Does ASO work?
Seriously – Does ASO work?
Does it work in the REAL world? We all love to read theories and statements about how this should work… but it always seems difficult to find case studies. There’s a good reason for that – developers who are successful with ASO would prefer to keep these “secrets” to themselves rather than let the whole world know. That’s why initially, when I was asked to write about an App Store Optimization case study, my natural response was to be a bit reluctant.
You see,in ASO just like in the search engine optimization world, case studies are a bit tricky.You want to share, you want to educate, but you don’t want to reveal details that can ruin what you have achieved by introducing unwanted competitors.
So facing the challenge of a case study about how ASO can be implemented in real life, I have agreed to publish as much information as possible without divulging my client’s app or the precise keywords we were targeting….
So here goes…
In late June I was approached by an app developer interesting in launching a new app. The app was a football app. Yes, football (not soccer I’m afraid!) The app was the 3rd app from the same developer and his last 2 apps didn’t succeed as expected. This was mainly sincehis approach was a bit similar to the approach of 95% of developers.
“Let’s create the app, and see what happens…If it doesn’t work, we’ll tweak the app until it works”.
We had a chat and I suggested he take a different approach.My approach was … let’s find what works already and let’s make it better.
So the idea wasn’t to create something 100% new, but instead to find one app that was in fact doing well and getting downloads and traffic and to try to piggy-back on their success.
We wanted to achieve 2 things:
(1) Target a market that we know converted well
(2) Find what keywords our competitors were targeting and try to out-rank them as fast as possible.
Let me be honest: This was the first time I was faced with the challenge of outranking a specific app, but the idea in “theory” made sense.
If we could create an app that was better than the top app in this micro-niche, it would make sense that we could achieve a better ranking.
So with the theory in place we decided to start the process.
Developing the App
The app was developed without any serious issues. We decided to look at all the apps in the market and try to produce the best app out there. My theory was that the app itself wasn’t the important part (crazy right?).At the end of the day we weren’t creating something new, we just wanted to provide the same functions as other apps with a more “smooth” and “user friendly” experience.
We had a good look at the reviews posted by other users about the competitors’ apps and we tried to find what people didn’t like about the other apps so that we could build on that in our app.
We didn’t want to focus on creating new features, but instead we wanted to avoid issues and bugs that could annoy users, like what users were reporting in our competitors’ apps.
Again… the objective was to make things EASIER for us.
This was interesting. In this approach what we did was to do some market research and find out if our potential icon could “win” in an icon competition versus the competitors. We literally created a grid with 6 icons where one icon was ours and the other 5 were the competitors.We wanted to be sure that our icon was better. (You can read more about the icon market research here.)
For the artwork we took a real guerrilla approach: We didn’t pay any fancy graphic designer, instead we hired an outsourcer for 2 weeks to create as many variations as possible for these icons.
Mainly we didn’t want to have the MOST AMAZING ICONEVER, instead we wanted to have the best icon versus the competitors.
This was a different approach that really paid off
The screenshots used by the competitors were conventional screenshots, boring, with same image after same image.
We decided to do something different.All our screenshots had a clear call to action and a very detailed explanation of what the app did. We highlighted the cool features and why our app will rock compared to the other ones.
“We decided to do something different. All our screenshots had a clear call to action and a very detailed explanation of what the app did.”
Ninja tip: Don’t presume the user will assume what your app does, instead be sure to spell it out to the user.The interesting point is that overall the app we were optimizing had the same features as many other apps in the same category, but our screenshots were the only screenshots that let the user know about its features.
So we wanted to target SMART keywords and by smart we mean keywords that have traffic. We used 3 tools in this process. Yes… 3 tools.
We used AppStoreRankings.net, SearchMan and Appcod.es.We wanted to compare different data sets and to be sure that we identify the right type of keywords to rank for.
We found that of the 20 top apps in the niche, only 2 were targeting “smart keywords”, so 90% didn’t have any SEO work done. This was great news.
So we knew that most of the apps in the top position didn’t optimize their keywords.On the other hand, by doing detailed keyword analysis, we identified the “money” keywords that the top 2 apps were targeting.
Improving the Keywords
Now that we had a collection of keywords, we used the ASO tools to expand the list. It was really important to us to make sure that list of keywords was the best list possible.
We identified all the keywords that had some type of traffic of value and we discounted the low value keywords.If we were going to do this, we wanted to do it properly…
To expand the keyword list we used a list of related keyword that we generated from the Google Keyword Tool.Yes, we used a conventional SEO tool for ASO – shoot me!
To expand the keyword list we used a list of related keyword that we generated from the Google Keyword Tool.
The results?With the new list we went back to the ASO tools and we tried to filter what keywords had search volume versus what keywords didn’t. Then we simply picked up the best ones.
Our keyword list included only 4 keywords from the original list that we generated from our competitor’s keywords. We just added new keywords that no one in our top 20 niche list had included.
It was going to be an interesting ride.
Get ready for the Launch
In a strange approach, we quickly realized that approaching and spamming all those “app review sites” was going to be a waste of time. We wanted to get reviews and get them fast, so we took a different approach. Go niche.
We targeted small bloggers with enough followers to drive traffic. Our filter was:
- Twitter followers
- Facebook Fan Page fans
If any of those numbers were over 1000, it was good enough for us. So instead of pitching to big app review sites, we focused on the small bloggers.
…instead of pitching to big app review sites, we focused on the small bloggers.
None of these social mentions where from app review sites. Only from football niche related sites.We contacted over 250 small bloggers and we achieved 23 reviews in the first week and over 50+ social mentions via Facebook or Twitter. In the second week we achieved over 30+ more reviews and even more social mentions.
Disclaimer: We didn’t pay for any reviews, we just tried to approach them in the most human, polite and friendly way possible.
Why did it work so well for us?
These bloggers never had app companies contacting them, so for them the idea of being contacted to review an app was cool, unique and different.
What did we try that didn’t work?
We decided to pay for reviews onFiverr.
Yes. I know… what were we thinking? Fiverr… that place where you pay $5 to get people to do stuff for you. Well surprise, surprise, Fiverr didn’t work at all… but it was interesting as a marketing experiment.
I have been focusing a lot on the importance of reviews and I believe reviews are a huge, huge factor in converting browsers to buyers, so we decided to highlight any positive reviews from niche bloggers in the description of the app.
When we launched, we also had an issue of not having any real reviews yet… so we decided to launch a contest.The contest was extremely easy and affordable…
We bought 10 autographed footballs. The autographs were from different teams:the Miami Dolphins, Vikings, Giants, you name it.
We offered the ball as a prize for the most complete review posted on the App Store. We made it clear that they could post any type of review, positive or negative and that we wanted to know their opinion rather than gather positive reviews.
This little campaign worked a treat and we promoted it in niche forums and Facebook groups.
Overall, we found that promoting it in Facebook groups was easier and less hassle than promoting in in niche forums.
2 Weeks after the Launch
We found that for some keywords our app started to rank up high in the search results. We used Appcod.es to track the rankings and we used SearchMan to look at the overall change in our visibility in search. Being able to see how the app was ranking “overall” was extremely useful to get a sense if what we were doing was working.
4 weeks after Launch
Surprise! A bit faster than expected we achieved our first top 10 ranking in the search results. Overall, the number of downloads was less than expected but for the first month we were happy enough. The progress in rankings took us by surprised.
2 months after launch
My job was done! Although we didn’t managed to outrank the 2 initial apps we had set our sights on, I believe we will outrank them very soon, as soon as the number of downloads increase.
Almost 7 weeks after the day of the launch, my client’s app was in the top 5 position for 6 out of the 8 keywords we were targeting in the US App Store.
This ASO project was interesting to say the least. We tried to approach it in the most pragmatic way possible and instead of trying to find “the secret sauce” we just took advantage of competition analysis. We tested everything from icons to keywords, and every action we took was aimed to achieve more downloads, convert more and obtain higher rankings.
Did it work?
You bet! We found that taking ASO with a lean approach worked better than reinventing the wheel. I believe this couldn’t have been done without the brave and open-minded approach of my client, willing to take the risk and of course without the amazing data that the ASO tools provided us.
The following article was published in MakeanApp magazine this month. Don’t be silly.. go and get it!