App Store Optimization (ASO) is the process of increasing app downloads by controlling settings in App Stores to increase visibility and conversion rates.
This article is for those who are familiar with ASO in general and want to learn the differences and specific strategies of ASO in China. We start by describing the overall landscape and work towards more specific points, and then finish with summary advice for each factor that affects ASO results.
Apple App Store has 100% market share for iOS devices in China and globally.
Google Play Store is not installed on Android phones sold in China, and is replaced by a multitude of App Stores owned by phone manufacturers and software companies. We will consider the top 10 stores which together provide about 90% market coverage (see App Store Index).
This chart shows which ASO factors are present on each app store, and whether they influence search ranking algorithms; GREEN: has effect; RED: no effect; GRAY: not present
Factors that are visible in the UI are can influence the user’s perception of the app, and therefore can affect conversion rates and downloads.
The app name registered on the app stores must be identical to the app name listed on the Software Copyright Certificate, so the name will generally be the same across all app stores. This means we need to consider the character limit of the strictest app store, which is 10 Chinese characters (Meizu app store).
If possible, it is strongly recommended to include the most-searched keyword(s) in the app name because most of the Android app stores do not offer Search Keywords, and because they include app suggestions as part of predictive search results which is based purely on app name (see below).
Apple and Vivo allow us to extend the app name as it appears in the App Store, without affecting the actual app name (i.e. once it is installed on the phone). This is a good opportunity to add keywords to make the app function clear to new users, and to influence the search algorithm.
All stores allow a subtitle, but there are different limitations on maximum length, and how much is displayed before being shortened with an ellipsis (…).
Keywords in Apple App Store work the same in China as they do globally. For Android, Xiaomi allows 8 keywords, 360 allows 1, and the others don’t allow keywords. In contrast to Google Play Store, there is no benefit to repeating keywords from the name and subname, so keep them unique.
Paying to increase search ranking is much more common on Chinese app stores and it is their primary source of revenue (since they are not able to take a cut from in-app purchases like Google Play Store does).
Chinese law requires app publishers to hold an ICP License (remember, an ICP License is very different from an ICP Filing), which can only be held by a local company. Therefore, you need to partner with a professional publisher to get your app onto Chinese app stores.
In practical terms, Android app stores already enforce this law strictly – you will not be able to publish your app without an ICP License.
Apple App Store requires an ICP License for ASO services like Apple Search Ads, but doesn’t require it yet for publishing apps. However, publishing without an ICP License is non-compliant, and possible punishments are fines and being removed from the app store. In addition, if/when Apple starts asking for proof of an ICP License, you will then be forced to switch to making a China-only version of the app with a publishing partner, and asking existing users to switch to the new app. Since some users will be lost in this process, it’s better to do it as early as possible.
AppInChina is the market leading publisher for overseas apps in China.
You might be familiar with app data services such as Data.ai, App Radar, and Sensor Tower etc. The best platforms with comparable data in China are 七麦 Qimai and 蝉大师 Chandashi. Unfortunately, both are in Chinese language only.
Usage rate, uninstall rate, star ratings and reviews all affect app store search ranking, so maximizing the user’s enjoyment of the app is crucial for ASO. Obviously, the app’s name and content need to be translated into natural and attractive Chinese, but localization needs to go deeper to make sure the app matches market norms and is well received by users.
For example, most Chinese apps require phone number only for login, or use local SSO providers (WeChat, Alipay). When users are faced with the unfamiliar burden of memorizing a new password, dealing with emails, or struggling with Western SSO providers that don’t work in China, a significant proportion of users will give up on the app.
Prompting Android users to rate or review the app is complicated by the fact that there are a multitude of Android app stores. This can be handled by writing code to detect which app stores are installed on the phone, or by compiling different APKs for each app store.
If your app experience depends on Push notifications, you also need to handle multiple app stores on Android.
For younger users (35 and below), the most common method for inputting Chinese characters involves using the 26-letter Western alphabet keyboard to type out the phrase phonetically, browsing a list of matching characters, and then tapping to select the intended characters. This list is ordered with the most common matching characters first, so it takes extra effort to locate unusual characters. Therefore, users should not be expected to input unusual characters when searching for the app – i.e. in the app’s name. Search keywords with unusual characters should also be considered very carefully.
Despite this problem with character input, most users face no difficulty in reading unusual characters, so it’s fine to include them in the app’s Logo, Subtitle, Description etc.
While a user is typing in the search field, App Stores try to predict the intended search and display common search terms for the user to click. While this speeds up the search process, it doesn’t alter the traditional flow: Search Field Page -> Results Page -> App Details Page.
However, Chinese Android app stores also suggest specific apps prominently as part of the predictive search results, displaying the app’s Name, Logo and Subtitle, in a similar style to the actual Results Page. This is because Chinese characters are more specific than Western letters, so apps can often be reasonably guessed from just the first 1 or 2 characters.
Only if the predictive search suggested apps are unsatisfactory will the user press “Enter” or click on a suggested search term, and proceed to the Results Page to browse apps in the traditional manner.
The ranking algorithm for predictive search differs from normal search results. This is because, from a UX perspective, the user is likely expecting to match the app’s name, rather than function; and from a technical perspective, predictive search must be calculated more quickly than regular search results, and therefore must consider fewer factors. Many app stores also take this opportunity to prominently display paid ranking results.
Therefore, the factors influencing predictive search app rankings are:
This has the following consequences:
The Apple App Store in China does not include apps in predictive search results.