Over the past few years, the number of apps available on Google Play has done nothing but increase, and is currently estimated to be in the region of 3.5 million. In an effort to weed out spammers and better reflect user needs among a highly competitive environment, Google recently launched a Google Play Store ranking algorithm update. How exactly does it work and what does this mean for app developers?

Top Google Play Store Ranking Factors

Following the latest Google Play Store ranking algorithm update, the following five factors will be used to determine the ranking of apps.

  • Quality over quantity: Download volume will no longer be the determining factor when it comes to ranking. Installs can be manipulated (see this for a real-life example), so Google has implemented a shift towards quality weighing user engagement. That means Engagement Campaigns (e.g. “Install the App and reach Level 5“) are much better for Play Store Ranking Boost intend than pure Install Campaigns. Engagement is quantified according to various factors, but app stability, security, and performance are some of the most important, since nearly 50% of bad app reviews are related to performance issues.
  • Retention over acquisition: While previously the focus was on getting as many users as possible to download an app, user retention and interaction with an app will now take a more central role. Relying on acquisition figures only may (and often does) distort rankings, as we are all familiar with apps being downloaded but never used.
  • Keyword value vs keyword stuffing: Keyword stuffing will continue to be penalized, but keywords still have crucial importance in ranking and are integral part of ASO (App Store SEO). Because keywords are linked to organic downloads, the new algorithm will prioritize apps that have a polished keyword strategy.
  • User rating: Traditional star ratings will continue to be taken into account. Keyword ranking will be largely determined by high star ratings, which according to Google Play’s guidelines, can and should be prompted by the developer after a few sessions.
  • User experience takes priority: The new algorithm rewards interaction with users and responsiveness to feedback, and will afford higher rankings to app developers who respond to user reviews via the Google Play platform. Timely interaction can generate a positive user sentiment and even turn negative feedback into positive reviews, which in turn will push app rankings higher up.

Key Takeaways

Google Play Store’s algorithm update means app developers need to have in place a clear user retention strategy that complements their user acquisition efforts and that focuses on delivering value and quality. The key takeaway messages deriving from this algorithm update include:

  • The need to focus on active users and not just users who download an app. Google quantifies active user engagement in 30-day cycles, which confirms that this should be an ongoing task for all app developers. So if you want to start Engagement Campaigns, you will have better results if you start with a High Goal, where a User has to use the App over a couple of days!
  • The need to define KPIs and track them on a weekly basis at the very least, as a way of gaining a better understanding of what users want and to and to deliver value accordingly.
  • The need to aim for good technical performance and not just app popularity, which is likely to be downgraded as a ranking factor unless it is matched by a satisfactory performance in user ratings and reviews.
  • The need to deliver a complete, consistent, useful, and attractive app description that combines visuals and written elements and that is targeted (i.e. localized) to specific user needs. In fact, localization and comprehensive descriptions are set to be some of the most influential ASO trends for 2018.

Ultimately, the updated Google Play algorithm is all about providing users with a wealth of accurate and detailed information and about making the user experience seamless from discovery to download and beyond. Looking ahead, we can clearly see that quality and a polished user experience will take the centre stage and will become crucial factors for Google Play Store optimization, so any efforts made to satisfy user needs in this respect will surely be rewarded.