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Hackernoon logoSecret Ingredient from AppStore Ranking Recipe by@geogeome

Secret Ingredient from AppStore Ranking Recipe

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Having read the title, I hope that you already have Kung Fu Panda pictured in your head. If not, first, meet Panda.

In today’s episode, we will be assembling our team of important signals, our warriors, who will help us defeat the main villain, the Apple AppStore (or GooglePlay). Cooler kids gave it a special acronym - ASO.

So, what is ASO? Standing for App Store Optimisation, it’s a concept, which counter interacts developers' belief that their app deserves the number 1 spot on the AppStore. Essentially, you need ASO to rank your app, gain users, earn dough and inject it into the vicious cycle of great user experience & profit.

In today’s study, we will assume you know basic ASO that even your grandma knows and make an assumption that you will want to rank a generic search term e.g. IQ test. In our study, we prepared 2 apps, ranking for the same keywords, where we aim to look at the difference in rank and disassemble the ranking factors into individual smaller bits, for easy understanding.

Welcome our Candidates

Candidate 1 (4.6 stars, 300+ ratings).

Candidate 2 (3.7 stars, 180+ ratings).

Both of these apps have the same exact content (Just presented differently), the same target audience and use the same keywords. They are definitely the same app in my eyes, but beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so let’s try to reverse engineer what the AppStore sees. 

Question time! Which app do you think ranks first? Most importantly why do you think so? Remember your thought process, and reflect back on it at the end. Let’s proceed.

AppStore Metrics

Most of the metrics are clearly dominated by the first candidate. It enjoys more impressions, more downloads, even more revenue per active customer. There are more repeated sessions, more time active on the app. The app itself has a higher rating, and if I was to pick an app to use, I would definitely choose option 1. However, AppStore prefers candidate 2. 

Yes, the above is not a typo. I spent hours in the Analytics section of AppStoreConnect, trying to figure out why. I even printed out the AppStore Guidelines to replace the Bible by my bedside. In the end, I found a simple single factor, which explained the ranking. All roads lead to the golden metric:

Product Page Views / Impressions

(Candidate 2: 0.1628, Candidate 1: 0.1130)

How likely are users to click through and view the product page? This is the first stage of the funnel. After viewing the page, almost certainly conversion ratio also plays an important role in AppStore ranking. 

So which metrics are less relevant? I believe it's pretty much most of the analytical stats e.g. session duration, number of sessions per day etc. They cannot simply be used objectively in ranking applications. I can spend more time in-app because the user experience is so poor I can’t find an exit button. Or similarly, I have more sessions because your backend is crap and is down most of the time.

Summarising the metrics

Objectively speaking, there are just 3 key areas that you should concentrate on:

1. Area under retention curve.

Pretty self explanatory, this shows Apple how engaging your app is. If people like the app, they will use it more often on separate days. If not, they will uninstall and go to your competitor.

2. Download per Impression ratio.

This metric is a product of Product View Ratio and Conversion Ratio. If people click through, it implies the app is relevant to the search term. If the person downloads the app from the product page, it again implies relevance. It is likely to have a positive correlation with the rankings and the most 'non-obvious' signal.

3. Keyword Optimisation.

ASO 101. Don't stuff the keywords, include them in titles, subtitles and even in-app purchases.

Interestingly, I didn't find any positive correlation with ratings and reviews. Good reviews and high ratings seem to be the outcome of good ranking apps, and not the causation of the rank.

Action Points

I could write an article about each of the points above, so to save time, I'm assuming you have a plan for retention and keyword optimisation. Let's cover the remaining point.

It seems that in the end, Apple places a great importance on the appearance of apps. If you want to create the best app, there are really no corners that you can cut. You will need to create great user experience, as well as create beautiful visuals to attract users to download your app from the AppStore. 

So the advice is:

  • Icon is mega important.
  • App Screenshots are giga important.
  • Title & Subtitle matter.

The importance of App Creative Sets

People will look at your icon first. In our study, candidate 2 had a more textual app icon. As a result, it had a higher product view ratio. People are naturally attracted to text, and if they find it on the app icon, they subconsciously pick that app. 

App screenshots are the second part. You should really invest in an app designer, who will communicate a story to your target audience. If you are low on design budget, you can use a tool to create app screenshots and prettify your AppStore listing page. In the end, you can have something like this:

Note: I am partly involved in the development of this product.

When creating your previews, pay attention to colour palette - try to keep it consistent and monotone. If the budget is larger, invest in both screenshots and app previews. They will pay dividends long term. 

Title and subtitle do matter, but there is not much optimisation you can do there. Furthermore, this is common sense and I assume you can select the best suited copy for your app.

To Conclude

I hope you actually made it here, instead of just glancing over images. If not, I don't blame you, they do look pretty. If yes, chances are, you learned some cool tricks.

Out of everything said, in the end, these are just personal observations that I’ve encountered during my battles with Apple. For what I know, none of it is facts, and could be explanations as to why I think something happens. Similarly to the stock market. Although, I like to think that app rankings are deterministic. And there is a closed formula. I could be wrong. But I hope not.



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