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App Store Optimization is a complex practice with a history of being oversimplified to mere keyword collecting and title perfecting. In truth, ASO is about building your entire user acquisition funnel. It is about leveraging knowledge gained from local search data, behavioral stats and popular mobile trends to focus on the right features, target the best audience and implement a smart on-page experience that converts. If you think this all sounds a lot like localizing a product for new territories – you are absolutely right.

Let’s talk about the nuts and bolts of the optimization process

Different features appeal to different markets in unique ways. When considering which markets to expand into, research the features that make your app a stand out success and understand whether there is any trending volume for those features in the territories that you are considering.

Focus first on territories that seem to have the best audience fit for your app.  Looking at data from search is a great way of predicting user demand for a particular feature set. Another great area to investigate is user reviews of competing apps in different markets. This gives you a clear idea of how users naturally “speak” about apps similar to yours.

Semantics and local dialects also play an important role. Take, for example, an app focused on discounting and deals. If you look at data, you’ll see that in the U.S., “coupons” has a high volume of search queries. That is great for the United States, but what about territories that also speak English, like Great Britain or Australia? The word “coupons” in territories outside of the US, have very little volume — in these territories consumers use the term “vouchers” instead of coupons. These two words have similar meanings, but aren’t used interchangeably across territories.

This speaks to two key points when performing research and using ASO data to drive decision-making:

1.    Always look at data associated with the territory that you are targeting and not one language as a whole.

2.    Never, under any circumstances, use machine translation tools like Google Translate for these kinds of applications.

Simply plugging “coupons” into Google Translate for a different language will show the literal translation of the word – but it will totally mislead you if the target territory uses a different word to describe the same feature.

Why is this critical for apps looking to go global? Because using the exact semantic language that users do will increase conversion for your app in the territory. Simply put, your clicks will result in far more downloads.

Localizing metadata for global and local impact

Now that we have covered the kind of high-level ASO data that can help make the most informed decisions, let us discuss how truly localizing your actual metadata (i.e. your keywords, title and description) will build a strong foundation for your app at home and abroad.

The first thing to consider when localizing metadata is that keywords can “cross over” from one territory to another. This means that targeting the Spanish word “fecha” (which means “date”) as part of a Spanish localization may, in time, cause you to rank for “fecha” in the United States and other stores. This is important because many countries are bilingual and the implications of your keyword choices in one territory can spill into others over time. It is important to focus both on the best local choices and also to pay attention to how those decisions may impact other territories.

Working in territories also means that you shouldn’t be married to features that work at home – because they may not be your strongest features abroad. Successful global optimizations often have different titles across territories with descriptions that have been tailored to each market. Related to this point, we also strongly advise having a native speaker perform translation for each language/territory combination that is being targeted. For example, Mandarin and Cantonese are both Chinese, but vary in dialect from North to South. Likewise, French in Canada has many differences from the dialect used in the country of France. It is important to sound authentic, and to do that content must sound like it is written locally.

Specific to Asia there can be other unique challenges to global localization. Most importantly, the syntax of Asian languages like Mandarin, Cantonese, Japanese and Korean are hugely different than those that use the Roman alphabet. Outside of Asia the vast majority of search volume is phrase based – not individual single words. For example, looking at the chart below, you can see that most of the trending terms in the social networking category are phrases.

Top Social Networking-Related Terms

 

The search intention of the phrase and the word are also very different, as you can see in the results. Apps that trend for “video” are related to photography and videography, while those that trend for “video calls” are related to messaging.

The key point to consider is that simply targeting a word won’t provide visibility in all of the right places. For companies in Asia, it is best to think global. To make this process simple, start by looking at the feature set of an application and then use the keywords associated with that feature set to form initial ideas of how people may be searching for the app.

When researching volume of keywords internationally, avoid “free” keyword tools (if you can) as these typically feed in free data from Google web search – which effectively optimizes for the web instead of the app stores. Keep in mind that web trends are very rarely similar to mobile trends in the app stores.

To illustrate this point, let’s quickly take a look at the phenomenon of Flappy Bird.  Last year, Flappy Bird exploded to the top of the charts in the app stores and was one of the most searched terms of the year. If you look at Google Web data, however, you’ll see that the term “Flappy” has low volume and low competition.

This is clearly not data that is relevant to optimizing a mobile gaming app, however many consultants and tools incorrectly substitute web based data for app store optimization. Further, the “suggested keywords” (like flappy jacks) clearly are not useful in the context of app optimization.

This also relates directly to localization, as taking an app global requires the marketer/publisher/developer to have an accurate understanding of the trends within each of the app stores in a target territory.

Results & iteration

The results of localizing data from ASO compound app successes globally. As an app enters new territories, it is indexing and the app stores are learning more and more about how users view an app and which keywords are working best. There is usually an initial boost from opening up a new market, but the most incredible benefits reveal themselves to those with a long-term eye to the future. Correct execution can enable marketers to see continual gains as new keywords index and as those keywords (hopefully) cross from one territory into another.

Correct execution of localization and ASO involves iteration. Trends change regularly and successful apps need to update their optimization in each territory accordingly. This is both to remove keywords that no longer have volume and to take advantage of seasonal trending keywords that can deliver a huge boost to an application for a specific period of time. “Once and Done,” or launching and then not paying attention to app store optimization KPI’s, is not a recipe for success.

Conclusion

Data-driven localization provides the best results for global marketers, publishers and app developers. Using the right data and employing a strategy that “speaks” to the target audience in the correct colloquial way is what drives this success.  Remember, while the discipline is similar, ASO is not SEO and you’ll need to employ mobile specific strategies (using mobile data) from each target market.

About the Author

Dave Bell is the Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Gummicube. In this role, Dave is responsible for overseeing the business strategy for the company, driving growth and market development. Dave is a pioneer of the mobile entertainment industry with more than 15 years of experience publishing, marketing and distributing mobile applications and games across carrier, direct to consumer and app store channels.

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