13 August, 2019

App Store Optimization Guide 2019 – ASO for Google Play

ASO Google Play Guide

We’ve recently published the ASO for iOS part of this guide. Now let’s move on to Google Play!

In this article, we will outline the thought process an app store optimization expert goes through when optimizing an Android app’s listing in the Google Play Store. We will cover two main subjects – Search Optimization & Conversion Optimization – and provide some bonus insights.

If you have an app that is live in the Google Play Store, then you probably chose keywords to target within your app listing which may or may not work best for you.

At yellowHEAD, we choose to optimize app listings via data-driven decision making.  Follow along and learn how to optimize your organic keywords with ARPPU (Average Revenue Per Paying User) data.

Table of Contents:

Google Play Search Optimization:

In this section, we will guide you through the major areas of an Android app that require attention in order to optimize its organic search discoverability.

Metadata Rules:

One key aspect of ASO is using the app listing to its full potential.  This may seem straightforward, yet quite a bit of strategy is needed to get results.

There are 3 main elements in the store that are used to optimize an app’s search visibility: title, short description and long description.

For each of these elements, we will elaborate on our ASO experts’ understanding of how the Google Play search algorithm indexes this specific metadata.

App Title:

This area of text is 50-characters long (including spaces). We have deduced that the search algorithm has a hierarchical scale, of which the title is at the top.

The keywords that appear in the title should therefore be of the highest importance in respect to search volumes and relevance to the app.

The app title generally includes the app name, followed by the most relevant keywords that deliver the value proposal of the app – all of this within the length constraint.

Short Description:

The short description is allotted up to 80-character spaces. In the hierarchical scale of the search algorithm, the short description takes second to the app title.

In addition to having a significant effect on search visibility, the short description is a powerful tool for optimizing conversion. A/B testing the short description on a regular basis is highly recommended.

Read on to learn more about A/B testing strategies.

Long Description:

The app description can be up to 4,000 characters long. The long description is no longer visible on first glance of the app page. In order to open the full text, users have to click the “Read more” button to reveal the description.

Here is the powerhouse for keyword targeting. The description is your venue for targeting exact-match phrases. The first 160 characters have been known to hold the most weight for targeting, so make sure you have your most popular and relevant keywords well-placed there.

You can use the rest of the text allowance to concentrate on other long-tail keywords. Be sure to create a description that highlights your app’s USPs with flowing and engaging content in an organized layout. Avoid spammy keyword stuffing!

Targeting Long-Tail Keywords & Branded Search Terms:

Keywords and search terms help apps get discovered.

We split keywords into three groups: short-tail keywords, long-tail keywords and branded search terms.

  • Short-tail keywords
    • Single-word keywords like “game” or “education”
    • High search volume
    • Usually broad meaning
    • Very competitive
    • Easy to target because of length
  • Long-tail keywords
    • Multi-word keywords like “free casino game with bonus” or “online courses for kids”
    • The longer the phrase, the lower the search volume (usually)
    • Less competitive
    • Harder to target as exact match
  • Branded search terms
    • Terms that include brand-specific phrasing (your brand or competitors’)
    • High search volume for popular brands
    • Very competitive
    • It goes against best practices to target competitors’ brand terms

What Affects the Search Algorithm? Key Google Play Ranking Factors:

The hierarchy of the title, short description, and long description plays a large role in the keyword-ranking algorithm. In addition, the frequency of how many times each keyword is mentioned affects the algorithm. However, when targeting keywords with a focus on frequency, it is important to keep from spamming or using a keyword too many times.

The Google Play algorithm is always evolving and incorporating more variables into its process. Naturally, the store would want to promote its most quality products to encourage higher user satisfaction. How an app page targets keywords is only one of many factors taken into consideration.

Where you are placed in search results or specific categories is determined by additional factors like install rates and product performance. We have seen, for example, that install velocity is closely linked to category rankings.

How is the Google Play algorithm affected by the product?

In the Google Play Developer Console (GPDC), there is a section called Android Vitals that provides performance-related data with benchmarks. Google states: “Core vitals are one of the several factors that influence how apps are discovered and recommended on Google Play.

We recommend constant monitoring of the app’s crash rate, frozen frames and ANR (app not responding) rate. When any of these app vitals surpass the benchmark provided, we have seen that this influences the app’s visibility in a negative way.

Best Practices in Metadata:

The Google Play search algorithm indexes the aforementioned metadata (title, short description, long description) and ranks an app for different keywords. We believe that each app should have their own strategy for optimizing search visibility.

As discussed, the keywords in the metadata are indexed in a hierarchical method. Keeping this in mind will help tailor a keyword targeting strategy that is right for your app.

For apps that have a high install velocity, it may be realistic to target high-value short-tail keywords. In contrast, for apps that are still relatively small, targeting relevant long-tail keywords may be a more realistic strategy for generating search visibility.

Understanding who is competing for what keywords will lead to identifying how best to optimize search visibility.

One way we identify what keywords to target is through competitor intelligence that we produce for our clients. We look at which keywords competitors are targeting and look for unexplored high-value keyword opportunities.

In the table below, you will see keywords that we took for competing apps’ descriptions. We get search score (volume) data to see if these keywords are relevant and then investigate who is targeting these keywords and who is not.

In this case, you see the relevant keywords with the highest search score alongside the number of times they are mentioned in each of the apps’ description.

As you can see, there are a number of high-value keywords not being targeted by App 2.  This translates into a loss of store visibility and lack of search optimization for this app.

Targeting keywords - competitive intelligence

Localization, Default Language, and Custom Store Listings

App page localization is both an asset and a tool for your app.

Localization for ASO is the art of delivering an app’s message based on local keyword research. Optimizing your app store listing for various languages means your app will be included in search results of users across geos, thereby increasing worldwide visibility and conversion.

See the full list of the languages for store listing localization in Google Play.

Here are some things you should keep in mind when localizing your app page for Google Play:

  • Your app will have one listing as the default listing, meaning it will be used for all countries you have not created a dedicated listing for.
  • Although the list of languages above is limited at times to greater regions (e.g. Spanish – Latin America), there is an option for Custom Store Listings to drill-down into a specific country when needed.
  • It’s vital to conduct keyword research as a step in your localization process, in order to pinpoint the more popular phrases for local keywords. One way of finding long-tail keywords for localized markets is using that country’s Google web and/or Play search suggestions.

For example, when you search for the German keyword “spielautomat” (“slot machine”), the auto-complete will provide “spielautomat kostenlos spielen” as the first suggestion.

To get a measure of search volume and relevance for each specific country, we recommend putting together long-tail keyword combinations and uploading these to a keyword tracking tool. We also suggest checking out the competition to see who ranks in top positions for those keyword phrases. Quick tip: double-check that the keyword term is accurate and relevant by reviewing the search results in Google Images.

  • If you would like some more information on how localizing your app listing can benefit your app and/or are wondering which countries you should focus on localizing your app page for, contact our ASO team.

One additional note – localization is not only for foreign countries. Localizing for top-tier countries like Canada, Great Britain and Australia is highly recommended because their keywords and search volumes differ from those in the US.

For baby care apps, “diapers” may be a strong keyword in the US, yet the parallel term “nappies” is popular in Great Britain.

If your app is for local use (e.g. weather or real estate), be sure to search keyword terms that are city/region-specific. For example, “New York City apartments” versus “London apartments” will have different search scores depending on which country you’re targeting.

Updating the App Listing:

Updating an app listing in the Google Play Store is quite easy in comparison with the iOS App Store. Any of the app’s product page features can be updated at any time and will take effect within a few hours.

Keep in mind that Google has a machine learning algorithm that reviews app updates and will review the metadata before going live with the changes.

Some metadata violations that Google looks for are:

  • Use of profanity or foul language in the metadata
  • Graphic assets displaying inappropriate materials
  • Screenshots not showing app-in-use (gameplay)
  • For games – mentioning any relation to gambling or real-money payouts
  • Plagiarized content – avoid using content from another app or that is not yours

Conversion Optimization:

As in any app marketing effort, exposure (search visibility) is only the first part of the process. It must be followed by conversion – getting users who saw your app to download it. In this section, we will go over some of the major aspects that impact conversion in the Google Play ASO world.

Graphic Assets in the Store & Their Importance:

In the Google Play Store, there are several graphic assets that enable app developers to communicate the value of their product. Below is a list of the assets and some insights on their value in the store:

App Icon:

The app icon has major impact not only on branding, but also on conversion and user retention. This asset is one of the first app page elements that a user is exposed to.

Well-known brands may find it easier to select an app icon because it may prove most influential to stick with their recognizable branding. Lesser known apps must rely on eye-catching elements from their app.

We’ve gained quite a bit of A/B testing experience over the years, and continually find trends that impact our decisions when creating graphics for our partners. While there are some known best practices and current trends, it’s recommended to make data-driven decisions by always testing graphic variations of any app page element. You never know – sometimes even a seemingly small alternation like an icon’s background color can affect your conversion rate.

There are various leading trends that impact conversion, depending on the industry. In the gaming industry, for example, using a face often has a positive impact on conversion. Based on experience with some leading games, we regularly recommend A/B testing this by highlighting a character and specifically the face of one, provided that it is relevant for the app.

Feature Graphic:

The feature graphic is unique to the Google Play Store and does not appear in the iOS App Store.  Currently, this element appears as the still background when there is a video in the listing. The video play button appears in the center of the graphic, which should be taken into consideration during the graphic creation process.

If you don’t have a video in the listing, there is no visible Feature Graphic.


Your app screenshots are a great way to communicate to the world what your app is about and its main value propositions. From research on user behavior, we’ve gathered that less than 3% of users actually open and read the description. This is the reason we aim to use the graphic assets to tell a story, rather than simply relying on text.

As one of the main graphic elements, the screenshots enable us to tell our story with more space than any other graphic asset, and most apps therefore combine text within the screenshots.

App Video:

The app video is an optional add-on graphic element, but in our ASO expert eyes, an asset not to be overlooked. Google allows for each app to show one video in the product page which appears at the beginning of the screenshot gallery.

The video and the screenshots should work in unison and take into consideration the style of the graphics in the store.

While in iOS, we generally recommend consistency in landscape/portrait orientation between video and screenshots, in Google Play portrait videos are quite awkward, since the video runs via YouTube (landscape format).

Yet, we always stress the importance of making data-driven decisions and recommend to A/B test any and all of the product page graphic options.

A/B Testing – Pros & Cons, Best Practices

Google Play has an A/B testing tool embedded in the Developer Console that is available to all apps.

The tool is found under the Store Presence tab and is called Store Listing Experiments. Experiments can vary from A/B testing the various graphic elements in the store to testing metadata, such as the short description and long description. The only element that cannot be tested is the Title (and, of course, Ratings/Reviews and other stats about the app).

Below are some advantages of A/B testing in the Google Play Store:

  • Free tool for A/B testing and conversion optimization
  • Ability to test a wide range of app listing elements: icon, feature graphic, screenshots, video, short description, long description
  • Breakdown of test results by both first-time installers and 1-day retained installers
  • Ability to test up to 3 new variants against the current version
  • Ability to run both global A/B tests in all listings at once and localized A/B tests in specific listings

Some things to keep in mind:

  • No option to A/B test the title.
  • Traffic to the app is needed to get results – for small apps, A/B testing may take a long time.
  • It is recommended not to update a listing while running an A/B test to ensure that the data is accurate and not altered by the listing itself.
  • You cannot send more than 50% of traffic to the tested app pages. This means that if you test 4 variants (current + 3 more), you can only send 16.66% of traffic to each tested variant. If you don’t have enough traffic, use fewer variants to reach significance faster.
  • Significance level is defined as 90% at a two-tailed test.
  • Check out the source guide here.

What Do Play Store Users Look At?

When users come across an app in the store, they commonly look at particular elements more than others. Understanding what users look at when deciding whether to download an app is crucial for optimizing conversion.

Research on user behavior from A/B testing services like StoreMaven has revealed which elements of the store listing we should focus on.

  • On average, only 5% of visitors tap Read More to view the full description
  • Most visitors do not scroll through all the screenshots
  • Visitors spend on average between 3-7 seconds on the store listing page
  • Including a video can result in a huge uplift in conversion

It is therefore important to keep a focused and goal-oriented strategy when taking on A/B tests for your listings.

Gaining App Store Exposure

Google Play has started sharing more data on organic traffic over the years.

Under the User Acquisition tab in Acquisition Reports, organic data is split into traffic coming from Explore – users who are browsing in the store – and Search – users who are exposed to the app via a search term.

The more interesting of the two is the search data, because we are now able to get data on unique search terms that have brought traffic to the app and see into the funnels of retention and revenues for each term.

One major disadvantage of this data is that there is no option to download it. In order to visualize the data, it must be copied manually (for now). We highly recommend doing this laborious process – it will provide real insights into the actual value of your keyword targets in terms of FTD (first time deposit) rates and ARPPU (average revenue per paying user).

Our ASO team does this evaluation regularly to ensure we achieve the best results using the best targets for each specific app.

Understanding the difference between Search and Explore in the Google Play Store is one step forward towards understanding the significance of getting featured.

There are many ways an app can receive additional visibility in the store, yet apps need to qualify for this. Some aspects to keep in mind before applying are:

  • App Quality: Make sure your app is high-quality and up-to-date with the Google Play features and updates. Also, make your app compatilble for all Android devices.
  • Go Global: Google favors apps that cater to all their users all over the world. Localizing your app makes your product available to more users. Follow suit with the store listings and keyword targets.
  • Get Noticed: Getting buzz on the web is one step towards getting noticed by the Google editorial team. PR activity can lead to even more organic growth.
  • Reviews and Ratings: Apps with high rating scores and good reviews are more likely to get featured. They are indicators of a product with good value.

ASO Tools & Analytics

Web Tools:

There are a number of tools that yellowHEAD’s ASO team uses on a daily basis that help us in our work.

Below is a list of some of ASO tools:

  • Chrome Extensions for Desktop viewing
  • Mobile Action, AppTweak, Sensor Tower, App Annie for keyword tracking, insights and competitor intelligence
  • Google Sheets has some helpful formulas =googletranslate and =detectlanguage which help with translating lists and lists of keywords to a variety of languages, as a starting point for keyword research; =join for stringing together keywords into a single comma-separated string (for uploading to trackers)
  • SEO tools like SEMRush (also an extension tool), Answer the Public, Google Ads/Trends, search suggestions, keyword shuffler, etc.

For more tips and tools that we use, stay tuned to our blog.

Analyzing ASO Metrics – yellowHEAD Analytics:

The yellowHEAD Analytics Platform is a data visualization dashboard that we developed and use on a regular basis. The new data analysis technology brings together data from the Google Play Developer Console and App Store Connect via application programming interface integration, from which we glean actionable insights.

yellowHEAD Analytics is a fully customizable dashboard providing intuitive visualization and analysis of impressions, page views, and installs; paid-to-organic ratios; install-to-uninstall ratios; and more. All of this data can be broken down by country, date range, and source.

The technology automatically updates data on a daily basis in a completely private and secure manner. Looking forward, integration with AppsFlyer, Adjust, and Kochava is currently in beta, and the platform is also set to include automated keyword ranking reports.

In Conclusion:

As part of efforts to optimize apps’ organic performance in the Google Play Store, ASO experts have many tools and techniques to work with. The key is understanding how to piece it all together to achieve better performance and attract the right users.

The three pillars of App Store Optimization are visibility, conversion and localization. In this article, we addressed all three of these areas with expert tips.

For further information, feel free to reach out to us.

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