November 26, 2015

9 Ways to Master the Google Play Store Ranking

GP Store ASOA lot has been written about ASO (App Store Optimization) on the Apple side of things, and we are well-aware of how crucial parameters like total installs and download velocity are on iOS. It’s also well-known that the Google Play algorithm for rankings and search is a bit more sophisticated. We figured we’d take the time to compile a comprehensive memo of what we’ve learned and present you with 9 actionable tips on how to run a successful ASO campaign in the Google Play Store:

Head of Search and Discovery for Google Play, Ankit Jain, states: “For the average app, search actually makes up the vast majority of installs.” According to Jain, 12 percent of daily active users (DAU) search for apps every day, 50 percent of DAU search for apps weekly and Google sees six million unique phrases searched monthly.

Another interesting note is that in the iOS App Store, no app ever stays in the same ranking spot all seven days of any given week. When you look at Google Play, you often find five or more apps maintaining the same top spots for over a week. Apple appears to be much more volatile in their top charts rankings, where the Play Store does not change ranks more than once a day, resulting in much more gradual trends.

1.  Category

Find the best category for your app. Take a look at the competition in your current category and if your app can be put in another category, you may want to do that. App category placement is an essential aspect to ASO, as new or less-trendy categories are less crowded and thus likely to rank your app higher on their lists.

Google Play Store Top Charts Less common categories, such as Business, Travel, and Location-based or Work-related Services, for example, are likely to provide more opportunities for higher ranking and optimal app store placement, as these categories have shown lower review and download numbers at the time of writing.

2.  Daily Installs

Driving installs will have the effect of a higher ranking for your game, which in turn drives more organic installs. This virtuous spiral of growth is a key goal, and burst campaigns which drive a high volume of installs at high velocity is one way to attain those top spots.

3. App Ratings

Your app’s rating is one of the most important factors influencing its ranking in the Google Play lists and search results. It’s also one of the key metrics that the editorial staff looks for when curating apps and games. Jain says reviews and ratings are “a very strong signal for Google,” so maintaining an app rating average above 4.0 out of 5 is mission critical.

App Ratings go much deeper than the simple 4.0 stars average. All these criteria play a factor:

  •         The average star rating

  •         The total number of reviews

  •         The amount of keywords used in each review

  •         The frequency of reviews written

  •         How recent the reviews are and their ratings per update

Don’t be tempted to use fake reviews in Google Play and the iOS App Store, as the risk of getting your app flagged is extremely high.

Google Play RankingsWhen it comes to reviews and ratings, Jain reveals that reviews are ordered based on relevance to the user, such as reviews from other users who have the same device or live in the same country. This means that personalized results exist, and if your friend in the network has installed and rated it, then it may appear on the first page of the Google Play Store only for you, so find a way to encourage a variety of people to review your app. The trick is to request a review from your users while they are deeply engaged in your app, while making sure you do not disrupt the UX.

4. SEO

Google Play gets the keywords for an app from the app description. This field has 4,000 characters, so there is plenty of room to add your keywords. Keywords appearing within the name of an app itself usually allow the app to rank higher for those keywords. However, where Apple allows 255 characters in the app name field, Google only allows 30 characters. Therefore, you really need to choose the app name wisely in the Google Play store.

Google also uses Page Rank to assess your ranking, which refers to the number of inbound pages pointing to your App. There are many traditional SEO activities you can do to generate links to your app, but here are some suggestions:

  •         Make sure you include a link to the app on all pages of your website, blog, etc. Put the link in your website footer.

  •         Reach out to media outlets or ask bloggers to write about or review your app.

  •         Cross-promote the app within your other apps or through cross-promotion networks like those offered by ironSource.

5. +1

One of the more obvious distinctions between the Apple App Store and the Google Play Store is the ability to +1 an app’s page on Google Play (similar to ‘liking’ a company on Facebook). This is one of the unique factors that influences an app’s ranking in the Play Store, and can be used by developers looking to increase ASO.

6. Launch window

New apps tend to have an easier time ranking and getting featured in Google Play than older apps. The logic for this is sound. Users want to try new apps and games. This is about giving new titles a chance. See this as the Play Store’s algorithm giving your app a little test to see if users actually like it. Likewise, apps that have been on the market for more than a month will find it very difficult to rank, unless their app is well-represented in the app store listing, with factors such as app title, description text, and social elements strong and steady.

7. Retention

It’s still not entirely clear how Google Play calculates this, but it most likely involves a combination of active install rates and a stickiness formula such as DAU/MAU. Jain also revealed that Google takes into account statistics such as the rate of installs, uninstalls, long installs (an app that has been installed for months), and engagement, so it’s imperative to effectively re-engage with your current users in order to retain and retarget your established audience .

8. Long Tail

Steady efforts work best. Google Play’s ranking algorithm is tilted towards long-term. Download growth over the last 30 days is more important than the latest 24 hours. Use closed loop marketing to ensure you are identifying and utilizing ad sources that bring loyal users – apps that acquire and retain satisfied users are rewarded with higher ranks. Advertising campaigns should be run over a longer term and sustained over two to three months, as opposed to the short bursts of activity often seen in the iOS market.

9. CTR on search

With app store search accounting for more than 65% of all app downloads, search is clearly the leading source of app discovery. If someone searches using a leading keyword and taps on your app in the search results, your app will move higher in the rankings for that keyword search. As an example -­ if users are searching for flight tickets and click the most on Expedia, then Expedia will be the first result shown for “flight tickets” search queries.

Dominate the App RanksIn order to best leverage search then, make sure to categorize your app with relevant keywords. Don’t overstep and stuff your description with popular and less applicable keywords dominated by huge apps with millions of downloads. Not only does Google Play penalize spam, but it’s not beneficial for your app to have it appear in the search of a popular but irrelevant keyword, where few users will actually click to download your app. Instead, focus on the edgy keywords that are more applicable to your app, that enjoy a respectable amount of traffic, and that provide low competition – ensuring a high CTR on search. After all, you’re looking for those who are most likely to actively engage with your app.

Google Play continues to reap the lion’s share of global app downloads, as the store’s worldwide downloads were about 90% higher than on the iOS App Store in Q3 2015. Optimizing your app’s page in the Google Play Store isn’t optional, it’s critical. Perhaps most important is to always educate yourself on new ASO tips and tricks. With app-store optimization constantly evolving, make sure you stay up to date on the latest techniques in order to improve your app’s rank.


By Pascal Clarysse
Pascal Clarysse is a marketing and growth strategy consultant who has been around the video games industry for 17 years. He advises many mobile gaming publishers and ad-tech startups. Follow him on Twitter: @PascalClarysseSpecial Thanks to Daniel Herman for his valuable help with research and data-gathering.

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