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The Three Pillars Of SEO: Authority, Relevance, And Experience

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The Three Pillars Of SEO: Authority, Relevance, And Experience

What do you need to compete in SEO?

Some say more inbound links, others better content, while some might emphasize a technically healthy site.

Experienced SEOs know that the most successful sites when it comes to organic search have the right mix of high-level fundamentals.

In recent years, there has been a lot of attention around E-A-T (Expertise, Authority, and Trustworthiness) as mentioned in Google’s Search Rater Quality Guidelines.

Some have come to think of these as the most fundamental aspects of SEO.

However, as important as E-A-T maybe for some sites, it only addresses one aspect: content.

A holistic SEO program needs to include more.

Over the years, I’ve come to think that SEO can be reduced at its most fundamental level to building three things into a site and its pages:

  1. Authority.
  2. Relevance.
  3. Experience (of the users and bots visiting the site).

The sites that pay attention to all three of these are more likely to be valued by both search engines and users, and attract more organic traffic over time.

Notice that one of my categories, Authority, overlaps with an E-A-T category.

That’s because I believe at the highest level of SEO, expertise and trustworthiness are really parts of what makes a site or page authoritative.

Let’s dive into each of these A-R-E categories to see how they should be incorporated into a holistic SEO program.

Authority: Do You Matter?

In SEO, authority refers to the importance or weight given to a page relative to a given search query.

Modern search engines such as Google use many factors (or signals) when evaluating the authority of a webpage.

Why does Google care about assessing the authority of a page?

For most queries, there are thousands or even millions of pages available that could be ranked.

Google wants to bring to the top the ones that are most likely to satisfy the user with accurate, reliable information that fully answers the intent of the query.

Google cares about serving users the most authoritative pages for their queries because users that are satisfied by the pages they click through to from Google are more likely to use Google again, and thus get more exposure to Google’s ads, the primary source of its revenue.

Authority Came First

Assessing the authority of webpages was the first fundamental problem search engines had to solve.

Some of the earliest search engines relied on human evaluators, but as the world wide web exploded, that quickly became impossible to scale.

Google overtook all its rivals because its creators, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, developed the idea of PageRank, using links from other pages on the web as weighed citations to assess the authoritativeness of a page.

Page and Brin realized that links were an already-existing system of constantly evolving polling where other authoritative sites “voted” for pages they saw as reliable and relevant to their users.

Search engines use links much like we might treat scholarly citations. The more scholarly papers relevant to a source document that cite it, the better.

The relative authority and trustworthiness of each of the citing source come into play as well.

So, of our three fundamental categories, authority came first because it was the easiest of the three to crack given the ubiquity of hyperlinks on the web.

The other two, relevance and user experience, would be tackled later, as machine learning/AI-driven algorithms developed.

Links Still Primary For Authority

The big innovation that made Google the dominant search engine in a short period was that it used an analysis of links on the web as a ranking factor.

This started with a paper written by Larry Page and Sergey Brin called The Anatomy of a Large-Scale Hypertextual Web Search Engine.

The essential insight behind this paper was that the web is built on the notion of documents inter-connected with each other via links.

Since putting a link on your site to a third-party site might cause a user to leave your site, there was little incentive for a publisher to link to another site, unless it was really good and of great value to their site’s users.

In other words, linking to a third-party site acts a bit like a “vote” for it, and each vote could be considered an endorsement, endorsing the page the link points to as one of the best resources on the web for a given topic.

Then, in principle, the more votes you get, the better and the more authoritative a search engine would consider you to be, and you should therefore rank higher.

Passing PageRank

A significant piece of the initial Google algorithm was based on the concept of PageRank, a system for evaluating which pages are the most important based on scoring the links they receive.

So, a page that has large quantities of valuable links pointing to it will have a higher PageRank, and in principle will be likely to rank higher in the search results than other pages without as high a PageRank score.

When a page links to another page, it passes a portion of its PageRank to the page it links to.

Thus, pages accumulate more PageRank based on the number and quality of links they receive.

Three Pillars of SEO: Authority, Relevance, and Trust | SEJ

Not All Links Are Created Equal

So more votes are better, right?

Well, that’s true in theory, but it’s a lot more complicated than that.

PageRank scores range from a base value of one to values that likely exceed trillions.

Higher PageRank pages can have a lot more PageRank to pass than lower PageRank pages. In fact, a link from one page can easily be worth more than one million times a link from another page.

Three Pillars of SEO: Authority, Relevance, and Trust | SEJ

Let’s use our intuition for a moment.

Imagine you have a page that’s selling a book, and it gets two links. One is from Joe’s Book Store, and the other one is from Amazon.

It’s pretty obvious which one you would value more as a user, right? As users, we recognize that Amazon has more authority on this topic.

As it turns out, the web has recognized this as well, and Amazon has a much more powerful link profile (and higher PageRank) than any other site involved in selling books.

As a result, it has a much higher PageRank, and can pass more PageRank to the pages that it links to.

It’s important to note that Google’s algorithms have evolved a long way from the original PageRank thesis.

The way that links are evaluated has changed in significant ways – some of which we know, and some of which we don’t.

What About Trust?

You may hear many people talk about the role of trust in search rankings and in evaluating link quality.

For the record, Google says they don’t have a concept of trust they apply to links (or ranking), so you should take those discussions with many grains of salt.

These discussions began because of a Yahoo patent on the concept of TrustRank.

The idea was that if you started with a seed set of hand-picked, highly trusted sites, and you then counted the number of clicks it took you to go from those sites to yours, the fewer clicks the more trusted your site was.

Mark Traphagen on the concept of trust in search engine ranking.

Google has long said they don’t use this type of metric.

However, in April 2018, Google was granted a patent related to evaluating the trustworthiness of links. But the existence of a granted patent does not mean it’s used in practice.

For your own purposes, however, if you want to assess the trustworthiness of a site as a source of a link, using the concept of trusted links is not a bad idea.

If they do any of the following, then it probably isn’t a good source for a link:

  • Sell links to others.
  • Have less than great content.
  • Otherwise don’t appear reputable.

Google may not be calculating trust the way you do in your analysis, but chances are good that some other aspect of their system will devalue that link anyway.

Fundamentals Of Earning & Attracting Links

Now that you know that obtaining links to your site is critical to SEO success, it’s time to start putting together a plan to get some.

The key to success is understanding that Google wants this entire process to be holistic.

Google actively discourages, and in some cases punishes, schemes to get links in an artificial way. This means certain practices are seen as bad, such as:

  • Buying links for SEO purposes.
  • Going to forums and blogs and adding comments with links back to your site.
  • Hacking people’s sites and injecting links into their content.
  • Distributing poor-quality infographics or widgets that include links back to your pages.
  • Offering discount codes or affiliate programs as a way to get links.
  • And many other schemes where the resulting links are artificial in nature.

What Google really wants is for you to make a fantastic website, and promote it effectively, with the result that you earn or attract links.

So, how do you do that?

Who Links?

The first key insight is to understand who it is that might link to the content that you create.

Here is a chart that profiles the major groups of people in any given market space:

Three Pillars of SEO: Authority, Relevance, and Trust | SEJ

Who do you think are the people that might implement links?

It’s certainly not the laggards, and it’s also not the early or late majority.

It’s the innovators and early adopters. These are the people who write on media sites, or have blogs, and who might add links to your site.

There are also other sources of links, such as locally-oriented sites, such as the local chamber of commerce or local newspapers.

You might also find some opportunities with colleges and universities if they have pages that relate to some of the things you’re doing in your market space.

Relevance: Will Users Swipe Right On Your Page?

You have to be relevant to a given topic.

Think of every visit to a page as an encounter on a dating app. Will users “swipe right” (thinking, “this looks like a good match!)?

If you have a page about Tupperware, it doesn’t matter how many links you get – you’ll never rank for queries related to used cars.

This defines a limitation on the power of links as a ranking factor, and it shows how relevance also impacts the value of a link.

Consider a page on a site that is selling a used Ford Mustang. Imagine that it gets a link from Car and Driver magazine. That link is highly relevant.

Also, think of this intuitively. Is it likely that Car and Driver magazine has some expertise related to Ford Mustangs? Of course, they do.

In contrast, imagine a link to that Ford Mustang from a site that usually writes about sports. Is the link still helpful?

Probably, but not as helpful, because there is less evidence to Google that the sports site has a lot of knowledge about used Ford Mustangs.

In short, the relevance of the linking page, and the linking site, impacts how valuable a link might be considered.

What are some ways that Google evaluates relevance?

The Role Of Anchor Text

Anchor text is another aspect of links that matters to Google.

Three Pillars of SEO: Authority, Relevance, and Trust | SEJ

The anchor text helps Google confirm what the content on the page receiving the link is about.

For example, if the anchor text is the phrase “iron bathtubs” and the page has content on that topic, the anchor text, plus the link, acts as further confirmation that the page is about that topic.

Thus, the links act to evaluate both the relevance and authority of the page.

Be careful, though, as you don’t want to go aggressively obtaining links to your page that all use your main key phrase as the anchor text.

Google also looks for signs that you are manually manipulating links for SEO purposes.

One of the simplest indicators is if your anchor text looks manually manipulated.

Internal Linking

There is growing evidence that Google uses internal linking to evaluate how relevant a site is to a topic.

Properly structured internal links connecting related content are a way of showing Google that you have the topic well-covered, with pages about many different aspects.

By the way, anchor text is as important when creating external links as it is for external, inbound links.

Related to internal linking is your overall site structure.

Think strategically about where your pages fall in your site hierarchy. If it makes sense for users it will probably be useful to search engines.

The Content Itself

Of course, the most important indicator of the relevance of a page has to be the content on that page.

Most SEOs are aware that assessing the relevance of content to a query has become way more sophisticated than merely having the keywords a user is searching for.

Due to advances in natural language processing and machine learning, search engines like Google have vastly increased their competence in being able to assess the content on a page.

What are some things Google likely looks for in determining what queries a page should be relevant for?

  • Keywords: While the days of keyword stuffing as an effective SEO tactic are (thankfully) way behind us, having certain words on a page still matters. My company has numerous case studies showing that merely adding key terms that are common among top-ranking pages for a topic is often enough to increase organic traffic to a page.
  • Depth: The top-ranking pages for a topic usually cover the topic at the right depth. That is, they have enough content to cover the topic to satisfy searchers for a query, and/or are linked to/from pages that help flesh out the topic.
  • Structure: Structural elements like H1…H2…H3, bolded topic headings, and schema structured data may help Google better understand the relevance and coverage of a page.

What About E-A-T?

Of course, Google encourages all site owners to create content that makes a visitor feel like this is authoritative, trustworthy content written by someone with expertise appropriate to the topic.

But how much they do or are able to evaluate those categories is still a topic of debate.

The main thing to keep in mind is that the more YMYL (Your Money or Your Life) your site is the more you should pay attention to E-A-T.

YMYL sites are those whose main content addresses things that might have an effect on people’s well-being or finances.

If your site is YMYL, you should go the extra mile in ensuring the accuracy of your content, and displaying that you have qualified experts writing it.

Building A Content Marketing Plan

Last, but certainly not least, create a real plan for your content marketing.

Don’t just suddenly start doing a lot of random stuff.

Take the time to study what your competitors are doing so you can invest your content marketing efforts in a way that’s likely to provide a solid ROI.

One approach to doing that is to pull their backlink profiles using tools that can do that.

With this information, you can see what types of links they’ve been getting and then based on that figure out what links you need to get to beat them.

Take the time to do this exercise and also to map which links are going to which pages on the competitors’ sites, as well as what each of those pages rank for.

Building out this kind of detailed view will help you scope out your plan of attack and give you some understanding of what keywords you might be able to rank for.

It’s well worth the effort!

In addition, study the competitor’s content plans.

Learn what they are doing and carefully consider what you can do that’s different.

Focus on developing a very clear differentiation in your content for topics that are in high demand with your potential customers.

This is another investment of time that will be very well spent.

Experience

As we traced above, Google started by focusing on the ranking pages by authority, then found ways to assess relevance.

The third evolution of search was the evaluation of user experience.

In fact, many SEOs (and I’m among them) prefer to speak of SEO not as Search Engine Optimization, but as Search Experience Optimization.

Google realized that authoritativeness and relevancy, as important as they are, were not the only things users were looking for when searching.

Users also want a good experience on the pages and sites Google sends them to.

What is a “good user experience”? It includes at least the following:

  • The page the searcher lands on is what they would expect to see given their query. No bait and switch.
  • The content on the landing page is highly relevant to the user’s query.
  • The content is sufficient to answer the intent of the user’s query but also links to other relevant sources and related topics.
  • The page loads quickly, the relevant content is immediately apparent, and page elements settle into place quickly (all aspects of Google’s Page Experience Update).

In addition, many of the suggestions made above about creating better content apply to user experience as well.

In summary, Google wants to rank pages that satisfy the query and make it as easy as possible for the searcher to identify and understand what they were searching for.

Putting It All Together

Search engines want happy users who will come back to them again and again when they have a question or need.

The way they create and sustain that happiness is by providing the best possible results that satisfy that question or need.

To keep their users happy, search engines must be able to understand and measure the relative authority of webpages for the topics they cover.

When you create content that is highly useful (or engaging or entertaining) to visitors – and when those visitors find your content reliable enough that they would willingly return again to your site, or even seek you out above others – you’ve gained authority.

The search engines work hard at continually improving their ability to match that human quest for trustworthy authority.

As we explained above, that same kind of quality content is key to earning the kinds of links that assure the search engines you should rank highly for relevant searches.

That can be either content on your site that others want to link to or content that other quality, relevant sites want to publish, with appropriate links back to your site.

Focusing on these three pillars of SEO – authority, relevance, and experience – will increase the opportunities for your content and make link-earning easier.

You now have everything you need to know for SEO success, so get to work!


Featured Image: Paulo Bobita/Search Engine Journal



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Google Announces Gemma: Laptop-Friendly Open Source AI

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Google Announces Gemma: Laptop-Friendly Open Source AI

Google released an open source large language model based on the technology used to create Gemini that is powerful yet lightweight, optimized to be used in environments with limited resources like on a laptop or cloud infrastructure.

Gemma can be used to create a chatbot, content generation tool and pretty much anything else that a language model can do. This is the tool that SEOs have been waiting for.

It is released in two versions, one with two billion parameters (2B) and another one with seven billion parameters (7B). The number of parameters indicates the model’s complexity and potential capability. Models with more parameters can achieve a better understanding of language and generate more sophisticated responses, but they also require more resources to train and run.

The purpose of releasing Gemma is to democratize access to state of the art Artificial Intelligence that is trained to be safe and responsible out of the box, with a toolkit to further optimize it for safety.

Gemma By DeepMind

The model is developed to be lightweight and efficient which makes it ideal for getting it into the hands of more end users.

Google’s official announcement noted the following key points:

  • “We’re releasing model weights in two sizes: Gemma 2B and Gemma 7B. Each size is released with pre-trained and instruction-tuned variants.
  • A new Responsible Generative AI Toolkit provides guidance and essential tools for creating safer AI applications with Gemma.
  • We’re providing toolchains for inference and supervised fine-tuning (SFT) across all major frameworks: JAX, PyTorch, and TensorFlow through native Keras 3.0.
  • Ready-to-use Colab and Kaggle notebooks, alongside integration with popular tools such as Hugging Face, MaxText, NVIDIA NeMo and TensorRT-LLM, make it easy to get started with Gemma.
  • Pre-trained and instruction-tuned Gemma models can run on your laptop, workstation, or Google Cloud with easy deployment on Vertex AI and Google Kubernetes Engine (GKE).
  • Optimization across multiple AI hardware platforms ensures industry-leading performance, including NVIDIA GPUs and Google Cloud TPUs.
  • Terms of use permit responsible commercial usage and distribution for all organizations, regardless of size.”

Analysis Of Gemma

According to an analysis by an Awni Hannun, a machine learning research scientist at Apple, Gemma is optimized to be highly efficient in a way that makes it suitable for use in low-resource environments.

Hannun observed that Gemma has a vocabulary of 250,000 (250k) tokens versus 32k for comparable models. The importance of that is that Gemma can recognize and process a wider variety of words, allowing it to handle tasks with complex language. His analysis suggests that this extensive vocabulary enhances the model’s versatility across different types of content. He also believes that it may help with math, code and other modalities.

It was also noted that the “embedding weights” are massive (750 million). The embedding weights are a reference to the parameters that help in mapping words to representations of their meanings and relationships.

An important feature he called out is that the embedding weights, which encode detailed information about word meanings and relationships, are used not just in processing input part but also in generating the model’s output. This sharing improves the efficiency of the model by allowing it to better leverage its understanding of language when producing text.

For end users, this means more accurate, relevant, and contextually appropriate responses (content) from the model, which improves its use in conetent generation as well as for chatbots and translations.

He tweeted:

“The vocab is massive compared to other open source models: 250K vs 32k for Mistral 7B

Maybe helps a lot with math / code / other modalities with a heavy tail of symbols.

Also the embedding weights are big (~750M params), so they get shared with the output head.”

In a follow-up tweet he also noted an optimization in training that translates into potentially more accurate and refined model responses, as it enables the model to learn and adapt more effectively during the training phase.

He tweeted:

“The RMS norm weight has a unit offset.

Instead of “x * weight” they do “x * (1 + weight)”.

I assume this is a training optimization. Usually the weight is initialized to 1 but likely they initialize close to 0. Similar to every other parameter.”

He followed up that there are more optimizations in data and training but that those two factors are what especially stood out.

Designed To Be Safe And Responsible

An important key feature is that it is designed from the ground up to be safe which makes it ideal for deploying for use. Training data was filtered to remove personal and sensitive information. Google also used reinforcement learning from human feedback (RLHF) to train the model for responsible behavior.

It was further debugged with manual re-teaming, automated testing and checked for capabilities for unwanted and dangerous activities.

Google also released a toolkit for helping end-users further improve safety:

“We’re also releasing a new Responsible Generative AI Toolkit together with Gemma to help developers and researchers prioritize building safe and responsible AI applications. The toolkit includes:

  • Safety classification: We provide a novel methodology for building robust safety classifiers with minimal examples.
  • Debugging: A model debugging tool helps you investigate Gemma’s behavior and address potential issues.
  • Guidance: You can access best practices for model builders based on Google’s experience in developing and deploying large language models.”

Read Google’s official announcement:

Gemma: Introducing new state-of-the-art open models

Featured Image by Shutterstock/Photo For Everything



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A Complete Guide to App Store Optimization (ASO)

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A Complete Guide to App Store Optimization (ASO)

A mobile strategy is critical to your business presence, considering the saturation of mobile devices.

This is where app store optimization (ASO) comes into play.

In this article, you’ll learn:

  • What is app store optimization?
  • How does app store optimization work?
  • How do you optimize for Google Play & Apple App Store?

Whether you are new to app store optimization or simply keen to refine your approach to ASO, this post shares practical insights that are proven to maximize app store success.

What Is App Store Optimization?

Downloads, usage, and in-app spending continue to rise, but many users prefer to use a select few apps more consistently.

Discoverability has never been harder, but the rewards of locking in loyal users are bigger than ever – so maximizing visibility in app stores is crucial.

App store optimization (ASO) describes the process of optimizing the listing pages for your mobile app in app stores like Google Play and Apple’s App Store.

You may come across alternative phrases like “app store marketing” or “mobile app SEO,” but they all refer to the same thing.

The goal is to maximize the visibility (and downloads) of your app for relevant searches – basically, SEO for your mobile app rather than your website.

In many ways, the optimization process for ASO is very similar to SEO; in others, not so much.

Ultimately, ASO aims to maximize app installs while product development works on monetization, engagement, retention, etc.

An effective app store optimization strategy keeps new users coming in while your development team (hopefully) keeps existing ones active and spending.

With the right retention rates, app store optimization acquires the new users you need to drive meaningful growth.

The goal of ASO is nearly always app downloads, but supplemental goals can include items such as:

  • Increased brand exposure.
  • Positive app reviews and ratings.
  • More frequent and increased volumes of app reviews.
  • Audience engagement.
  • Additional marketing channel diversification.

How Does App Store Optimization Work?

If you’re new to app store optimization, it might help to think of it as SEO for your mobile app.

Except, rather than optimizing a website to show in search engines, you’re optimizing your mobile app listings for the relevant app stores.

In this sense, you could argue ASO is more like optimizing a Google Business Profile to show in Maps and local results.

The other key difference is you’ve got two major mobile app stores to optimize for: Google Play and Apple’s App Store.

These aren’t the only two app stores worth considering, especially if you’re developing apps for other devices (TVs, games consoles, etc.), but they are the biggest – by far.

According to Statista insights from Q3 2022, here are the top three app stores based on the number of available apps:

  • Google Play: 3.55 million.
  • Apple App Store: 1.64 million.
  • Amazon Appstore: 0.48 million.

As a result, most ASO guides focus on optimizing app listings for Google Play and Apple App Store. Aside from being the top two platforms, the optimization process is a little different for each.

This is mostly due to each app store having its own algorithm – much like different search engines.

In practice, most app store algorithms are more alike than they are different. So, the basic principles of app store optimization apply to all of them. However, some stores may use the odd ranking signal that others don’t.

To keep this guide simple, we’ll start by running through the most common ranking signals for app stores, in general.

Then, we’ll take a closer look at Google Play and Apple App Store to see how they’re different.

Organic Optimization: Your ASO Foundation

The key ingredient missing from many ASO marketing delivery approaches is organic search optimization and integration of app stores within the broader organic marketing mix.

There is more overlap between ASO and SEO than direct competition between the two.

The integration of these areas, and the application of consistent focus on ASO, can support numerous search marketing gains.

You may be surprised to discover that many of the traditional search engine optimization tactics that work for search engine performance, such as Google and Bing, can also be directly applied to ASO.

Examples of this include:

  • App name, title, and URL optimization.
  • Keyword research for ASO.
  • App rating and reviews generation and handling.
  • Deep linking within mobile apps.
  • Indexation of Apps in Google search engine results pages (SERPs).
  • Click-through rate (CTR) optimization.

The biggest marketing mistake, however, when it comes to integrating SEO and ASO is overlooking the role of the website in driving volumes of referral visits directly to your store page and app downloads section.

Your website should be seen as the driving force behind leading people throughout the information-seeking and buying funnel from your main online entity (your website) through to an engaged, ready-to-buy/download audience (your app store).

As content levels are limited within the app stores themselves, the more you can leverage your website content to increase app awareness and discovery to build external app authority and visibility, the greater the value, traffic, and downloads your app will receive.

The Most Important App Store Ranking Factors

Like search engines, app stores don’t reveal the details of their algorithms to the public.

That being said, the following seven ranking factors are key, functional components of all major app stores:

  • App name or title.
  • App descriptions (including keywords).
  • Installs.
  • Engagement.
  • In-app purchases and events.
  • User reviews.
  • Updates.

You can break these ranking factors into three categories: discovery, conversion, and validation.

Discovery signals help app stores connect your app with relevant searches. This includes your app name /title, description, keywords, and other contextual signals.

Conversion signals tell app stores that your listing compels users to download your app – a strong indicator that your listing should show for more relevant searches.

Finally, you’ve got validation signals (engagement, in-app purchases/events, reviews, reports/flags, etc.). These help app stores determine whether users get a positive experience after installing your app.

Positive validation signals (strong engagement, positive reviews, etc.) are an even stronger indicator that app stores should show your app to similar users.

What Do Users Want From An App Store Listing?

Optimizing your app listing for visibility is one thing; getting users to actually download your app is something else entirely.

The catch-22 here is that installs directly impact your ranking in app stores.

The more people install your app, the higher it should rank. This, in turn, should result in more installs, higher rankings once again – and so forth.

So, what are the key factors on your mobile app page that determine whether users hit the install button?

  • App icon: On most app stores, your app icon is the most visually prominent element on results pages and recommendation lists.
  • App details: This includes your app name/title and, usually, some short descriptive text explaining the purpose of your app.
  • App rating: Most platforms show the average rating/review score for your app in search results and at the top of your app listing page.
  • App description: With Google Play and the App Store, users can see a brief description on your listing page and they can click to see the full description – so that first sentence or two is crucial.
  • Visuals: This includes any feature images, screenshots, and demo videos that you can add to your listing, showcasing the key benefits and user experience of your app.
  • User reviews: Unless users are already familiar with your app, they’re probably going to browse through some reviews from existing users.

Here, you can see this in action.

Screenshot from Google Play, February 2024App Store Optimization Elements for ASO

Much like SEO, app store optimization is a careful balance of optimizing to maximize visibility in app stores while prioritizing the needs of your users.

Google Play Vs. App Store: Key Differences

Google Play and the App Store are more similar than different when it comes to app store optimization.

Firstly, the ranking factors are very similar, and the differences are mostly technical – for example, Google and Apple handle keywords differently.

Here’s a quick summary of the main ranking factors for Google Play and the App Store.

App Store Google Play
Listing Listing
App name App title
Subtitle Short description
Long description
Keywords (app name, keyword field) Keywords (all inputs), incl. keyword density
Ratings & reviews Ratings & reviews
Listing CTR Listing CTR
App performance App performance
Downloads Downloads
Engagement Engagement
Uninstall rate Uninstall rate
In-app purchases In-app purchases
Updates Updates

As you can see, there’s not much of a difference here – in fact, most of your time will be spent on things like specifications for icons, videos, and other assets for each app listing.

As a general rule, Apple is more strict with its developer guidelines and it’s usually harder to get an app approved for the App Store.

So, if you’re promoting iOS and Android apps, optimizing your listings for Apple’s guidelines will often satisfy both app stores while maintaining consistency and reducing workload.

Now, let’s take a closer look at app store optimization for Google Play and, then, the App Store.

App Store Optimization For Google Play

To give your app listing the best possible start, you’ll want to dedicate the most time to the following nine elements:

  • App title.
  • App category.
  • App descriptions.
  • App icon.
  • Feature graphic.
  • Screenshots.
  • Promo video.
  • App rating and reviews.
  • Google Play Android Vitals.

We’ll take a closer look at optimizing each of these elements, but always refer to official Google guidelines while managing app listings for Google Play.

App Title

Optimizing your app title for Google Play will feel familiar if you’re used to optimizing website titles for search.

You want to start with the product/branded name of your app and then include a brief description – in no more than a few words – using your primary keyword.

Google Play SearchScreenshot from Google Play, February 2024Google Play Search

You can use up to 30 characters in your app title, but try to keep it as short and punchy as possible.

Prioritize accuracy over keyword targeting and highlight the key benefits of using your app.

App Category

Selecting the right category for your app is essential for matching with relevant searches.

For example, let’s say you’re promoting a heart rate monitoring app. In this case, “Health and Fitness” is the most appropriate category.

Google Play example 2Screenshot from Google Play, February 2024Google Play example 2

When users specifically search for “heart rate monitor,” the keywords in your title are a stronger signal.

However, your app category can help your app show for more general searches like “health and fitness apps” or “productivity apps.”

Crucially, users can also browse categories in the Google Play store to discover new apps without searching.

Google Play Categories ExampleScreenshot from Google Play, February 2024Google Play Categories Example

For more info on selecting the right app category for Google Play, take a look at this Play Console Help page.

Short & Long Descriptions

In Google Play, your app listing includes two descriptions: A short description that shows under the About this app preview and a full description that users can reveal by clicking on the arrow highlighted below.

Google Play Descriptions - ExampleGoogle Play Descriptions - Example

You can use up to 80 characters for your short description and 4,000 characters for your full description.

In your short description, try to describe the core functionality of your app in the most compelling way possible.

Accuracy is key here, but you want to convince users to install your app – so highlight the most attractive benefits.

Your full description provides a more in-depth summary of what your app offers.

Remember that most people won’t click through to read the full description, and those who do are looking for information, not a sales pitch.

You’ll find Google’s official guidelines for creating app descriptions under the “App descriptions” section of this Play Console Help page.

App Icon

App icons show on the left side of search listings in Google Play and the top-right of app listing pages.

Google Play App Icon ExampleGoogle Play App Icon Example

These are the most prominent elements on app store results pages.

Ideally, you want an app icon that either visually describes the role of your app or leverages your brand image as a differentiator.

Designing a unique icon is more challenging if your app has a specific purpose and many competitors – e.g., a heart monitoring app.

Google Play example 3Google Play example 3

If this applies to your app, use design principles like contrast to make your listing stand out from other results.

Notice how Pulse App’s Heart Rate Monitor app stands out from the other listings above?

This is thanks to a combination of simple iconography with strong contrast, using a black background to stand out from the white Google Play results page.

Compare this to the REPS app, which uses similar iconography without a black background, and the Bodymatter app, which uses a black background but a more complex design.

Google Codelabs has an excellent tutorial on designing and previewing app icons. It includes best practices and tips for making an icon that stands out on results pages and the latest Android features, such as adaptive icons.

Feature Graphic And Promo Video

Feature graphics show on your app listing page and can also show for branded searches, paid ads, or recommendation sections on Google Play.

Until recently, you could only use images as featured graphics, but you can now use promo videos in their place.

Google Play Feature Screenshot from Google Play, February 2024Google Play Feature

This is one of the most visible assets on your Google Play listing, so use feature graphics to capture attention and showcase the best of your app.

Google suggests:

“Use graphics that convey app or game experiences, and highlight the core value proposition, relevant context, or story-telling elements if needed.”

You’ll find more guidance on creating feature graphics under the Preview assets section of this Play Console Help page.

App Screenshots

App screenshots show in the same horizontal panel as feature graphics on your app listing page.

They’re designed to showcase the best features of your apps while showing users what the in-app experience looks like.

Google Play Screenshot ExampleScreenshot from Google Play, February 2024Google Play Screenshot Example

You can include descriptive text in your screenshots to emphasize the key benefits of your app’s most important features.

Keep things descriptive, though.

Google prohibits the inclusion of performative or ranking text in screenshots, such as “app of the year” or “most popular…” and promotional information like “10% off” or “free account.”

If your app supports multiple languages, you’ll need to provide screenshots for each language version, including any translated descriptive text.

See the screenshots section of this Play Console Help page for more info.

App Ratings & Reviews

App ratings show prominently in results and at the top of the app listing pages in Google Play. Besides this, you’ve also got a prominent Ratings and reviews section as the largest element on your listing page.

Google Play Rating ReviewsScreenshot from Google Play, February 2024Google Play Rating Reviews

Aside from being a ranking factor, app ratings and reviews are one of the biggest trust factors that help users choose which apps to install.

You don’t need perfect review scores but a positive (3.5+ stars) is a great asset for rankings and installs.

Your review profile also allows users to view the feedback left by others – and how you respond. Once again, how you deal with user problems is often more important than the scores or feedback itself.

You’ll need a framework in place for generating regular reviews and replying to them, engaging with reviewers, and solving user issues.

Your replies are also visible, so avoid generic responses – show new, potential users how good you are at dealing with problems.

In fact, don’t take inspiration from Google’s own support team for Google One. Privacy is great, but the tone of the reply below is more dismissive than helpful, and the exact same response appears throughout replies.

Google Play Review ExampleScreenshot from Google Play, February 2024Google Play Review Example

This feedback can also help you develop a stronger product, and users often edit their reviews, following updates or resolved tickets.

Always remember: Long-term revenue is the goal, which starts with quality app experiences, engagement, and retention.

Google Play Android Vitals

Google provides an extensive toolkit for optimizing your mobile app. Its Android vitals initiative sets out the most important usability metrics that affect the visibility of your app on Google Play.

If you’re used to optimizing websites for search, this will sound a lot like Google’s Core Web Vitals.

The principle Android vitals is similar in terms of performance affecting your search ranking, but this is a far more extensive initiative than Core Web Vitals, as it stands.

Android vitals are broken into two key components:

Core vitals

All other vitals

To maximize the visibility of your app in Google Play, keep the user-perceived crash rate below 1.09% across all devices and 8% per device, with the user-perceived ANR rate below 0.47% across all devices and 8% per device.

Google Play Bad Behaviour ExampleScreenshot from developer.android.com, February 2024Google Play Bad Behaviour Example

Take a look at the official Android vitals documentation page for more information.

App Store Optimization For App Store

For the App Store, we’ve also got nine key elements to optimize, but they’re not quite the same as Google Play:

  • App name.
  • App subtitle.
  • Categories.
  • Keywords.
  • Description.
  • App icon.
  • App previews.
  • Screenshots.
  • App ratings and reviews.

One of the key differences here is how the two platforms handle keywords. While Google analyzes your whole listing for keywords, Apple provides a single field for you to add keywords.

Again, always refer to official Apple documentation when optimizing listings for the App Store.

App Name

In the App Store, your app name simply provides a recognizable and memorable name for your mobile app.

You don’t need to worry about keywords or descriptive text here – that comes later.

App Store NameScreenshot from App Store, February 2024App Store Name

For now, concentrate on coming up with an app name that’s easy to remember and spell while somewhat describing what your app does.

Apple offers the following advice:

“Choose a simple, memorable name that is easy to spell and hints at what your app does. Be distinctive. Avoid names that use generic terms or are too similar to existing app names.”

You can use up to 30 characters for your app name in the App Store, but try to keep it as short and punchy as possible.

App Icon

As with most app stores, the app icon is one of the most prominent elements as users browse the iOS app store. Apple provides extensive design guidelines for app icons and it’s more strict than most.

App Store IconScreenshot from App Store, February 2024App Store Icon

So, if you’re promoting your app across the App Store, Google Play, and any other platforms, you might want to start with Apple first. In most cases, this makes it easiest to maintain a consistent design across all platforms.

Generally speaking, the same design principles apply. Keep it simple and impactful with intelligent use of iconography, color, and contrast.

Look at your competitors and try to come up with something that stands out from the other apps your target audience is likely to see.

Subtitle

Your app subtitle provides a brief description below the app name. Use this to highlight the purpose and benefits of your app in the most compelling way possible.

App Store SubtitlesApp Store Subtitles

This is your first opportunity to excite potential users about your app, so try to make an impression here. You’ve only got 30 characters to work with, which means punchy subtitles tend to do best.

You’ll want to test and refine your subtitles over time, paying close attention to CTRs and installs as you try different variations.

Categories

As with Google Play, categories are key for discoverability in the App Store.

You can assign primary and secondary categories for iOS apps to help users find your app; the primary category has the strongest weight. – so choose the most relevant one.

App Store Categories Screenshot from App Store, February 2024App Store Categories

Apple provides extensive guidance for choosing app categories. Make sure you follow Apple’s guidance because selecting the wrong categories violates the App Store guidelines.

In some cases, you may find multiple categories that match your app.

For example, if you’re running a photo-sharing social media app, you could select either Photo & Video or Social Networking as your primary category.

In such cases, Apple suggests considering the following:

  • Your app’s purpose: Your primary category should be the one that best describes your app’s main function or subject matter.
  • Where users look for an app like yours: Understanding your audience will help you identify the category in which they will likely look for your app. Will they consider your app more of a social network or a photography app?
  • Which categories contain the same type of apps as yours?: Research how similar apps are categorized — users may already know to visit these categories to find this type of app.

If multiple categories accurately reflect the purpose of your app, you’re unlikely to run into any violation issues.

At this point, it’s more a question of which category matches the search and everyday use of your app – not only to maximize visibility but also to set the right expectations for users who install your app (think engagement and retention).

Keywords

While Google Play looks for keywords throughout your app listing (similar to how Google Search analyses web pages), the App Store provides a dedicated keywords field.

You can use up to 100 characters to add keywords (separated by commas – no spaces) to help users discover your app. Apple offers the following advice for choosing keywords:

“Choose keywords based on words you think your audience will use to find an app like yours.

Be specific when describing your app’s features and functionality to help the search algorithm surface your app in relevant searches.”

Apple also recommends considering “the trade-off” between ranking well for less common terms versus ranking lower for popular terms.

The most popular keywords may generate a lot of impressions and traffic, but they’re also the most competitive, which can impact CTRs and installs.

App Description

Your app description should provide a short, compelling – and informative – description of your app, highlighting its main purpose and benefits.

Similar to Google Play, you can use up to 4,000 characters in your app description, but users can only see the first two lines (and most of the third) without clicking to see more.

Apple suggests the following:

“Communicate in the tone of your brand, and use terminology your target audience will appreciate and understand. The first sentence of your description is the most important — this is what users can read without having to tap to read more.”

App Store Description ExampleScreenshot from App Store, February 2024App Store Description Example

If you want to update your app description, you’ll have to resubmit your app listing, so it’s important to try and get this right and only make considered changes.

You can also add up to 170 characters of promotional text to the top of your app description.

Crucially, you can change this text at any time without having to resubmit your app listing, making this a great place to share the latest news and info about your app – such as limited-time sales, the latest features, or fixes from the last update.

App Previews

App previews are the App Store equivalent of promo videos.

You can add up to 30 seconds of footage to illustrate the key benefits of your app and the experience of using it.

App Store App PreviewScreenshot from App Store, February 2024App Store App Preview

Again, Apple has strict guidelines and specifications for app previews – make sure you tick all the right boxes.

As with most things, if you’re listing your app in the App Store and Google Play, getting your app preview approved for the App Store first should mean you can use the same format for Google Play – as long as you include footage from the Android version of your app.

Screenshots

You can add up to 10 screenshots to your app listing for the App Store.

If you don’t have an app preview, the first one to three screenshots will show in search results, so make sure these highlight the core purpose of your app.

App Store ScreenshotScreenshot from App Store, February 2024App Store Screenshot

In your remaining screenshots, you can focus on the main features or benefits of using your app.

Try to stick to one feature or benefit per screenshot to communicate each purpose clearly.

App Ratings & Reviews

Once again, app ratings and reviews are important for maximizing visibility and installs in the App Store.

If anything, user reviews are more prominent in the App Store than Google Play, but we can’t say whether this has any meaningful impact on downloads.

App Store ReviewsScreenshot from App Store, February 2024App Store Reviews

The same general principles apply here: try to develop a regular stream of reviews and manage a positive app rating.

Again, you don’t need perfect scores, but you do need to respond to user reviews and address potential issues.

Prioritize negative reviews and respond as quickly as possible with responses that deal with issues – avoid generic, unhelpful responses.

Extra App Store Optimization Tips

App store optimization is an ongoing process that needs ongoing attention. Getting your listings approved for app stores is only the beginning.

Maximizing visibility and – more importantly – revenue from your mobile apps requires a complete product development strategy.

Here are some final, additional tips to help you drive long-term success from app store optimization:

  • Know your KPIs: Don’t get distracted by the wrong metrics and KPIs – know what you’re optimizing for and center every decision around your business goals.
  • Prioritize user experience: Visibility is one thing, but you’re not going to maximize it or take full advantage of it if people uninstall your app or rarely use it – so make sure quality product development and UX design are at the heart of your ASO strategy.
  • A/B test key app store elements: Test and optimize the most important elements on your app listings to increase visibility, CTRs, installs, and retention (descriptions, videos, screenshots, reviews, etc).
  • Master each app store’s analytics system: Google Play and the App Store both provide capable (albeit in different ways) analytics systems to help you improve visibility, revenue, and product quality – so make full use of them.
  • Promote your app with ads: Both Google and Apple provide dedicated ad systems for their respective app stores to get your app in front of more eyes.
  • Promote your apps outside of app stores: Use other marketing channels to promote your apps – social media, app directory websites, app review websites, affiliate marketers, tech publications, etc.
  • Localize your app listings: App stores can connect you with global audiences, but only if you optimize your listings for each target language and location (this is called localization) – with translated text, screenshots, videos, etc.

Conclusion

The mobile app industry still shows growth despite smartphone penetration being way past saturation.

Smartphones aren’t the only devices in people’s lives anymore, either.

Apple Vision Pro launched with over 600 compatible apps, opening another space for mobile experiences beyond the confines of traditional smartphones.

App store optimization (ASO) will become more complex as new devices and app stores emerge.

However, the rewards will also grow, and the companies already mastering ASO for today’s app stores will be first in line to benefit as emerging technologies bring new opportunities.

More Resources:


Featured Image: Billion Photos/Shutterstock

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My 5 Favorite Ahrefs Use Cases for Content Marketers

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My 5 Favorite Ahrefs Use Cases for Content Marketers

I’ve used Ahrefs since 2016. I thought I was a power user, but since joining the team, I’ve discovered a bunch more use cases that I can’t imagine living without.

Here are five of my favorite ways to use Ahrefs for content marketing:

Let’s be honest: we all snoop on our competitors to see what’s working (and isn’t). But today, a lot of the most exciting content strategies live outside of the company blog: free tools, app integrations, programmatic content, you name it.

For most websites, you can use the Site structure report in Site Explorer to quickly see how the website is structured, and which parts generate the most organic traffic.

In the example below, we’re looking at Copy.ai’s site structure. We might expect their blog to drive most of their organic search traffic, but according to the Site structure report, it only accounts for 4% of organic traffic. Instead, their /tools subfolder drives almost 60% of their traffic:

Click deeper into the site structure, and you can see the individual pages generating the most traffic. In this case, three tools alone account for an estimated 20% of the entire website’s organic search traffic:

1708502174 559 My 5 Favorite Ahrefs Use Cases for Content Marketers1708502174 559 My 5 Favorite Ahrefs Use Cases for Content Marketers

We can even compare metrics from today to a point in the past and see how their strategy has changed. Compared to a year ago, Copy.ai has grown traffic to its /tools subfolder but removed 195 pages from its blog:

1708502174 652 My 5 Favorite Ahrefs Use Cases for Content Marketers1708502174 652 My 5 Favorite Ahrefs Use Cases for Content Marketers

It’s easy to track the performance of any blog as a whole. Add the URL into Site Explorer, and a second later, you’ll see key metrics:

1708502174 4 My 5 Favorite Ahrefs Use Cases for Content Marketers1708502174 4 My 5 Favorite Ahrefs Use Cases for Content Marketers

But for big blogs (ours has some 2.5k indexed pages), it’s harder to answer questions like:

  • Which authors are driving the most traffic?
  • How does link acquisition differ between SEO content and thought leadership content?
  • Does updating our articles with an on-page SEO tool improve performance beyond just updating them normally?

Enter Portfolios. Portfolios allow you to group a list of URLs together and view their aggregated metrics. I use one portfolio for tracking the performance of my articles:

1708502174 611 My 5 Favorite Ahrefs Use Cases for Content Marketers1708502174 611 My 5 Favorite Ahrefs Use Cases for Content Marketers

And another for tracking recent articles published by my team:

1708502174 920 My 5 Favorite Ahrefs Use Cases for Content Marketers1708502174 920 My 5 Favorite Ahrefs Use Cases for Content Marketers

And another still for monitoring the search performance of some of the biggest “parasite SEO” publishers (to see whether or not Google is really doing anything to combat it):

1708502175 763 My 5 Favorite Ahrefs Use Cases for Content Marketers1708502175 763 My 5 Favorite Ahrefs Use Cases for Content Marketers

In every case, you can click into your portfolio and see the same detailed metrics you’re used to from Site Explorer:

1708502175 207 My 5 Favorite Ahrefs Use Cases for Content Marketers1708502175 207 My 5 Favorite Ahrefs Use Cases for Content Marketers

Portfolios has become my default way of using Ahrefs, and there are tons of use cases:

  • Compare articles written by freelancers, in-house terms, and (dare I say it) AI tools
  • See which article topics drive the most traffic
  • Analyze the performance of different content types (helpful for separating out the impact of search content and thought leadership content)
  • Monitor the performance of key competitor articles
  • Measure the impact of newly updated or rewritten articles
  • Track experiments (create one portfolio as a control and another for the articles you want to experiment on)

The hardest part of keyword research (at least for me) is always generating seed keywords.

When you have a few terms to explore, it’s easy to find long-tail variations, matching terms, related terms, you name it. But coming up with those first few topics? Not always easy, and it becomes even harder once you’ve exhausted obvious topics.

But now, we can just use a little AI brainstorming power to turn a blank page into dozens and dozens of seed keywords. In Site Explorer, just ask our little AI friend for help:

1708502175 13 My 5 Favorite Ahrefs Use Cases for Content Marketers1708502175 13 My 5 Favorite Ahrefs Use Cases for Content Marketers

Let’s use the bog standard keyword “content marketing” as an example. Here are technical and specialized terms related to content marketing:

1708502175 654 My 5 Favorite Ahrefs Use Cases for Content Marketers1708502175 654 My 5 Favorite Ahrefs Use Cases for Content Marketers

Here are emerging trends:

1708502175 42 My 5 Favorite Ahrefs Use Cases for Content Marketers1708502175 42 My 5 Favorite Ahrefs Use Cases for Content Marketers

And now controversial and debate-generating keywords (“quality vs quantity”—going right for the meaty topics):

1708502175 266 My 5 Favorite Ahrefs Use Cases for Content Marketers1708502175 266 My 5 Favorite Ahrefs Use Cases for Content Marketers

With our big list of seed keywords, hit “Search” and we’ll see the estimated search volume, keyword difficulty, and a bunch of other data points for our ideas. Click the Matching terms or Related terms reports and our list of possibilities will grow massively:

1708502176 245 My 5 Favorite Ahrefs Use Cases for Content Marketers1708502176 245 My 5 Favorite Ahrefs Use Cases for Content Marketers

Not every idea will be a home run in terms of significant search volume, but many will—and they might be ideas you wouldn’t otherwise have considered.

It’s pretty tricky to refine a list of 300 target keywords to a realistic selection of article ideas. Many keywords will have overlapping intent, others might be subtopics that make more sense to mention as part of another topic. Tricky!

Here we’ve used AI to brainstorm seed topics and used the Matching terms report to find even more ideas. We’ve wound up with 1,622 keyword ideas in about 30 seconds of research:

1708502176 487 My 5 Favorite Ahrefs Use Cases for Content Marketers1708502176 487 My 5 Favorite Ahrefs Use Cases for Content Marketers

Great, but also totally overwhelming. But we can make life much easier by using the Cluster by Parent Topic tab.

Parent topic aims to cluster keywords with similar or the same search intent, so you can target them all on one page instead of many.

If we wanted to target the keywords “content marketing audit” and “content audit definition”, we could instead target the parent topic “content audit”—and also rank for “content marketing audit” and “content audit definition”.

Three keyword rankings, one article.

In the image below our 1,622 keywords are grouped by their parent topic. We’ve gone from 1,622 keywords to just 162 clusters—much more manageable:

1708502176 236 My 5 Favorite Ahrefs Use Cases for Content Marketers1708502176 236 My 5 Favorite Ahrefs Use Cases for Content Marketers

Just one of these clusters, content audit, contains 43 keywords. So by writing one article targeted at content audit, we stand to rank for 43 of the keywords we were interested in:

1708502176 706 My 5 Favorite Ahrefs Use Cases for Content Marketers1708502176 706 My 5 Favorite Ahrefs Use Cases for Content Marketers

Competitive SERPs are usually a never-ending game of content optimization and updating. Competitors publish new articles, or update their existing ones, and you have to update your content to avoid sliding down the rankings.

When you formulate your plan for updating an article, it’s useful to see exactly how competitors have updated their articles.

Here’s the organic traffic graph for Zapier’s most popular blog post, How to Use ChatGPT. We can see a huge increase in organic traffic starting in November 2023:

1708502176 649 My 5 Favorite Ahrefs Use Cases for Content Marketers1708502176 649 My 5 Favorite Ahrefs Use Cases for Content Marketers

This begs an obvious question: what happened in November? What caused the massive traffic increase? Is it something that we can learn from?

Well, good news: we can use the Page inspect report to find out.

By default, you can see the current HTML and page text for your chosen URL:

1708502176 871 My 5 Favorite Ahrefs Use Cases for Content Marketers1708502176 871 My 5 Favorite Ahrefs Use Cases for Content Marketers

But more importantly, we can use Page inspect to compare the on-page text at specific points in time: like just before and after their big traffic surge in November 2023. In a couple of clicks, we can actually see if Zapier updated the page in a way that might have triggered the traffic increase.

In this case, we can see entirely new sections of text that were added to the article around the time of the traffic increase, like this collection of “how to” content:

1708502176 729 My 5 Favorite Ahrefs Use Cases for Content Marketers1708502176 729 My 5 Favorite Ahrefs Use Cases for Content Marketers

There are plenty of factors that can improve search performance, but this is a powerful way of isolating the impact of on-page changes. If we were writing an article on the same topic, or refreshing an article Zapier had dethroned, this is exactly the kind of section I would consider adding.

Final thoughts

I’ve used Ahrefs for keyword research, link building, and reporting since forever, but these new-to-me workflows have made my life much easier. If you’re a content marketer, they might help you too.

Got any interesting Ahrefs workflows to share? Let me know on X or LinkedIn!



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