How to Get Started with App Store Optimization

by Eli Schwartz8/22/2017

Eli is the Director of Marketing at SurveyMonkey.

In a world where more people search the ‘web’ (if we can even still call it that) from mobile devices than desktops, it is more important than ever to have a mobile optimized organic user acquisition strategy. Mobile SEO is essentially the same as desktop SEO, with the additional challenge of required higher search rankings because of truncated mobile search results. Keyword usage and placement is just as necessary in mobile as in desktop, and search engine rankings are driven by the relevancy of content as they relate to user’s search query.

The key challenge for organic strategies for mobile is app store optimization, commonly known as ASO. ASO is the process of optimizing elements which allow an app to have the maximum visibility for specific search terms in Google’s Play Store and Apple’s App Store. Just like with visibility on search engines, higher rankings in app markets leads to increased downloads of an app.

Keyword Research

Unlike standard SEO, using the exact keywords your potential users will search is even more critical. Whereas a website can have an infinite number of pages that can attract users, an app only has a single entry page: the app store listing. Therefore, the first step in ASO is keyword research to find the keywords a user is most likely to use when searching for a particular app. is one of my favorite keyword research tools, but you can also use any other tool that helps you discover new keywords. You might also benefit from using SimilarWeb a tool that shows competitor keywords.

Keywords in App Names

With keywords in hand, it’s time to integrate them in the proper places within an app listing. Just like organic web search, the title or app name is the most important element of a submission. In the App Store, the title is limited to 30 characters while the Play Store allows for 50 characters. Depending upon the brand strength of a particular app, you should include keywords in addition to the app’s name. (Apps like Facebook or Amazon just use their brand as the app title). Here are some examples of the titles of popular apps in the Play Store with popular keywords added alongside the app name.

Waze – GPS, Maps, Traffic Alerts & Live Navigation
Groupon – Shop Deals & Coupons
eBay – Buy Sell & Save Money

In the App Store these are slightly different:

Waze Navigation & Live Traffic
Groupon – Deals, Coupons & Discount Shopping App
eBay: Best App to Buy, Sell, Save! Online Shopping

Don’t Stuff Keywords

While these examples show how keywords can be used, it does not mean that you should stuff keywords into your app’s listing. While both Google and Apple can demote apps for keyword stuffing, it is also important to be aware of how a keyword stuffed title might look to a user.


The description field – a max of 400 characters – on the app listing is used by Google to rank apps in Play while Apple does not. Both Google and Apple encourage developers to keep descriptions short and to write them with the user in mind. There is also a short description right under the app name which Google calls a “short description” and Apple terms the “promotional field”. Due to the rankings benefit it is advisable to strategically include important keywords in the Play Store listing while in the App Store, you can write only with the end user in mind.

Apple has a specific hidden keywords field which is limited to 100 characters. Apple also recommends that developers put their most important keywords in this field and not to bother stuffing it with plurals or irrelevant synonyms.

Complete Cycle Optimization and User Experience

Unlike in traditional SEO where an SEO specialist might focus only on the acquisition of users, ASO is a full stack process from rankings through app download. Getting a user to add an app onto their phone takes a lot more convincing than simply trying to grab a search engine user’s attention for a click.

A major component of app rankings is tied to the user experience of an app. Successful app optimization needs to take into account things like ensuring that the app icon is pleasing and intuitive, uploading excellent screenshots, adding in videos and responding to comments from users soon after they are posted.

A popular app with many downloads and high ratings is going to rank higher than a similar relatively unknown app. App publishers should use all the promotion tools at their disposal to increase downloads and ratings. Links to app download pages should be included in prominent places within a company’s website, and new apps should be pushed heavily to existing subscribers and readers.

At the outset it is also a good idea to use legitimate paid app promotions to help generate traction. Anything that remotely is affiliated with spammy download tactics should be avoided as these “fake” downloads will only skew numbers, and put an app at risk of being penalized by the app stores.


If your app has global appeal, you can easily increase the reach of your app by localizing your app for markets around the world. Google provides machine translations for your app, but you can and should add in human translations that will be better for users. It pays to do international keyword research rather than simply translating keywords into other languages. Apple requires that you create the localized metadata yourself, and if you choose to do so for any markets, accompanying screenshots and videos should also be localized too.

Iterative Process

Just like with all digital marketing, ASO should be an iterative process with experiments and learnings to improve app rankings. In the Google Play Store an app listing can be updated at anytime while Apple only allows metadata to be changed on an app version update. You should have a continuous process of monitoring rankings and measuring downloads which should be the bedrock of a stream of ideas on how to improve your visibility.


Sensor Tower – Chart and leaderboards
Tune – App store analytics
Apptopia – App store insights
Mobile Action – Mobile intelligence
SimilarWeb – Mobile competitive insights

Further Reading From The App Stores



  • Eli Schwartz

    Eli is the Director of Marketing at SurveyMonkey.