global” with their apps.

First, Jennifer says to do some research and target a handful of markets where you’d want to localize your apps. She showed a screenshot from AppAnnie that listed top charts in different countries as an example of research. Once you have chosen a market to target, try localizing your title, description and keywords for that market and submit your app to the app store (and be sure to use localization services that have native speakers to avoid bad translations!). Monitor the app store to see how it performs in each market. This approach will give you a low-cost way to test out new markets for your app.

Once you’ve gotten your feet wet in a few markets and see some promise, then try localizing the app content itself. This part will vary depending on what kind of app you have – remember the angry birds and cut the rope examples? Those apps have hardly any in-app language-specific content, which is partly why they became so popular in the US.

Then, when you’re ready to go all-in, start promoting your app with marketing materials in-country. Hire an agency on the ground, Jennifer says, so the messaging will be on point. They can help develop localized creative that will resonate in the market you’re targeting. Think social media, brand affinity and promotions. All good tips!

Leveraging Traditional SEO For Apps

Justin Briggs took a decidedly different approach to ASO. He advocates focusing on organic desktop search traffic as a source of app downloads. Whoa! What a concept! The premise is that organic search traffic is very high quality and there is still quite a bit of whitespace out there when it comes to marketing apps on the desktop. Moreover, desktop as a traffic source is still large and growing.

Confusing? Using good old fashioned web pages to promote your mobile apps. Many sites have such pages, but generally don’t optimize them well for search. Make sense? Yes! And, as an added bonus, Justin says, good SEO on your web pages that market your mobile apps sends a strong signal that should also boost your app’s rankings in the Google Play store.

He showed us an example from a previous job, where Big Fish games, an app developer, was able to rank #1 for the keyword “android games” using traditional SEO tactics. That’s a big keyword and, he says, doubled the app download volume the company was previously seeing. Impressive!

Following this vein, Justin says to shift thinking from downloads to links (content, outreach, etc.). This leads us to thinking about PR, events, game reviews, blogger outreach, contests, etc. In other words, SEO fundamentals.

A couple of interesting bits from the session Q&A: Ratings and reviews are important and as app marketers we should know how think about them. Ian says that the ratio of 5-star reviews is an important signal. Also the panel mentioned Apptentive as a useful tool to help manage app reviews. I’ve looked at it and I’m hoping we can adopt it soon.