ASO for Google Play: App Store Optimization Guide for Android
App stores are competitive marketplaces and your app can easily be lost among thousands of others. In September 2020, there were around 3,040,000 applications available on the Google Play Store only. Of course, developing a functioning, reliable app is a major part of the work needed to reach your targets, but the choices you make when displaying this app in the stores are just as important. That is where App Store Optimization (ASO) comes into play.
ASO is the process of improving an app’s visibility in app stores throughout its lifetime with the objective of increasing app downloads.
Although the Apple App Store and Google Play Store share the same fundamental purpose, they do not have the same features, metadata standings, or search algorithms. To boost your app on Google Play and employ ASO to make it visible to users, you will need to familiarise yourself with Google’s requirements and specificities.
This article will cover all the best ASO practices on Google Play, from optimizing your metadata to increasing your conversion rate (CVR) with A/B tests.
Google Play Ranking Factors
To increase your app downloads on the Google Play Store, you first need to ensure users can find your app when they enter a query or keyword in the search bar. For example, if you have a budgeting app on Android, you certainly want users searching for the keywords “budget”, “personal finance” or “spending” to find your app.
Improving rankings in search results requires an understanding of Google’s ranking algorithm. Google considers a number of different elements when deciding whether or not your app should rank on a certain keyword. Although these ranking factors are not officially public, the ASO community has gathered enough knowledge and information to identify the most significant ones.
1. Keywords in Metadata
The keywords in your metadata constitute the first factor the algorithm considers when determining where to place your app in the search results. You will hardly rank on any keywords not mentioned somewhere in your metadata, which is why keyword optimization is an essential part of ASO.
To rank on a keyword, not only does your app need to be eligible for that keyword (i.e. it must be somewhere in your metadata), but your app must also build some strength on it. The location of the keyword in your metadata, alongside the relevancy of the keyword and your ranking history, are factors that can influence your keyword ranking.
Unlike Search Engine Optimization (SEO), there is (limited) space on the Android app page to add keywords that signal to the Google algorithm what your app is about. These spaces include: app title, short description, long description, developer name, and app ID.
The app title has a strong impact on rankings. Keywords included in your app title are those you have identified with the best ranking opportunity.
The app title in Google Play is limited to 50 characters, compared to 30 characters in the App Store. However, the app title on Android has a stronger impact on conversion, as it is one of the only metadata elements seen from the search results. Therefore, the app title must first include strong, relevant keywords to improve visibility. Second, it must provide a clear description of what your app is about.
Spotify targets high volume keywords keywords while also giving a simple description of the app in its title.
With its current title, Spotify uses 46 characters on 50, using almost all the space available. If we have a look at the terms they put in their title and some of their combinations in the Keyword Monitoring tool, we can see they are strong keywords with good search volumes.
Keywords in the long description is also taken into account by the ranking algorithm. Similar as with SEO, the algorithm will take into consideration keyword density to decide which keywords to rank your app on. This is very different from Apple’s algorithm.
Although repeating keywords on iOS would not help you rank better on those keywords, on Android this practice can provide Google with a better understanding of what your app is about. It is therefore recommended to repeat high-priority keywords in your long description, in addition to any placements in your title or short description.
For example, on January 26, 2020, Priceline updated their long description on their US app. They slightly decreased the density of “rental cars” and “cars” and increased the density of “car rental” and “car.”
Keyword density in the long description before and after the update. We can see “rental cars” going from 2.8% to 1.9% and car rental with 1.5% in the update. Source: AppTweak
Using AppTweak’s Keyword Impact tool we can see the app lost rankings for the keyword ‘rental cars’ but gained rankings for many combinations with ‘car rental’.
Best and worst keyword movements after the update: keywords for which Priceline lost visibility were those reduced in the long description. Source: AppTweak
It is important to find a balance between a good keyword density and keyword stuffing. A good keyword density for the long description would be between 2.5% and 3%.
Your long description really creates an opportunity for keyword optimization. The percentage of users reading the long description is low; even if you do want to provide a clear explanation of your app, you particularly want to utilize this space to invest in key terms.
There is no app subtitle on Google Play, but instead an 80-character short description. Although it used to have more weight in the ranking algorithm, today it seems that short descriptions have a stronger conversion role than direct impact on ranking. The short description is very visible on the app page, appearing directly underneath the screenshots. It is recommended to use this space to convince users why they should download your app.
Adobe Lightroom has a strong short description, with high volume keywords, a clear statement of what you can do with the app, and conversion arguments “advanced”, “easily”.
However, keywords in the short description are still indexed by Google, so you should not completely neglect the popularity or search volume of the keywords targeted here. Luckily, as Google’s short description is 80 characters long, room is left for both keyword optimization and conversion.
The developer name and the app ID are also reportedly indexed and can be used on Google Play to target keywords. While the developer name can be edited from your Google Play Console, you should never change the application ID once you have published your app.
2. Retention Rate (perhaps the most important signal)
Google wants to provide the best experience for its users in the Play Store. To do so, Google prioritizes apps that manage to convert visitors into users and, most importantly, manage to retain these users.
In general, Google pays a lot of attention to the overall quality of your app. While Apple particularly focuses on conversion rates and download velocity, Google keeps a close eye on how effectively you retain users or not. Today, the retention rate is supposedly the most important ranking signal on the Play Store.
To better illustrate the impact of retention rate on keyword rankings, have a look at the following example. An AppTweak client experienced an unusually high uninstall and reinstall rate on what we will call “day D.” Because of a bug, 300 users uninstalled and reinstalled the app right away, as they were loyal users. The retention rate following day D reached up to 95%, causing rankings on high volume and competitive keywords to improve.
During the 30 days following this event, rankings on high volume keywords and other big sports brands such as Fancode, ESPN and WWE improved.
We could observe the same phenomenon for the category ranking. Prior to day D, the app ranked around the 120th position in the Sports category. During the 30 days with high retention, its category ranking increased to a peak position at number 7 before gradually decreasing back down again.
Category rank progression of the studied app over 2 months.
3. App Downloads and Conversion Rate
The number of app downloads and the download velocity are rather strong indicators of your app’s strength. The more downloads you accumulate (and the more recent they are), the more popular your app is, which can be accounted for in the ranking algorithm.
Even if the retention rate is very important, your conversion rate on specific queries can still help Google determine if you should rank for a keyword. Your overall app downloads and download velocity are also the main signals to appear in Top Charts and category rankings.
The conversion rate represents how well you convince a visitor to download your app, whether it be from your store listing or directly from the search results. This particularly concerns the visual assets you first show the user. We will highlight how to improve your store listing’s assets for a better conversion rate later in this blog.
4. App Performance and Update Cycle
It is not in Google’s interest to promote or highlight apps that do not provide users with a satisfying experience. Your app performance is therefore important when determining its overall quality. Google looks at your app’s update cycle, the number of crashes, its stability, the consumption rate of the phone battery, app size, etc. These elements may seem basic, but they are key to figuring out if your app offers a fluid user experience, and thus if it contributes to the success of the app store marketplace.
5. Reviews and Ratings
Reviews and ratings are strong conversion incentives but are also reportedly considered by Google in the selection of high-quality apps. For the same reasons Google monitors your user retention, your users’ opinions are also evaluated. So, the total number of reviews your app has and its star rating are additional signals for the ranking algorithm.
Keywords in reviews are supposedly indexed, but it is difficult to assess the strength of these keywords in the rankings.
Although the ranking systems in Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and App Store Optimization (ASO) have different characteristics and are part of two different ecosystems, backlinks are a shared element. Backlinking (having other websites link to your own website page) is an important component of SEO, and can also benefit apps.
Having many websites link to your web app page can positively influence your ranking. However, the power and quality of these references matter more than the sheer number of backlinks. Google’s algorithm determines the power and credibility of a website, considering a number of different elements (number of visitors, bounce rate, etc). The more reliable the websites pointing to your app, the better the backlink! The quality of the backlink is also determined by the relevance of the source website and the keywords used in the link. They should be related to your app’s content to be more credible.
Increasing the quality of your backlinks, and monitoring those you already have, is an activity that can help improve your ranking on Google Play Store.
Increasing Visibility Via Google Play Explore Traffic
Optimizing your app for keyword discoverability is not the only way to increase visibility and organic downloads on the app store. Over the years, Google has updated the Play Store to make it easier for users to discover new apps and games through editorial content, curated lists, featured apps etc. While it is more complicated to ‘organically’ influence and control an app’s Explore Traffic compared to its Search Traffic, getting familiar with Explore Traffic on Google Play can help improve your browsing visibility and app store presence.
1. Featured Apps
Being featured on a store can greatly increase the visibility and downloads of an app or game. There is no magic recipe for how to be featured on the Google Play Store, but neither is it up to pure luck. There are several criteria that should be considered to increase the chances of your app or game being featured:
- Trending: Trending apps and games, with an increasing amount of downloads, have a better chance of being featured.
- Strong ratings & reviews: A good app rating is essential. Research has shown, an app or a game would need a minimum rating of 4 stars to have the chance to be featured.
- High-quality: An app with many bugs or crashes will not be featured on the store; your app must offer a smooth, simple and unique user experience. Make sure to update your app regularly, taking into consideration user feedback and Google’s latest requirements and policies.
- Optimized store listing: Your app’s performance alone is not enough, the way you promote your app also matters. Your app store listing should be flawless and immediately attract the user’s attention. To increase your chances of being featured on the store, you should also localize your metadata and creatives for all markets.
- Latest Google Play features: Make sure you respect the Android checklist and try to consider Google’s updates as much as possible. Google always wants to showcase the newest features available; you can help them do so.
To increase your chances to be featured on the store, ensure to always provide 3 landscape screenshots and a featured graphic for your promo video. Google will use these assets when featuring your game across the store.
If you have the opportunity to directly communicate with Google’s editorial team and ask to be featured, keep in mind that all the above criteria must be respected to pass the ‘screening process’.
2. Top Charts
Top Charts are another method of growing visibility on Google Play. However, as your ranking in the Top Charts almost entirely depends on acquisition velocity, it is difficult to directly influence your rank in Top Charts with purely organic methods.
Nevertheless, it is important to know that some categories are more competitive than others. Depending on the number of apps in a category and the power of these apps, the amount of downloads needed to rank in the Top 5 apps of one category may not be enough to rank in the Top 10 of another. In this way, it is important to choose your app category wisely if you want to improve your category rankings. Of course, the category must be relevant to your app, but if your app does not fit into one clear-cut category (as is often the case for games, for example), you should analyze the competition and evaluate how likely you are to rank high in different categories’ Top Charts.
To rank in the top 10 in the social category in the US App Store you need more than 10,365 daily downloads, to rank in the top 10 in the lifestyle category you need more than 6000 daily downloads.
New opportunities can appear when new categories are created or when key actors disappear from a particular category. Either being among the first actors in a new category lacking a clear leader, or benefiting from other apps switching to a new category and making room in their former one, can be a good opportunity to improve category Top Chart rankings.
3. Similar Apps
Appearing on another app’s store listing as a ‘similar app’ can drive traffic to your own app. Again, there is no public list of the elements that Google accounts for when choosing which apps are shown as ‘similar apps’, but there are a few factors known to play a role in the selection:
- Apps ranking on the same keywords: ‘Similar apps’ are usually apps that have keywords in common in their metadata.
- The app’s category and Google Tags: Similar apps are more likely to be apps in the same category or with the same Google Tags.
- Other apps users have downloaded: Google keeps track of users’ behaviour and interactions with the store and store listings. Similar apps can be influenced by the apps users have previously downloaded.
4. Google Play Store Tags
Besides categories, developers can add Google Tags to their store listing. Tags help Google better understand what your app is about. Google has indicated they would use these tags to create app clusters across categories, allowing them to show users relevant content when they are browsing the store. So, choosing the right tags can positively impact an app’s Explore Traffic.
Tags appear in both your store listing and in search results; they allow users to understand your product with a few simple keywords.
Search results for “rpg game” and store listing of Eternium. Google tags appear next to the developer’s name in search results and below the short description on the store listing.
So, just like the category, it is recommended to choose your Google Tags carefully. You can add up to 5 tags to your store listing (here is a full list of the available tags). Here are two things to keep in mind when choosing Google Tags:
- Google Tags should be clear to users that are unfamiliar with your app.
- Only select tags that are clearly linked to your app’s content and features.
Conversion Rate Optimization on Google Play
So far, we have explored the different parameters of your Google Play store presence and how you can improve traffic to your app store listing. However, ASO is not only about being found on the store, it is also about converting impressions and visits into real users. Increasing traffic to your store listing without converting these visitors into actual users will eventually penalize you in keyword and category rankings, and instead indicate to Google that you are unable to convince users to download your app.
Most users form an opinion of an app within a few seconds, solely from the first elements they notice on the store listing. It is important to recognise the main elements that can influence user decisions, and understand how you can optimize these elements on your store listing.
1. Optimize Creatives
Creative assets significantly impact users as they are striking and easily noticeable. Your app’s icon, screenshots and promotional video are important conversion incentives that you need to take advantage of.
The app icon is a global asset on Google Play, meaning you cannot change it from one country to another. Creating custom store listings is the only way to display a different icon to that on your main store listing. We will discuss creating and managing custom store listings later in the blog.
The icon is visible everywhere on the store: in search results, store listings, featured lists, etc. Your app icon is often closely linked to your brand strategy, and you may not have much leeway to make changes. Nevertheless, there are some elements that you can try to adapt:
- Hints about your app or game content: Using an icon design that represents your app functionality, or adding gameplay elements or characters, can be a good way to immediately hint at the content of your app.
- Colors: Color symbolism can influence the user’s perspective. Depending on your category, it could be interesting to consider what your competitors do. For example, many finance app icons employ different shades of green or blue, while dating apps mostly use shades of pink, red or purple.
- Highlighting your brand name: Sometimes your brand logo alone may not be striking enough. Adding your brand name can help to make it more recognizable.
- Seasonality: A lot of apps, especially games, change their icon design depending on seasons (Halloween, Christmas, Spring, etc).
Example of app icon color analysis for dating apps in the US.
Google does not have specific size requirements when it comes to screenshots. However, they recommend adding at least 3 landscape screenshots because that is the format used to display screenshots when an app is featured (otherwise, only the icon appears). If you have a portrait app or game, add the landscape screenshots after the portrait screenshots.
There are various elements that can improve your screenshots. In general, ensure that your screenshots are localized, consistent with app expectations regarding user experience and design, and clear enough to inform the user about your app functionality.
- Show your unique selling promise. Your first screenshots are very important because there are not a lot of visitors that will take the time to scroll through all your pictures. Make sure you display your best asset first, to convince visitors your app or game is better than your competitors.
- Display clear information: Focus on the essential ideas and try to convey them in the simplest way possible. Use short captions with a readable font and a good contrast with the background. Icons can also replace text sometimes.
- Social proofs: You can highlight awards, prizes, or special achievements your app or game won in the screenshots.
- Qualitative localization: You can go further than just translation captions. You can for example show in-app content popular in your target market, but also use local markers in your background depending on the localization. Also, try to learn about local design preferences. For example, in Japan a lot of bright and flashy colors are used in marketing, with a lot of elements on the same screenshot.
Example of localized screenshots in Japan with Angry Birds Dream Blast: characters in the foreground, bright colors, more effects and texts.
Videos require more investments and time for tests and optimization, but they constitute the best preview of your app that you can show to potential users. Besides, not only are videos a very powerful conversion incentive, they also help you target quality users: people who download your app after watching a preview video have a better, more realistic understanding of your product.
Here are the best practices for your video on Google Play:
- Include essential information: Do not waste the first seconds of your video with images of your app title or logo - users can already find this information on your store listing. A visitor’s attention span is short, so you do not want to lose it! Start your video with your key message, alongside your most convincing assets.
- Do not make it too long: There is no time limit for your video in Google Play, but people are unlikely to watch it all the way through. Do not waste time and money creating a 1-minute long video - 15 to 30 seconds is sufficient.
- Do not excessively focus on sound and music: Today, most users will not watch your video with sound or will see your store listing in public places. Focus more on visual effects and the visual quality of your design.
2. Improve Ratings and Reviews
As previously stated, ratings and reviews are used by Google in the ranking algorithm, but they are also strong conversion incentives as they reflect users’ actual experiences. Having a high star rating will help you rank better, and will certainly improve your conversion rate (especially as the rating also appears in search results below the developer’s name).
Showing an in-app review bow at the right moment can assist you in generating better ratings. For this, you can use Google’s recently launched In-App Review API. This enables Google to show the rating and review box at the perceived best possible time.
It is important to carefully determine when you display the rating and review box. In this case, ask yourself: When will my users have a positive mindset and be most satisfied with their experience? For example, you can decide to show the in-app review pop-up after users have won a game level.
Negative reviews can reveal what can be improved about your app, but can also have a negative impact on conversion. Make sure that you answer any negative reviews to show that you consider them and try to implement changes when possible to improve your user experience.
3. Write a Compelling Short Description
Besides keyword ranking, your descriptions, and more particularly the short description, can have a significant impact on conversion. The short description is displayed in an ideal spot on your app store listing - right before the screenshots, in the center of the screen. That is why you should find a good balance between keyword optimization and conversion rate optimization in your short description, rather than adding all the keywords for which you wish to rank without making any sense.
Case studies have taught us that adding emojis in your text metadata does impact conversion. On Android, developers can use rich formatting (HTML) and emojis in textual metadata. Using one or two well-picked and relevant emojis can increase your conversion rate, and A/B tests can help you determine what works best for your app.
Example of the use of emojis in a short description or a title on Google Play with Tasty Town.
In terms of conversion, your long description has less of an impact than your title or short description; users who read the long description represent a smaller audience. However, the people who read your long description could be considered as high-quality potential users as they are more engaged than the majority of visitors.
At the same time, these readers have not yet been fully convinced by the first elements on your store listing, so they could also be considered as mitigated visitors. To optimize your long description for better conversion, make sure that you convey your app’s added value in the first paragraph. Similarly as for the promo video, you should get straight to the point and immediately lay your main assets on the table.
How to Create Impactful A/B Tests
Contrary to its competitor Apple, Google easily enables you to conduct tests directly from their console for several elements of your app store listing. The principles are simple: you create variants of the element you want to experiment on (icon, screenshots, video, short or long description), and then split your audience into samples that will receive separate variations. From the results of your tests, you can determine which variant performed best and subsequently implement adequate changes on your app store listing.
It is sometimes hard to assess the results of experiments and draw conclusions. Here are our best practices to conduct clear and effective A/B tests.
1. Conduct Research to Prepare your Test
Before starting tests on the Google Play Store, you must have a clear understanding of what you can change on your store listing to improve your conversion rate.
- Look at your direct competitors: What are they doing with their creatives? What keywords are they using in their title and short description? In short: what seems to work for others that you could also try to implement?
- Learn about your target market: What are the current trends in your category? Who constitutes your target market, and what are they interested in? What do they want; what do they not want?
- Check your current performance: What is your current conversion rate? How is it evolving?
- Consider your strongest keywords: Which are the important keywords you are currently ranking on that you should keep in your metadata? On the other hand, which keywords could you try to improve? ASO tools like AppTweak can really help you identify keywords that are worth targeting or not, and how well you perform on them.
2. Always Start With a Hypothesis
Your changes and experiments must be intentional and motivated by a hypothesis. If you want to test a new icon, you should know why you are testing this new version and what added value it should bring. These hypotheses should be based on your previously-conducted research. For example, a potential hypothesis could be: ‘After adding the game’s most popular character to the icon, fans will be more likely to download and CVR will increase’.
To learn from your tests and reproduce successful ones, it is indispensable to know the intent behind the changes. If you just randomly implement changes, even if they end up working out, you would not understand the reasons behind your success.
For the same reason, you should not test too many elements at the same time. Building your tests based on hypotheses helps you avoid changing too many elements at the same time. If, in the same A/B test, you add variants of your app title, short description and screenshots, you will have more difficulty assessing which element triggered a real impact on CVR.
3. Create Variants and Run your Experiment
After identifying your hypothesis and the object of your test, the next step is to create your variants. Do not lose sight of your research and goal when creating the different versions of the elements you want to test - make sure they are aligned. You can add up to 3 variants to one A/B test, not including the current store listing.
Elements are tested as “sets” and Google does not run tests for combinations of these sets. Imagine you want to test a new title and short description in the same test:
- Variant A: title A; short description A
- Variant B: title B; short description B
In this case, Google will not test title A with short description B. That is why it is recommended to test one element after the other for better results (and a better understanding of these results).
After creating your variants, you must then split your audience to determine the percentages that will see your current store listing and your tests. The percentage of the audience seeing the test is divided equally between the variants. If you set this to 30%, this shows 70% of your audience your current store listing, with the 30% split into two 15% audiences for the tests.
We recommend that you run your test for at least 7 days, allowing enough time to gather sufficient data for each variant and to avoid false positive results.
4. Assess Results and Implement
Can you identify a clear winner between your variants? Is your conversion rate different from one variant to the other? For your experiment to be meaningful, you should already have an idea of what CVR can be expected. This information can stem from your conversion rate history, research you have previously conducted, conversion benchmarks, etc.
When assessing the results of your experiment, you can choose to directly update your metadata if there is clear success from one of the variants, or you can decide to run another experiment. After updating your store listing, don’t forget to keep an eye on your statistics. Even after a successful A/B test, you should make sure your update indeed has a positive impact.
5. Increase Reliability with A/B/B Testing
Interpreting A/B tests can be tricky, especially as there are several factors that can influence results outside of the content of your test. For example, you have no control over what kind of users see your variants, and Google does not differentiate between users regarding their source (user acquisition campaign, organic search, branded search…). As a result, samples can be very different and heterogeneous, resulting in a discrepancy between the conversion rates of your different variants which may not be linked to your variants themselves.
A solution is to conduct A/B/B tests to increase the reliability of your results. This consists of creating two similar variants to see if both B samples generate similar results.
Example of an A/B/B test in the Google Play Store.
Expand Your Global Reach With Google Play Custom Store Listings
Optimizing your store listing is indispensable for a good conversion rate. Google enables you to go even further, allowing you to customize your store listing for different markets or countries. In addition to your main store listing, you can create up to 5 custom store listings on the Google Console. Custom store listings enable you to target specific segments of your audience based on country instead of just language.
Localization vs Custom Store Listings
First, it is important to note that languages are not linked to countries on the Google Play Store. When you localize your store listing for a particular language, you are not optimizing it for a country in particular.
You can localize your store listing by translating it into several languages and modifying your assets. The language version the user will then see will depend on their preferred language. If you have not added a translation for the user’s preferred language, the store listing will be shown in the default language you chose on the Google Console. So, when you add a translation, you are not targeting a country or market, but users with that preferred language no matter their location.
However, when your app reaches international audiences, you may want to further customize the information displayed on your store listing depending on the country or region users live in (e.g. a food delivery app might want to show different screenshots for Spanish speaking users in Spain or Mexico). That is where custom store listings come into play.
How to Create Custom Store Listings
You can create up to 5 custom store listings. Your initial store listing then becomes your main store listing, shown to users in countries that you do not target with a custom store listing.
Creating your first custom store listing should be rather intuitive as it is quite similar to adding a localized version of your app. You can upload a new version of your app title, short and long descriptions and creative assets (icon, screenshots, video, feature graphic). Note that custom store listings are the only way to have a different app icon depending on the country, since the icon is typically global.
You can add several countries for your custom store listing, enabling you to target different regions (e.g. you can target Colombia, Ecuador and Peru with the same custom store listing). Just like for any other store listing, you must choose a default language, but can add translations to your custom store listing. Again, if the user lives in a country included in your custom store listing but there is no translation for their preferred language, they will see the custom store listing in its default language even if your main store listing has a translation for their preferred language.
Now you have all the best practices in hand to optimize your app or game’s store listing on Google Play. For more advanced ASO tips on Android, check up the rest of AppTweak’s blog.
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