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1 January, 2018

Tracking ASO: Measuring the Unmeasurable

ASO
Best Practices

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ROI, ROAS, LTV – these are just a few of the very clear, precise, and widely adopted KPIs used to measure performance of paid user acquisition. But how can app developers measure the performance of marketing efforts aimed at organic growth? As the leading provider of app store optimization, an integral part of any marketing strategy, we get asked this by our partners quite often.

An app’s organic installs are not driven by UA campaigns of which you can track the exact spend versus return. Organic growth is driven by a number of different factors including product quality, brand strength, PR efforts, organic social media activity, and effective paid acquisition campaigns that stir brand awareness. Alongside these marketing efforts, ASO ensures that the app’s store visibility is maximized to its full potential. “Potential” is driven by the factors listed earlier – product quality, brand strength, paid UA, etc.. ASO should be treated as a complement to all other marketing efforts and part of a holistic marketing strategy, rather than an independent source of organic installs.

So ASO is not easy to measure, but what’s the best way to do so?

With all that said, there are metrics that are good indicators of app store optimization performance. However, it is important to keep in mind that these metrics are impacted by a number of external factors that are outside the control and scope of ASO. When we analyze these metrics, we make sure to take this into consideration.

Keyword rankings

yellowHEAD’s ASO process is made of two major components – search optimization (targeting the most relevant, high-traffic, and opportunistic keywords) and conversion optimization (integrating well-converting texts and graphics via industry research and constant A/B testing).

The best way to measure search optimization performance is through keyword rankings. We constantly track hundred of keywords both in English and in up to 25 additional languages for every app we optimize. Each time we make changes to keywords in the metadata, we follow up by checking how the changes impacted keyword rankings. For details on the best way to track keyword rankings, check out our previous blog post.

While placement and frequency of keywords in an app’s metadata impact keyword rankings, rankings are determined by the mysterious store algorithms at the end of the day. Once you decide on the best keywords for your app and have properly placed them in your listing, you leave the rankings in the hands of the algorithms. Google has recently made it clear that its ranking algorithms have been weighing not only keywords, but also app performance. So a dating app that targets “dating” in its title and descriptions a plethora of times may not achieve high rankings for “dating” if the app is filled with technical bugs and issues or if it’s not getting many installs.

Installs

It’s time to be honest with you. Here’s what many app developers misconceive – ASO will not drive a significant boost in organic installs on its own. It is not a burst campaign; it is not a keyword boosting campaign; and it is not a get-installs-quick scheme. ASO is part of a long-term, holistic marketing strategy that will yield its best results when all other marketing efforts are in place.

While change in organic installs is one of the KPIs we use to measure ASO impact, it’s important to consider which other marketing efforts are taking place at the time that may also be impacting organic installs.

As many developers know, there is often a correlation between paid and organic installs. We usually see uplifts in organic installs following uplifts in paid installs, and vice versa. An increased budget for quality social media campaigns can drive awareness of a brand, even if users don’t necessarily click on the ads. For example, if I need a ride to the airport and see that there are no Ubers nearby, I may recall a memorable Facebook ad for Gett that I saw earlier that day and organically install Gett from the store.

With that in mind, we keep an eye on changes in both organic and paid installs. If we see organic installs growth during a period of declining paid installs, it signals that ASO is continuing to drive store visibility, as users continue to organically find and install the app without the help of paid acquisition. Another metric that we report to our partners is the change in ratio of organic to paid installs for a given period of time. An increase in this ratio also signals continued store visibility or organic brand awareness.

Conversion

When it comes to measuring the effectiveness of conversion optimization, organic conversion rate is the obvious place to look.

However, it is once again important to keep in mind that changes in organic conversion are not exclusively driven by ASO. For example, strong brand names like the Instagram, Snapchat, and Ubers of the world will always reach higher organic conversion because most of their installs are driven by branded searches. If I want to download Instagram, I’m going to search for “instagram” and install Instagram. My conversion from organic page view to install is almost guaranteed.

Conversion from non-organic channels such as social media or cross-promotional campaigns should also be measured. Links from these ads ultimately direct users to the app’s store listing, where it’s then up to the user to install the app.

If conversion rate is low for both organic and non-organic traffic, it can mean multiple things. It might signal that there truly is room for improving the store listing’s graphics and readability. It might also mean that reviews are poor, as reviews is one of the strongest drivers of the decision to installs. If this is the case, then the product itself requires improvement. It’s tough to sell a poor product.

If conversion rate for organic traffic is high, but low for non-organic, this might suggest that there is a lack of creative consistency between the paid UA campaigns and the store listings, or that the paid UA campaigns are bringing in low quality traffic. Keep an eye on conversion rates from all channels to ensure that all your marketing efforts are delivering the same brand message and bringing in high-quality traffic.

Keeping ASO Honest

Many app developers interested in yellowHEAD’s ASO or in the early stages of our ASO partnership often ask us to provide hard targets for increases in organic installs from ASO, increase in organic conversion from ASO, and increases in keyword rankings for certain keywords from ASO.

Now taking into account what we just covered, these targets are very difficult, if not impossible, to formulate without getting a complete understanding of the app’s entire marketing strategy. Installs, conversion rates, and keyword rankings can be heavily affected by marketing efforts (or lack thereof) that are outside the direct scope of ASO. Once we begin working with a developer, we’ll discuss everything that’s happening with the app outside of ASO to help understand the results and make the best decisions for store optimization. Getting the full picture and creating synergy across channels is simpler with partners that work with yellowHEAD on both ASO and paid UA, so we often see very good results with these partners. That’s not to say we don’t also see results with partners that exclusively work with us on ASO; it simply requires the tightest possible communication between us and the developer.

Be wary of any ASO service providers who promise absolute results right off the bat, as you will likely end up falling short of expectations. Also be wary of those who promise that they have access to data that others don’t, such as “fully accurate” and absolute Play Store/App Store search traffic – this does not exist. Don’t go after ASO providers that promise “proprietary data” or quick install boosts. Such promises are rarely reality. Go after those that have experience with a broad range of both major brands and startups, who provide the best service, and act as a partner in your long-term marketing strategy.

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