The Mobile Game Dev’s Guide to App Store Optimization

App store optimization aso

App store optimization (ASO) is a lot like the mobile game Rules!—each time you learn a strategy, another rule is added to an already lengthy list. For mobile game devs, the ever-changing “rules” when it comes to app store optimization strategy are things like the game’s app icon, app name, app preview video, screenshots and app description.

Apple and Google continue to make app listings more complex, but they do little to help developers figure out where to focus for prime optimization. So what are devs to do? Test, of course.

The first step to testing app store listing assets (be it an updated screenshot or an altered description) is to run it by coworkers, friends and beta users. The next step, assuming the smaller test is a success, is to live test.

Google Experiments is the leader in app store testing. Besides being free, it also uses traffic from the app store to inform devs on their tests. The drawback of Experiments is that it takes time to get results, and in the meantime, the test could be negatively impacting downloads. Another option for live testing is to use an app store optimization service that directs paid traffic into listings and costs about about $750 for a test with two variants.

Whichever route devs take, it’s important to understand which areas of the listing to optimize—a process that usually involves split testing multiple versions of an asset. StoreMaven, an ASO service that simulates app listings for devs, has some tips to help optimize the overwhelming number of data points and priorities for a listing:

The viewer

“Decisive” users: 60% of users, 50% of downloads
“Explorer” users: 40% of users, 50% of downloads

The most important component of an app store listing is, of course, the person looking at it. According to StoreMaven, there’s a split in the type of people downloading a game. One set, the “decisive” user, will only look at a store page as it loads on their phone or tablet. Basically, these users don’t scroll, so what they see is limited: the game name and icon, one or two screenshots, video stills or graphics and perhaps a line of text. Decisive users simply do not care about and will not seek out marketing material beyond the bare minimum.

Although decisive users may sound like an easy win, the “explorers” are likely more valuable, because their engagement is higher. Explorers will look through a listing—sometimes extensively. According to StoreMaven’s CEO, Gad Maor, top game companies will often address decisive users with great initial assets, but spend more time optimizing the assets that decisives never see, seeking to entice more of the valuable explorers to download.

The icon

Potential conversion lift from icon optimization:

iPhone: 17%
Android: 8%

Many developers try to choose their app icon by running ads in Facebook with icon variations. Maor suggests that this method is flawed. “The problem with this is the metric you’re tracking is click-through on ads,” he cautions “In many cases, there isn’t a correlation between the ad click-through and the conversion rate.” A better test involves coming up with major icon variations (“Users don’t care about minor changes,” Maor says) and testing them directly in the store.

Screenshots

Potential conversion lift from screenshot optimization:

Screenshots (either store): 35%
Google Play feature graphic: 20%
Potential conversion lift for localized screenshots: 15% on average

Screenshot and feature graphics give the largest potential lift aside from video in an app store listing. It’s especially worth tuning the first two screenshots, which are all that can be seen when the listing loads on most screen resolutions. “The vast majority never reach the fourth or fifth screenshot,” Maor says. Localizing screenshots by translating text and tweaking overlays can be an easy win for games with an international audience.

Video

Potential conversion lift from adding a video:

iOS: 19%
Android: 35%
Potential conversion lift from video optimization: 22% Either store
Video play rates: 7-8% (Apple App Store), 15% (Google Play)

Video can offer big gains. It’s also an expensive asset to create and test. A poorly performing video can even cause decreased conversion, especially on iOS, where a frame from the video becomes the first screenshot, limiting a developer’s ability to tweak and tune the look. For these reasons, indie mobile game devs often skip the video, since even a single professional video is a large expenditure and may unexpectedly perform badly.

App title

Potential lift from optimizing the game’s title:
Either store: 22%

A game’s title can still be tweaked in soft launch or even after launch. The catch is, even Google Experiments doesn’t allow for changing your game title. You’d have to use StoreMaven or another ASO service.

Description

Potential lift from optimizing a game’s description:

iPhone: 11%
Android: 23%

Users clicking to “read more” of the description:

2% for paid traffic on iOS
5% for paid traffic on Google Play

Google Play offers both a short and long description field, while iOS offers only a long one. For either store, most players see only the few words. On iOS, the description is more important when in landscape mode—in portrait, no words can be seen on screen. Although less beneficial than screenshots, the description is inexpensive and fast for developers to tweak. A common trick for developers of all sizes is to lead the description with quotes from critical reviews, but this needs to be tested for effectiveness.

Refreshes & decay

Finally, it’s important to note that devs shouldn’t just build a “perfect” listing and leave it stagnant. In parallel to paid advertising, conversions in a given store listing tend to decrease over time. This may be caused by shifts in the type of audience viewing the listing over time or the search algorithms in each app store. It’s often good practice to tweak marketing along with major game updates.