Let me tell you a story of the launch of 2 apps. And let’s see if you can guess the Google Play ranking outcome…
This is the true story of 2 functionally similar apps launched on the same day from the same developer account. The initial test we were running was simple… if we promote the first app (let’s call it App A), but not the second app (App B), how much traffic can App B draft from the wider App A distribution. We ended up learning a very different lesson, however.
I’ve learned a lot about Android app launches in the almost 2 years I’ve been doing apps. So there’s a particular launch sequence we do to maximize our visibility and discoverability within Google Play. The end result is that, typically, if we don’t hit page 1 of Google’s Top New Free list within a few days, we’ve done something wrong.
So that was one of our benchmarks for App A. A page 1 Top New Free listing. Because of the particular test we were running, we had no such expectations for App B.
So here’s how things went down…
Late in the day on May 24 we launched both App A and App B. We also started an aggressive ad campaign for App A. We ran ran the campaign for almost 3 days. Here are the week 1 installs for App A:
|Daily Installs||Cumulative Installs|
A nice 7-day install total of 62,697, with almost all of them occurring during our 3-day push.
How did App B fair while drafting off the App A promotion? Not bad. Here are the organic install numbers for App B. Granted, they’re nowhere near the App A installs… but a pretty good take, regardless.
|Daily Installs||Cumulative Installs|
Not a bad haul. 9,793 installs with zero promotion and totally organic and/or incidental to our promoted App A.
Not surprisingly, App A hit the Top New Free category. As a nice little bonus, so did App B.
We had apps on both page 1 and page 8 of Google’s Top New Free. So far, not much of a surprise.
Are you ready for the plot twist in my little story? Guess which app was on page 1, and which was on page 8…
Now, maybe you saw this coming because of how I set up the story. But to say we were shocked when App B climbed to page 1 would be an understatement. Especially when it so heavily outranked the far more “popular” App A. We had to double-check to make sure we didn’t run paid traffic to the wrong app.
It made no sense at all that App A could have 6x the installs of App B and rank so poorly in comparison. Especially with an identical launch date and identical market and demographics. And it wasn’t just that it ranked lower than App B that was so surprising… it was the massive rank delta, given the actual behind-the-scenes install rates that we knew.
So what’s the rest of the story? Pretty easy, actually. And, knowing Google, pretty obvious in hindsight.
Google lives and dies by relevant search results. It’s a religion to them. Even on Android.
And App B appeared to Google to be far more relevant than App A. Here’s why…
Not only did we run paid traffic to App A. We were impatient and wanted maximum installs. So we ran incentivized paid traffic to App A.
If you’ve never run incentivized traffic before, it’s a pretty simple concept. Somebody, somewhere, is playing a game right now. And they just ran out of tokens, or gold, or lives, or whatever. Conveniently, that app publisher will give them more tokens, gold, lives, or whatever if the user installs App A (which would be my app). It’s an incredibly effective way to get installs for an app (and for a publisher to monetize, which is another story for another day).
Those users didn’t really want my app. They wanted tokens, gold, lives, and whatever. So they install App A, get their reward, and uninstall App A.
The catch is, Google’s watching this whole behavioral cycle. And here’s what they see…
User comes to Google Play and discovers App A. Google assumes that the user believes App A is a good app and, therefore, installs App A. User immediately uninstalls App A. Rinse and repeat (60,000+ times, in our case).
And eventually Google thinks App A has terrible relevance, even though a ton of people are installing it. In fact, Google seems to actively discourage its further discovery by placing it unnaturally low in the rankings.
Here’s the real picture of what happened to App A and App B…
|App A||App B|
|Daily Installs||Daily Uninstalls||Active Installs||Daily Installs||Daily Uninstalls||Active Installs|
* I know the numbers don’t add up each day. I’m not sure how they end up that way. But these come straight from my developer portal.
So what follows is my interpretation of the results. It should be noted that we actually confirmed our results with 2 more apps and experienced the same pattern.
Total installs (cumulative installs from the first charts) is a pure vanity metric. Active installs is what matters to Google. More specifically, your active install ratio.
Clearly Google values 9,793 installs that are 54% relevant (based on the overall active ratio) more than (much more, apparently) 62,697 installs that are only 19% relevant.
Here’s the good news… even as a smaller publisher you can beat bigger publishers who have broader distribution. The key is relevance. Not all installs are equal in Google’s eyes. Fast uninstalls are not just discounted, but appear to be penalized. Sticky installs = good user experience to Google = more relevance = higher ranking in Google Play.
You don’t need to blow the doors off your installs to rank well. In my experience, it’s at least as important that your installs stick. And I would lean towards more much more important.
Google only has so much data to determine whether you are giving your users a quality experience. And your active install ratio is a huge leading indicator for Google, right or wrong. Use it wisely.
Here are my takeaways from this…
- It’s disproportionately important to hyper-target your key demographic if you run paid campaigns at launch (when your app has no prior history with Google).
- Beware of incentivized traffic. It can be great. But it probably won’t be. This has been proved time and again by our internal conversion rates, as well.
- Limit your app features to what you do well. Especially at launch. Just like hyper-targeting your advertising at launch, it’s disproportionately critical that you give your users exactly what they’re looking for and do what you say you can do. You don’t want (and probably can’t afford) wishy-washy users, or users that came looking for a secondary feature of your app that isn’t the “wow” feature. Simply put, when you launch, you need sticky users.
- Quality apps can beat big distribution. Conversely, bad targeting or crappy apps can undermine big distribution and an otherwise well-planned launch. Volume isn’t everything.
By the way, we ran that ad campaign for less than 3 days, in total. Now, here we are 7 weeks later and App A still ranks 38 spots lower than App B for our primary keyword. That’s a huge ranking price to pay for getting untargeted users at launch. HUGE!