App store optimization (ASO) guide for more app downloads

19 min read
December 11, 2020

Now that the initial stage of your mobile app development is done, you’re probably looking for the best ways to get your app more downloads.

Quite often, developers tend to focus their promotional efforts on marketing techniques such as blogging and paid advertising. While these efforts may yield great results, mobile app developers cannot afford to overlook App Store Optimization (ASO).

ASO is arguably the most powerful source of organic traffic you can use to increase your app’s visibility and gain more app downloads. 

In this article, we’ll share the importance of ASO, offer insight into the top ranking factors, and explain how you can leverage each one of them.

Let’s dive into it!

The Importance of App Store Optimization (ASO)

Apart from building and maintaining the best app features, one other challenge developers face is putting their apps before the right audience. 

With over 4.5 million apps in both major mobile app stores, you’ll need to put in some work to attract more app downloads.

Fortunately, Apple App Store and Google Play Store let you use strategic ASO techniques to amplify your marketing efforts. 

It’s reported that over 67% of app downloads are driven by app store search. Incredible, right?

In the long run, here’s what you can achieve with App Store Optimization:

  • Improved visibility in app stores
  • Converting high-quality users through consumer targeting
  • Sustainable organic app downloads
  • Reduced user acquisition costs and increased app revenue
  • Access to a wider global audience

ASO techniques could be the difference between gaining or losing thousands or even millions of potential app downloads. By spending a little time and effort on a periodic basis, there are lots of ways you can significantly improve your odds of receiving organic downloads.

Apple App Store & Google Play Store Ranking Factors

Although the basic idea behind App Store Optimization is generally the same for both the Apple App Store and Play Store, there are crucial differences involved. 

Certain factors are a priority in the Play Store, which aren’t necessarily important in the Apple App Store.

If you’re looking to have your app in both stores like most developers, you’ll need to understand these differences. This way, you’ll be able to optimize your app for the best results. 

App store ranking factors

Some of the most notable differences come up in the following areas.

Keyword Searching Algorithm 

It’s impossible to do ASO efficiently without keyword optimization, but the requirements of efficient optimization vary from platform to platform. 

In other words, interestingly, Apple and Google read keywords differently. 

While both consider the developer’s name and app title, the app description text doesn’t impact Apple’s algorithm. As a result, metadata indexing is slower on Google Play.

This will determine the amount of effort you put in each of those elements when launching your app.

Search Results Display

When it comes to search results, Apple cuts app titles to 18 characters (of the 30 characters allowed). The user also gets to see 3 portrait screenshots (or 1 landscape). 

In the Play Store, search results are displayed dynamically. Google cuts the title character length based on device, and screenshots do not appear for generic keyword searches.

Keep that in mind when you come up with your titles and accompanying materials.

App Page Listing

Another determining factor is how your app page is displayed. For example, while Google allows only one preview video, Apple lets you have three 30-second videos.

This will naturally affect the amount of information you can put in each of those videos.

Google play store listing elements

In any case, your app page listing should be memorable and leave a positive impression on the user.


Apple and Google users behave quite differently. 

In general, Apple phone owners are known to be more open to paying for their apps than Android users. 

As a result, they make app download decisions less quickly. They often get to check all your screenshots and look at all the available information. 

Android users, on the other hand, simply rely on feature graphics, app ratings, etc.

App Updates

Finally, Android developers can easily submit changes to the app. Conversely, Apple contributors require approval from the app review team. 

More oversight usually means more work for the app developer, although, naturally, every developer wants to provide the highest possible quality to their audience regardless.

In a nutshell, both stores do a fantastic job keeping your app visible to your target audience. However, you need to stay on top of each platform’s peculiarities to achieve effective ASO.

12 App Store Optimization (ASO) Ranking Factors You Must Know

Just like search engines, app stores rely on complex algorithms to match app search results to users’ specific search queries. 

You probably already know that ranking factors are a hot topic in Search Engine Optimization (SEO). This also applies to App Store Optimization.

Though app stores do not openly reveal the science behind their app search algorithms, these ranking factors are highly influential in determining app store rank. 

While the majority of these factors are under your control, a few of them depend on other external elements.

Let’s look closely at twelve essential ranking factors you need to know.

1. Accurate and Relevant Keywords

As mentioned earlier, keywords are the foundational component of every App Store Optimization effort. App downloaders use keywords in several combinations to search for an app in both major mobile app stores.

ASO keywords are specific terms that not only describe user intent but also offer substantial information about user needs and the recommended solution.

Depending on their purpose, there are problem keywords, user keywords, location keywords, action keywords, etc.

If you’re looking for your app to rank high, you must start by researching, analyzing, and placing keywords strategically on your app page.

Keyword research begins with the bid to find the best keyword ideas

Keyword suggest tool from AppTweak 1024x710 1
Keyword suggest tool from AppTweak

There are numerous sources you can consult for this. Apart from brainstorming ideas with acquaintances and industry experts, you should also conduct market or competitor research. Market research provides insight into the keywords competitors, and users use already.

However, app store keyword research is not all about finding the right keywords. You also need to find the right balance between a keyword’s relevance and its difficulty. 

Depending on the app category and keyword, some ideal keywords for your app may have very high search volume but face a great deal of competition.

Powerful keyword research tools such as, AppTweak, and AppRadar could come in really handy here. 

In essence, a great ASO keyword is generated based on quality research, followed by idea validation.

2. A Descriptive App Name and Title

Once you’ve settled for the right keywords based on your research, it’s now time to choose a descriptive name for your app. 

App name is a crucial component of your app’s metadata that ASO algorithms prioritize. Top apps in both app stores use it to improve their keyword ranks.

The major debate when naming an app is whether to stick with your brand name or stuff it with as many keywords as possible. 

From an ASO perspective, the more relevant keywords your app name contains, the higher your chances of ranking for those keywords.

However, this approach can also have a negative impact on your conversion rates. 

Certain users associate keyword stuffing with lower quality apps. Nonetheless, the majority of the top-ranking apps in the app stores include keywords in their titles (excluding gaming apps).

Some examples include “Gmail – Email by Google”, “Google Maps – Transit & Food”, and “Weather – The Weather Channel”. 

Weather app preview 520x1024 1

As you can see, these app names stick to short character lengths. Google allows up to 50 characters while Apple gives you only 30.

However you choose to include keywords, ensure that the app name and subtitle are unique and reader-friendly in the end. These are the first things potential app users come across during their search.

In general, you want to add the most common single keywords in the title and accompanying extension words in the subtitle. 

ASO algorithms combine keywords from the app name and the subtitle.

A typical example of an app with ideal keyword placement has “Flighty – Live Flight Tracker” as its name and “Radar Tracking & Status Alerts” as the subtitle. The algorithm then ranks the app for terms such as “flight tracking”, “flight status”, etc.

Additionally, bear in mind that the order of the keywords matters as well. 

Popular brands leverage this by including their brand name in the app name first. Non-popular brands should focus on placing the most relevant keywords first.

3. The Right Primary Category

Regardless of your goals, your app category plays a vital role in positioning your app for visibility. Apart from choosing a category that’s relevant to your app, you should also consider how well you’ll rank in the category charts. 

High-ranking apps in every category end up receiving a significant traffic boost.

Both Google and Apple use app categories as an internal organization system for displaying search results to potential app users. The two stores have individual categories for games and apps.

Choosing the right primary category for your app should begin with relevance. Irrespective of popularity and ranking potentials, your chosen app category must reflect your app’s most important features.

App categories in Google Play Store 488x1024 1

You also want to pay close attention to your target audience. Adopt a category where your potential users and competitors are already looking.

In the Google Play Store, app tags play a significant role in determining your app category.

Another ASO best practice is experimenting with different app categories. Though you should never change categories on a whim, you may want to consider a different app category if your app is underperforming in its current one. 

You can set target Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) such as daily impressions and keyword rankings to measure and compare ASO performance in each category.

4. URL / Package

As unlikely as it may seem, your application URL or package name is another important element you can use to improve your app store’s indexing. This method is especially useful on Google Play.

Remember, once your app’s Google Play package URL is published, you can’t modify it. Therefore, you want to pay close attention before hitting the Publish button.

Typically, your application URL appears in this format:

You can easily boost your app installs and impressions by including strategic keywords in your package URL. 

Mobile app URL example 1024x349 1

Here are some interesting indexing elements you can add to your “package name” for extra traffic (with examples included):

  • Popular short-tail keywords: Mi Fit app with the keyword, ‘health’.
    • (
  • Name of a top competitor: Guide for COC: 2019 leverages Clash of Clans’ popularity.
    • (
  • Subcategory name: Cake Match 3 Mania adds ‘match’ in its URL.
    • (
  • Developer name: Popular brand names such as Netflix include their name in all their apps’ package names.
    • (

One of the most prominent examples of the influence of app URLs in ASO is Super Mario Run’s Google Play Store listing from 2017.

Among other techniques, the developer used “zara” (a keyword with high difficulty and traffic) to generate millions of app installs.

5. A Compelling App Description

Still talking about your app’s metadata, the app description is another area to concentrate a significant amount of effort. 

Google actively uses the keywords in this field to rank apps. 

Though Apple doesn’t index keywords in the app description, it’s still a good area to show users your app’s features and benefits.

Here’s a simple checklist of the most important features of your app description:

  • Contains detailed but concise information about your app
  • Relatable and easy to comprehend
  • Addresses major consumer pain points
  • Reflects a clear highlight and paragraph structure
  • Preferably includes keywords

In the Google Play Store, there are two app description fields: the short description and the long description. 

The short description is an 80-character excerpt that users see in-app listings. After expanding the description, they then get to see the long description (up to 4000-characters).

Since the search algorithm places a lot of weight on the long description, try to add your most important keywords in the first three sentences. 

Mobile app short description 1024x757 1

Make the most of the available characters for a well-optimized description.

Similarly, Apple restricts the character length to 4000 as well. Nonetheless, most users only get to see approximately the first 255 characters without needing to click to see more. 

You may want to put in lots of effort here while including a credibility statement in the full description.

6. A Unique Icon

No doubt, ASO algorithms rely on keywords, metadata, and other text fields of your app page. However, the visual elements of your mobile app are even more important for attracting users. 

If you can get your app’s design elements right, you stand a chance of experiencing a better click-through rate (CTR) and conversion rate.

The app icon is arguably the first on-metadata graphic element that users get to see. 

So, you want to do a solid job here so as to leave a good first impression. Both app stores have their icon image requirements: 512px by 512px for the Play Store and 1024px by 1024px for the Apple App Store.

In general, your icon should aim to stand out while remaining simple. 

Unless you already have a strong brand presence, design your icon to reflect the main idea behind your app. Here are a few additional tips for you to consider:

  • Maintain your brand colors and style through all app elements.
  • Incorporate vibrant harmonizing colors that are optimized for Dark Mode as well.
  • Keep text to the barest minimum.
  • Spy on competitors and design trends and differentiate your design from theirs.
  • Test your icon design and update it for seasonality.

Picking the best icon for your product is all about staying creative and being open to trying out new things while sticking to the basics.

7. High-Quality Screenshots

The next visual element worthy of note is the app screenshot. The main idea behind app screenshots is to grant the user a peep into the app’s user experience. 

Screenshots enjoy better visibility on the App Store since the user doesn’t have to scroll to get to them. Nonetheless, they’re still a major ranking factor in the Play Store too.

When it comes to screenshots, you should consider high-resolution images only. 

Travel and tech mobile apps 1024x701 1

A good number of users make a download decision just by glancing through your screenshots. This is why it’s highly important to make a great first impression by placing the most attention-grabbing screenshots first.

App screenshots should maintain simplicity, demonstrating major app features and user experience, displaying special offers, and using short legible titles to relay your message.

However, as a rule of thumb, they should never be actual screenshots of the app only.

Users can translate this as a complete lack of effort to illustrate the app’s functionality. If you’re not confident of your design skills, you should hire a designer to bail you out here.

While Apple App Store lets you add up to ten portrait and landscape screenshots, the Play Store accommodates only eight. The minimum number of screenshots allowed is 2 but, it’s best to always exceed this. Image dimensions can range from 320px to 3840px.

8. App Preview Video

The app preview video serves a similar purpose as the screenshots: highlight app functionality and user interface. 

In reality, creating a high-converting 15-30 second video for your app can be really challenging.

It’s necessary to state upfront that the production costs of an ideal app preview video may sometimes appear excessive. 

However, a good video impacts more than just your conversion rates,it also boosts the app’s Lifetime Value. This is because most users who actually watch the video end up becoming high-quality users post-download.

It’s not all black and white, though. If poorly executed, videos can also have a negative impact on your app install rates. To avoid unwanted results, here are some key points to bear in mind:

  • Use storyboards to plan out your content for high engagement.
  • Keep video length between 15 and 30 seconds. SplitMetrics reports that users only watch 7 to 11 seconds of app store video playback.
  • Use only footage from your app. Apple, in particular, will reject content with human actors.
  • Always optimize images and audio for your target audience.
  • Incorporate transitions and text copy in a simple but elegant manner.

According to SplitMetrics’ study, a preview video is powerful enough to boost your conversion rate by 16% when used properly.

9. App Listing and Localization

One of the biggest benefits of submitting your mobile app to any of the popular app stores is access to a global audience. However, you’ll hardly be taking full advantage of this benefit if your product is optimized for your local audience only. 

This is why localization has become a necessity.

App localization simply entails all the efforts involved in making your app’s product pages more attractive to international users.

These efforts often include copy translation (app title, description, etc.) and adjusting metadata elements such as videos and screenshots to suit a local audience.

By localizing your app, you’re setting it up to reach a wider audience, rank for several popular keywords, and compete with major players in local markets. 

The first step to localization is keyword localization. Localized keywords increase your app’s visibility in multiple countries and lay a foundation for more organic downloads.

Apple supports product pages in 40 different languages. Google Play allows for as many as 82 localizations. 

You shouldn’t aim to translate to all these languages but focusing on select countries and languages associated with significant portions of your target audience is recommendable.

10. Total Number of Downloads and Uninstalls

This is the one ranking factor that’s not fully under your control as a developer. Indeed, all the ASO factors we’ve discussed earlier come together to affect your app downloads. 

However, it’s almost impossible to organically control your app’s total downloads and uninstalls.

Of course, the more an app’s downloads are, the greater its popularity among users. The Apple App Store and Google Play Store algorithms are known to rank apps with the most installs the highest.

App installs

High uninstall rates may also affect your app’s ranking adversely. 

To avoid this, you need to research why users uninstall your apps. Some of the common reasons include performance issues, unmet expectations, loss of relevance over time, and several other constraints.

For a result-oriented scientific approach to this topic, you’ll need to measure your app download and uninstall rates. Learn when and why these uninstalls happened, which sources the uninstallers come from, and how to minimize them.

11. Ratings and Reviews

If you’re looking to do ASO right, you need to monitor and incentivize positive market opinion. 

Nailing your app’s ratings and reviews not only contributes to the visual appearance of your app page but also determines how ASO algorithms place it.

A successful ASO strategy must include tracking, requesting, and replying to in-app store reviews in a manner that paints your app in a good light.

Typically, three elements that most users look out for when searching for an app are the app name, icon, and user ratings.

In general, the majority of users tend to focus more on ratings more than reviews. 

After all, ratings are more prominent than reviews in both app stores. On the App Store, at least 17.2% of users get to see the review widget and about 1.5% end up clicking to review them. The results are also quite similar on the Play Store.

App review 1024x591 1

Nonetheless, both ratings and reviews are still powerful potential marketing tools. 

If you’re an iOS developer, you can opt for the native in-app review request widget. This feature allows the user to remain within the app and complete the review in seconds. 

For Android apps, you’ll need to create a custom widget if you don’t want to redirect users to the Play Store.

Also, you can encourage positive reviews by getting the review request timing right. 

For example, a user will be more willing to leave you a positive rating or review after completing a difficult level of a game. 

Even if you get a bad review, ensure to address them in a helpful and respectful manner. Similarly, make sure to implement necessary changes in future app updates.

12. Backlinks

The final significant ASO component we’ll consider is the backlink. 

Backlinks are an essential ranking factor that affects both your app’s SEO and ASO (for the Google Play Store.) Ideally, a backlink is a high-quality link (with high Domain Authority or App Authority) that is relevant to your app topic. 

The more links leading to your application URL, the better its SEO and ASO chances.

With quality backlinks, you can position your app (either iOS or Android) for better visibility on the web. However, in terms of ASO, Android apps benefit the most from backlinking. WhatsApp is a good example of an app with a solid link building strategy.

There are several ways you can generate backlinks for your mobile app. Some interesting sources that you can consider include:

  • Your website
  • Social media profiles
  • Press releases and the media
  • Event and conference sites
  • Blog guest posts
  • Startup directories

When building backlinks, always focus on quality and relevance. Also, optimize your anchor texts to reflect the value of your app.


As a mobile app developer, App Store Optimization is a core component of every successful app promotion strategy that you cannot afford to overlook. 

We’ve already established that over 67% of all app store downloads are influenced by search results. If you nail this process, you may successfully rein in millions of potential app downloads at a significantly subsidized cost.

From generating keyword ideas to managing user ratings, there are many factors to consider when it comes to ASO. Certainly, keeping up with these ranking factors can be rather challenging. 

However, if you pay close attention to all 12 factors in this article, you can hardly go wrong in your ASO efforts.

Written by

Marko Strizic

Co-founder and CEO

Marko started DECODE with co-founders Peter and Mario, and a decade later, leads the company as CEO. His role is now almost entirely centred around business strategy, though his extensive background in software engineering makes sure he sees the future of the company from every angle. A graduate of the University of Zagreb’s Faculty of Electrical Engineering and Computing, he’s fascinated by the architecture of mobile apps and reactive programming, and a strong believer in life-long learning. Always ready for action. Or an impromptu skiing trip.

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