Google Play* is the go-to destination online for downloading Android* apps. As of July 2013, there are over one million apps available in the Google Play store, with more uploaded and downloaded every single day. This is both good and bad; obviously, Android apps are picking up quite a bit of market share, but that’s a lot of apps to compete against, or even be found in any sort of meaningful way. In part one of this article series, we looked at the overall vision of Google Play, how we find apps, and how app metadata can affect app discovery. In part two of this series, we’re going to learn about discovery features in Google Play, how lists are pulled, and how developers can engineer greater discoverability within the app itself.
Google Play and discovery features
Once you’ve done the work of creating an app, researching good metadata, and posting the app within the store available for download, how does all this good work actually manifest itself to users? Google Play (just like every other Google property) measures statistics very carefully when making apps discoverable. One of the metrics they look at are installs and uninstalls; the more installs you have, the higher ranking (and vice versa). There’s also something called “the long install”; this is the scenario you get when you download a game, play it all the way through, and then uninstall it since there are no more levels to be played.
Google Play focuses on engagement; they look at when people are using the app, and how they are using it. This is just one of the many signals that knock one app below or above the others in the store. They look at people uninstalling, installing; recent installs, uninstalls. There are many scenarios that come into play here as far as rankings. For example, one developer might have an app that isn’t being updated on a regular basis, so they end up getting a lot of uninstalls. Perhaps another developer made a few recent updates to their app, so all of a sudden, you see a lot of new installs.
Personalization statistics are filtered geographically; they are also filtered by form factor (this person is downloading apps on a tablet; this person is downloading apps on their phone, etc.). They use feedback based on what people are clicking via their locale and other dimensions to make determinations on rankings.
Search suggestions are some of the outcome of this mass measuring of statistics. Google Play has also added navigational search suggestions, so when users are typing in “sub”, they’re going to be taken instantly to “Subway Surfers” (you’ll notice this is very similar to how Google’s general search feature works).
What if you want to navigate to apps that have been created around a certain app – peripheral apps that add to an overall app experience? You can still do that; the search results will show the leading app, i.e. Words with Friends, with peripheral apps that show how to come up with great words, etc. in the related search results. Google Play’s goal here is to make it easier for users to get to what they want.
Lists on Google Play have several different factors, including target audience, duration, eligibility, and metrics. For example, on the Top Paid, Top Free, and Top Grossing lists, the target audience is first time users and users with new devices. These users are searching for the stuff they need on their tablets or phones immediately to even get going. The Top New Paid and Top New Free lists are focused on return users who already have that basic framework.
The Trending list highlights apps that are growing faster than Google Play can predict. The goal here is to present the user with what’s hot in the app store, movers and shakers that are “moving the needle” in a 30 day moving window. Every app has a predicted growth rate at Google Play, and if an app performs better than predicted, it makes it into the Trending list.
Personalization of related and cross-sell features
If you’ve ever noticed the “users who viewed this” or “users who installed this” widgets within the Google Play store, than you’ve discovered the related and cross-sell features. For example, perhaps you’re looking for the Bank of America app; you’ll also see PayPal, Mint, and Wells Fargo within your search results. Say you’re looking for the Bible; users will also see supplementary religious or Bible apps that are complementary to what they are looking for.
Personalized recommendations perform extremely well. What does Google look for here? Primarily, signals from Google Play and Google Plus (which is a huge hint that developers should definitely seek to create a presence on Google+ and cultivate their time there effectively). Apps that are complementary to something that they’ve already installed, apps in other people’s Google+ Circles, app that have been “plus one-d” on Google+, tend to deliver stronger social signals and therefore rise to the top. It’s imperative to realize how influential Google+ is positioned to be in this equation; Google puts an inordinate amount of emphasis on signals from this channel.
Each person’s home page on Google Play is different, depending on what they have already done or looked at or installed. Category home pages are personalized as well according to geo-location. If you live in Seattle, for example, you’ll see a Seahawks app. If you “plus one-d” the New York Times, and your friends liked that, you’ll most likely see the app for the NY Times. There’s also geolocation for navigational and categorical queries; NY users will see NY subway schedules, for example.
Five things developers can do to improve discoverability
The number one thing that developers can do to improve their app’s chances of being found is to build a good app. Nothing substitutes for that. However, Google Play does have a few more things to add to that:
- Design for tablets: Tablet users get the best experience possible by showing apps that are optimized for tablets. Users will see this reflected over time in search and other discovery features, eventually.
- Ensure helpful Web anchors: A trusted source that tells users what your app is all about will tell Google in turn to trust and boost those terms in search and the app store. It’s important to cultivate meaningful links.
- Avoid common mistakes: Don’t choose names that are close variants of popular apps; get your spelling right (half of all Google Play queries are misspelled!), be mindful of country and carrier restrictions, give the correct developer URL for your own website. Google Play uses all of these variants to help you get discovered in their store.
- Make your APK smaller. Smaller apps get installed more and uninstalled less; it’s the percentage of core code vs. SDK code. People uninstall apps that are memory hogs.
- Create a viral loop for your app. Get great reviews from your friends on Google+ and those will show up in Circles. Friends of friends will see it, and the loop will go on. Again, Google Play puts a strong emphasis on social signals received from Google+, and recommends that developers take advantage of the Google Plus recommendations API which allows users to “plus one” your app from within the app itself, greatly increasing viral potential. In addition, integrating with Google Play game services will make your app much more interactive, along with the Google Moments API makes your app much more social and interactive and engaged.
Google Play wants developers to succeed
Reading over this information, there’s a lot to absorb, but the bottom line is this: Google Play wants developers to succeed at what they do, and they’ve given you the tools to make it happen. For more information on developing for Android, go to the Intel® Android Developer Zone.
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