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What to Know about Publishing Apps on Android

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Nathan is a top grossing Android Developer and the author of Android Apps for Profit available on Amazon Kindle.


What to Know about Publishing Apps on Android – Being Prepared

You of course want to make sure that your code is prepared for publishing on Android. If the code had trouble adjust to three or four screen sizes on iOS, you can expect even more trouble to adjusting to a gazillion or so sizes on Android.

At the same time, you need to be mentally prepared. Are you mentally prepared for the very real possibility that your app will get zero downloads in the first 24 hours? If not, you may not be ready to publish on Android. A recent app I published got two downloads in the first night, and I think that both of those people work for me.

There is a reason why you might have a hard adjustment. If you have been publishing for iOS, you may be accustomed to timing your release very carefully, hoping to get a lot of exposure at launch by being featured by Apple as a new app. That won’t happen on Google Play. There are no special sections that will highlight your app just for being new. The closest thing that you will find are a few sections called “Top New Paid” and “Top New Free”. To get into these sections, you have to be less than 30 days new (worldwide, not by country) and be getting more installs than the other apps that are less than 30 days new.

While Apple looks at a new app that passes review as a gem that deserves its chance to shine, Google has no review process, therefore it considers each new app to be spam until proven otherwise. If your entire marketing strategy is to count on a boost from being a new app, you may not be ready for Android.

Instead of counting on being featured, it is best to concentrate on using the power of search to be found. For that, spend some time on your title and description, and use some other methods to boost those results.

Your Title

Words in the title are much more valuable, so think about using the limited space wisely. In iOS, you may be accustomed to trying to stuff a dictionary into your title in hopes of a big payoff if it slides by the reviewers. In Google Play, no reviewer will stop you from stuffing dozens of keywords into your title, but the fact that you only have 30 characters will.

There are three things you often want to accomplish with your title. The first is to have keywords that are relevant to your app and valuable for search. The second is to provide a concise description of what the app actually does so the user will click through. The third is to create a title that will build a brand. I suggest you approach these objectives in this order. An example that Google gave is “Beautylish: Makeup Beauty Tips”, a concise title with function, brand, and keywords built in.

You can change your title at any time, but given you need some consistency to build up a following, you probably won’t change it completely very often.


Description is your big chance to include all the words that you may ever want. 4000 characters and the ability to change it every day gives you a lot of room for experimentation.

Think broadly with your keywords, including keywords from similar, competitive, or complementary apps, and popular brand names that could be worked creatively into your description.

Keep in mind, there is no equivalent to the secret keywords field that you see in iOS. You should not put “keyword:” followed by comma separated list of words. Doing so is against Google Play guidelines, which could be enforced without notice.

Instead, borrow a skill from SEO known as copywriting. Include relevant keywords in as natural a way as possible. Use complete sentences and product bullet points. An exact phrase is more likely to rank if included as an exact phrase, but it could also benefit from the words being used close together, known as a broad match.

Use your best ASO tools to come up with keyword ideas. You want as much data as you can about which keywords are popular and relevant. When it comes to difficulty, though, what your tools say is only the starting point. The easiest way to measure difficulty is to target a keyword in your description, give it a few days, and see where you rank. If you are ranking 172 after using reasonable efforts, that keyword may not be worth much to you. If you are ranked in the top 48, it will be worth pursuing further.

Once you have started tracking some words that you want to rank for, you are now prepared for your second big disappointment.

Improving your App’s Credibility

If you failed to get a huge amount of traffic on your first day, you may be even more disappointed to get only a trickle in your first week. Wanting to know why, you check your ranking for all the keywords you are targeting, and find that you are unhappy with just about all of them.

Why can’t you rank for words which seem reasonable and relevant, are in your title and description, and aren’t even all that competitive from what you can tell? The ideas in this section will help improve your rankings for all keywords.

Google will take into account the number and quality of ratings you receive. In general, to get more reviews on your app, you need to prompt people to review it. To get more favorable reviews, you want to be strategic about who you prompt to rate it and when.

The number of installs you have received in the last few days determines your ranking in your category, and also influences your ranking in search. Google can and does track whether apps are uninstalled right away, as an indication of whether it was truly what the user was looking for.

The first day you launch your app, you don’t have any of these factors working for you. You can’t get any installs because you don’t rank for any good keywords, and you can’t rank for any good keywords because you don’t have enough installs.

But the reverse cycle is also possible. My app that got two installs on the first day got only about 42 installs for the next 30 days. Looking at those first 30 days, one might consider it a big failure. Sometime after 30 days, it started getting up to 300 installs per day. Once that had happened for a few days, my rankings for all of my targeted keywords improved measurably, and I got more installs as a result. There is still time for the app to be a big failure (or not), but the second month looks about what I might have hoped for on the first month.

For these reasons, think about what you can do to jumpstart your app. If you have a way to drive installs from your network of similar apps or other promotional efforts, do so. Relatively few installs can be magnified by improving your position in search.

Improving your Position for a Specific Keyword

There are two factors that influence how you rank for a specific keyword.

The first factor is invisible to you, but tracked heavily by Google. Google tracks the search history for a keyword. They can track which apps are clicked, which apps are installed, and which apps remain installed for any length of time. In the long run, then, this means that the keyword rankings that you keep will be the ones that your target audience uses to find you.

The limitation of this method is that you only *think* that you know what keywords are relevant and valuable to your app. I wish Google would share this data. In Fall 2010, I discovered a loophole that allowed me to capture this data, and knew exactly which keywords were earning me money. I used this knowledge to rise to the top of the Travel section, where I am still residing today. That loophole has since been closed.

Given the value of this data, it may be worth your time to conduct some low budget research using Adwords mobile install ads.

The second was the subject of rumor, but was confirmed by Google last year. At Google I/O 2013, a speaker suggested that you might want to use “helpful anchor text” when linking to your app listing on Google Play website. The meaning is clear: keywords in anchor text of that link can influence your ranking for that keyword.

It’s up to you to figure out what is cost effective in your link building strategy. In the past, I have done a fair amount of internet marketing to help people discover a product which they might not know exists. At present, given what Google has said, I would like to concentrate efforts on linking directly to the product listing, rather than a website.

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Elaine Heney is an online entrepreneur, triple #1 best selling author and international keynote speaker. Elaine is an Amazon FBA ecommerce advisor, investor, Hollywood movie producer, online business consultant and CEO of Chocolate Lab Cashflow. Elaine has also published over 300 mobile apps across Amazon, Apple & Google, and enjoyed over 20 million app downloads and over 50 #1 apps worldwide.

{ 3 comments… add one }

  • Samuel January 31, 2014, 12:18 am

    Hey Nathan,

    Thanks for the overview of app publishing for Android. Do you think doing general internet marketing tactics (i.e. facebook ads, press releases, etc) will help drive downloads? I remember Elaine mentioning this and she said she didn’t get good results for iOS apps. Also which platform do you use to reskin or develop your Android games?

    Thanks for sharing

  • Nathan January 31, 2014, 1:06 am

    I would prioritize those methods that give you either
    a). Traffic you can measure (use Google Analytics tagged urls)
    b). Links with anchor text as mentioned above.

    I have done a fair amount of web promotion in the past. Some key rankings of my site were helpful in aiding discovery of something that many people didn’t know they could do with their smartphone.

    Nonetheless, keep in mind that people primarily discover apps through searching the Play Store, and any efforts outside the store should be reinforcing your results within the store, and not become an end in themselves.

  • Nathan January 31, 2014, 5:48 pm

    About platforms – hmm. I think this could be a great topic for further discussions.
    My background is mostly useful apps, not games.
    Recently I have used BatteryTech for a cross platform game, but can’t really recommend it as not many developers are familiar with it.
    And as for reskinning, I haven’t found a lot of code that is cross platform. I have found some that claims to be – but not. I am hoping that the market will develop for buying source code for Android the way it has for iOS.
    Unity looks promising for 3D, as does Corona for 3D. Cocos2dx is something I’m not too sure about, because I bought some code that claimed it was ready for Android, and it wasn’t even close.

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