To bring an application to top positions of App Store and Google Play, one needs to know what affects its placement. In this article Sergey Sharov, co-founder of ASOdesk and the Angle Connect agency, explains the main ranking factors and available levers to apply against search algorithms.
In this series of articles based on ASOdesk Academy lectures we have touched upon all important aspects of app store optimization. Recent articles told readers how to begin App Store Optimization and how to promote apps in Google Play. This time we will share some tips about working with application stores and explain the most crucial determinants of apps’ ultimate position there. You can watch the original lecture here:
Differences between store indexing in App Store and Google Play
App Store and Google Play are similar but not identical. A promotion strategy needs to take into account the two stores’ different ways of handling metadata and indexing them. Allow us to explain in greater detail.
As far as apps’ titles are concerned, Google Play allows 50 characters, App Store permits 30, both index them. These are the most important metadata and of prime importance to a search algorithm.
There are no subtitles in Google Play, but App Store has got them – on the app’s page and its search card. Up to 30 characters are allowed; latest research shows that subtitles are less indexed but still visible, and they have more influence on rankings than the keyword field.
3. Keyword field
Only App Store features a keyword field. It can accommodate up to 100 characters, counting commas between words, and the contents are indexed.
4. Promo text / Short description
The promo text a. k. a. short description can fit 80 characters in Google Play, this text is indexed. App Store’s holds up to 170 characters, but the contents are not indexed, on the other hand, it can be changed any time, without commitment to an update. You might, for example, announce a 50% discount for today’s special event. In App Store only the promo text among all the metadata may be changed outside of an update. In Google Play you can rewrite all of them any time.
The maximum size of a description is 4000 characters in App Store and Google Play alike, but Google’s are indexed. Also Google Play tolerates emoji there and html formatting. These features help users hone in on the app. Artyom Tkaczuk covered composing descriptions for Google Play in the previous article of this series.
Reviews are also not indexed in App Store, and indexed in Google Play. For this reason, keywords can be entered directly into reviews for some extra indexing, just not in every sentence – users should be able to get to the meaning. This was another topic for Artyom Tkaczuk in his piece.
7. Extra localizations
Only App Store has main and extra localizations for a country. This means that users will get to see different pages of the app with different metadata, appropriate for his device’s language settings, and developers can count on App Store search engine’s grabbing indexed data from those additional localizations.
This table shows what localizations may be added to increase the quantity of available keywords:
A full table of complementary languages for App Store is available here.
8. No. of search screenshots
Google Play has something called cluster searching, which means that several blocks with Google-recommended software will be interposed between the first and second app. Only cluster results display app screenshots. Screenshots are presented in a uniform manner in App Store: always three portrait screenshots or one landscape screenshot or one video and two screenshots.
On the left is App Store showing Apple Search Ads among the results and an app with three screenshots, on the right is Google Play, cluster results for a brand name query.
9. Search Results
In Google Play a search produces different results pages depending on the query. Typing in something specific like “traffic tickets pay download” or a brand name like “Uber” will cause the relevant app with the highest number of downloads to appear on the top in a large card (for cluster results). The algorithm must be certain that the app does the best job at meeting users’ needs and solving their problems. For more general queries like “plane tickets” results will be more familiar: different apps listed, internal purchases for them, developer pages, Apple Search Ads, bundles, editorial pieces in a roster. I wrote about the importance of editorials in my last article.
10. Attributes of in-built purchases
Up to 20 in-built purchases (subscription, services, new game levels etc.) may be added to an App Store search, and each has a title, an icon and a description. In-built purchases make apps take up more screen space, which may improve conversion. Google Play does not have an equivalent feature.
Ranking determinants that really determine
We are not going to listen to rumor and hype. These are the practical factors that can be influenced immediately.
1. Install rate
The more traffic your app gets from all sources, the higher will it climb in search results.
Relevant for paid apps (charge to download) mostly.
Let us say that you have a paid app, and its install rate is much lower than a similar free app’s. If stores only paid attention to the install rate, paid apps would always be on the bottom of the search, no matter how excellent. Paid apps get a chance to appear on top of searches, however, because their revenue is tallied. Paid apps are those for which you have to pay to download.
3. App launched
Both Google Play and App Store keep track of apps’ first launches, which shows in motivated traffic. When a user is told to install an app to improve the install rate under a specific query, the app must be launched.
4. Frequency of launches
This matters only to Google Play. Users who keep an app for 2-3 days and launch it prop up its position in rankings more than simple one-time rocketeers.
5. Ranking and no. of reviews
The number of reviews is noticed by both Google Play and App Store.
Suppose that you have released an app, and it is on the 300th line of the results of an important search. You would like to buy motivated traffic, but no network with real users wants to take this up, because real users are loathe to scroll down to position 300. No one is going to bother. If this happens, you should get a few dozen reviews first to give the ranking a boost to, say, position 150-100. Now motivated traffic will be more motivated.
A recent update only counts in an app’s favor in App Store. Right afterwards it floats up a little in search results. App Store does this to let new versions of apps attract more users.
Whether an app has been deleted is only important to Google Play, this is something also verified by motivated traffic. The earlier those users delete the app, the less difference they end up making. There is no such dependency in App Store, launching is enough.
Positions are refreshed every few hours. In ASOdesk we refresh positions up to 4 times a day.
Available algorithm leverage
Online you can read that rankings are influenced by WWW links, mentions on the Web, mentions in YouTube, app pages and lots of other things. All of those things have a little influence on algorithms, but I am going to list much stronger and faster-acting methods.
If you change an app’s metadata before its release, the ranking structure will be different, and changes in ranking will also be quick and significant. In App Store changes show the day after the update, in Google Play you need to wait 2-3 weeks, but metadata make a noticeable difference in both cases. It is a powerful lever.
2. App ranking
Rankings encourage conversion, which, in turn, improves visibility. If you ask users to leave reviews and evaluations, this will be a strong lever to crank up app’s position in search results.
3. Search install rate
Increasing the number of installs that result from searches will boost you closer to the top. The more often the app is installed from a search, the higher you will go. This is a nice strong lever also and gives good results in a short time.
4. Overall install rate
If you simply increase the install rate, buy paid traffic or work with influencers, you will probably remain somewhere below the top. This lever is of medium strength. You will get results, but either delayed or modest.
A short summary of differences between App Store and Google Play:
- A different attitude to updates. Google Play, unlike App Store, does not require you to update the app to change its metadata, which makes optimizing apps for Google Play simpler. More iterations are possible with new metadata than a developer can churn out updates. In App Store without an update only the promo text may be edited, and it is not indexed.
- The speed of changes is also different. Having rewritten metadata for App Store, you will see the results one day after the app is updated. In Google Play rewriting can be done all the time, but the results begin to show only 2-3 weeks later.
- Different metadata work and matter. In Google Play the short description, the description and reviews are indexed, in App Store they are not; on the other hand, App Store has subtitles, an indexed keywords field and extra localizations.
- Apps in App Store and Google Play look different in searches. App Store shows screenshots always, Google Play only in cluster results. Google Play uses personalized search results, App Store does not; but it has articles, bundles and in-built purchases, besides apps and ads.
- User behavior affects positioning differently. Whether an app has been deleted and how often it is launched influence ranking in Google Play only.
I hope that this information will help you in formulating an effective strategy of promoting apps for App Store and Google Play. Using appropriate methods for either store, it is possible to improve an app’s standing there and increase conversion to installs. But a strategy needs to be constantly checked, tested and adjusted, because ASO is required throughout an app’s lifecycle.