There’s no need to pay a big fancy ASO agency, digital marketing firm, or ASO service to find your app more users. Mobile app marketing and user acquisition can be done in-house, or with the help of a single seasoned ASO consultant with a track record of well-optimized apps. But if you’d like to take a crack at app user acquisition yourself, the best place to find new users is the App Store itself.

What is App Store Optimization? (ASO)

App Store Optimization (ASO) is the process of improving the visibility of a mobile app in Apple’s App Store that is a form of mobile app marketing and user acquisition. This usually includes improving indexed copy (title & keywords), creative(s) testing, toggling categories, and toggling other factors in an iTunes Connect app listing and submission to the App Store.

iOS 10: What are Search Ads? (defined by Apple)

Search Ads are an efficient and easy way to promote your app on the App Store for iPhone and iPad in the U.S., helping customers discover it at the very moment they are searching for apps to download. Designed to give users a safe search experience, Search Ads sets a new standard for delivering relevant ads while respecting user privacy.

What does this mean?

First, to simplify context let’s compare Apps and ASO to Websites and SEO(the rest of the internet) for reference.

How do we discover websites? Usually, it’s from a link from a page, or a Google Search. Websites get ranked in search results by search relevancy and the amount of credible links that point to that website, therefore increasing a website’s visibility online. This is known as Search Engine Optimization. Although Apple’s method of ranking search results and is notthe same as Google’s, the premise is corollary:

Search Engine Optimization (Organic = SEO) + Search Engine Marketing (Paid = SEM)

An important note: 94% of clicks go to organic search results and only 6% go to paid.

Applied to apps & the App Store: App Store Optimization (Organic = ASO)+ Search Ads Optimization (Paid = SAO)

Search Ads are brand new, so there’s no definitive data on the distribution of downloads between paid & free downloads on the app store. Considering Google’s distribution between free & paid traffic, it’s probably safe to assume that ASO (organic) will continue to be a driving factor of the majority of app downloads.

65% of Apps get discovered on the App Store. — Apple.

Well..duh? Don’t 99% of websites get discovered on a browsers (not the billboards, milk cartons, newspapers, etc.)

🔑🔑🔑 Key: in the same way websites get discovered on browsers, where they live, apps get discovered on their app store(s), where they live.

Get it? Now,

Why Organic ASO Matters

1. ASO is inexpensive.

Besides getting your app ranked on the App Store (sadly, a ~0% chance), or people directly searching your app (or brand) name, ASO is the only inexpensive way acquire new users from the App Store itself.

Inexpensive should be a key term here: most apps are free, and free is a function of more users. And if you’re app is paid, people don’t download any app above $0.99. Even so, if you pay for users with an undefined or negative CLV, you’re in trouble.

Quality mobile installs range from $2–5, that’s expensive:

Reaction: $2–5 an install? Damn!

2. Keys & Locks. ASO best leverages external mobile app marketing efforts:

Imagine PR, social media, blog mentions, TV, radio, and anything else you use to promote your app are keys.

iTunes Connect Keywords are locks. Anyone with a key is looking to put it in a lock, aka your app.

All keywords and phrases for your app need to be somewhat relevant to the space you’re in. If you don’t have the right keywords (locks) in place BEFORE your external marketing, you miss out on all relevant searches, and keyword real estate value. Which leads me to my next point:

3. ASO is a long-term investment.

Just like real estate, ASO is a long term investment that grows in value over time. Simply put: find keywords or phrases that get you downloads, get rid of the ones that don’t.

The more downloads you get with a particular keyword or phrase in a short amount of time, the higher you rank for it. In this case Apple views your app as a quality search result and fit for the searcher and searcher’s intent, so they’ll want to show your app more often.

A side note; If you’re not optimized for the holiday shut down, you miss out.

Apple prepares for the influx of downloads in the holiday season, so they usually shut down the App Store for updates and submissions from December 22–29 yearly. Give yourself some lead time and optimize and submit your app before the closure, and reap the benefits of the App Store’s holiday traffic.

Organic ASO iOS 10’s Search Ads: An Intro

Display: Icon, company, title, ratings, “Ad” tag, blue “ad” filter, two line description, CTA (Buy or GET).

If you’re going to buy ads, make your first two lines of your desciption, compelling.

Buying Search Ads:

You get $100 free in Search Ads to try Search Ads!

If you’re ranking well for an organic keyword or phrase, you could go one of two ways:

  • Double-down on your strong keywords and phrases, and buy ads for them
  • Supplement keywords and phrases that are not ranking well or driving downloads.

How to Buy App Store Search Ads:

  1. Go here and select the app you want to promote. Here’s an example:

2. Set your total budget & daily budget.

3. Important decision time: Play to your strength or help your weakness?

There are a few specific toggling options, but all in all it’s simple — thanks Apple!


Many are afraid the Search Ads will contribute to the power law of App Store; that it will make the Store a pay-to-play platform. But, we can look at Google’s SEO & SEM traffic distribution corollary and see that people engage with organic results more than paid.

This makes me bullish on the future of the App Store and App Discovery. I believe the distribution of installs driven by both paid and free search results will be the same between SEO/SEM & ASO/PSO. So, to acquire more users: optimize, optimize, optimize (and if it’s right for your app, pay a little bit to Apple’s Search Ads).