Other3/28/13

Google Play: Tips & Tricks for Developers

Guest Contributor

Antony Evans is the founder of Senstore.  He has a background in data analysis and mobile application product management.

Search is much more important for app discovery on Google Play than it is on Apple’s App store. In fact, a study by Fiksu found that search drives 75% of organic downloads – so it’s critical to optimize your app for such downloads.

While the actual details and weights of Google’s ranking algorithm are a secret, there are a number of important factors to optimize your apps appearance in search:

  • Downloads, including total number of app downloads and download momentum
  • App quality, including percentage of users who keep the app after installing it and stickiness
  • User reviews, including total number of review and average review score
  • Page rank, including number & quality of in-bound web links 

Downloads

There are four factors to consider when reviewing how many downloads your app gets:

1. Keywords driving how often your app appears in searches
2. Fragmentation issues to  which may prevent widespread availability of your app
3. Optimization of conversion rates
4. Paid marketing efforts and PR

Keywords

Keywords are the most important aspect of improving your organic downloads; however, there is currently no reliable source of traffic search volume. Niche Finder Mobile and MobileDevHQ both claim to offer this service, but I haven’t found their data to be reliable, as they had gaps for most health-related terms.  There are a few tools that detect which keywords are used by your competitors’ apps to give you ideas for words to target. AppNique is the most useful tool I’ve found.

Once you have chosen your keywords, there are two things you need to do:

1. Make sure your most important keyword is included in the app title.  This is why I’ve called my app ‘Best Android Symptom Checker’.  Not exactly catchy, but I’ve done tests with different names and daily downloads dropped by 75%.  According to Fiksu, including the keyword in the app name improves ranking for that search term by 80-100 spots. It’s important to remember that you can still call your app on the user’s home screen whatever you like, which allows you to build brand presence after the fact.
2. Google Play doesn’t let you submit keywords in the same way iOS does, so you need to include them in the text of your app description.  The same study by Fiksu found improved ranking by keyword for up to 5 uses in your description, but no improvement after that.  You have 4000 characters in your store listing,  so get creative.  You might want to include press excerpts or user comments that reference your target words.

Fragmentation

Android’s fragmentation has important implications for improving your app’s ranking.  Because Google Play uses total downloads as a key factor in its ranking algorithm, there is a leverage effect from ensuring your app is available on as many devices as possible.  This has three implications:

1. Don’t have different versions for different device formats (e.g., having a tablet apk and a separate phone apk) – you want to serve all devices from the same APK file.  Your code should recognize on what kind of device the app is installed and dynamically handle changes to the layout/structure.

2. The same codebase should support multiple Android versions, gracefully handling calls to functions that are only available in later functions.  I’m seeing only 3% of downloads on Android Froyo, so you might not bother supporting that, but Android 2.3 still receives over 20% of downloads, which is important for your overall app ranking.

3. Make all hardware declarations in your manifest optional using android:required=“false”. Just don’t forget to have your code handle the device not having that function.

Optimizing conversion rates

Once a user finds your app, you want to ensure they download the app, which means:

1. Translating the app description into foreign languages
2. Providing high quality screenshots
3. Making it easy for users to understand what the app does from the description
4. Offering promotions, e.g., ‘free for a limited time only’
5. Providing a video; SimpliFilm did a great job for me, you can watch it here

Paid downloads & PR

The point of this article is to generate organic downloads, and paid download marketing strategies are an entire topic of their own, so I won’t go into too much detail here.  Because Google places a higher weighting on app quality (based on retained installs and user engagement), a paid download or PR strategy won’t help you overcome a bad app, but you might want to use them to re-generate momentum if your user growth starts tailing off.

App quality

There aren’t many tricks to hack app quality, which Google measures based on number of app uninstalls and frequency of user engagement. Apart from building a good product, the best way to optimize app quality is to use a tool like AppTentive to gather user feedback directly from the app and to build robust event tracking into your app — so you can understand where your users get stuck.  Several easy to integrate tools can help with this, including Flurry (free and recommended for its UI), Mixpanel, and Google’s event tracking (free).

User reviews

Both the total number of reviews and their quality are important for your search ranking.  At a very minimum, you should be prompting users to review your app after they’ve tried it a couple of times.  One product that takes this a step further is AppTentive.  They have an SDK that allows you to ask your users if they are happy with your app or not.  If they say they are, they get taken to a page that asks them to rate your app. If they say they are not, they are given an opportunity to give you feedback about the app.  This is a great add-on to help you improve your average review score and at the same time get valuable feedback from users about how to improve your app.

Page Rank

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 of the low hanging fruit:

1. Make sure you include a link to the app on all pages on your website, blog, etc. Put the link in your website footer.
2. Reach out to media outlets or ask bloggers to write about your app
3. Submit your app to app review sites, example: iMedicalApps,
4. Find relevant pages on Wikipedia where you can include a link to your app

I recommend monitoring your ranking in each market using a tool like AppAnnie, and monitoring your ranking for individual keywords using MobileDevHQ and AppNique to keep track of your progress.

If you have any questions please don’t hesitate to get in touch with me at antony at Senstore  dotcom or try out the Virtual Nurse today!

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