App Store Optimization in 2021

The iOS App Store and Google Play Store are constantly changing, adapting to the emerging trends and user feedback – and your mobile marketing strategy should too. App Store Optimization practices should account for keyword optimization, creatives, seasonality, and major changes to the Stores.

Below are some tried and true methodologies that still apply in 2021, followed by a few new considerations to keep in mind.

Keyword Optimization

App Store Optimization is an ongoing process that can increase visibility and rankings in each of the app stores. A developer’s strategy should account for the current performance of targeted keywords, building relevancy surrounding keywords with both high and low search volume in each optimization, and shifts in keyword trends.

For both the App Store and Google Play Store, keywords play an essential role in App Store Optimization efforts. While the Apple and Google algorithms scan the metadata fields in different ways, the process for utilizing keywords is the same. Keywords should be hyper-relevant to your app, have a mix of high search volume and low search volume, and serve results that include your top competitors. Building relevancy and indexing for these terms is a key component of App Store Optimization, and vital to the overall success of your app.

Shifts in user interests and popular trends will shift over time. It is important to research these trends, as your app needs to evolve with them. If an app doesn’t account for keyword trends, the whole marketing strategy can be affected, thus causing your app to underperform compared to competitors.

Proper utilization of ASO in your marketing strategy will help you keep on top of user trends within the app stores and for your app genre in particular. It is critical to consistently update metadata to remove underperforming terms, incorporate new, relevant terms, and capitalize on current trends.

Conversion Optimization

Proper keyword optimization increases your app’s overall visibility within the app stores, however, it does not guarantee that a user downloads your app once they find it. Creatives directly affect conversion rate and may be the deciding factor between your app and a competitor. Consistently testing and optimizing your creatives will keep you up-to-date on the latest trends and allow you to measure the impact of different elements.

For both iOS and Google Play, a creative set includes an icon, screenshots and may include a video. In search results, an iOS app will show the icon and the first three screenshots, while a Google Play app will show just the icon. When clicking into the respective product pages, the creative sets will take up the most real estate, and therefore have a substantial impact on conversion.

Users will make quick decisions on which app they want to download. To convert, your creatives need to be appealing and communicative to the key functionality of the app. Use clear examples of key pages from your app, and easy-to-read, concise text callouts that explain the core concepts of your app. Research competitor creatives to identify current trends or common elements that are popular among users, then brainstorm what you can do to be in line with elements that make you familiar, but stand out so you are unique.

Continually test creatives to ensure you’re getting the best return. Utilizing A/B testing is a great way to test different variations of each creative element. You should aim to test one element at a time to ensure that the results are stemming directly from that particular variant and not another. Some elements you can test include: background color, in-app graphics, screenshot order, and screenshot text.

Routinely optimizing creative sets is key to continued conversion improvement and download growth. Optimizing your creative sets may lead to a higher proportion of users who install your app after discovering it. As you gain installs, you build more relevance for terms that users are searching before hitting download. If you routinely receive more downloads for key phrases compared to competitors, you potentially increase your rank and overall visibility further.

Seasonality / Iterations

Like the changing of the seasons, user trends, and what is popular changes. Because of these changes, App Store Optimization is never a “one and done” process. Instead, you’ll want to continually measure the performance of your metadata and creative strategy, and adjust where it is lacking.

Keep seasonality in mind as you are implementing the next iteration of keyword updates and creative testing. Seasonality can lead to a major impact depending on the type of app and time of year. For example, a recipe app may receive an uplift around the beginning of November, heading into the holiday season. Leveraging Thanksgiving and Holiday recipes within their screenshots, promotional text, short descriptions, etc. can drive up conversion rates.

When analyzing your build’s performance and removing underperforming elements, determine if there are seasonal trends that you can leverage to create an uplift in impressions, visibility, and ultimately, downloads.

Changes to the App Stores

While the above methods are tried and true, here are some new factors for 2021 to keep in mind. Apple and Google continue to update and change the iOS App Store and Google Play Store- your strategy needs to update as well.

iOS App Store Changes:

A/B Testing:

Previously, testing creatives on the iOS App Store has been limited to adjusting the order of screenshots displayed for Apple Search Ads, or deploying new builds and comparing the metrics before and after the deployment. With Product Page Optimization coming out in 2021, developers will be able to A/B test creative changes simultaneously – about 6 years after Google introduced Experiments. This will be a game changer for conversion optimization in 2021 and beyond.

Custom Product Pages:

Apple is introducing new product page tools on iOS where developers can test creatives directly on the App Store. Custom Product Pages will allow developers to highlight different app features to different sets of users. Developers will have the ability to test different iterations of screenshots, preview videos and icons, and gain insight on what creative choices best drive conversion from a view to a download.

Up to 36 Custom Product Pages, each with their own unique URL, can be used in different paid campaigns. Aside from A/B testing, this can be a great way to serve more specific, relevant content to the appropriate demographic, leading to better conversion potential for each one instead of being forced to use a set that accommodates everyone.

In-App Events:

In-App Events will provide users the ability to view upcoming events for an app, directly on the App Store. They will be displayed across the search results, product pages, and editorial tabs. Developers can leverage this update as a way to connect with their users; attract new users, engage active users, and bring back inactive users.

There will be new metadata and creatives required for events:

  • Event card image
  • Event page image or video
  • Event’s name (30 character max), short description (80 character max), and long description (120 character max)

Make sure to update your event cards- users who passed up your app after having seen it initially may be interested in the new events going on. Like Apple’s other upcoming 2021 changes, this is a big opportunity to convert more users.

Google Changes:

Title Length Change:

Google Play announced that in the second half of 2021, app titles will be reduced from 50 characters to 30 characters. This may impact visibility and ranking for apps that are currently utilizing their full 50 character count. Google doesn’t have a backend keyword bank to build phrases like Apple, making the title field imperative to indexation. Be sure to measure keyword ranking, search visibility and conversion after this change is enforced.

Title Restrictions:

App titles will not be allowed to include content such as repeated punctuation, emojis and special characters, or all capital letters (note that the all caps does not apply to branded titles that are established as all capitalized). If you’ve been indexing well for a keyword using one of these soon-to-be “forbidden” terms, measure performance before and after the change is implemented and find new areas of opportunity.

Word Restrictions:

Google intends to eliminate all promotional messaging in the most pivotal, front-facing metadata, including the app title field and the developer name. Promotional messaging will also be banned from icon images, in addition to misleading imagery.

  • Non-compliant language will include anything that indicates performance, such as “best”, “free”, or call-to-action verbiage like “install now”.
  • Misleading imagery includes:
  • Mock-ups that mimic notifications, such as an “unread message” number
  • Any allusions to the performance of the app such as falsely indicating ranking
  • Use of graphic elements to look like a Google Play Program featured app

While Apple’s changes provide new opportunities to test what converts best, Google’s changes mean new restrictions on what can be tested. Both changes should be planned for and actioned on appropriately to ensure success in 2021 and beyond.


App Store Optimization is essential to an app’s long-term success. Metadata should be optimized to expand on keywords that are integral to the app. Creatives should be updated using research and best practices noted from current trends and competitors. Consistent optimization of the metadata and creatives can lead to increased ranking, visibility, and conversion rates.

Routinely analyze the performance of metadata and creative updates, and test new variations to determine which ones yield the best results. Implementing the winning variants, as well as routinely updating your metadata, can improve keyword ranking and drive conversion rates.

Keep up to date with user search interests, design and seasonal trends, and what competitors are implementing. Neglecting to incorporate these insights into your ASO strategy can cause your app to fall behind. Evaluate your mobile marketing efforts and execute a strategy to drive continued growth.

That strategy remains largely unchanged over the past several years – but the ways in which you can execute it have. Be sure to stay up to date with the latest capabilities (and restrictions) of each platform and adjust your strategy accordingly.