App Store Marketing: Stick Out and Go for the Close

Hello and welcome to the first part of our series on the user lifecycle!

User Acquisition is certainly the hottest and most debated issue in the mobile marketing space right now. With almost 800,000 apps on the Apple AppStore, and as many on Google Play, discoverability in particular remains a major issue for app publishers.

However, app stores remain the main way to be discovered on mobile and to make the most out of them, you need to understand how they work.

There are two major steps to optimizing user acquisition marketing: discoverability and conversion.

Discoverability is about getting as many people as possible to get to your app’s landing page and can be achieved and optimized outside as well as within the app stores. (We’ll focus on the latter). Conversion relates to the percentage of people who, having viewed your landing page, decide to go ahead and download your app (click-to-download).

In this article we’ll look into App Store Optimization (ASO): free ways to get your mobile game discovered and downloaded. We’ll make a distinction between Apple’s AppStore and Google’s Play Store when necessary.

In the end, ASO is simply about two things: sticking out and going for the close!

Here’s how.

The Holy Grail of App Discovery: Getting an Official Feature

You may have read this already, but the first step in app store marketing is making a great app. As app stores are also in competition with each other, they are always on the lookout for great content and “poster apps” to showcase. Make sure to have your app and  all app store assets spot on when you submit/upload .

On iOS, you should prepare and upload all 5 available screenshots for both classic and Retina resolutions right from the start.

On Google Play, there is no review process; however your game should offer a flawless user experience and be available for as many Android device resolutions as possible (especially the higher ones).

Getting featured by Apple or Google is definitely not a strategy you should rely upon, but you would be wrong not to take a shot! Get in touch with their editorial teams, sell the best and most innovative features of your game and think about timing (the best time to release is usually around mid-week).

Sticking Out from the Crowd through Search

It has been shown that discoverability within the app stores is achieved mainly through the search function. According to Nielsen, 63% of people use it to discover new apps. Therefore, optimizing all the information that will enable your app to show up as highly ranked as possible in search results (the so-called meta data) is paramount.

The main asset of your game is its title: both on Google Play and iOS, the keywords used in the title weigh greatly in the search algorithm. The title should be descriptive of your game’s core value but not too long (on iOS, it gets truncated after 12 characters.)

On the Apple AppStore, you can enter a list of keywords, which are used for the search function, but won’t be displayed publicly. Here’s some do’s and don’ts on how to choose them:

  • The list has 100 characters, including commas. Do not leave any spaces.
  • Keywords are specific to each local AppStore, and should therefore be localized and not just translated.
  • Don’t repeat the keywords already present in the title.
  • Don’t use phrases, only single words (eg “medieval, RPG” instead of “medieval RPG”).
  • Only use single forms, and avoid articles.
  • Focus on the long tail: tailored keywords will make you rank higher.
  • On iOS 6 the category of the app is automatically a keyword, so no need to add it to the list.
  • If your app is free, the word “free” is implicitly added as well.

On top of that, it is advised to use a keyword optimization tool, as they’re quite cheap and offer valuable insights. The main ones are, Search Man SEO and MobileDevHQ.

On Google’s Play Store, there is no keyword list, but your game’s description matters for search results (which is not the case on iOS). Here’s a few tips:

  • Google’s roots are in search and keywords play a great part everywhere, even outside  the Store. You can use adWord’s keyword tool as well as the auto-response search suggestions in Google Play to assess their popularity.
  • Include your main keywords around 5 times along your description, but be careful to keep it readable and cohesive.
  • Key phrases are as important as words.
  • Screen competitors (which you can’t do on iOS).
  • As descriptions can be modified on the go, it can be a good strategy to be opportunistic and include some trendy and/or seasonal keywords (Christmas, Olympics, Gangnam Style…).
  • Remember, it’s Google! Keywords matter everywhere: in the title, the description and even in the file names of your screenshots.

With keywords, the general trick is to find the sweet spot between the volume of the search traffic and their degree of competitiveness (how many competitors chose them as well).

Conversion: Going for the Close!

Once you’ve done everything to optimize your app’s discoverability potential, you still need to convince people to download it. This can mainly be achieved through the marketing assets present on the stores, which are both visual (icon and screenshots) and written (title and description).

General Tips for the Icon:

  • Don’t use words.
  • Keep it simple and uncluttered.
  • Make it consistent with the game’s content.
  • Make the content elements pop out.
  • Consider using a border so it looks good on any background.
  • Icons come with a premium on Google Play, as it’s the only visual asset which appears in search.

On iOS make sure that your screenshots aren’t too small and can be read on the iPhone’s resolution. Also, as they are now locked after approval, you can no longer A/B test them within the Store. Fortunately, there are some tools out there to help you overcome this hurdle: they typically send traffic to mobile web landing pages simulating the AppStore. Here are the main ones: Atmio and Sparkpage.

With iOS 6, Apple completely revamped the aspect of search with the last update, where visual assets are paramount.

The best way to optimize the conversion potential of your game on the AppStore is to go through a funnel of click stages and use the 80/20 rule to allocate your efforts and ressources. At each stage, users can download the app if they are convinced by what they see (A/N: being a big fan of Candy Crush Saga, I’ve already got it on my phone which is why the button says “open” instead of “download”). If not, they can either leave the page or go one stage further to get more information. Needless to say, the importance of the visual elements displayed decrease greatly at each stage of the funnel, which is why you should concentrate most of your optimization efforts on the first one(s). Also, remember that screenshots now require a full update to be changed, which is one more reason to have everything ready before submission.


First stage: the page which appears from search. On iOS 6, only one search result is shown at a time, therefore conferring a strong benefit to the first app displayed. The main assets shown are: the icon, the title, and the first screenshot (out of the five which can be uploaded). It is paramount that you get that first screenshot spot on, as it will make for most of the users’ first impression. It is wise to include a pop-up notification mechanism within your app to ask users to rate it positively, as the overall average rating will strongly impact judgements (it also affects the search rank).


Second stage: the top of the landing page, which appears after you click on the screenshot. This is where all the information about your game can be accessed. The first screenshot still comes at a premium, but the users can easily access the others by scrolling right. Don’t hesitate to add explanations and even combine the pictures to tell a story! The main thing being to show the users the main features and walk them through the app. On iOS they should all be vertical (contrary to Google Play). Also, don’t forget to localize them as much as possible.


Third stage: scrolling down the landing page.

There, users can access the more textual and descriptive data about your game: description, update notes and general information. You’ll notice that only the first lines of the description are shown, therefore you should put 80% of your efforts in the beginning of the text. Demonstrate value through favorable press mentions, review quotes and awards. The same applies for the “What’s New” section: go for the most attractive features of your update right from the start.

Fourth stage and beyond: the rest of the app and update descriptions as well as the reviews are no longer as important as all the other elements, but should not be neglected for the long tail of users who get all the way there.

We hope to have covered the most important aspects of App Store Optimization and that you enjoyed it. If you have any questions or remarks, don’t hesitate to drop us a line! If you like what your read, subscribe to the blog’s mailing list! We’ll also update the post to take into account the changes that might occur in the future.

In the mean time, stay tuned for the next part in our series: retention and engagement!

About Thomas Sommer

Thomas heads up content marketing at app marketing platform AppLift. As such he’s in charge of sourcing, curating, creating and distributing insightful content to increase the company’s visibility and thought leadership. Thomas loves to scrutinize the relentless and thrilling developments of the mobile industry. Connect with him on LinkedIn or Twitter to continue this conversation.
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10 Responses to App Store Marketing: Stick Out and Go for the Close

  1. Antonin says:

    Thanks great article!

    “If your app is free, the word “free” is implicitly added as well.”

    Are you sure? I’d think it gives more weight to “free” so useful to rank higher on this query.

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