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Goodbye SEO, hello ASO: The time for app store optimization is now

App Store Optimization from SEO
Image used with permission by copyright holder

SEO is a term most of us know all too well. Search engine optimization has become a sort of game we Web publishers play with the Internet (or rather, Google) to keep from being buried by the mountains and mountains of data constantly being churned out. But the appification of everything has turned that game on its head, meaning content creators have to start making a play for the App Store – and thus the era of ASO has begun.

Apps have become an increasingly important cog in how content reaches consumers, and thus app store optimization has as well. But as it was in the early days of SEO, ASO is largely based on trial and error. Still, there is so much potential in this market that we’ve just barely started to skim the surface.  

But what’s becoming increasingly obvious is that ASO is beginning to eclipse SEO. No one is saying that the Web is going anywhere, but digital entertainment is taking to mobile at pace we can barely keep up with. The number of mobile-first and mobile-only startups is astounding, and proof that the gears of digital discovery must be shifted.

“App Store Optimization is the new SEO because the mobile app market is growing so fast – it’s literally the fastest growing market in history,” says founder of upcoming app discovery service Ooomf Mikael Cho. This, we understand: not a day goes by that we aren’t reminded of the impending app takeover. But what’s not being fully realized is the market potential that lies within.

Ooomf gets it. The startup originated out of Montreal Startup Weekend, and has been part of an accelerator program there and conducting its private beta since April. “We saw how difficult it is for all these apps to make it in app stores right now – everyone wants to be the next Instagram,” Cho tells me. “If you don’t make it into the top within your first two weeks, you can fall into the app graveyard.” Ooomf will give developers a better way to compete and optimize their apps for discovery by giving them a Web landing page, connection to end users, and other tools.

Another startup focusing on app discovery through analytics, Tapstream, was born out of its developers’ frustration trying to increase visibility for their own app. “We kind of sat down and realized we needed to solve this problem because app stores are so crowded we couldn’t get any traction,” says co-founder Slaven Radic. Tapstream has a function that allows its users to track how well marketing is working as well as how active users are.”

tapstream image“It’s unbelievable how unsophisticated the [ASO] tools on Apple’s side are,” Radic says, pinpointing what is both pain and (potential) profit for app developers. Right now, optimizing for the app store (any app store, though Apple’s is generally the primary target) is a nearly impossible task, and it means new apps can get buried all too easily. Currently, the only form of discovery is either word of mouth or the trending charts, which perpetuates the same apps to show up over and over.

Hundreds of thousands of apps go undiscovered,” says Prita Uppal, founder of Hooked, a gaming app discovery application. “There are over 2 million apps in the market, making it hard to find the ones that cater to your lifestyle. The challenge we face is finding the app we need in a sea of tens of thousands of applications that exist in app stores.”

Google Search has been accused of being withholding when it comes to its search algorithm and Page rank system, but it’s an open book compared to the App Store’s methods. So while it’s currently a beast for app developers to deal with, it’s what’s opened the doors for third party companies to launch their third party discovery services.

In addition to the aforementioned app toolkits, there’s also Crosswa.lk, an early pioneer of a better path to app store discovery, as well as the now-Apple-owned Chomp. But competition and the Chomp deal have yet to result in an App Store (or app store) shift, and there’s still lots of room for ASO startup hopefuls to help write the rules.  

“My prediction is that there’s going to be a shift away from Google Play and the Apple App Store from being the major, major players within the next three to five years; and it’s going to go to third parties for app discovery and for better engagement, better recommendation algorithms – and it’s up to them to work with that or improve what they have,” says Cho.

On top of the staggering pile of things proprietary app stores have to fix (or someone else will) is their spam problem. Downloads have been falsely inflated by spambots, an issue Apple in particular has been quietly fighting. Spam and this type of wrongful ranking has happened on the Web as well, but Google’s been loudly punishing the guilty. It’s one more thing hurting app discovery, creating falsities in the popular app markets, and something app discovery and ASO developers can use to promote their cause.

There’s a downside to ASO to consider, and they are all the same downsides we’ve experience with SEO. The rules can seem arbitrary, some sites seem favored, and the iron fist can fall hard and seemingly wipe sites off the Internet. But the benefits seem incredibly obvious — it’s creating a new market while also giving users a better way to discovery new apps. Not to mention that fact that as it stands, the situation is pretty grim.

Hopefully, the tide turns soon. It’s an industry ripe for the picking, and from the sounds of it, startups are taking notice. It’s good for us; it’s good for the market; and the only losers in the entire equation are Google Play, the App Store, and even Windows Phone Marketplace. But they’ve failed to address the issues that keep users from really utilizing app stores, and thus really utilizing apps. Not to worry: many, many fixes are on the way.  

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Molly McHugh
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Before coming to Digital Trends, Molly worked as a freelance writer, occasional photographer, and general technical lackey…
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