Forget your singular approach on optimizing your ASO strategy to take a top-notch spot in Top 100 rankings. Your users are searching for apps differently, increasing the importance of organic search and finding new ways to find the keywords and concepts that genuinely resonate with your audience. It’s straight talk, deep insights and fast answers in our ongoing series with Dave Bell, Co-Founder, and CEO of Gummicube,  a company providing App Store Optimization and App Store Intelligence software and services to growth marketers and app developers. In this episode, Dave talks us through the trends and changes that marked 2018 and calls out some of the misinformed ASO practices you should avoid in 2019, including how often you *really* need to update metadata and test and optimize keywords.  Check out the first in our series here.

Transcript

Hello and welcome to Mobile Presence.  I’m your host, Peggy Anne Salz, with Mobile Groove, where I plan, produce and promote content that allows my clients to reach performance goals and scale growth.  And of course, growth is what it’s about here but we spent the year talking about ways you can grow your app, grow your audience revamp your mobile marketing.  Now looking into the New Year, I think it’s exciting to also look at some of the ways that you cannot grow your app and for that I have my favourite regular guest – he’s Dave Bell, Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer at Gummicube, and Dave, it’s great to have you back on the show because above all, you know, you’re going to be the voice of reason here, you’re going to tell us what you’re really hearing and what’s really working out there because this is your job.  So, great to have you back.

Really happy to be here, thanks a lot.

And you’re going to be my resident cynic too, I think?

I love that role, I love it, good.

I know, that’s why we have you here.  So, I’m just going to launch right in because this is one of the reasons why I have you on the show is because, you know, it’s a little bit like what you see is what you get and one topic, big one, I wrote so many articles and you’re still seeing them, right – how to rank in the App Stores, your secret to getting featured, getting top rankings, what have you – it was the big deal, wasn’t it?

It was the big deal and, you know, especially as you go further back in the past, you know, focusing on chart rankings too, right, not just keyword rankings, and I think that if you’re surfing the internet, if you’re looking at kind of either how to market your app or you’re looking at strategies, you still a lot of advice, you still hear a lot of people really just talking about what their placement on the charts are.

So, that’s the way it was and I guess there was a while, I mean, you’ve been out there, come on, Dave, there was a while when you could crush it doing that, that was a strategy, right?

It was a strategy, it was a strategy when almost everybody who visited the App Store also visited the charts, ten years ago.

Okay, dating us both a little.  So, it has moved on – what is the strategy now because it’s very different, you know – we might have even made it through 2018 in that way but we’re certainly not going to make it that way in 2019.

No, we’re not and if you look at how things have evolved in the stores, if you look at both Apple and Google, they’ve taken different strategies to do this but they’ve really de-emphasised the value and position of the charts in their stores, Apple’s kind of buried them in the middle of categories as little widgets.  Google has essentially said “Hey, if you’re not driving quality traffic, that traffic’s not going to count towards a chart ranking at all”.  So the old discussion of chart boosting, it doesn’t work for a couple of reasons.

One, there are actually far fewer eyeballs looking at the charts now than there were back in 2008 and back when kind of that tactic was very, very popular.  And too, where have those eyeballs gone?  Well, they’ve gone to search, they’ve gone to search because that’s where kind of Apple and Google have pushed people and as more people have started to search for apps, and according to Apple up to 70% of downloads come from search, really the keywords have almost become the new chart for people and if you think about that, you have these kind of very, very big head terms like, for example, if you have a game, you might want to rank for RPG, role playing game, but even those big head terms have almost become very broad themselves.

So, what you see in a lot of cases is that those big head terms are almost becoming like a chart and all the phrases are where people kind of get the bulk of their traffic from as people drill down to find specific things they’re looking for.

So, it probably also changes a lot of how people are searching.  I mean, you make an art form of looking how humans really search and I know I’ve written a couple of articles this year as well early on that now that we understand the role of apps in our lives, we understand we want them and we search for them, we’re even searching for brands by name so it’s changed a lot.  What do you think is going to be the way to still make it because search is our app discovery but we’re searching differently?

Yes, we are searching differently and the way that I kind of communicate this to people is that when you think about the App Store and Google Play and you really want to take a step back, you’re looking at something that’s more like Amazon e-commerce search than web search and so it’s people looking for products and features and actually in that environment, the more broad the term that you’re trying to target is, the more indirect your audience is going to be meaning they may be looking for many, many different things or concepts or apps in different categories or with different features when you’re just really focused on a head term.

So, a lot of people when they’re looking for quality users, they’re looking for quality users at volume, are really thinking about “How could users describe the features of my app and how does that align with search either inside the App Store or inside Google Play or both?”  That’s usually phrases, right, and there’s this – I think there’s this attitude that might come from Web SEO which is very incorrect for ASO, that if you rank for these kinds of top phrases or these top words, you know, single word kind of head terms, you’re set, you’re good.  But that’s the same mentality as someone who’s boosting the charts – I think it’s very short-term, I think that at the end of the day, if you’re looking to really expand your presence in the App Stores and target the users who are most valuable, you’ve got to understand how people are looking for your features and that means diving into phrases.

So, what exactly would you suggest?  I give you your soap box, you can stand up there and give some free advice on our show.  I mean, it’s obvious the approach you have to have or the mindset but could you give me a concrete example so we can help our listeners understand that the way they were thinking about their app is changing and what it needs to change to?

Yes, absolutely.  And I think that this kind of dovetails into the concepts of looking at the user acquisition funnel, you know, all the way from the point the user discovers your app through engagement inside the app, not just kind of ending once the user is acquired.  And that’s really thinking about user intentions in search, right, and what do they intend to download when they’re searching for a product?  Do you have overlap with those users and the greater the search intention is, the higher quality the user tends to be once they get further down in the funnel.

And so, you know, to give like a concrete example of this, you know, we were working on a kind of like a private photo sharing app and when we started working with them, the marketing team was very, very focused on just ranking for the word “photo” or ranking for the word “app” and didn’t really care about any of the phrases that related to the actual features of their app.

When we kind of had a discussion about how the App Store and Google Play worked and literally kind of loaded up Amazon E-Commerce and demonstrated how they might search for products on that platform themselves, kind of the light bulb went on – “You know what?  Maybe we really want to target private photo sharing or photo sharing or the terms related to the features of the app” and when they did that, not only did their volume go up, right, their ranking for core keywords went up because there are these kind of concepts in the App Store and Play Store of related terms that matter and Apple and Google track that.

And the quality of their users substantially went up because it was no longer people who were kind of casually browsing a very generic term which is effectively just like a chart, so you get a lot of casual browsers.  It was people who had the intention to find what you were offering.

I’m just wondering if there was something also that strikes you about the way people need to be thinking of their phrases in the first place.  It’s definitely about the value proposition of the app, it’s also about how people search but I think there’s also sort of like almost a K factor in there when you’re trying to decide the keywords this time around because there’s so much happening – you’re thinking deep in the funnel, you’re thinking intent.  Is there some sort of secret, not secret, but is there some additional ingredient to the mix that we haven’t had before?

I think one of the things that is important as you’re selecting keywords or really understanding how users are searching, one is understanding how Apple or Google might merchandise you through search and how they view this concept of one keyword which might be related to another.  And understand how to select keywords that are going to help Apple and Google discover what your app is all about and expand your presence faster.

So, part of it is about what is the search intention of the user and am I targeting a quality user.  Part of it is how do I leverage my metadata or my ASO to help Apple and Google learn about my app faster so they can merchandise me faster.  And so those are in some cases similar but they’re actually two separate processes to execute.

I guess the answer is both, Dave, but I’ll ask you anyway – I mean, if you had to prioritise because this is a lot going on, we’re thinking more about intent I think now and going forward than before because I think before it was like “Oh well, Apple, Google find me, that’s great” but now that there’s search results and the whole search experience is different on the store, you have to think about people and their intent but how do you sort of balance the two?

I think at the end of the day, when I think about this, right, search intention and the user is probably the most important thing because at the end of the day, if you have good engagement on a keyword and high quality users going into your app, you’re going to end up sending more positive signals to the store about your performance and they’re going to rank you better and they’re ultimately going to merchandise you faster across similar keywords.

Well, that’s a great place to stop for the moment, Dave, because I think that brings into play the whole next idea of this is a science, this is important, this is strategically key now and going forward into 2019 and it’s going to be, I think, talking about how marketers can make these decisions and above all more or less back them up because now it’s a strategic thing.  Before it was sort of like just part of the mix but now that you can move the needle on your app, I think, with the proper approach to understanding human intent, search intent, and the machines, the algorithms, probably raises the stakes, doesn’t it?

It does raise the stakes and I think a lot of people are starting to realise how important this is.  I was talking to someone at Apple the other day and not only did they tell me that 70% of downloads in their store come from search, they told me almost 80% of users who downloaded the search result never go to the app page.  And so it’s like that experience what users see in that search result is so critical, not just to the keywords you select but also to our users going to convert on these keywords based on what I’m showing them.

So, that is all a very data driven decision and we will dive into some of that data, listeners so don’t go away, we’ll be right back after the break.

And we’re back to Mobile Presence.  I’m your host, Peggy Anne Salz with Mobile Groove and we have a treat because we have one of our regular features, going to have Dave Bell back many times, he’s back here now for the second time, Dave Bell, Co-Founder, Chief Executive Officer of Gummicube.  And I have to say, Dave, I love these shows because we’re going to go deep into the weeds.

We talked about the whole idea of how everything has changed as far as category ranking, how you have to factor user intent into search behaviour and another thing that’s changing out there is really the role of the app marketer and their ASO strategy because it used to be before they knew everything, leave them alone, put them over in a corner, let them do their thing, they’ll figure it out and life will be good.  But now I’m seeing more and more that because their decisions are so strategic, what they do is so strategic to the company, to the brand, there’s going to be, I imagine, some pressure on them to justify their ASO decisions.  Are you hearing the same?

We are hearing the same thing and there’s – I guess, at a very high level, there’s this classic – I wouldn’t call it a clash but this classic difference in cultures between kind of marketing based on brand and marketing based on kind of the feel of the culture of the brand and combining that with an environment where everything is based on an algorithm and a lot of folks on the brand side may not be used to that because that doesn’t really come into play in a lot of other kind of forms of marketing that they might be used to.

I think that, you know, organic and I think the way that the App Store algorithms work, even when you’re driving paid marketing into your app, have become the largest source of downloads and engagement for a lot of these marketers so of course the entire organisation is interested now.  And ultimately the data that you use is extremely important, you know, I think when you’re making these decisions, you have to make them based on sound data, you have to understand what your competitors have done in the past and whether changes they have made have worked or not worked for the audience.  You have to understand user search intention and you have to be able to measure things in a very, very kind of clear and concise way and I think that as we’ve talked about before, I think that all comes down to the data that you use when you start to make these decisions and whether it’s correct or not.

I guess there is some light at the end of the tunnel, I’ve been having more and more meetings with partners and kind of large Fortune 500 companies that are starting to look at ASO very seriously and a lot of them are starting to question the data, a lot of them are, when you start to talk about web data or just looking at Apple Search Ad’s popularity scores, they chuckle, you know, because they’ve run their own tests and they know that those things really don’t work.  And even a year ago, you wouldn’t see that, I think there’s been a lot more experiential education which has helped our industry.

I couldn’t agree more, I’m hearing also more about that because it used to be “Well, you know, I’ve used tools”, like “Yeah, well, I’m sure you have but what’s the underlying data and the methodology underneath of that and have you thought about that” rather than just say “Well, this is what I’m seeing because Tool X or Tool Y shows this to me”.  I mean, is there – we’re probably going to see so much of this that it’s going to be necessary maybe to have a show about just like the checklist of questions you ask yourself and when you’re interrogating sort of your tool but could you give me a high level because as I said, it’s going to be important – you can’t just say, “Well, the data told me this”, it’s going to be “Well, what about the data?”  So, is there a start of a checklist of like how do I find out the right data for my purpose?

Yes, there are a few high level things that you should definitely look at and as I’ve kind of said over and over again since I’ve been in this industry, it is rampant with data fraud – you have tools that are out there using web data, you have tools that are simply aggregating Apple search as popularity scores and if you’re going to use that, you might as well not pay for it – Apple gives it away for free.

But there are a few things to look at.  One, it’s very, very easy to look at the keywords and phrases and search volumes that a tool that you might be using is presenting and compare them to what is on the Google Keyword Planner and if they match, the tool fails.  It’s very easy to look at these search volumes of Apple Search Ad’s popularity scores and compare them to the scale of volumes in your tool and if they match entirely, that’s a fail.  And I’ll quantify that by saying Apple Search Ad’s popularity scores can provide some useful insights, but Apple didn’t design those for ASO.  They are short-term trends meant for people that are bidding on keywords, perhaps changing their bids on an hourly or daily basis and what you really need to look for when you’re selecting keywords for ASO are kind of the medium-term trends that will definitely hang on for 30 or 45 days.

So, you can’t take a strategy or data that’s meant for day trading and apply it to buying stocks when you hold long and that is also true when you’re doing ASO and looking at the data.

Speaking of the date, are there other tools that are entering into the mix, I mean not tools necessarily but sources of data?  I mean, it’s going to be very much a BI thing and I could imagine that companies are going to have to take a very different approach to the data they use and how they use it and where they’re getting it from.  So there’s a mix going on there, it’s not going to be enough to have one tool or data from one app store, I can imagine.

Yes, so one of the things that has been particularly useful over the last year is that Google has become a little bit more transparent within the developer console about where your organic traffic is coming from and in fact if you look at that console often times you’ll see a list of what your top 30 organic keywords are and then kind of what kind of is coming from what they define as “other” keywords, right, within the store.  And it’s giving marketers a very interesting way to validate whether the tools they’re using are correct because they’re getting at least some high level data and when I was attending a meeting a couple of weeks ago with actually a really, really big Fortune 500 company, they said “Well, we were using a tool and then when we looked at the Google Developer Console and saw the volume of traffic that was coming from the keywords we were targeting, we saw this tool as totally wrong and we cancelled our agreement with them because we realised it was all wrong”.

And this was a fairly big tool and I think that, you know, what’s even more interesting is that when you look at most of these apps, when you look at a lot of the data that’s coming from the Google Developer Console, it’s kind of what we’ve been saying for a long time.  The 40 or 50% of traffic for many apps is coming from their top 30 keywords, the remaining kind of 50-ish% of traffic is coming from what Google groups as “other” which is a long tail that can be hundreds of keywords long.  This is not web SEO, this is not pick 5 main head term keywords and then just keep them there and don’t worry about it and focus on conversion – this is real merchandising throughout a store that can go very, very deep, that you have to pay attention to.

And of course conversion, you know, is important, right, and conversion is not only important for how your app page performs, if you expect to perform well on those keywords, indeed if you expect to even retain those keywords, you have to convert well at the keyword level too and I think that’s something that really no-one talks about, right?  I think that a lot of people use tools to AB test their page without realising “Oh my gosh, on Apple, 80% of people are downloading right from the search result – that is my landing page – how do I optimise that?”

Yes, that’s true, that’s the point right there.  It is the landing page, it is really becoming that because of the way that we want our apps, we’re not – I don’t think, and you would tell me because you have insight into how people search – but I don’t think that we sort of are so vague anymore.  I think we really know what we want.

I think we do know what we want, I think mobile has been around long enough and there are enough apps out there, you know, and the way of discovering apps inside the store has become more and more refined over time, where people do know how to dig in, they do know how to go and find the needle in the haystack in a lot of cases, and it’s not really just a bunch of people who are kind of casually browsing anymore.  And so that’s why it’s important that you do have a good value proposition and you do understand how your features align with search trends and how those trends align with what attracts people to download in your category – it’s a user acquisition funnel.

And the more we talk with – to your point earlier, the more we talk with brand marketers, the more I think brand marketers are learning that there’s a lot of very interesting behavioural data inside that funnel about how to position the brand to a mobile audience in a mobile world based on the way users interact in mobile and what they’re looking for and how a brand resonates to that.  And I think perhaps brand marketers may not have had that data before and I think many of them are finding that very interesting.

And it’s also interesting that brand marketers are going to be part of this conversation.  So the conversation is going to take on an entirely different dynamic and I want to deep dive into a couple more points in this direction, Dave, but again, wow, time flies – we’re up for a break once more.  I didn’t even get to really get to the meat of the matter here but don’t go away, listeners, we’re going to do that when we get back.

And we’re back.  Welcome back to Mobile Presence and we’re talking all about ASO practices with Dave Bell, Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer at Gummicube.  And Dave, last segment is always my favourite, we can debunk a few myths out there.  Testing timelines, that’s my new favourite because it’s either set it and forget it or something else, or something in between but there’s a lot of different information going out on it, misinformation even – what’s your take?

There is a lot of misinformation going out there and literally just in the last, I would say, 90 days, I’ve sat in on a couple of webinars that just blew me away in terms of how bad some of the advice is being given that’s out there.  You know, in terms of testing, right, you’ve got to kind of break this up into a couple of things.  One, obviously there’s creative AB testing, two, there’s how you think about kind of keyword and metadata deployments and how they work and first of all, I think that there’s a really big difference in terms of the strategy that you might use for testing creative versus what you might do for keywords and metadata.

That strategy needs to be guided by statistical significance, it also needs to be guided by the fact that the Apple and Google algorithms are set up in a particular way when you’re thinking about the keyword metadata side to index your keywords and metadata, and a lot of what I’ve heard from a lot of people out there is just kind of change things very quickly, test in a week, change keywords every few days, change creative every week and really it’s a throw spaghetti against the wall strategy.

Apple takes two or three weeks to index your metadata, if you’re changing your keywords every day or every few days, you might rank for different keywords over time but you’re never going to grow your footprint in the store because you’re not giving the algorithm enough time to learn what your app is about and fully index you.  Of course, if you’re listening to a webinar that is given by a company that provides a tool but doesn’t execute, they have no idea about the consequences of their advice down the line, they’re simply promoting something that their tool can do so that you don’t see past that, and that’s a major problem.

When you think about creative optimisation, you know, first of all, you have to think about the entire funnel and that means what works in the App Store and Play Store, how long you have to run a test to achieve statistical significance, you have to keep in mind the App Store and the Play Store are not the same – in the App Store, you have two landing pages, the search result and your page – in the Google Play Store, everyone just goes to your app page before they can download.

And so, adjusting for eligibility, outside the search results, making sure that you have the right kind of format, the right kind of stand-out screenshots, all those things are important and it’s different when you’re looking across the search result versus the app page, and I think that’s a point I brought up earlier, that’s something that no-one thinks about.  You hear a lot of webinars and you talk – they always talk about how to test your app page – no-one actually talks about where 80% of your search downloads come from which is directly in the search results on iOS.  Same format doesn’t work well there as much as it might work on your page and so you’ve got to think about that.

So there’s a lot of things out there that just misinform folks and what I would say generally speaking is that any advice that you hear that comes from potentially a company that only develops a tool that doesn’t execute, is very narrowly focused almost it seems like on a “How to use my tool” segment instead of “How does the App Store and Google Play work segment” and I think that’s an issue.

I’ll close with this, right?  I was watching a favourite movie a while ago and one of the quotes one of the actors said was, “Time is the fire in which we burn” and that really struck me because start-up in a big business, in an enterprise business, time can sometimes be more valuable than money and if you’re implementing the wrong strategies, wasting time and then you have to hit the reset button weeks or months or years later because it just didn’t work and didn’t move the needle, that is almost worse than maybe spending a little bit more money upfront and figuring out the right way to do things.

I’m thinking about what you just said also about just doing it so often that you’re not even giving a chance for Apple to figure out your metadata and you’re already changing it.  I mean, it’s not just wasting money, it’s wasting time and to your point, far more valuable.  Dave, I have to say it’s great to have you on the show and I look forward to it again.  In the meantime, I know I’ve been looking at your blog quite a lot because I’ve also been curating a newsletter where I share some of your blog posts as well but overall, where can listeners keep up to date with you?

Yes, absolutely, so listeners obviously can keep up to date on our blog – we have a great Twitter account, we have a great Facebook, a great LinkedIn page, you can search for us at Gummicube on any of those platforms.  You can also always just shoot me an email at dave@gummicube.com and I’m always happy to chat.

And I think we’ve got the conference season is coming as well so I’ll be in Berlin soon, maybe running into some Gummicube people there, your team, others maybe, any place we’ll be seeing you soon, Dave?

Well, you will also be seeing me in Berlin, I will be there, I’m hopping on an airplane tomorrow which is great, you can always find us at the APS Conferences, they’re definitely great shows.  We’ll also be at Mobile Growth in Las Vegas later in 2019.  We’ll be at the Game Developers Conference hanging out with the devs that do some of the hardest work in San Francisco, building great games in early 2019, so we’ll be around.

OK, and listeners, if you want to keep up with me throughout the week or find out more about how you can be a guest or sponsor on Mobile Presence, then you can email me, peggy@mobilegroove.com, Mobile Groove is where you can also find my portfolio of content marketing and app marketing services. 

And of course you can also check out this and all earlier episodes of our show, and I suggest you do, by going to webmasterradio.fm or you can find our shows on iTunes, Stitcher, Spreaker, Spotify and iheartRadio simply by searching Mobile Presence.  So until next time friends, remember, every minute is mobile, so make every minute count.  We’ll see you soon.