The Google play store always seems to be beta testing in the same way search engine results pages do, with the ever-eternal intent on figuring out just what a user wants to see in a useful listing. Lately we’ve been seeing a “Top Features” rating system for specific apps in the Google Play Store populate at a grander scale. This seems to be a play to push out the not-so-used Google+ rating systems used for every app in the play store to date, not so subtly after Google said a Google+ sign-in was no longer required to leave a review in the Play Store. For SEOs trying to utilize every angle of app store optimization (ASO) comes yet another assumed ranking factor based off of UGC. What exactly needs to be understood about these segmented ratings based on the apps specific features and can a brand/app opt-in?
What the heck are Play Store Top Features?
This new “Top Features” rating system, placed directly above the Review Highlights for an app listing, began to poke up for app Games, specifically, back in August of 2016. Since that time Top Features has spread out to larger brands such as Amazon, Spotify, Gmail and Facebook. This doesn’t seem to be tied into app store rankings at all (at least no early testing has proven), but it does seem to be a featured offered to the more well-known/reviewed/downloaded apps available. The “Top Features” rating system just started to appear (as if out of thin air!) for non-game apps in the Play Store in January 2017 and seems to be populating more and more each week. This rating system uses a horizontal scrolling bar that leaves user ratings for features specific to that app, e.g. “making payments, “depositing checks”, “tracking finances”, etc. for the Chase Mobile app. Unfortunately, for the ever SEO-minded junkies such as myself, it does not seem to be something that we can build into our initial ASO game plan just yet.
Can Brand’s Opt-In or can SEOs use this for ASO?
As far as we can tell, no…sorry. Google’s ranking signals for apps still remain the same; absolutely cross off your app store optimization (ASO) checklist and track your rankings over time for targeted terms, but beyond that it really is up to the user. If your main KPIs are app-installs your best bet is to make sure that your app functionality is air-tight, you update it regularly and you are driving your paid media towards app installs with the right messaging. And do not forget about your website as a visibility driver for your app. Far too often do app-minded brand’s look at their own website as nothing more than a necessary evil. Websites can be quite useful in helping users understand the connection between a brand and the functionality of their app, on top of that it allows for Firebase SDK (previously the Google App Indexing API), JSON-LD schema markup for your app, and additional areas for CTA testing.
Use that website you spent hard earned bucks on to help drive installs from users who need some convincing before downloading and opening.
What can you do?
While the conclusion here is that no ASO can be performed on new Play Store features that are truly UGC, it’s always a good idea to keep your eyes open. There have been rumors that the “Top Features” rating system will be included in Google’s Play Store description field for apps, allowing app publishers the ability to submit the features they would like to be rated on, in which case, optimize away! But, before that time, be sure to utilize the assets that you have in your marketing arsenal to build visibility to your app: paid media, SEO and of course the ASO checklist. If your App is still not driving the engagement you desire, even with the very best marketing there is, maybe it’s time to look elsewhere. Google’s development of Progressive Web Apps (PWA) was designed to bridge the gap between the visibility of a website and the increased functionality of a native app; and this could be the right choice for your brand. If not, maybe the app just needs to be updated; consider doing some research with a control group to see what’s wrong and adjust. Either way, if you want visibility for your app, pleasing your users is always the way to go and Google’s Play Store will always cater to the user over the publisher.
by Jonny Waite