How to Get Your App Discovered on Google Play*: Part One

Published:10/25/2013   Last Updated:10/25/2013

If you’re a developer making apps, then you probably already know about Google Play*, an Android* app store where hundreds of thousands of apps are curated and discovered by users all over the world. As a developer at Google Play, getting users to discover, install, and engage with your app is the main goal in mind. A recent presentation from Ankit Jain, the head of search and discovery on Google Play, went through the signals and content that go into making an app on Google Play uniquely discoverable and searchable; in other words, creating a fantastic app is really the first step in a long journey.

Google Play: goals

The goal of Google Play is threefold: help users find what they’re looking for, help Android ship more apps, and help developers build their brands.

Any app store – not just Google Play – should make its goal to be make users look forward to coming back. The experience should be both personal and personalized; in other words, the user should see content that is personally relevant to what they’ve already looked at in the past. This process can help developers get much more engaged with their followers, and those users are the ones that stick around for the long term, recommend your app to their friends, and generally are the “evangelists” for your brand. Those are the users that developers want.

How do we find apps?

Think back to the last time you downloaded an app. What was the process you went through? Usually, there are specific channels our app discovers routes move along: we have a specific task in mind, something catches our eye, or a friend of ours has recommended an app we just “have to try out”. How to bring these online and offline thought processes into discovery is the nut that developers have to crack.

Major install sources, i.e., where people find apps, include “browse and discovery” vehicles like charts, personalized recommendations, and related/cross-sell items (users who viewed this also viewed that). There’s also the search component. Search makes up the vast majority of installs on Google Play, which makes sense since Google is the king of search. Two kinds of search queries seem to dominate: the “have to get something done” query (“I need a financial app”), which basically looks at answering a specific question. Then there’s the “I know what I’m looking for” query, or navigational query: “I need to get Angry Birds” or “I need to download the new version of Google Maps”. 12% of users on Google Play search for apps on a daily basis, 50% search weekly, and there are more than six million unique phrases related to apps searched for monthly on Google. It’s obvious that search needs to be considered as a major factor as developers work on getting discovered in Google Play.

App metadata

One of the major signals that Google looks at for any content on the web – not just apps – is metadata. One of the primary indicators of whether or not an app is any good is based on both metadata and reviews. Google takes both into account when ranking your app in their app store.  The most important part of the app metadata – and this is straight from the head of Google Play – is your title. It’s important to make the title clear, creative, and unique. It needs to help the developer reinforce their branding, but most importantly, it needs to deliver a clear message on what the app is about. The name of the app should clearly tell the user what the app is about.

The next important part of the metadata is the app description.  The very first sentence should deliver a functional, vivid, and clear message of what the app is all about. You can make the description as long as you want, but the very first sentence should be all the user needs to understand what it is the app can do.

The app details page should  mimic the user experience they would have once they install the app. Actual screenshots of the app so the user can see what they’re getting into are incredibly valuable. Video previews are among the most convincing features of an app detail page; they tell users what the app is about, and give the user a movie trailer preview experience of what they can expect.

Reviews and ratings, while not something that the developer has exclusive control over, are extremely important. Google rates these in an order that is relevant to the user; you’ll see reviews from people in the same country as you, the same Google+ circles, etc.). Google Play looks at user reviews as an extremely strong signal for rankings, which is why developers need to invest in engaging with their users, so in turn they will leave positive reviews that others will see. It’s a cycle.

One way to have a little bit more control over reviews is to filter in the developer console what audience your app is being targeted to. A story was related of a developer in India who had created an app with the goal of targeting the rural population of India on slower networks. He optimized his app for these users, and reviews from these users were five stars. However, he was also getting reviews from other users of only one star, saying it was “junk”.  The reviews were hot or cold; completely polarized, and it was puzzling (and frustrating!) to say the least. Digging deeper, the developer found that the positive reviews indeed came from his target audience, but the negative reviews came from people outside his targeted audience on fast networks; obviously the app wasn’t doing as well for those users since it wasn’t originally built for them. The developer retargeted his app to only the carriers and networks of his intended audience, and his reviews immediately rebounded.  This isn’t just a one-off; with a little digging in the developer console and thought on intended audience, greater adoption rates and more relevant reviews can be achieved.

This is part one. In the next article, we’ll talk about discovery features in Google Play, how lists are pulled, and how developers can engineer greater discoverability within the app itself.

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