Interview: Steve P. Young a.k.a. ASO Ninja

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*This interview is a transcript of the original conducted via telephone

Thank you for taking the time to speak with me today. I would kindly ask you introduce yourself to those in our audience who may not have heard of you.

My name is Steve P. Young, I run an app marketing agency and blog at www.appmasters.co. I’ve been in the app space since 2011, and in 2013 I decided to start a podcast and started learning from people I admired in the industry. Then, after a couple of months, the audience started coming back to me for some app marketing help. At the time I didn’t know much and was still learning, however, enough people started to come and eventually I decided to grow out an agency this way. Since then we’ve been present in the PR space, ASO space, and the App Store Feature space.

steve_young_aso

Would you say that getting your app featured by Apple is the most effective growth strategy?

Yes, definitely the most cost effective. I think it’s the best of both worlds, on the one hand you get the downloads and on the other you get the “vanity metric” of Apple featuring you, which is what most people are after.

You’ve already touched the core of the problem. With millions of aps in the app stores, app discovery is an ever-increasing problem, especially for indie developers. What methods of app promotion would you recommend to small to medium sized app developers who find it hard to compete with the advertising budgets of larger companies?

In general, ASO is huge, but it completely depends on the app itself. If your game is casual, I don’t think ASO is right for you because people probably won’t search for your app, which makes ASO next to pointless. However, if you have a genre game (e.g, logic puzzle, crossword puzzle) you can come up with a clever angle and focus on ASO, that’s a no brainer.

Paid-to-free is another strategy that could prove to be very cost effective. This is one of my favorite strategies, I ran it multiple times for my own apps and, for several of my clients’ apps.

Would you mind explaining what a Paid-to-Free campaign means?

With Paid-to-Free campaigns a paid app goes free for a couple of days. In the meantime, it is crucial for you to get some press. If you don’t, you won’t get the downloads either, so pitch sites like www.appadvice.com and www.brg.com. In case your app is free already, make one of the in app purchases, that’s a non-consumable, free for a couple of days, again getting the press and the downloads. You can choose any of your in app purchases as long as it’s a non-consumable, you can’t make the consumable one free, it’s not technically possible.

PR can help as long as you find a very targeted site. Everybody makes the mistake of contacting big publications like Techcrunch or Business Insider instead of targeting smaller, more targeted sites. Don’t get me wrong you can still have a successful campaign with one of the big publications as long as you go about it the right way. Giving them the exclusive seems to be the best way to do it. With the exclusive angle you give them the first right to publish your content, which means you can’t pitch another publication, but what you can do is wait for them to reply and contact the next publication.

Tip: use “exclusive to (publication name)” as the subject line.

Apps Gone Free

Let’s jump back to ASO for a moment. In your opinion what are some of the most important things developers should pay attention to when it comes to ASO?

Let’s start with the obvious – the app name. Your App name is going to car the most weight on terms of how well you rank. The thing to pay attention to, especially on iOS, are the keywords. When it comes to keywords, what I like to do is to use two different platforms, personally I like to use Sensor Tower and Mobile Action, but you can pick any two you want. I like using two different platforms because I can look at the the traffic scores and difficulty from two different sources. Another thing to pay attention to is naming your app in a way so the app name reads like a real app name (e.g., use “Magic Flash Cards ABC for kids instead of ABC flash cards. The other thing people tend to overlook is the design of your screenshots and icons. So to sum up, focus on the app name, keywords and design.

Some game developers tend to choose unique names people generally don’t search for (e.g., Crossy Road). How would you go about ASO in these cases? How important is conducting research on app names before launch?

When it comes to naming your app, focus on high traffic, forget your brand. Nobody knows about you, nobody is going to know about you so, if you need money right away I would focus on high traffic. In case you don’t, then by all means go ahead, try and build up your brand, because that’s gonna help you in the long run. On the other hand it is worth noting that even the biggest brands like Kindle have all these keywords in their name. So even if you have built up a brand it doesn’t hurt it doesn’t hurt to focus on the keywords, because that way you’re leveraging both brand equity and downloads.

You’ve already talked about Sensor Tower and Mobile Action. In addition to those, what are some of ASO tools you used and what do you use them for?

I like Mobile Action and Sensor Tower in terms of getting difficulty and ranking scores, that way I can exclude keywords with a low search volume. The other thing I like about Mobile Action is the fact that they show approximate downloads by keyword, it’s pretty much a guess how accurate that data is, but it helps. I’d rather be based on some data than no data at all. Another tool I like to use is called App Annie, which gives you a solid base to work off of. And the last one is not an ASO tool per se, yet I still like using it. It’s called OneLook and it works sort of like thesaurus, only better. It has a feature called reverse dictionary, so you can put in words like casino and poker and it will come up with that you can later put into use on mobile action. I have been able to find some really high traffic, low competition keywords using this method.

onelook_keyword_research

What are some of the mistakes App developers when it comes to ASO. What are some of the things they forget and don’t execute well?

Proper research. People often have a mindset of “this is what I would search for”, later realizing that it’s the most competitive keyword they will ever find. Think of the keywords you want, and see who ranks best for those particular keywords, see when they were updated, see how long they’ve been around and how many reviews they got, because if they have got a ton of reviews they have got a foothold on this keyword and you’re never gonna rank well for it. In most cases developers will go for the most competitive keywords, and as a result they never rank well for them. The other mistake developers tend to make is spamming the App. They will just put in a bunch of keywords, without knowing that Apple wants the App name to read well.

There are some key differences between the way Apple’s App Store and Google Play come to treat search and ASO. what are some of the key differences you see between those two platforms?

Let’s start with the technical differences. In the App Store you have a long leash in terms of how long you can make the App name, while Google Play is limited to 30 characters. The other thing is that the actual description has a lot more weight on Google Play than it does in the App Store.

Rumor has it that the App Store is starting to get indexed, so it doesn’t hurt to have the keywords in the description, with Google Play however, it’s critical for you to have them. The other difference is the keyword field. In the App Store you have a keyword field similar to meta keywords on the web. So, on Google Play you’re really reliant on the app name, the description, and the reviews, while you rely more on the keywords in the App Store.

Tip: the US App Store indexes the spanish-mexico localization, so you can literally double the amount of keywords you’re targeting by having a different app name and different keywords in your spanish-mexico localization.

We’ve talked a bit about screenshots and the description. What’s you opinion on app videos and trailers? How important are they for discovery?

In my opinion, it’s hit or miss. For some Apps a screenshot is good enough, however if you need to explain the app a bit I think it’s a good idea. It completely depends on the app, but payment tends to be a good barrier.

What do you think are some of the differences in different categories and your ability to get PR coverage for them?

Focus on the story and the category shouldn’t matter as much. If it’s a game don’t worry about the big fish like Techcrunch, get successful and Techcrunch will cover you. In the beginning however, you should focus on game specific sites like GameMob etc.

gamemob

Before we part, is there anything else you would like to say to developers in terms of what they should focus on?

Think about influencer marketing. In my opinion, influencer marketing will overtake search marketing. Our attention has shifted from search to social media platforms, and if you’re able to reach influencers and get them to share your app, that’s where you’ll see really positive results.

And the bit of advice I would leave with is: START EARLY. Whether it’s an Apple feature pitch, PR pitch or ASO, don’t wait until the week before launch. The biggest mistake developers make is that they start so late because they’re focused on getting the tech and designs ready, without knowing they should put an equal amount of energy into marketing.

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