The average smartphone user checks their device more than 150 times per day. That’s once every 6.5 minutes. This means a lot of potential usage for millions of mobile apps. However where there is greater potential there is also greater competition, and the mobile app marketplace is no exception.

The Daily News reported, “The combined number of apps available on the US versions of Apple’s and Google’s apps marketplaces is more than 1.5 million, and of the 750,000 in the Apple App Store alone, some 60 percent (450,000) have never been downloaded once.”

It has become extremely competitive for a developer to get their app noticed, let alone downloaded or used. Existing in the app store or installed on a smartphone is does not guarantee usage. If you want people to find it, install it, and use it, you need a optimization strategy for your app.

While website A/B testing and optimization continue to be on the rise, mobile app optimization is just starting to catch on. Why? Because technically, it’s not as easy as optimizing experiences on the web. On the web, the HTML, CSS, and JavaScript that make up your page are readily available for the world to see and modify. Plus, websites are, by definition, always online, so website owners can make changes on the fly and visitors can be shown new variations as quickly as it takes them to refresh the page.

Mobile apps, on the other hand, are installed programs that run entirely on a user’s device. They may or may not be connected to the internet during use. This means app developers can only make changes to their app by publishing them to the app store and waiting for users to upgrade. It can be a long, engineering-intensive process, and it’s one that puts the pressure on app makers to “get it right” the first time rather than split testing to identify the best user experiences.

Optimizing the Mobile Conversion Funnel

Since we announced our move to iOS app optimization last week, mobile strategy is top of mind. In speaking with best in class app developers, we’ve learned some eye-opening lessons about how to create awesome mobile apps. Let’s look at these strategies and offer ideas for how you can improve engagement, retention and download rate on your app.

Nearly everyone we spoke with underscored the point that acquiring and retaining users on mobile is incredibly difficult. The best app makers spend most of their time optimizing these three key steps in the conversion funnel: (1) App Store Search, (2) Registration / Key Action, and (3) Usage & Retention.

chart, funnel chart

The typical conversion funnel for a mobile app.

App Store Search

App Store Optimization (ASO) is the equivalent of search engine optimization (SEO) for mobile apps. The goal is to make it easy for users to find your app in the App Store by carefully selecting keywords based on user intent.

The nice thing about ASO is that it requires little technical knowledge and often times can be optimized without the need of an engineering team. It’s important to note that ASO is not a real-time A/B test. You need to compare data from before and after the change. In fact, when performing ASO, you are analyzing past results with current results to see if the change you made had an impact.

Test these elements to optimize your download rate and visibility in the app store:

  1. App Icon. It’s important to test your icon even before releasing the app. You can buy some ads on mobile advertising networks such as Admob or online advertising through Google Adwords and Facebook. What you want to find out is which app icon is getting the highest click through rate.

  2. App Name. According to Nielsen, 63% of Android and iOS users have utilized search to discover new apps. That’s why it’s important to optimize your app name with highly sough after keyword phrases. ASO tools such as Straply and Sensor Tower are great places to start. In the online marketing world, having keywords in the title of your web page helps with SEO. The same principle applies with your app name in the app store,

  3. Keywords. On the web, keyword meta-data no longer influences search rankings. An app’s keyword data, however, actually has an impact on its search rank. Along with your app’s name, having relevant, high-traffic words in your keyword meta-data can help improve your apps search ranking.

  4. Screenshots. While the term may imply a screen capture of your app, you should think of your screenshots as a banner advertisement. Both the Google Play and Apple App Store display screenshots more prominently than an app’s description. Besides the app icon, your app’s screenshot is the strongest visual representation of your app, so you want to draw the user to download it. Again, just like the app icon, you can test using traditional banner ads to see which screenshot yields the highest click throughs.

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