The Ultimate App Store Optimization Guide for Beginners

You know that App Store Optimization is important. You’ve heard that there are lots of tools out there that can help you define those very keywords that will lead you to success.

And yet…

When it comes to submitting your iOS app to the App Store, you hardly get round to a brief keyword brainstorming. Just because the whole process seems so complicated and time-consuming.

But ASO is not complicated. If you think about, it’s one of the most rewarding and cost-effective part of app marketing. But like with any complex process, ASO requires a plan.

And that is what we can help you with. Plan. Presenting today – the ultimate App Store Optimization cheat sheet! Come look under the cut!

welcome under the cut

Our plan is the list of steps you need to take before submitting your app or an update to the App Store. And in order to breezily walk through these steps, we would need some tools.

Let’s choose the most established one – SensorTower. You can use it free of charge for one app. And some features (like checking your competitors’ lists of keywords) are even available without signup!


In brief: existing keywords + synonyms + associations + misspellings

Take a sheet of paper and write all keywords and keyword phrases that cross your mind. In case your app is already in App Store, include the keywords you currently have in your keyword field and title. Then quickly generate synonyms using Thesaurus. Step one complete!


In brief: 5 relevant competitors; note their keywords categories, monetization ideas and icon designs for future use

You know why you should absolutely not miss this step? Because your competitors’ list of keywords, as well as their reviews, are invaluable sources of keyword ideas. So, how is competitor research done?

Just search: take the keyword that reflects the essence of your app, type it into the App Store search field, browse through the top ranked apps and pick the ones that are most relevant to your app. Five competitors should be about right.

Keep your list of keywords close at hand while you’re checking out competitors’ apps. See some relevant keyword in their apps’ reviews? Write it down!

After that go to SensorTower home page and run the app names through the widget. You’ll then see the keyword list of these apps! Note the ones that are relevant to your apps. Don’t worry if your list has got very long. Our next steps will cut it down.


In brief: traffic ≥ 4.0; difficulty ≤ 3.0; few competitors

Now that you’ve got a list of keywords (the ones that you have brainstormed + the ones that you borrowed from you competitors), it’s time to highlight the ones that will provide you with greater visibility.

How is that done?

First, create the spreadsheet. Create columns “Keyword / Keyword phrase”, “Traffic”, “iPhone difficulty”, “iPad difficulty”, “iPhone apps”, “iPad apps”.

Then, sign up for SensorTower and run all the words through Keyword Research module.

You know that App Store forms your keywords into phrases. So check the phrases that your user is likely to search.

For example, if you have a wallpaper app, don’t just check stylish, trendy, hd. Instead, try stylish wallpapers, trendy backgrounds, hd wallpaper and so on. Write the values into your spreadsheet. Below is how Keyword Research module looks (click to enlarge).


If the traffic is high, and iPhone/iPad difficulty is low – that goes into your list. Ideally, traffic should be higher than 4.0. Also, pay very close attention to iPhone Apps and iPad Apps columns that show how many apps are already competing for this keyword. The fewer, the better. About 20-40 is perfect. And if you use the keyword phrase in the title, and most of your competitors don’t, you may even rank high for the keywords with 100-200 competing apps.

And surely don’t miss your chance to fully track ASO performance of one of your apps with SensorTower for free. If you have more than one app and no money, just look for the analytics tools with the same policy. Appnique is one example.

When comparing your app against other apps, never choose competitors that launched their apps less than a week ago. iOS App Store gives these apps additional boost and their outstanding visibility may be misleading.


In brief: max. 255 chars, include 2-3 keywords.

Include keywords in title. Some of our competitors have quite generous titles and their rankings are the kind of thing that makes us try harder. Still, make sure your title doesn’t look spammy. Just as Google, App Store doesn’t like keyword stuffing. Use dash after the app name and then describe the essence of your app using 2-3 keywords. For example, here is what the title for our app Filterloop Pro looks like Filterloop Pro – Camera And Photo Editor For Mixing Filters, Textures and Light Leaks. The app ranks very high for “light leaks” and “textures”.


In brief: 100 characters, commas, no blanks, plural rather than singular, no duplicating keywords from title

Here write the ones that are left after you’ve written the title. Separate each word with a comma, blanks are not required.

Once you are finished, make sure once again that all keywords are relevant. Relevancy comes first. App Store sometimes removes irrelevant keywords, so keep an eye on them, once the app is submitted.


Here everything is quite straightforward. Just choose the category that is the most relevant to your app (detailed description of each category is available in your developer account on App Store). If there are several categories relevant to your app and you can’t decide, do the following:

1) Check the categories of your competitors’ apps. If they’ve managed it to the top, perhaps, they’ve chosen the right category;

2) Choose the category with less competition. See the chart below for information.

Statistic: Most popular Apple App Store categories in June 2014, by share of available apps | Statista


In brief: focus on the first three lines (max.255 characters), include CTA.

As of 2012, around 14% of iOS app users discovered the apps they used through Internet search engines.

This means that, even though iOS App Store ranking doesn’t depend on keywords included in app description, keywords should be included for greater web search engine visibility.

Other points:

    - Make the description visually appealing. Give up long passages in favor of easily digestible bull point lists;
    - Highlight app’s most outstanding features;
    - Mention which features are paid to prevent unpleasant surprises that often translate into negative reviews;
    - Include call to action.


Do you think that App Store has some kind of mechanism measuring the quality of screenshots and ranking apps accordingly?

Probably, not.

But have you ever seen an app with low quality screenshots making it to the top?

Also, not.

That’s because unless you use a pretty screenshot, nobody will ever click on it. This way you’ll never get skyrocketing numbers of active users and positive reviews. And these are crucial in determining your App Store search rank.

This topic actually deserves a separate article. So for now, just a few rules. Stick to them, and you are good.

    - No text on icons
    - Make the first screenshot intriguing, so that the user would want to see the rest
    – Make screenshots descriptive. If applies, let one screenshot represent one feature your app offers
    - Or let each screenshot reflect the stage of the process the app presents (for example, editing a photo)
    - Use all the five available slots

    - Add a short description to each of the screenshots


Your app will get very few reviews and ratings unless you prompt your users to do that. Fact.

So what should you know to send effective in-app messages with review prompts?

Let me share a story here. When we started sending prompts with a request to write a review, we got some negative reviews. Why? The clients were somehow dissatisfied with a product, and with the pop-up message saying something like “rate us!”, an opportunity to leave a negative review sort of presented itself alongside with a chance to write something positive. And it’s always easier to leave a negative review than a positive one, you know.

This is how we got an idea to write creatives that only encourage positive feedback. Check.


See? This way the user only has two options: to leave a positive review or leave no review. There just isn’t enough encouragement to write a negative one.

An even more reasonable idea would be to provide a third button that would direct the user to a special support page alongside with “Rate” button. This way complaints and negativity will land in your support mail rather than in App Store reviews.

We create review prompts using our own SDK AppDK. We will soon make it available to other developers. You may leave your email here to be notified. The SDK can also be used to send push notifications, cross-promote your apps, see real-time downloads statistics and more. It will be free.

That’s it. We are finished with the list of steps. Although you shouldn’t think of it as a list, but rather as a cycle that you need to go over and over again. ASO specialists recommend checking your keyword rankings at least once a week. Also, check this post for a few more ASO tricks.

Hope you can really benefit from this quite do-it-yourselfy and money-saving guide to App Store. You are welcome.

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