Tag Archives: Google Play

White Hat ASO vs Black Hat ASO

Any time there is an algorithm that determines where an object (website, book, mobile app, etc..) ranks for a specific search, there are ways to improve the object’s ranking.

For example, a book on Amazon is much more likely to be ranked highly in a search if the title of the book contains the searched for words.

Practices for optimizing a mobile app for the Google and Apple app store indexes fall into one of two camps – white hat or black hat.

White hat and Black hat

For the uninitiated, “white hat” and “black hat” are terms used in marketing but stem from hacking computer security systems.

White hat hackers hack security systems to test for flaws or otherwise ensure the security of an organization.

Black hat hackers circumvent security for personal gain or general maliciousness.

In marketing – and specifically optimization for ranking/visibility –  white hat generally refers to approaches that are not against any laws, or rules and guidelines of the indexing entity (Google, Amazon, the app stores, Pinterest, etc…).

Black hat – on the other hand – are approaches that do not follow the rules of the indexing entity, but may not be detectable or enforceable in the short-term.

In general, black hat in marketing may appeal to some as cutting edge or a chance to jump ahead, but is rarely (never) a good long-term strategy.

In web search, each new Google algorithm update addresses black hat tactics and penalizes the websites and urls significantly.

In the app stores, Apple and Google can simply remove your app or worse, remove the entire developer portfolio and profile.

It is simple not worth attempting to game the app store rankings system with black hat techniques as the risks far outweigh the rewards.

Black Hat Strategies (to avoid)

So what are some black hat app store optimization techniques we should be wary of?

Automating ratings and reviews

You build, or hire a service that scrapes reviews from other apps,  reformats the reviews and automates posting ratings and reviews in Google Play and in the Apple App Store.

Carter Thomas over at Blue Cloud wrote up a nice analysis of what appeared to be automated reviews on the smash hit Flappy Bird.

Here is a sample of what Carter found and shared (go see his post to see a few more):


Examples pop up from time to time, where there are seemingly random reviews or reviews that don’t align with the rating.

Large fluctuations in the app stores are often linked to Apple and Google scrubbing out offenders like the above.

Buying Ratings and Reviews

On fiverr, Upwork and across the web, there are offers for bulk app reviews.   Not unlike “Get 1,000 Twitter followers for $10” but far more damaging.


Enough said.

Apptentive is a service for engaging users and prompting reviews naturally in the app.  Check out their thoughts on fake reviews.

Incentivized app downloads and ratings

Because downloads, ratings/reviews and velocity impacts search rankings and placement in the top app charts, why not give away a few smurfberries in exchange for a rating or for installing another app in your portfolio?

Apple recognized that ads that included a virtual good as a reward for installing an app  meant that apps were being installed and immediately deleted as users performed actions for the reward and had no interest otherwise.

Likewise, rewarded ratings and reviews seemed too much like rewarding “good” reviews so Apple banned rewarded reviews as well.


The process for a user to rate or review an app is ugly, so incentivizing seemed like a good deal for all parties – publishers, users and the app stores.

Apple and Google disagree and are solving this issue another way, by using conversion and engagement metrics as stronger indicators of an app’s relevance to a search than the quantity or quality of the ratings.

White Hat Strategies

White hat strategies for ASO continue to provide the most long-term benefits and include a lot of what we talk about on this blog.

See our guides for Apple ASO and Google Play ASO for specific best practices for ranking higher and converting more relevant users in the app stores, without the risk of penalties or worse.

Remember that the app stores are closed marketplaces, and are booming.

The review teams and Apple and now Google are busy, and the reward for those who follow their rules is high enough, that both Apple and Google have little tolerance for developer and publishers who push the envelope well past their respective policies.

How To Rock Mobile App Localization

Make no mistake, the mobile explosion and migration from the web to apps is not just an American or even Western phenomenon.  In fact, how fast and how broad populations across the globe are adopting mobile is a big part of the story.

Apple sold more iPhone 6 and 6+ in China than the US in Q1 2015. China actually has more active smartphones than the entire US population with reportedly more than 380m.

Japan, South Korea and of course a whole host of Spanish speaking countries represent huge user bases as well.

A study by the Harvard Business Review reported that 72% of respondents said they are more likely to buy a product in their own language.

If your app is only in English, mobile app localization may provide an avenue for 5-100% growth or more.

Revenue per user and downloads overall vary per country/language by app and app type, but the stages of localization are similar across app types.

Stages of Localization

Depending on expected return or budget, publishers may approach app localization in stages, both in languages localized for and what in the app is localized.

Publishers should start with the app store listing text and keywords, then move to the graphics (screenshots and video), then in-app text, in-app purchases and in-app controls like back buttons.

Localizing the app text, items for purchase and controls is a massive over-simplification that groups design and UI in with text and back buttons as if it were just simple translation.

Localization vs Translation

Let’s address this here:

  • Translation is essentially changing text into another language.  (defining “translation” w/o using “translate” is not easy!)
  • Localization is language translation plus locally relevant graphics, units of measurement, colors, social networks etc…

China does not use Facebook, Russia has VK instead of Facebook.  Apps that require or offer a Facebook login would be out of place in China and Russia.

Similarly, a photo-taking app that used screenshots of two Americans taking photos may not resonate as well with a Chinese consumer as screenshots showing Chinese users.

Localized App Store Listing – Text Only

Google Play and Apple both support creating multiple app store listings by language.

A quick recap of app store listing best practices reminds us that for Google Play, and app store listing consists of an app title, short and long description and graphic elements. For Apple, we have an app name, description and a hidden field for keywords.

The name/title, descriptions and keywords are extremely important for app store optimization – specifically visibility in the app stores and conversion of viewers to users – we are not going to just translate our fields into another language. The current English app listing is the result of research on user behavior and search phrases in English in the US.

The best way to create a localized and optimized app store listing is to go through the optimization process for each targeted location.

If you want to start smaller and just translate the current app store listing, avoid using Google Translate as the default translation tool.


There are many reasonable options where translating an app store listing into 10 languages would run around $1,000.

Mobile app publishers with a serious focus on entering a new market with their apps should perform a complete ASO analysis for the targeted country.

App Listing Creatives

App creatives like screenshots and a video have a huge impact on converting app store views into installs and users. If the text of an app store listing (name, description, keywords) drives visibility, the creative elements drive conversion.

Translating the text on any creatives is the place to start, but publishers should consider changing the actual images used if a more local example is available.

For example, a mapping app could show a screenshot of a user navigating a map of Paris in France, and of Shanghai for China.

Using the app store optimization research from the previous stage, you will know which features and functions are in highest demand and of most interest in your targeted country. Highlight these features in screenshots just like you would lead with you most sought after features in screenshots for your domestic audience.

Which Countries to Localize For

With an English app or game, publishers can cover some big spending countries like the UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and of course the US.

If your app is already in English, you have roughly 35% of the app market covered.

Where you go from there depends largely on where current app installs are coming, the LTV of those users, and where competitive apps are having success.

If your app is getting a lot of downloads in Germany, for example, this may be a good place to start your app localization efforts.

Another approach is to see where your competition is having success. One place to start is by performing competitive ASO research.  Do any of your biggest competitors in the app store have localized app store listings?  If so, which countries and how do they rank in those locations?

With tools like this from Apptopia, publishers can see both the number of installs and the estimated revenue per user by country for competitive apps.

The top 5 recommended languages for localization not considering your app’s type, performance and competitors are English, Japanese, Simplified Chinese, Korean and Spanish.  German, French, Brazilian Portuguese, Russian round out top 9.

Submitting an App to Google Play

Congrats – you have a mobile app ready for submitting to Google Play!

If you don’t have a Google Play Publisher account, which provides access to the developer console, you are going to want to sign up for that here.

Google Play Publisher Account

As of this writing, there is a one-time registration fee of  $25. For sake of comparison, consider Apple charges $99 annually for their iOS developer program.

If your app is a paid app, or offers in-app purchases, you will need to set up your Google payments merchant account.  This step requires information about your company, and bank account info for sending payments.

Add New App

At this point, you can start to build your Google Play app listing, including a tested icon and screenshots, and optimized app title and descriptions.

In addition to the app store listing, app publishers need to set country distribution and set up any in-app items with prices.

This is also the time to set your app’s content ratings, end user license agreement and privacy policy.

Alpha, Beta, Production

Submitting an app on Google Play once you have developer console access, payments set up and the app listing created is essentially a two-step process:

  1. submit for testing
  2. submit to store (publish)

Developer Tasks

From a developer’s perspective however, configuring the app for submission is more complicated than just uploading the latest APK. Google recommends the following process  for uploading an app build prior to releasing to testing:

Google Play Publishing Prep

The Google Play developer console provides access to features not yet supported in iTunes Connect, so those familiar with publishing iOS apps may not be aware they exist.

Additional Google Dev Console Features

First, Google Play has a simple user interface for creating builds for Alpha and Beta testing.  Distributing access to these builds does not require an approval process like Apple does with Testflight.

Second, Google provides both crash testing and device testing in their new Cloud Test Lab.  This service is performed automatically when a new APK (app build) is submitted to either the alpha or beta testing track.

Google Cloud Test Lab

Google will test the UI and functionality across devices and supporting operating systems and return a details report of finding and suggested fixes.

Third, Google offer app optimization suggestions, from supporting tablets to localization recommendations.

Once you have worked your way through the alpha and bester tester feedback, crash reports and Cloud Test reports, you can move your build to production by selecting “Ready to Publish” in the app listing’s top right corner:

publish this app


Google offers a comprehensive app submission checklist, some of which was covered above, and much should be addressed well prior to app submission.

Android App Marketing and Google Play ASO

The primary place an Android app is listed is in the Google Play app store.  Google uses this app listing to index an app for app store search results and rankings.

Optimizing an app for discovery and conversion in Google Play is where Android app marketing starts.

This process of optimization for discovery and conversion is called app store optimization, or Google Play ASO.

Google Play App Indexing

The algorithm Google uses to index mobile apps is not public, but we do know what elements of an app listing impact indexing and ranking:

While the app listing helps Google determine what searches an app is relevant for, conversion plays a big role into where an app ranks in specific searches.

Google Play App Store Discovery

Before a conversion can occur, an app must be discovered.  A user searches Google Play and immediately see results for apps Google feels meets their query.

To help Google understand what searches are relevant to an app (or conversely, which apps are relevant to a search), Google relies on several elements from the app listing.

We have created short, useful guides for how to maximize the benefits and opportunity provided in each of these elements.

App Titlehow to format an app title with examples

Short Descriptionhow Google uses this field, and where potential users see it

Long Descriptionwhy getting this right has more impact on app discovery than any other field

Converting Views to Users

Anything that is viewable impacts conversion rates, including the app title and descriptions.  But visual elements tend to have the biggest impact on what users expect and how they understand an app features.

Conversion rates are highest where creative elements highlight features that align with user searches.

The creative elements include:

App Iconslearn how to optimize app icon design for conversion

App Screenshotshow the best apps use screenshots, and what the content of a screenshot must include

Discovery and Conversion Work Together

Where an app ranks for specific searches in Google Play is the combination of what the app is indexed for and how well the app converts when shown in specific search results.

As such, discovery by a relevant target audience should be the goal of any optimization effort.

Much of this starts with determining who the target audience is, and how they are searching the Google Play app store, including the specific search terms they are using.

Learn more about developing a target keyword strategy and building a keyword bucket of relevant search terms.

App Icon Design for Google Play

Before a potential user sees an app’s description, screenshots, video or ratings, users see an app’s icon.

Google Play App Icons

Used as sort of an app logo – the app icon’s primary role in app store optimization for Google Play is in conversion.

There are many theories on app icon design, from which colors to use to the use of text vs no text.

Generally, the goal should be to efficiently communicate the app’s main features or otherwise align to them. “Efficient” app icon design in this case means “simple”.

Because of the impact of the App Icon design on app conversion, we we recommend asking potential users, via a focus group or polling an email list.

App icon design tips

Regarding the use of text vs no text in an app icon, icons on Google Play tend to fit into a few buckets:

No text at all

Facebook Messenger Icon

A single letter

Facebook icon

A small amount of text – 4 characters or less

Soda Icon

Lots of text – a name

Amazon Icon

Looking at what the market is currently responding can provide guidance as to what approach will work best for an app.

For example, looking at the top ranking free apps in Google Play, 30 of the top 35 use no text or a single letter (like Facebook or Skype).

Google has provided additional app icon design guidelines here.