From iTunes to Google Play: Baby Steps or Giant Leaps? By Tom Leclerc

google play

Tom Leclerc

Tom Leclerc is an ASO Manager at Wooga, and an overall specialist covering unpaid acquisition, UA, development, analysis and much more. Today he gives a rundown on the differences between iTunes and the Google Play store, in order to assist marketers and developers who are using it.

Whatever your reasons for investing in app development on Google Play – from increased monetization to more comprehensive A/B testing tools – it’s clear that a greater number of developers and marketers are looking to Android and trying to make sense of Google Play. However, with Google’s experience in the search industry, relative to Apple, you can understand that ASO for Android is a different beast to iTunes. With that in mind, I thought it sensible to outline those genetic differences, to help developers and marketers make the most of the Google Play store.


The big difference in Google Play

So, as you may well be aware, the kind of metadata controlled by you as the app developer varies from what’s available to you in iTunes. The biggest difference comes in the fact that you are not directly in control of your keywords. The only way you can influence your keywords in Google Play is through a keyworded app description text and title. In many respects this makes dealing with ASO very similar to web SEO. While that doesn’t make it easier, as such, it does allow for more concrete understanding of how things work in the Google Play store.

The fallacy of on-page SEO

Having worked as an SEO consultant for many years, the concept of Search Optimization can be a little confused. I think there has been a perception for many years that search results can be influenced simply by what you produce. In the case of ASO, that would be on-page copy, screenshots, video and app titles. The idea that you can simply choose a keyword and somehow rank number one for it is not a solid or productive one. Much like SEO, ranking highly for certain keywords would cost you a small fortune.
Simply put, the elements under your control are fairly limited without a significant cash outlay. The single biggest impact you can have on the discoverability of your app on Google Play is in the title. Think of it as the URL of a standard web page. This has the biggest single impact on how searchable your website is.

User focus or keyword stuffing?

iTunes There seems to be a perception in the industry that having a subtitle in your app title is bad for business. While I suspect this could be an issue for games, if not done properly, for functional apps it has a real benefit to the user. And, ultimately, anything that benefits the user is good news. For me it’s a no-brainer. Adding core services to your app title is the best way to show your users what your app is about, and whether it’s for them. It also, of course, helps your app get discovered through search.

The down side, of course, is when you take it to extremes. There is little value in stuffing your app title with all the keywords you can think of. It engenders distrust, as well as lessening the impact of each of those individual keywords. Your app title should be a maximum of around 30 characters. Preferably less. You have around 20-25 characters that are visible in the smallest view of your app, so ideally, you want all your communication to happen within those characters. Anything more and you not only have the issue of your app name being truncated, and that just looks bad, but you also run the risk of confusing your potential users.

Reviews and re-views

Coming from iTunes, then, you see that those elements of meta data that you provide simply aren’t as potent as you might want them to be. However, all is not lost. While you can’t directly affect it, the data that goes into the Google Play search algorithm is hugely varied. Of course, I can’t say with certainty, but it almost definitely covers staples like search quantity, user ratings, semantics, social media, velocity and other staples of Google search. With that in mind, there is decent opportunity for apps that keep their community engaged with solid social media engagement, high-value content marketing and excellent customer care.


Love your numbers

Google Play
So, as far as discovery goes. Google Play can be a difficult beast to tame. However, when it comes to conversion, Google Play allows for a lot of options in terms of testing, analysis and increasing CTR. First off, quickly A/B testing your icon in Google Play is as easy as pie, using the experiment function. Similarly, identifying traffic sources is something that, depending on your app’s function and user base, could be very useful. For highly marketed products, you might not get a huge amount more out of it than from your ad partner, but for more viral products (or those hoping to be more viral), it can give you a great way to target your message.

What I am trying to say here, is that you should use the detailed analytics that Google Play offers you. If you’re not, you’re undoubtedly missing out on understanding your users and, subsequently, getting them to commit to your app.

Stop wasting everyone’s time

From a more sales-oriented point of view, many of the same ideas apply to your app meta data apply in iTunes. The key tenets of sales theory apply here. I very often see very developer-focused content present on app stores, and this adds nothing to the user. Really coming to terms with the fact that you have virtually no time with potential users helps to sharpen your app storefront immeasurably, I find. Really putting the benefits of your app forward over the features or rambling aside will always have a benefit.

From a store front point of view, you need to know that you have anywhere between an eighth of a second and four seconds to do the single most important thing for the success of your app from a search perspective. You need to get your users to stop and pay attention to your app. In overcrowded markets, particularly where brand is out of the picture, this is the single biggest challenge to any product or service. This may sound simple, but how do you do this? The answer, as is often the case, is in testing.

Test outside your comfort zone

One of the biggest problems I see with A/B testing is that so many people are afraid to test outside their sphere of comfort. In most cases this is not an issue, as most developers or marketers have a reasonable idea of their users’ needs and wants. However, If you take the example of name testing, let’s say, you’re wasting an opportunity if you start your name tests from a narrow viewpoint. That is to say, you’re testing variants on a single theme. Make sure you’re testing elements that you don’t feel 100% comfortable with. Let the data do the talking, and make sure you listen. Especially if it’s telling you something you don’t want to hear.

USP for life

There are two points worth making about USPs when it comes to apps. Firstly, understand what a USP is and use it. Secondly, don’t pretend you have a USP when you don’t. We often have the perception that Google Play is such a hopelessly overcrowded market, we can’t possibly get visibility. To my mind, that’s not the real problem. The real problem is that finding a genuine USP is incredibly difficult.
So what is a USP, or unique selling point? The concept of USPs has been around since the 40s, and the basic premise has remained the same.

  1. Your product offers a specific use that your competitors cannot
  2. The specific use is strong enough to both attract new customers and keep old ones

Keeping these two points in mind, you can see that retroactively creating a USP for an app doesn’t really work. It’s something that needs to be baked into the heart of an app, as opposed to glazed on the surface.

Given that it’s quite difficult to create a solid USP, an issue that arises quite often is that developers and marketers trying to work out a product’s proposition will often fall back to positioning their product behind another one. That is to say copying another product’s USPs. This feels logical. But it really isn’t. Even from the point of view of pure search, it doesn’t work. The perception that if your product is as good as – if not better than – the biggest player on the market, you’re guaranteed some kind of success is one that has seen more than a few companies go under, particularly in gaming.

Use and abuse your USP

But while identifying and validating a USP can be difficult, using it is not. This is where USPs start turning into positioning, mind sharing and branding. The most important thing to do with your USPs is use them. Again, and again. As regularly and as consistently as possible. Use them in your UA campaigns, your app store texts, your screenshots and any other communication you have with your users.

Making the move to Google Play

While it may seem daunting from an ASO point of view, the reality is that there’s really not much difference outside of the technicalities of keywording. Google Play offers load of opportunities for any developer or marketer, regardless of what you’re using it for. The downside of not being able to influence your keywords in as straightforward a fashion as in iTunes, is balanced against the fact that Google Play has a more complex ranking algorithm than iTunes. This makes influencing search ranking through social media, ratings and reviews a much more organic process, despite being a little more work.

Do you have anything to add? What experiences have you had with Google Play? Have you noticed any black- or grey-hat techniques in Google Play? If you’re interested in discussing any of the points above, feel free to leave a comment below, or contact me directly at