App store optimization is the best process to optimize your mobile app marketing using keywords, icons, title, description, screenshots.etc.) to rank the app high on the app store. As a developer, you must know how to make your app stand out in a crowded app store using the right app store optimization tips and tools to help boost your app’s visibility to get more downloads from the app store. Oleg Yakubnekov thought about how to turn his theoretical app store optimization (ASO) knowledge into a working skill.
Oleg decided to develop a mobile game with a goal to validate the hypothesis that in the super-competitive mobile gaming market, he can launch a product that will grow into something large solely through organic traffic. Once he validated this hypothesis: a mobile game he created ended up amassing over 2 million downloads, and received over 30,000 new users per day at its peak, all through organic traffic.
But his part to success looked nothing like the original plan. Here is the story of how the project evolved and how one small change increased the number of downloads by 200%. Immediately Oleg Yakubnekov decided that he wanted to make a game.
At the time, it had almost been a year since he had quit Zeptolab (the developer of Cut the Rope series, King of Thieves, and CATS) and he really missed the thrill and joy of game development. This was an opportunity to revisit his old hobby.
Oleg spent two weeks identifying and studying popular game niches in app stores. He explored the space, picking out potential competitors with whom he would have to compete for first place in the search results. Following Oleg Yakubnekov analysis, he decided to build a truck simulator.
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Without going too much into the details. here are the reasons why he chose this niche.
- It was a niche with a lot of organic traffic, and most importantly, it was growing. Top games were getting millions of downloads per month (he used Sensor Tower for the analysis).
- Even though there were clear leaders in this segment, there were also many apps with more than 100k installs per month, which indicated the games were getting organic traffic in various ways.
- Most games were low-quality and monetized through ads. This meant their users’ lifetime value (LTV) was low, and they could not afford paid user acquisition. This was good news because Oleg could not afford it either.
- These apps did not acquire users through paid ads, and they were not featured in app stores. They survived purely on organic traffic from search and app store recommendations.
The game’s launch and “advanced” App Store Optimization practices
Oleg Yakubnekov launched the game on May 15, 2016. On the day of the launch, there weren’t too many new users aside from Oleg team and a couple of friends. It was time to start learning how to get organic traffic through app store optimization tactics. The first target was organic search traffic in the app store. The team had $1,000 to outpace their competitors and capture search traffic. Oleg realized there was no chance to win the top keywords right away. Therefore, at the start, his team aimed at low and medium competition search queries.
A detailed analysis of the semantic core using ASOdesk allowed the team to identify 3 high-priority search queries that had reasonable competition and just enough traffic. Oleg Yakubnekov team used the following process to get to the top ranking for keywords from their target list:
- The team changed the name of the game so it would contain the keyword they were competing for. The presence of the search phrase in the title maximized chances to rank high for this keyword in search results.
- They launched an ad campaign and acquired traffic in Russia only, but due to the Google Play algorithms, this affected the app’s positions in search results of the targeted keyword in other countries as well.
The promotion campaign for each search keyword lasted several days (depending on the time it took to reach top positions). Some keywords that could be simultaneously placed in the title were promoted together. After reaching the top-three positions for a specific keyword on Google Play, they changed the name of the app, so that a new keyword appeared in it, and then conducted a similar campaign.
At the end of the campaign for the first search keyword, the organic traffic outside Russia reached 40 downloads per day (right Y-axis on the graph). After the paired campaign for the second and the third keywords, the downloads outside Russia reached 70 per day, and in Russia itself, there were as many as 500.
But due to the limited budget, Oleg Yakubnekov decided to go all-in and spend the remaining money on one powerful search query that might have taken the game to the top. This query was “euro truck simulator 2.” This was the name of a popular game that was available on Steam, so people were looking for it in mobile app stores very often, even though it wasn’t there. As part of this campaign, Oleg Yakubnekov team also promoted the query “euro truck simulator” to influence both search queries. Continue reading
App Store Optimization is not simply about winning search traffic, but also about optimizing all the key steps of a funnel along the user’s path to downloading an app. In this case, the effect of such optimization turned out to be significantly higher than the effect of campaigns targeted at specific search keywords.
Doing research, exploring the target market and coming up with a marketing plan is a good idea. However, after launching your game, you should be ready to change your plan and act according to the new information you obtain. For example, Oleg thought it would be very easy to unseat the dominant truck simulator games from top search results positions. But even in the heat of Epic Split Truck’s wild growth, we found it impossible to get a foothold in the top results.
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