App Store Optimization (ASO): A Beginner’s Guide

App Store Optimization Guide

In the Beginner’s Guide to App Store Optimization (ASO) you will learn what ASO is and how you can apply ASO principles to improve reach and downloads of your app. Read on and prosper!

As an app developer, you may have had the following experience:

After countless hours of reflection, you finally come upon a “can’t miss” app idea. It is an idea so spectacular that seeing your app on the “featured” page of the app store seems all but a foregone conclusion. Heck, you might as well start prepping for your TechCrunch interview now, because this can’t fail!

You immediately get to work developing the most amazing app in the observable universe. Several months and thousands of Red Bulls later, your app is complete and submitted to the app store for the adoring masses awaiting its glorious arrival. But then a funny thing happens… The groundswell of support you imagined isn’t there. After a few initial downloads, your app sinks into the abyss never to be seen or heard from again.

You check the top charts one last time hoping against hope that your app has taken its merited position atop the app store. No dice. The only apps to be found are those published by big name studios with their near infinite marketing budgets. How can a little guy compete?!

The answer? Be like an Ewok!


For those unfamiliar with the Star Wars films, the Ewoks were a species of cuddly-looking natives of the forest moon Endor. Compared to the Galactic Empire, the Ewoks were by all appearances outclassed and outmatched. How were a bunch of backwoods teddy bears equipped with spears and living in huts supposed to compete with hordes of Imperial Stormtroopers and state-of-the-art machines of war?

When the Empire first invaded Endor, things looked grim for the Ewoks and the Rebel Alliance. Yet, in the end they not only survived, they played an instrumental role in the defeat of the Empire!

While the Empire had all the power and technology on their side, the Ewoks won by using the knowledge of their environment, the resources around them and a little bit of ingenuity. A redwood tree battering ram here. A rope tripwire and net there. Down goes the Empire!

In order to succeed in the app store as an indie app developer, you must take a lesson from the Ewoks and use your knowledge of the environment and the resources around you to your advantage. In this context, App Store Optimization is your redwood tree battering ram.

Using these tactics gives you the best shot at taking on the big budget app empires!

What is App Store Optimization?

App Store Optimization (ASO) is the process of improving a mobile app’s visibility within mobile app stores (such as the iOS App Store and Google Play Store) by optimizing the content of the app’s store page for popular, targeted keyword phrases.

The goal of ASO is to make it easier for people to find your app when they search the app store. Since most people discover new apps via the app store charts or search, ASO is one of the most effective and cost-efficient means to gain new users and downloads for your app.

Apps are ranked within the app store based on a variety of factors. Although the Google Play and iOS app store algorithms are different in some ways, the following factors are widely believed to contribute toward an app’s position in the rankings for popular search phrases:

  • Keyword Usage: The presence of keywords within the app’s name, description and keyword tags gives your app a better chance to rank for coveted search phrases.
  • Number of Downloads: Apps with more downloads (and higher download velocity!) tend to rank better than those with fewer downloads.
  • Number of Ratings & Reviews: Apps with more ratings and reviews tend to rank better than those with fewer ratings and reviews.
  • Quality of Ratings & Reviews: If you have a lot of good, natural user reviews, you will rank better. If you have a lot of bad reviews, it will probably hurt you.
  • Engagement: If users spend a lot of time with your apps, it usually means they love it. This is a good indicator for the app stores that the app is of high quality and will rank the app higher as a result.
  • Links (Google Play): Like traditional Search Engine Optimization (SEO), the Google Play algorithm is believed to factor in the amount and quality of links pointing to an Android app on the Google Play store.

Keyword Research

ASO begins with keyword research. Ideally, you want to begin the keyword research process prior to even settling upon an app idea, but this practice is essential no matter at which stage you are along the app development process.

Whether you are still searching for an app idea or launched your app years ago, keyword research will help you uncover the search terms that will generate more downloads and revenue. When you do keyword research, your goal is to find keywords that are:

  • Relevant
  • High in Search Volume
  • Low in Competition

There are several ASO tools available to help uncover these coveted keywords. Keyword research can be tedious, but it is the essential starting point of any sound ASO strategy.

Looking for affordable ASO keyword research for your app? Check me out on Fiverr!

On-Page Optimization

  • App Title: What’s in a name? A lot! Your app title is one of the most important elements to optimize for ASO. Whenever possible, try fitting in your most coveted keyword phrase into your app title.
    • Character Limit: The app title field doesn’t have unlimited space. Be conscious of the character limits of each app store when crafting your app title.
      • Google Play: 30 Characters
      • iOS App Store: 255 Characters (NOTE: only 25 characters are visible in search!)
  • Description: The description is the field where you describe your app. It’s generally used to summarize the features of the app with some sales speak thrown in. However, the description field (if optimized properly) is a secret weapon that can help catapult your app to the top of the search results. Throughout your app description, work in your targeted keywords into the copy for maximum impact. But remember, write for humans first, robots second.
    • Character Limit: Another character limit? So sad… :(
      • Google Play: 4,000 Characters
      • iOS App Store: 4,000 Characters
  • Keyword Tags (iOS Only): The keywords field is a feature of the iOS app store. This is an opportunity to manually add the top keywords you will target.
    • Character Limit: 100 Characters
    • Pro Tip: Don’t use spaces!
    • Pro Tip #2: Separate each keyword with a comma
    • Pro Tip #3: Don’t reuse keywords that are already in your app title
      • Example: For an app called “Marshmallow Fighter: The Ultimate Candy Fighting Game”, an optimized keyword field might look like:fight,battle,sweet,punch,kick,attack,combat,boxing,mma,
  • Category Selection: Choose your category wisely! Putting your app in a crowded category, when there are appropriate, less crowded alternatives available could have an impact on your app’s visibility. Always consider your target market when selecting your category, but also look for a category that is relevant but has less competition.
  • App Icon: The app icon is your first impression, so make it count. A high quality app icon design goes a long way toward getting a user to click through to your app page. If you don’t have the skills to design a top quality app icon, consider outsourcing it to a professional graphic artist via oDesk, Fiverr or another freelancing service.
    • Pro Tip: Stand out from the crowd! Do all of your competitors have app icons that look similar with the same color scheme and graphical elements? Be different! Use a contrasting color scheme and unique graphical elements to separate yourself visually from the competition.
    • Pro Tip #2: Get with the times. In the era of iOS 7, a glossy app icon seems dated. Try to adhere to modern design trends.
    • Pro Tip #3: Make sure the focus of your app icon is clearly visible at all sizes. If your app icon looks amazing at high resolution sizes, but looks like a blurry breakfast snack at lower resolutions, that’s a problem!
  • Screenshots: Don’t waste this real estate. The screenshots should not just be screen captures of your app or mobile game. Use them as promotional images! The screenshots are a way to pitch your product and inform customers of your app’s killer features and value proposition. Like the app icon, screenshots should be well designed. If you can’t do it yourself, outsource it!
    • Pro Tip: Tell a story! Use the screenshots to tell the story of your app. Walk a customer through your sales pitch using each screenshot as an opportunity to describe a core feature or a reason why your app is better than the rest.
    • Google Play: Promo Video is allowed. If an image is worth a thousand words, a professionally made video is worth a lot more. Don’t waste this opportunity with a sub-par video.
  • Localization: Its a big world out there, use it to your advantage. By localizing your app for other countries you can reach large, new audiences and open up new revenue opportunities. One of the great things about localizing for other markets is that they often have less competition as your competitors may not be trying to capture these markets. If you aren’t fluent in multiple languages, localization can be accomplished by outsourcing to freelance translation services.

Off-Page Optimization

  • App Reviews & Ratings: The app stores place a high importance on user reviews and ratings when it comes to ranking an app. While a developer has little control over these elements, there are a few things you can do to urge positive reviews and minimize negative reviews.
    • Solicit app reviews within the app itself
    • Solicit app reviews via social media channels, email and your website
    • Correct any bugs that users report as quickly as possible
    • Make it possible within the app for users to contact the developer directly to solve technical issues (the number one reason people leave bad reviews is because there is a technical problem, by giving them an outlet to report bugs and errors to you directly, it will minimize their likelihood of leaving a bad review to vent)
  • Outreach to App Review Websites: During the pre-launch process, it is essential to reach out to app industry websites to review your app. Not only can positive press spur downloads, but the high authority links pointing to your Google Play app page can also help your performance in the rankings.
    • A Comprehensive List of App Review Websites Sorted by Popularity & More
    • Pro Tip: Be unique. App review websites receive hundreds of emails a day. Stand out from the crowd by appealing to the human sorting through those emails. Does your app have a story that makes it unlike any other app out there? Do you have a personal story that makes your app development journey worth writing about? Highlight them!

Unlock the Holy Grail List of App Review Websites

100+ Websites Sorted by Alexa Ranking, Social Reach, Android/iOS, and More

  • Press Releases: A well-crafted press release can help your app get noticed by some of the bigger websites out there. Press releases can be sent directly to the websites you are targeting, but as I mentioned above, you probably want a more personal, unique approach when contacting a website directly. Many influential journalists and bloggers browse the press release wires for stories. If you have the means, you can use that to your advantage by submitting your press release to websites such as PRWeb and PRNewsWire.
  • Social Media: Establish a presence on social media and build an engaged audience that will download and promote your app. Leverage hashtags and trends to get the word out on your app to your target audiences. By using a service such as Hashtagify, you can uncover the best hashtags to use to reach your target audience.
    • Pro Tip: Don’t use a one size fits all approach. Each social network has its own nuances that must be understood in order to market your app effectively.
    • Pro Tip #2: Communicate, don’t market! Social networks are communication platforms, not simply broadcast mediums. For the maximum impact, develop relationships with your audience with two-way communication.
  • Promotional Videos: One of the most effective ways to convert shoppers into customers is by giving them a glimpse of your app in action. A professionally made demo or promotional video can make all the difference. Videos can be used to reach new audiences on YouTube and other social video websites. There are many great services out there that specializes specifically on creating app demo videos, including Apptamin.

In-App Optimization

  • Incentivize Social Sharing: Make it easy and rewarding for users to share your app with their social circles.
    • Reward users for tweeting or sharing your app by giving them access to locked features or in-app purchases.
    • Give users the option to tweet or share their progress from within the app.
    • Pro Tip: Make sure that the tweets and messages are formatted to share out the app page, your social media account and a hashtag of your choosing.
  • Solicit App Reviews: Remind users to review your app if they are enjoying their experience. But don’t overwhelm them! Choose your spots wisely. Try to surface such a message only after an action that will have the user in a good mood. Showing a user a message to review your app after they have failed a level for the 5th consecutive time is not a good idea.
  • Make it Awesome:  The best thing you can do when it comes to promoting your app is to make it AWESOME! No amount of ASO will help if your app sucks. Create an experience that users truly love and your ASO will bear fruit.

App Store Optimization (ASO) Tools

In order to get the most out of your ASO, you need to use the right tools. The following ASO tools are useful for performing keyword research, competitive researching and mounting your overall ASO strategy:

 Learn More About App Store Optimization

Are you looking to learn more advanced ASO tactics and strategies? Here are some great resources to learn the ins-and-outs of App Store Optimization:

Image Credit: agartaa and harshlight

Shane Kittelson
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Shane Kittelson

Creator. Writer. Marketer. Maker of Things. Focused on Mobile App Development, App Store Optimization and Appreciating Life.
Shane Kittelson
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  1. DrewNusser says

    The scrolling on the page really does suck, but this post has a ton of useful stuff in it! A lot of it seems like it should be common knowledge, but I just skipped over a lot of it for my game. I’m making some of these changes right now, and hopefully it helps. Thanks for the words of wisdom!

    • says

      Hi Drew, glad you found this useful. Is the scrolling still weird for you? I tried to fix it earlier and another user reported that it was scrolling correctly after I made the change. Also, if you don’t mind, what browser are you using? Thanks!

      • DrewNusser says

        You know what – I actually started reading it a while ago, and just finished recently without refreshing the page. I just refreshed it and it does seem much better now. Once again, awesome post!

          • DrewNusser says

            Thanks! I just took you up on the offer and sent an email through your contact form. I didn’t want to put it on here like a shameless plug. If you have a little time, I’d love it if you could give me some feedback on what I can do better to promote my game!

  2. Dee says

    Hi Shane, just wanted to say thanks for all the info you share on your blog. And for this awesome article as well!

  3. Nguyen Duc Phu says

    Hi Shane K.,

    Thanks for great article.

    For book “The Business of iPhone and iPad App Development: Making and Marketing Apps that Succeed by David Wooldridge” you suggest, its release at 2011. May this book out-of-date?

  4. says

    ASO Future of ( SEO – SMO ) Thanks a lot Shane K. Nice Sharing . keep it up and More knowledge and Articles Share about ASO , i m waiting extremely

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