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App Performance

How to improve app store rank: Understanding what matters and how to monitor it

Mobile engineers play a pivotal role is ensuring app quality and performance. Find out how you can improve your app store ranking in this post.

Every day, users pick up their smartphones, open up the Apple App Store or the Google Play Store, and are presented with a number of curated lists. Most coveted among these lists by mobile app developers is a spot on the Top Free Apps and Top Paid Apps lists for each store.

And while these lists can seem arbitrarily constructed at first, as it turns out, there’s a science at play behind the scenes.

A post making the round on Threads recently brought back into focus an Apptopia report detailing the many factors that go into ranking apps on the Google Play Store and Apple App Store. (Apptopia generally references this as “App Store Rank” in their report, but also points out the difference between each app store’s ranking preferences.)

The Apptopia report is eye opening and chock full of insights into how they were able to reverse engineer the App Store Rank algorithms. It’s a solid read that you should take the time to review if you’re interested in learning more about how we know what we know about these algorithms, but the most important takeaways are as follows:

  • A general misconception about App Store Rank is that it’s highly dependent on new downloads.
  • Downloads were the most important factor until roughly 2014, but since have been minimized to just one piece of the ranking puzzle.
  • The three main components of App Store Rank are:
    • Quantity of new users.
    • App usage, i.e. session frequency and total time on app.
    • Download/engagement velocity on a 4-7 day moving average.
  • Other relevant factors of lesser value are:
    • App store rating.
    • User review volume.
    • Keyword relevancy.
    • Uninstalls.
  • Google and Apple have slight differences in their App Store Rank algorithms, with Apple rankings trending more towards volatility with the ability for apps to rapidly climb the rankings.

While it’s important to understand these factors, what’s arguably more important is understanding the intricacies of each ranking factor.

Here, we’ll look at each factor and briefly discuss its make up, as well as how you can more effectively monitor it for future optimizations.

App store rank factors and how to monitor them

At the heart of App Store Rank is a desire to surface the “best” apps for users. By best, we mean apps that are highly engaging, highly optimized, and highly relevant.

The factors outlined by Apptopia can largely be sorted into one or more of those three buckets.

Monitoring app engagement

Factors at play: App usage, download/engagement velocity

Understanding the factors: Highly engaging apps get users into their content quickly and provide a smooth and consistent experience. These apps tend to have faster startup times and higher crash-free rates, for example, and are quick to identify and resolve issues when they arise.

Monitoring app engagement: An effective way to monitor and optimize app engagement is through advanced analytics platforms that offer detailed user session insights and real-time analytics. These platforms, sometimes referred to as mobile user experience monitoring (MUEM) platforms, give engineers a deeper understanding of user interactions and provide valuable insights for optimization.

App performance tools that provide data on, and the ability to track, key users flows are also instrumental to ensuring that the most important interactions users have — like at the checkout screen or during high-traffic events — aren’t being interrupted and hurting engagement. For detailed behavioral analytics, it’s best to leverage MUEM platforms alongside other tools that specialize in that area, like Amplitude or Pendo.

Moreover, features like customizable alerts and performance monitoring across different devices and networks play a significant role in maintaining optimal app functionality. When integrated with other marketing and analytics tools, these platforms provide a holistic view of an app’s performance, correlating marketing efforts with user engagement metrics.

Monitoring app optimization

Factors at play: App usage, app store rating, user review volume, uninstalls

Understanding the factors: Many users describe highly optimized apps as “apps that just work.” Like highly engaging apps, those that are highly optimized get users into their experiences fast and provide consistent experiences with minimal disruption. The difference here is retention, and that’s why uninstalls and app store ratings are bundled into this bucket.

Monitoring app optimization: Given how closely app optimization and app engagement are tied to one another, we can leverage many of the same tools. User session insights, app performance tools, and error and network monitoring capabilities will all be critical here for the same reasons they are above.

But what’s most important for app optimization is the ability to identify new issues and resolve them before they become larger issues for your user base.

To do so effectively requires the ability to capture and reproduce every user session, segment across different regions and devices, proactively alert on that data, and implement fixes with high velocity.

Issues that are left to fester or remain unknown to the engineers have a direct impact on uninstalls, negative app store ratings, and negative sentiment in app store reviews, all of which factor into your App Store Ranking.

However, with the proper tools, engineers can actually leverage app store reviews to identify and resolve issues, leading to better optimization and higher rankings.

Monitoring app relevancy

Factors at play: Keyword relevancy, app store rating, user review volume

Understanding the factors: App relevancy is about how well your app aligns with the needs and interests of your target audience. This includes having the right keywords for discoverability and maintaining a positive reputation through user reviews and ratings.

Monitoring app relevancy: To monitor and enhance app relevancy, focus on keyword optimization in your app’s description and metadata. Tools for keyword tracking and analysis are essential in understanding which terms are driving traffic to your app. Monitoring and analyzing user reviews and ratings provide insights into user satisfaction and areas for improvement. Additionally, staying up-to-date with market trends and user expectations can help you adjust your app’s features and marketing strategies accordingly.

Don’t forget about Google’s orange line

While the Apptopia report is one of the best glimpses we have yet at what goes into making an App Store Rank algorithm, we’re still pretty light on technical details. For example, the Apptopia report doesn’t mention Google’s orange line.

Google’s orange line is the bad behavior threshold on core vitals like Application Not Responding (ANR) errors.

For example, if your users experience too high a frequency of ANRs, your ANR-free rate will be above the orange line, exceeding the bad behavior threshold, and will be less discoverable. According to Google’s own documentation

If your app has bad behavior on specific device models, Google Play will steer users on those devices away from these titles and towards others that are more suitable for them. In some cases, a warning may be displayed on your app’s store listing to set user expectations and provide the option to seek out alternatives with higher technical quality.

Google’s docs also note that these core vitals are evaluated on a 28-day basis, meaning with proper monitoring, Google app developers can solve ANRs and boost play store ranking.

Embrace a higher app store rank

Achieving a higher app store rank is a multifaceted challenge that requires a deep understanding of what keeps users engaged and what disengages users, how to optimize the app experience effectively, and ensuring your app maintains relevancy. And it’s not just app marketers and ASO (app store optimization) experts who are responsible — mobile engineers play a crucial role in ensuring app quality and performance in order to protect and improve rankings.

By focusing on key aspects such as app engagement and optimization, and by utilizing advanced analytics and monitoring tools, you can significantly enhance your app’s performance and its position in the competitive app store environment. 

Learn more about how Embrace can help you build better apps that rank higher on the Apple App Store and Google Play Store, here.

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