How to run an ASO agency: experience of AppFollow, Growfirst and Phiture

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Olga Padulosi
How to run an ASO agency: experience of AppFollow, Growfirst and Phiture

Table of Content:

  1. Meet the experts
  2. A full cycle or niche agency?
  3. How to set pricing for ASO services?
  4. How to find customers when you are just starting out?
  5. How to start working with customers and do competitive research?
  6. How to keep customers coming back?
  7. How to set up your office and team?
  8. ASO agencies approved tools
  9. How many tools do you need for the start?
  10. How to run a successful ASO business?

ASO agencies and self-employed ASO experts are often the brains behind some of the most popular mobile apps. They help companies to form the backbone of App Store Optimization strategy, they know the ins and outs of keyword and graphic optimization, and they bring to the table their experience accumulated through numerous projects.

But what is the inner working of an ASO agency? We have interviewed several experts to share their experience on how to run an App Store Optimization business. Learn how 3 ASO agencies set pricing for their services, find customers, keep them coming back, and more.

Meet the experts

Johannes von Cramon co-founded the app marketing agency Growfirst 5 years ago. Since then the agency has helped over 50 companies tackle their ASO, ASA, and other mobile growth challenges.

Maggie Ngai is an ASO consultant at Phiture. Maggie helps international companies, such as Deezer and Headspace, to optimize visibility and conversion of their apps in both App Store and Play Store through Apple Search Ads, CRO experimentation, and keyword optimization processes.

Anna Kochetkova is the Head of Consulting at AppFollow. Anna has been in the IT industry since 2016, she is an expert in the mobile marketing sphere, including ASO. Improved store performance of over 70+ projects worldwide.

A full cycle or niche agency?

Maggie Ngai: “The app’s natural and current health in the stores defines whether it should run full cycle ASO (we at Phiture call it the 360 degrees ASO) or simply focus on certain aspects. It is important to do a health check or an audit from time to time. In general, I suggest investigating all ASO elements before making the decision. Some of our clients came to us with already pretty optimized store listings, thanks to a great product and brilliant marketing team. Often, we have clients doing well in certain aspects but not in others. Those are the areas with which we can help. We also prioritize the impact of the ASO effort in the 360 degrees ASO. That is evaluated by influence on KPIs, such as no. of installs and conversion rate. Obviously, we are tracing the most high-level performance indicator — ROI.”

How to set pricing for ASO services?

Johannes von Cramon: “When we started with Growfirst in 2016, there were not many ASO agencies in Germany, so we had to run our own tests to hit the pricing sweet spot where we would charge enough to be economical, but not to lose prospects due to higher prices. In addition, we always believed in transparency and never charged clients differently on the basis of company size, projected revenue, etc. Since 2019 and the increasing importance of conversion optimization, we began to invest more in our graphic design skill set, which also raised our hourly rate for those services a little.”

Anna Kochetkova: “Price should always be connected with KPIs. Since the result of pure ASO cannot be forecasted in absolute numbers, the ASO services pricing cannot be bound to downloads in advance (traffic networks model of work). At AppFollow, we are developing a brand new instrument which allows companies to measure the effect of ASO in revenue (ROI) and at the end of the day set up such KPIs. The scope of work also matters. We offer complex support (including KWO, CRO, reputation management etc), if something excluded, the price may differ.

And there is always a market price benchmark. Dumping prices can become a tactic, but you need to know the borders. Usually if someone offers really cheap prices it might be a result of a really cheap expertise. After the benchmark is checked, regular unit economy comes into play. Check your resource costs (including design, copywriting, etc.) and add the %”

How to find customers when you are just starting out?

Johannes von Cramon: “We tried many different self-marketing approaches over the years, but what helped us, in the beginning, were a few strong partners in the mobile industry like development, UX and other marketing agencies (that didn't offer ASO themselves) who referred clients on a regular basis and spread the word for us. In regards to pitching, we never had a real strategy, but I believe we managed to win a couple of bigger ones because we didn't act like a typical agency by sharing our knowledge and making hands-on suggestions right from the start.”

Anna Kochetkova: “I never saw an ASO agency that was launched by newbies in the ASO sphere. You either already have a few projects you are working on and you are expanding your client base or you have such a person in your team. Cases and experience help a lot. The best tip is to do the work properly. Then your client will tell friends about you. The digital sphere is very tight.”

How to start working with customers and do competitive research?

Maggie Ngai: “Competitor research can be done on 3 levels: ASO level, marketing level, and business level. Benchmarking exercises and analysis of historical data forms the foundation for all levels.

On the ASO level, we try to understand what changes your competitors have made, why, and how those changes impact their in-store performance. A lot of ASO tools, including AppFollow, provide the ASO changes the timeline, estimation of downloads, and category benchmarks to help with this analysis.

On the marketing level, we step back a bit to look at the overall marketing strategy of competitors. That includes performance marketing strategy, brand campaigns, and other marketing activities. Knowing the overall marketing strategy of competitors illustrates a bigger picture of how competitors acquire users.

On the business level, we look into a broader range of competitors, including alternative solutions than apps. That helps to understand user needs and wants outside of the app. It is an amazing way to develop new features and business models that no one has seen before. I see this as the strategy to stay ahead of the whole market.”

Johannes von Cramon: “We usually do this during our keyword optimization process. It's definitely helpful to know which keywords and visual assets competitors are using and create a strategy to stand out from them. Next to the App Store research we often look at graphics used by similar apps and brands in other networks like Facebook to get a broader view of their marketing communication.”

How to keep customers coming back?

Johannes von Cramon: “Obviously you have to deliver results, but I think it's also very important to become their place to go not only for ASO but for all app marketing issues or maybe even apps in general. We always try to expand our portfolio with new services we can offer or partners we can work with. While doing this, it's essential to not lose focus on your core skills and what your agency stands for.”

Anna Kochetkova: “Be honest and transparent with customers. Not all App Store Optimisation activities have a “wow” effect and results. ASO is an ongoing process with success and failures. The most important thing is to analyze data correctly and provide the real figures to the client, explaining what worked and what didn’t. Look for new ideas and solutions if something doesn’t work out and apply creative custom approaches to each and every client. All cases are unique and all clients should see that you work with their project and not with “one more email app”.

How to set up your office and team?

Maggie Ngai: “Doing ASO requires a lot of resources and cross-team cooperation is extremely important. Our product team is comprised of:

  • One or two ASO consultants who have all the knowledge about ASO and coordinate with the brand team, product team, user acquisition team, retention/lifecycle team.
  • Designers and copywriters who are experts in conversion rate optimization.
  • A localization manager who leads a team of country managers to help with ASO in foreign languages.”

ASO agencies approved tools

Johannes von Cramon: “In terms of ASO you will only need a proper tool to research keywords and monitor your visibility and conversion performance. Currently, we use AppFollow since it fits our workflows, but there are a few more good players in the market. If the budget is not of your concern you can also use an A/B testing tool like Splitmetrics for creative experiments or an app intelligence provider like AppAnnie for further competitive App Store research.”

Anna Kochetkova: “It’s definitely a big advantage when you have your own software where you can collect and track all keywords positions, analyze the competitors, ranks, etc.. If there is no such option, it’s better to take a look at the services that have all these features combined so you won’t jump from service to service to check things separately. I will not compare the benefits of any ASO related tools but want to say that as for the market analysis, App Annie still keeps the leadership in the Intelligence area due to the huge installs & revenue data they collect. ”

Maggie Ngai: “There are many ASO tools out there and all of them have their own strengths. AppFollow is my go-to when it comes to quick competitor analysis (Ratings and Reviews, changes timeline, featuring). I also use Apptweak for Keyword Optimization and SensorTower for market intelligence. I couldn't list them all. At Phiture, we also use in-house tools that we built to facilitate the systematic, iterative approach for keyword optimization, etc. I believe tools are important to do App Store Optimization well but knowledge and methodologies are the keys to do ASO most effectively.”

How many tools do you need for the start?

Maggie Ngai: “One, I would say. It also depends on which area of ASO you are focusing on but you can use one at the beginning. The key features you need are:

  • Keyword-level data for research (e.g., Apple Search Ads Search Volume);
  • Keyword tracking (rankings of your app and competitors' apps);
  • Store assets change timeline;
  • Featuring a timeline of the App Store;
  • Ratings and Reviews analysis;
  • Benchmarking data e.g., category conversion rate benchmark;
  • Estimation of downloads and revenues.”

How to run a successful ASO business?

Maggie Ngai: “I see successful ASO as comprising of two aspects:

  • Gaining actual installs by optimizing the apps' visibility and conversion;
  • Leveraging user feedback to optimize user acquisition and the product itself.

At Phiture, we use the ASO Stack framework to identify opportunities for our clients. It could involve conducting keyword optimization to get the app in front of more users or it could also be running experiments to convert more users to download the app. No matter which area in ASO you want to optimize, we recommend following a systematic and iterative approach — have a hypothesis behind each action and record the results and impact to validate the hypothesis. Only then, you will understand what works and what does not.

This holds true across all user acquisition channels and marketing activities. Therefore, the systematic, iterative approach based on data and solid learnings is the key to run a successful ASO business from an operational level.

ASO is sometimes viewed as part of the user acquisition channel when ASO should be the most important part of the funnel before retention. It is because users from all channels will eventually arrive at app stores. That makes the App Store and Google Play a perfect testing playground to learn about all your users, not only from Facebook or from Snapchat. How users react to the store presence can tell developers a lot of things, including which messaging approach resonates with the users, what features drive users to download the app, etc. By leveraging users' responses to different store assets and users' feedback in the ratings and reviews section, the user acquisition team and the product team could develop strategies that speak to the users. ASO can play a much bigger part of the user journey. Successfully running an ASO business can only happen if ASO is integrated with all departments and functional units.”


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