The App Store and Google Play Ranking Factors and How to Hack Them
Do you want your app to rank as high as possible in the app stores? You probably answered yes. More than 60% of users use search to find apps. And it’s hard to imagine many of them scrolling to the bottom of the search results. So you need to be as visible as possible. All apps strive to reach the top. But how to do it? Let’s explore what factors influence the app store rankings.
How do users find your app in the app stores?
The mobile industry continues to grow. Thanks to COVID-19 (at least we have something to be thankful for), we are increasingly becoming immersed in the world of mobile technology. According to Statista, 204 billion apps and games were downloaded in 2019. That number increased by 14 billion in 2020. In 2021 we broke the record of 230 billion. The competition is getting tougher while user behavior does not change. Look at the customer journey via the Search channel.
How does text ASO relate to app store ranking factors?
Users search for apps by typing keywords into the search bar. Collecting keywords is the core of ASO (App Store Optimization). The initial goal is to find as many keywords as possible, and then assess and prioritize them for different ASO iterations. We will return to the rules of collecting keywords later. First, you need to know where you should add keywords. Different app stores index different text elements. Their effect on app ranking is also varied.
What is app indexing and how does it work?
The app stores crawl your app home page and display it to users based on the keywords they find. That’s what app indexing is all about. It’s crucial to know that the App Store and Google Play algorithms index keywords differently.
On Google Play, algorithms scan not only native metadata (title, short or full description), but also metadata from other locales, categories, tags, reviews, and even the developer’s email.
On the App Store, keywords and keyword combinations can only be indexed in metadata such as the app title, subtitle, keywords field, developer name and in-app purchases. The full description is not indexed at all. Moreover, several localizations can be indexed in the same country.
Let’s finally take a closer look at the ranking factors that can affect indexing. You can see that keywords in the title have the biggest impact on indexing in both app stores. Let’s examine each of these elements in more detail.
What factors impact app store ranking?
The app name/title affects the app ranking more than other text elements. That’s why you should use the most relevant keywords here. You should use those key queries that reflect the gist of the app and for which there is a chance to reach the top. Then there is a short description for Google Play and an app subtitle with keywords for the App Store. They have a smaller impact on ASO, but it’s still significant.
Next is a long description on Google Play. It has less power, but wins at the expense of volume. The description is not indexed on the App Store, so it’s irrelevant to ASO.
App title, subtitle, short description, keyword field in detail
Title. The App Store and Google Play titles are up to 30 characters long.
Subtitle and short description. The App Store subtitle is limited to 30 characters, the Google Play short description is limited to 80 characters.
Keyword field. This section is unique — only the App Store has it. Here you have 100 characters available to you. Separate your keywords with commas without spaces. Try to add keywords that can be combined with the app title. On the App Store, it is enough to use a keyword once in any of the fields (title, subtitle, keyword field) for it to be indexed.
Long description of the app in detail
Full description is not indexed on the App Store, so we will only discuss Google Play. Make the text well-structured and logical. We optimize it mainly for Google Play algorithms, not users, because only 2% of them will actually read it. However, the impact of this text on promotion is huge. Try to use the most relevant keywords at the beginning of the text. Avoid lists — the algorithms may interpret these as spam.
The long description on Google Play can be up to 4,000 characters long. But it’s better to keep it to 2,000-2,500 characters. It’s the best range.
To see how well Google Play algorithms understand you, use the Google Cloud Natural Language tool. This is a paid tool that should be handled as follows: translate text from your language into English in Google Translator and then analyze it with the tool. The process may seem weird, but Google algorithms analyze texts in all languages except English in this way.
Developer’s name, email, app URL, reviews, and tags as ranking factors
Developer’s name. We recommend you add some key queries to it. However, be careful. If you change the developer’s name after a few years of use, you can expect a drop in rankings. So, the flow of organic traffic may decrease.
Developer’s email. Its impact on Google Play indexing is minimal, but using all the existing tools does not hurt.
App URL. Keywords will help with indexing on Google Play. The key thing is to check everything before releasing the app, because you won’t be able to change it later.
Reviews. A high rating allows the app to display higher in the search results. This affects both ASO and conversion rate. Two-thirds of users look at the average rating of an app before installing it. An app with a rating of 3* loses half of its potential downloads, an app with 1* and 2* loses almost all possible downloads. Algorithms crawl reviews to find possible keywords. Feedback is important for ASO in both app stores.
Tags. They help Google Play understand what the app is about. Add up to 5 tags describing the content and functionality of your app. This will help algorithms categorize the app to display it to the right audience.
In-app purchases as a ranking factor
In-app purchases. In-app purchases (IAPs) can be regular (only inside the app) and promoted. Promo IAPs pop up in the App Store search results. You can promote up to 20 IAPs at a time. They are indexed by their title (it can contain up to 30 characters) and can be optimized.
How to promote in-app purchases? Many believe that it would be easier to promote and rank higher with IAPs, simply because Apple values profitable apps more. App developers may notice that their apps go up as soon as users start making in-app purchases. Anyway, feel free to investigate on your own.
Still, there are certain things about IAPs. First, if you use low-frequency keywords, your IAP will reach the top faster. And second: only the IAP title is indexed, and the title will be indexed for all locales.
Make sure to optimize your IAPs. Many developers do not optimize promo in-app purchases and thus miss opportunities to rank higher. You can increase the number of keywords for which your app will display in the search results. Ranking as high as possible in the search results is the key to your success.
Feel free to analyze your performance with our In-Apps tool. It’s available for all plans except Startup.
With In-Apps, you can analyze any promoted IAPs in any app.
- What are their ranking dynamics?
- Track for which keywords an IAP ranks and how high. How well does the title work in terms of ASO?
- Study your competitors’ price history. In addition, such a marketing analysis can help you set your own prices if you have doubts.
- Monitor IAP search results for all keywords.
Do popular keywords help improve app rankings?
Using only popular keywords in the text metadata does not ensure a high ranking for your app. Much depends on how competitive the keyword is and how many apps rank for it. The fewer apps for a keyword in the search results, the less competition. The competition is highest if the keyword is indexed by popular apps with a large number of installs, reviews, and high ratings. In Checkaso you have access to all important keyword metrics: Search Volume (popularity), Impressions, Difficulty, Rank, and much more.
Many developers mistakenly use the most popular keywords when first releasing an app. When they don’t achieve the expected result, they get disappointed in ASO and complain that the optimization doesn’t work. You should not use high-frequency keywords right away — the competition for them is so high that you are unlikely to rank for them.
If you’re a novice developer, you need to use low- and mid-frequency keywords. They should be most relevant to your app. Don’t be afraid to use low-frequency keywords at the beginning. They may not drive a lot of traffic separately, but together they can help you win. By the way, if your new app isn’t indexed yet on Google Play, there’s a tip-off. Install it via a direct link. After that, the indexing will start. Sometimes Google Play does not notice new apps and needs a hint.
How to collect keywords to improve app rankings?
The App Store and especially Google Play can index your app for keywords that weren’t in the description, but that seem relevant to the app. The following situation may occur: the app is indexed by a relevant keyword, but app owners are not aware of it. Thus, they miss an opportunity to increase their position in the search results. You should add such keywords to the app title/name, description, keyword field, or use them to search for competitors to spy on them.
First, we recommend finding keywords for which your app is already indexed. In Checkaso, you can use the Keywords Explorer tool for this purpose.
The most effective way to select keywords is to monitor your competitors. As a rule, the App Store and Google Play already have enough of your competitors and you need to find them by relevant keywords. Even if your app is new and poorly indexed so far, still keep an eye on popular apps to estimate their indexing. They are often indexed by a huge number of keywords, both popular and not so much.
There are 5 basic steps of working on text ASO:
- Building the semantic core.
- Prioritizing keywords by popularity, number of impressions, and difficulty.
- Creating the indexed text elements (app title, subtitle, short description, and others).
- Analysis of indexing after an update.
- Running new ASO iterations.
Is it worth using competitors’ branded keywords to rank higher?
A branded keyword is one that uses a competitor’s brand name. ASO experts argue about the need to use competitors’ keywords in the metadata. There is no definite answer to this question, but we can highlight the pros and cons of using branded keywords. The main drawback is that app store guidelines forbid their use. If you ignore it, moderators can give you a warning or, in some cases, even block the app. Another disadvantage is the low conversion rate. Even if you rank second in the search results, the chance of getting installed for a branded keyword is extremely slim.
The last problem concerns the App Store. There is not much room for metadata: the app title, the subtitle, the keyword field, the developer’s name, the field with in-app purchases. It’s better to use less popular but relevant general keywords than branded ones.
There are some pluses, but there are fewer of them.
If your product is highly competitive and well-designed, you’ll get more impressions and possibly more installs if you use competitors’ branded keywords. The App Store has branded keywords that index a limited number of apps. For beginners, they will help get to the top and drive some traffic. When working with branded keywords, be aware of the risks you’re taking and evaluate the effectiveness of this approach to ASO.
Should I repeat keywords to rank better?
Do not repeat keywords on the App Store. It’s sufficient to add one query to one part of the metadata. The App Store ranks a small amount of text, and all the words overlap each other, creating an endless number of keyword combinations and phrases.
On Google Play, don’t spam too much. You can repeat a keyword 3-4 times in the text. Place keywords evenly throughout the text and avoid long lists separated by commas.
How soon will I see the results of my work?
On the App Store, you can track the results the day after the update. Good news! The App Store will help newcomers by boosting app rankings for indexed keywords.
On Google Play, algorithms analyze many more ranking factors. It is difficult to estimate the exact time. On average, it takes one week to evaluate the results.
Google Ads campaigns may help “shake up” the app. Conducting A/B tests with text metadata can also improve indexing. Change doesn’t happen in one moment, but constant improvements always lead to the desired result.
How do I know if text ASO is working?
Evaluate the results after each update. If the number of current keywords increases and new keywords are indexed, then the work was not done for nothing, so proceed to the next iteration.
It is worth remembering about the quality of indexed keywords. If you see good indexing, but a drop in the number of impressions and page views, it means that keywords are either irrelevant or unpopular.
If you wonder how to evaluate the result of an app update, we might have a few solutions. The success of the update can be evaluated according to various criteria. Let’s take a look at the Checkaso tools you need for this.
The first is the Analysis tool in the Overview tab. There you can evaluate the update based on the dynamics of the Search Visibility Index. This index measures your visibility in the app store. If it’s growing, you are on the right track. It’s also worth evaluating the number of indexed keywords and the dynamics of their position changes. If the number of indexed keywords is increasing and their positions are growing – you’re doing everything right.
The next tool is Performance. Study the dynamics of the Performance Index after the update. This index helps to analyze the effectiveness of attracting organic traffic in different countries.
Another tool is Ranking. With its help, you can cover a longer period when analyzing changes in positions. There are daily positions, distribution, and charts for each keyword. You can also find out which keywords are driving your app up or down in the search results. It’s crucial for developing an ASO strategy. You can use multi-parameter filtering for your keyword analysis, which will make your work much easier.
Good to know! Metrics like impressions, page views, installs, financials, retention, and duration of the session are also worth analyzing. The better these metrics are, the more likely you are to rank higher. Google Play Console and App Store Connect collect data on installs, conversions, and in-app purchases.
What should I do if my app is still ranking low?
If you’ve performed all of the above, don’t rush to get upset. To boost positions in the app stores, attract external sources of traffic: paid as ad campaigns or free as viral mechanics — bonuses for inviting friends, viral videos, traffic from social networks, and thematic resources. In addition to text elements, the number of installs affects the ranking too. When the number of users increases, the position in the app stores also grows.
Positions on the App Store and Google Play are also affected by: average rating, reviews, internal metrics of the app (stability, crashes, retention, churn). All of these metrics need to be in order for the app to rank high in the search results. If your app has a low retention rate or performance issues, the algorithms will lower its ranking. User experience is the top priority for the app stores. They’re unlikely to promote apps with poor KPIs (Conversion Rate, Retention Rate, Churn Rate, and others).
Here is the list of the most common reasons that negatively affect the mentioned metrics.
- Mandatory sign-in;
- Onboarding you can’t skip;
- Complicated navigation;
- Unavailable cart;
- Checkout after registration;
- Disappearing items from the cart;
- Complicated password reset.
I wrote the description and designed the graphics. That’s it?
ASO is a non-stop process. It’s not enough to update metadata once and enjoy the benefits for the rest of your time. Competitor strategies and app store algorithms change, so you have to be on guard all the time and improve your ASO metrics with each update. Otherwise, you may fall behind the market.
It is also crucial to run tests with textual and visual elements. Manage in-app purchases and user reviews. Utilize the app store advertising tools (ASA, UAC), work on the quality of the app, and localize it if you enter new markets.
- The App Store and Google Play ranking factors are different. You need to keep this in mind when optimizing the app home page.
- In both app stores, the app title affects the ranking more than other text metadata. Use the most relevant keywords.
- IAP optimization is a chance to squeeze your competitors out of the search results.
- A popular keyword is no guarantee that an app will rank highly. It’s important to take all metrics into account and analyze the difficulty of keyword promotion.
- Keep an eye on your competitors and analyze the keywords for which your app is already indexed. This is the best way to find relevant queries.
- Evaluate the results after each update to see if your ASO iteration was a success.