App Store Optimization (ASO) (2/5): Icons

If you haven’t read the first article on App Store Optimization, I recommend it to you. Still, this article can give you valuable information on its own.

Parts of this series on App Store Optimization are:
1. Keywords
2. Description

3. Icons
4. Screenshots
5. Videos
6. Ratings
7. Installs
8. Users

While the last article covered parts that where important for the Android Market search engine as well as humans, this article treats a topic that is only necessary when your app is already visible to the potential user: the app’s icons.

3. Icons

Icons are undoubtedly one of the most important factors when a user found your app on the Android Market. He typed in the right keywords and received a list of apps showing only two things: The app’s name and its icon. While some users might read the text first, others only see the icons, most of them both. 

The problem

When I was on the ADCS2 this month, I have been in a room with about 30 developers talking about advertising. I asked who of them was also skilled in designs. Guess how many of them raised their hands? Exactly: Zero.

So if you are not comfortable with arts, you should spend some money on someone who is and can work out a design and icon for your app. If you are not able to pay someone, you still have to do it on your own. This will probably need a lot of try-and-error and communication with other people (“Do you like it?”, “Do you like it now”, “And now?”, …).


Here are some tipps that might be helpfull to you (or your designer):

The very first tipp is: Never ever use the auto-generated icon for your app! This gives your app the appeal of a construction site which is definitely not what most of your users are looking for.

Never use this icon!

Never use this icon!

Second: If you are absolutely not familiar with android Icons, read the Android Icon Design Guidelines. You can see the difference between pre and post Android 2.0-icons there. What you can learn on this site is:

  • Your icons should be front facing, not in a 3D angle.
  • Your icons should have a save margin (6 pixels for each site for a hdpi icon)
  • You should start to work with an at least 512 x 512 pixels artboard, 864×864 is recommended. This gives you the ability to work more on the details. Later you will need icons in four sizes (512 x 512, 96 x 96, 72 x 72, 48 x 48, 36 x 36) for the Android Market website and the four different screen densities (xhdpi, hdpi, mdpi, ldpi). An icon that has been scaled up looks frayed, especially on the edges, whereas HD graphics on a HD device look just great and polished. You can also use vector graphics using programs like Inkscape.
  • Your icons should be simple. This is a really important point. Your icon needs to be visible in 36 x 36 pixels, so it should focus on the key message: Display what your app is all about in one simple image.

Third: You can use the Android Asset Studio. It can give you a help on designing your apps. It can not take the burdon of making a good design from your shoulders. What you should not do with this program is:

  • Use the glossy-option, it will make the half of your icon close to invisble
  • Use the text-option

That brings me to my next point: Don’t use text. First of all it is unlikely that a user can read it, especially on small devices. Second, there is enough space for text in the app’s description. The icon is your chance to bring a message to your users eye memory, don’t waste it on letters! Use simple images that are carrying positive emotions to the user. There are exceptions when your brand is already well known and connected to a certain string like ‘Y!’ for Yahoo!

Another point is consistency. Your app shouldn’t be a chess game and have a tank on its icon. The design of your icon needs to be in the same color scheme and style as your app is.

Next, you should be carefull with the emotions connected to colors. For example red is usually a color of warning for most people, while green is connected to life and growth. Some male people are not able to see the difference of red and green colors, that’s also a point you might want to consider. At ANDLABS, we have a fixed color scheme we use for our apps. In our games we try to adapt the colors to the topic. Our app color scheme consists out of all the colors of the ANDLABS logo:

The ANDLABS color scheme

The ANDLABS color scheme

You might want to consider creating such a scheme too, also for your apps screendesign itself. This gives them a consistent look and strengthens your corporate design (CD).

Finally, and that’s the most difficult thing to achieve: Make your icon be outstanding! Don’t accept that it is one of many, make it the only icon in the list that immediately arouses the user’s interest (in a positive way). That’s really difficult and can take a lot of time. But, if your app in itself is good, it will be worth it.

Negative example

Here is an example of an icon I just made. It’s been done in one minut using the asset studio.

The don't button

The don't icon

How are your feelings?

What do you think is the app doing? Maybe it is about learning the ABC? Maybe it’s a dictionary? Or a puzzle game based on letters?

How do you feel about the red color? Do you like it or feel positive about it?

How are your feelings about the quality of the app? Polished? Or done-in-a-day?


Now here’s another example. I know it’s still far from perfect, but I think you agree it has already improved.

This is how the AL Voice Recorder’s icon looked on its initial release:

AL Voice Recorder 1.x

AL Voice Recorder 1.x

I admit, this is a crime I commited. There are worse icons out there, but this one is definitely in the lower third.

After i visited a designer and we agreed on the ANDLABS color scheme, it now looks like this:

AL Voice Recorder 2.x

AL Voice Recorder 2.x

Here, the main feature of the app, the ability to make voice records, is even more in the foreground. The slightly thicker microphone looks more significant and due to the margin and the rounded corners, it is more highlighted. Furthermore, it fits the application’s design. But that’s part of the next post.


I hope you liked this one. I’m not a designer, hence your tipps and experiences are very welcome in the comments.

App Store Optimization (ASO) (1/5): Keywords & Description

A lot of people, including some journals, asked me to do this, now I finally gave up. This has been the secret sauce of the success of the AL Voice Recorder, an app with more than 330.000 downloads today. At it’s peak, the app reached 7.000 downloads a day, resulting in an $50+ income per day. All because of the fact that it was the first app in the list when searching for the terms ‘voice recorder’ on Android Market.

What is ASO?

I mentioned the term App Store Optimization the first time publicly at the Droidcon in Berlin, Germany on November 3rd, 2009, when doing a presentation on ‘Making Money Mobile’. Whether I was the first person that used this term, I don’t know, probably not. However, I used it since then and I think it should definitely be included into one’s app marketing strategy.

App Store Optimization means everything that helps your app being more visible in app stores. This means everything, from contacts with users to marketing to Android Market SEO is ASO. However, for this article, I want to focus only on the Android Market in genrell and it’s search algorithm in particular.

Parts of this and the following articles on App Store Optimization will be:
1. Keywords
2. Description
3. Icons
4. Screenshots
5. Videos
6. Ratings
7. Installs
8. Users

While this article will cover the extremely important part of the keywords and description.

1. Keywords

When you are not featured and don’t want to rely on the Android Market’s ‘just in’ section, keywords are all you have.
They are essential for your app to be found when the user is searching. Keywords are of special use to you, when

  1. they are used often in search queries
  2. your app appears in the top part of the result page

For example ‘voice’ and ‘recorder’ are pretty good keywords. Due to the fact that almost no Android device has a voice recorder preinstalled, this words are queried very often. The same is the case for other essential apps that come not out of the box on Android like file explorers, backup managers or others.
The importance of the frequence of keywords was very high until december 2010. Since then, the Market search algorithm has been changed and the frequence of keywords in an app’s description is not that important anymore. Nevertheless, keywords are still essentiel for your app’s visibility. How the Android Market is determining the position of your apps will be part of another post.
When you are really serious about optimizing your app for keywords, you will look for good keywords first, and implement your app afterwards.

What are good keywords

Some keywords are bad because no one is querying for them. So how can you find out which keywords to optimize for?

The first step should be: Take a look at the Android Market. Type in some Keywords and see what will happen. When looking at the first apps you will see whether they are found by ‘accident’ and don’t really fit the keywords or if they are in a real correlation to them. When there is no app whose content matches to your search terms, your keywords are either weak, or your idea is unique. When you are convinced the keywords of your app and hence the app itself are unique and usefull to millions of people, go ahead and build it! If you are not, you might want to reconsider your idea or release an early candidate, produced after Pareto’s law (80:20).

If there are lots of apps that fit your keywords, you should take a look on the download and rating rates to determine whether the apps found with your keywords are successfull. This again is an indicator on whether your keywords are queried often or not. You can also search google or prominent android forums for apps often wanted and keywords often used.

Keywords: How?

Now that you know which keywords you want to optimize for (it can be an array of keywords, e.g. not only ‘voice’ and ‘recorder’ but also ‘recordings’, ‘speech recorder’, ‘sound’, ‘media player’ and so on), you need to put them into your text. As I said frequency is not as important as it was in the past anymore. Still, your description should include your keywords repeatedly. You should make sure your text is human readable, putting the same keyword as every second word will definitely destroy your description and scare users. You should make sentences that are usefull and don’t make it too obvious that you are using keywords. A bad example:

“Keywords: angry birds, birds are angry, rio, bird, …”

A good example (out of the Farm Tower‘s app description):

“… will love the cute animals (pig, cow, chick, chicken, sheep, horse, bull, cat, no angry birds though ;) ) and the funny sounds …”

I think you can see the difference. To benefit from other well known brands like Angry Birds is a way to go, as long at is not too obvious.
As a rule of thumb you can say one keyword string per sentence is a good way to go.

Keywords: Where?

It seems as if the title of an app had a higher relevance than it’s description. If it’s possible, you should also place the most relevant keywords of your app in the app’s name. For example AL Voice Recorder for ‘voice’ and ‘recorder’ or 3D Invaders – 3D Game for ‘3D’ and ‘3D game’. If possible, you can also choose your developer’s name in a way that it includes keywords (though I don’t do that for self marketing reasons).

Keyword spamming

When you do this too obvious things, what will happen some day is: Your app will be kicked out of Android Market and that’s not what you want. Some popular apps still have a part in their description beginning with ‘Tags: …’ or ‘Keywords: …’ but as I mentioned in another blogpost, one day either these passages or these apps will vanish.

Keywords in a nutshell

To put it in one sentence: Determine good keywords and use them wherever you can, but use them in human readable sentences. The good thing about the Android Market is that you can see the effect of your changes in a day, other than when you are doing website SEO and the spider comes along every two weeks or so.

2. Description

This is, compared to the keywords section of this article, only a short part. Nonetheless I hope it will help you.
Description and keywords share a strong relationship, still there are differences. While keywords are used for saying your app is top to the search algorithm, your description needs to say the same thing to the human user. Other than for your keyword placement, the complete description of your app has to be summarized in one sentence. This is because the Android Market is build in a way that wants to give the user a fast overview over the app and its use. The user gets to see the first three lines of text and if he likes it, he will press the ‘More’-button and read your whole description or at least the next three lines. That’s why the first three lines of your description have to be catchy and create a desire for the app. An example:

“The most intuitive, usefull and simple to use File Manager on the Android Market”

There you got it: One sentence that says what the app is all about and why the user should install it. Plus ‘File Manager’ as keywords. Of course, some users might disagree with the description, but that will always be the case. Furthermore, to make a judgement, the app has to be downloaded first. I will talk about users in the last part of the ASO-series.

The next lines are also important but can describe the app in more detail. The closer to the end of the description text, the less users will read it, the less important it is (you can place a FAQ here if you want).

So to sum the description part up: Make it human readable, make the first sentence catchy and let it describe the app in three lines (max).

I hope this blog post will be usefull to someone. In the next part, I will write about Icons and Screenshots, so stay tuned.
Please feel free to share your own experiences in the comments.

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