It may be best to strip 'ASO' from app developers' vocabularies before it's too late

Shane Schick

It might not be too long before developers come to define ASO as not standing for "app store optimization" but "a scary outcome."

At least, that was one of the takeaways from a story on Cult of Mac, where developer Graham Bower writes about a decision he made (based on advice from someone he described as an ASO expert of "marketing droid") to change the name of his app to include some potentially useful keywords. When he later wanted to change it back, the original name of his app was gone. The whole thing left him sounding disappointed and understandably wary about ASO:

"Some ASO advice is common sense, like choosing the right categories to list your app in, designing a good icon and writing clear, concise copy. But other ASO techniques are just plain cheating, like paying for downloads and reviews. And then there's the ASO that falls somewhere in between. It's not wrong, per se, but somehow it's just uncool," he writes. "An app with loads of keywords crammed into its name just looks desperate, and the resulting negative impact on your brand does far more harm than the handful of extra sales the clunky title might deliver. Brands like Apple prefer to keep it classy instead. And from now on, so will we."

I've been waiting to hear this kind of story ever since I first started writing about ASO last year. Although it's not always fair to compare it with search engine optimization (SEO), there are obvious parallels, and some of them are not very positive. At least a couple of times a month I get spam e-mails from suspicious-sounding addresses whose subject lines read "First page in Google!" How long before developers start getting similar messages (if they're not already) promising a quick and easy way to get to the top of the app charts? 

Without a lot of evidence yet, I suspect that the ASO, like SEO, is probably practiced best by the larger publishers with the kind of in-house and dedicated resources to continually change their approach over time. This is a major difference from indie developers, who may simply look for a set of tips or one-off change. As the word implies, however, "optimization" should probably be considered more of an ongoing work in progress than a finite activity. 

As crazy as this may sound, I'd suggest the industry avoid the use of ASO altogether. Instead, maybe developers should stick to "app store marketing"--less a set of tricks that are only understood by specialists but a set of standard best practices that can be applied by large and small firms alike. The key to any successful marketing program, of course, is focusing on customers first. And I'd hate to think of what kind of keywords they would come up with to describe ASO.--Shane