10 top tips for ASA and ASO in the era of SKAN

By John Koetsier December 19, 2023

ASA and ASO are deeply connected. Good ASO boosts ASO, and using ASA intelligently makes your ASO better. It’s easy to start on ASA, and improving your ASO has positive impacts on all your organic and paid marketing campaigns on or off the App Store. And both ASA and ASO are more important in the era of SKAN than they ever were before.

(If you understood none of that, ASA is Apple Search Ads. ASO is App Store Optimization, which applies to both the App Store and Google Play. And SKAN is SKAdNetwork, Apple’s privacy-safe measurement framework. Mobile marketing loves its acronyms, no?)

Clearly, Apple Search Ads has grown in importance over the past few years:

“Before SKAN, ASA was considered more as an additional or secondary channel,” says Applica’s Lev Strutski. “After SKAN it became one of the major players alongside Meta Ads, Google Ads, TikTok, and others.”

We recently held a webinar on ASA and ASO in the era of SKAN. It’s available on-demand right now as part of our massive SKANTHON event, and you can watch the entire show immediately. We asked 4 experts to join the panel:

  • Lev Strutskyi
    Head of User Acquisition @ Applica
  • Darya Radchykava
    Senior Account Executive @ Splitmetrics
  • Emre Bilgic
    Senior Customer Success Manager @ MobileAction
  • Salah Khamis
    Principal Performance Marketing Consultant @ Phiture

Here are 10 of their insights. Sign up and watch the full webinar for more detail and more insight.

1. We don’t need SKAN for ASA and ASO

SKAN is important for iOS marketing measurement and attribution for campaigns from every organic and paid marketing channel except for Apple Search Ads. That’s because ASA uses Apple Ads Attribution API. 

(Note the name is Apple Ads, not Apple Search Ads. Hint, hint.)

“In a time when SKAN campaigns have become a real nightmare for many marketers, ASA uses different attribution methods and it lets us see all the events on the campaign, at group and keyword levels,” says Applica’s Lev Strutskyi. “ASA and ASO have a deep connection and it’s really hard to succeed with ASA campaigns if you don’t have a well optimized App Store page.”

While SKAN returns some postbacks and conversion data (more with SKAN 4 than 3) Apple Search Ads provides more, including tap-through rate, conversion rate, and redownloads. Apple Ads also offers better targeting technology.

2. You can start ASA and ASO with a small budget

Apple Search Ads is simple to start with a tiny budget. While this won’t move the needle on your user acquisition goals, it will provide a lot of data on keywords, conversion rates, and performance of your app list and custom product pages (CPPs).

Once you see success you can boost spending, but you get interesting and valuable data even at low spend levels.

3. Download velocity improves your App Store ranking

How do you improve your App Store ranking? 

One sure-fire way is to improve your daily download velocity. Getting more installs means you’re more interesting to more people, which means Apple wants to feature you higher. But there is a caveat: don’t be a one-hit wonder. 

We’ve all seen it: some app puts together a big but brief ad campaign. Installs skyrocket, but only for a couple of days. This is risky.

“You see many new apps that would come out and you would say, I have no idea what this app is,” says MobileAction’s Emre Bilgic. “And they suddenly become rank 1. And then the next day you go into the list, you don’t see them ever again right? So there is a magic button, but it’s really risky to do it … you can get banned if you do that particular magical button and it will cost you a lot more money.”

Trying to game Apple’s algorithm has a potential downside.

The safest method: increasing quality app installs that translate to engaged users. Do that, and the App Store will notice.

4. ASA creates a big organic multiplier for ASO

According to our experts, the algorithms that drive ranking and optimization on the App Store don’t differentiate between fully organic app installs and app downloads stimulated via Apple Search Ads: they look identical. On the flip side, however, download velocity that you initiate from third-party ad networks doesn’t influence the Apple algorithm. 

What’s the difference? 

Apple Search Ads app installs are connected to keywords. ASA is largely an intent-based ad network, similar in that way to Google search. That means Apple can apply insights from ASA-derived users to organic users. 

And Apple does exactly that. 

“We see the synergy of App Store Optimization and Apple Search Ads give significant results,” says Splitmetrics’ Darya Radchykava. “The latest case we launched with Reface by synergizing ASO and Apple Search Ads, they basically managed to boost the TTR by 40% and increase the conversion rate by 6%. When we evaluate these numbers into the revenue, you could definitely understand that the impact of synergy is significant.”

Boosting tap-through rate by 40% is massive.

5. What to do first for App Store Optimization

Kicking off App Store optimization for the first time? Start your ASA and ASO journey with these 5 steps: 

  1. Keywords
    Choose your primary keywords
  2. Competitors
    Conduct competitor research
  3. Visual
    Optimize your visual elements
  4. Reviews
    Boost the number and quality of your reviews
  5. Expansion
    Expand your list of keywords. One way: look at recommendations in ASA

There’s more to do, of course, and infinite complexity as you dive into each. But that’s a quick start.

6. Use your mascot

If you have a mascot, consider using it in your App Store ads. 

Perhaps you have your own equivalent of the Energizer Bunny or the Barbarian King in Clash of Clans. If that mascot develops a certain level of notoriety and becomes a known part of your brand experience, use it. (Remember the cat in Talking Tom? Or the train station security dude in Subway Surfers?)

One customer achieved 90% higher conversion rates by using their mascot, says Radchykava. Perhaps it looks more organic, or more interesting, or more fun for potential players/users/customers.

Whatever the reason, that’s impressive!

7. Update your icon and/or app listing for seasonal changes

What can a new icon do? Probably nothing, right, besides maybe some brand confusion?

Well … actually, it can have a huge impact on your ASA and ASO.

“We even have a case with a customer who changed the icon and increased their installs by 40% with just a minor change on an icon … adding snowflakes,” says Radchykava.

Umm: wow.

Obviously you don’t want to go nuts with this plan and be switching your app icon every week, but adding a little Christmas cheer to it with a scarf or maybe a new moon for a new lunar year, or perhaps a little leprechaun cuteness around St. Paddy’s day can’t hurt.

One thing: be aware of geos and what they’ll think of your changes. I play one game that is always promoting Thanksgiving in Canada when it’s Thanksgiving in the U.S. (Spoiler alert, they’re at very different points in the calendar.) 

Getting it wrong is uncool, and you risk looking a little foolish.

8. Use ASA and ASO together for best results

Ensure you transparently share your ASA results with the ASO team. (This is probably not hard if you have a team of 1 for both.) For example, if you try some generic keywords while working on keyword expansion on ASA and they perform well, adopt them in ASO as well.

The massive benefit of ASA is that you can target more keywords, you can test quicker, and you can target keywords that cannot be used for ASO … such as competitor keywords

“Competitor keywords … are very important because in certain industries … up to 80% or 90% of the search volumes can be coming from brand keywords,” says Phiture’s Salah Khamis.

As you work ASA and ASO together, beware of paid cannibalizing organic. Also, pay attention to organic spillover: how much “free” ASO upside are you getting when you start using new keywords on ASA?

9. Protect your brand

This one hurts, I know. You should own your brand: it feels wrong that a competitor can bid on your brand keywords. But … that’s the world we live in.

You have to protect your domain from competitors.

“You should focus on protecting brand keywords from competitors,” says Strutskyi. “You don’t give your competitors a chance to convert your potential users by controlling your branded keywords and their impression share. So I think you definitely should bid on your keywords, on your brand keywords. and protect them from competitors.”

Yes, this adds cost to what should be coming through as pure organic. 

Yes, this also prevents competitors from snatching victory from the jaws of defeat by stealing your users who searched for your app at the very last second with a conquest ad.

10. ASO isn’t only on-store

App Store Optimization isn’t only about what you do on the App Store or Google Play, despite the name. 

Everything is overdetermined, which means that there are multiple causes for each effect. And that’s true in marketing and advertising as well. Brand touch #1 seldom leads to a full conversion of a deeply engaged user/customer/player who has super-long retention. You probably need brand touch #2 and #3 and maybe #7 to develop that. 

“You do not expose your own brand or your app through only one channel,” says Emre Bilgic.


Even heavily ad-driven growth orgs need to think about a well-rounded marketing strategy that incorporates more than ad campaigns and ASO.

So. Much. More. (in the full webinar)

This was some good stuff, right?

There’s much more in the full webinar, plus further explanation and detail. Sign up for SKANATHON and you can watch this webinar on-demand whenever you want.

Plus, you’ll also have access to all 4 segments of SKANATHON:

  1. SKAN 3 review
  2. ASO and ASA in the era of SKAN
  3. Singular’s SKAN solution (customers say it’s pretty frickin’ good … see for yourself)
  4. SKAN 4 deep dive

It’s a good year-end wrap up for 2023, or a great jump into the new year for 2024.

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