Google recently made some changes to its Play Store algorithm, to improve the discovery of quality apps.
In order to improve the experience of the thousands of users who reach the Play Store every day, Google made some changes to its Play Store algorithm. With the aim of improving the discovery of quality apps, a lot of the ranking criteria now tips towards user engagement. Here’s everything you need to know about how this will impact your game and what ‘playmageddon’ really is.
The Google Play Store algorithm changes
Announcing the new changes in the Play Store algorithm, Google stated that in many instances, the best of games were not getting the visibility they deserved. The new algorithm will now be promoting titles that aren’t just keyword optimized but have shown stickiness in users. Simply put, games with strong engagement and retention metrics are the ones that are going to rank higher.
“Recently, we increased the importance of engagement and app quality in our recommendation systems and users reacted favorably to the changes. With more high-quality titles being surfaced in the Play Store’s recommendations, people are playing the games they download more often. We believe that providing great experiences for our users on Google Play will encourage a healthier, growing Android ecosystem.”
– Paul Bankhead, Director of Product Management, Google Play
Considering the Google Play Store ranking algorithm changes, many games are already seeing a drop in their organic installs. In fact, developers have reported around 80-90% drop in their organic growth through the store.
“This week, my game’s install rate on Google Play Store has decreased from a sustained average of around 12,000/ day to just 5000/ day, despite the fact that the game’s search ranking in the store hasn’t changed at all,” a developer wrote in the Unity forum post, as shared on Gadgets360.
Even Gamasutra shared stories of several Android developers noticing a drop in their organic app installs from the Play Store.
Breaking it into the simplest takeaways, here’s why user engagement is now more or as important as the other aspects of app store optimization:
1. To gain more visibility in the play store
Without visibility, your users won’t even come across your app’s landing page; let alone download the app. When players frequently engage with your app, Google will recognize how it is a part of their break time and reward it for its stickiness with a higher search ranking on its store.
2. To create viral loops for viral organic growth
A higher user engagement rate indicates how people are loving your game and want to come back to it, despite hundreds of other options in the store. The more frequently they engage with your game, the more likely they are to recommend it to their friends and family.
They see value in your game and want others to enjoy the same, sending out more invites to join the app. This creates an effective viral loop of referrals, leading to consistent organic growth.
How to boost your user engagement rate
According to Statista, 23% of the apps downloaded by mobile users, are accessed only once during the first six months. If that’s how low your user engagement rates are fairing, the new Google Play Store ranking algorithm changes are only going to make it worse for your game to acquire new players.
Here are some of the user engagement strategies used by the top grossing games, to maintain their top slot in the Play Store.
1. Personalize player onboarding
Google Play Store ranking algorithm changes to favor user engagement. And the only way to effectively keep your players engaged right from the point of acquisition, is to onboard them well. All the top grossing games, like Kim Kardashian, make use of this tactic.
Be it a step by step screen run through to introduce all the features or in-app popup messages, ensure that the players are aware of all the features. Letting them venture through the game on their own, is risking losing their interest when they can’t find something they are looking for.
This is as important for referred users as well. When a player is referred to your game, they come in with a set of different expectations. For instance, a player that comes via a Facebook invite may be looking at one of the levels of your game where they can join their friends immediately; while another referred user coming from a chat app invite, may be wanting to start from the beginning in your game.
Using Smart Links in your referral invites, you can identify where a user is coming from and what message was used to acquire this user. To ensure this user turns into an active player almost instantly, implement a personalized onboarding for them.
2. Make it easy for players to invite their friends
According to a study by Facebook, a sense of community can keep your players 2.7x more engaged. The same players are 2x more likely to stay in-game for their social connections. Simply put, if they feel your game is a social media platform in itself, you won’t see your players churning and Google play store algorithm changes won’t impact your growth.
By enabling your players to invite their friends via social media and popular messaging apps, you can be guaranteed that your active players will continue to remain engaged and at the same time, help boost your app downloads for free. There are tools like Smart Invites that help you do this easily!
To make referral marketing really work for you, it’s not enough to just make it easy for players to invite their friends. It is equally important that you personalize their onboarding experience and map the relation between the inviter and invitee with tools like Social Graph.
3. Leverage Activity Feeds
What’s the point of inviting your friends to join you in a game, when you can’t stay up-to-date with what they are doing. That’s where Activity Feeds come into play. Just the way that people go back to their Facebook account every day to see what their friends are up to, this social feature is sure to bring back your players for more app sessions.
Castle Cats make use of activity feed in their game for players to see what others are doing in the game.
Now another effective way to use Activity Feeds to engage your players, is to share pro tips with them. Keep a tab on all their updates and conversations, understand where they are getting stuck or need help before they lose interest in your game.
A frequent developer and player interaction also creates a rapport of a game that wants to further better its experience for the users. Just a smart and relevant conversation with your players at the right time can go a long way!
Similarly, you can also promote your ongoing contests on Activity Feeds. Just like all those brand pages that promote their deals on your Facebook feed, this practice will actually help you get more participation in your contests.
Even top grossing games like Farm Heroes Super Saga make use of this user engagement strategy often. They don’t just promote it in-game but also use social media to further boost the participation rates.
To ensure you get a higher participation rate in contests, you need to make sure that the winner gets value out of it. This could be unlocking a special game feature or giving them access to a locked level that other players don’t have access to yet.
4. Send personalized push notifications
Push notifications make for the most effective channel to reach out to players who are not on your app and bring them back to it for another session. According to a research, a total of 68% of users have enabled push notifications for their apps and these messages promote a 92% higher mobile app retention rate. They remind users, in myriad ways, to use the app – whether the app is open or not.
The key challenge is to deliver relevant content at the right time to the right audience. To achieve this, segment and target your users based on their in-app and social behavior. Delivering socially valuable push notifications to your users will increase day-30 retention by 3-10x.
User engagement metrics to measure
Your job isn’t over once you have all the user engagement strategies in place. The recent Google Play Store ranking algorithm changes, may not be the last ones. To ensure you don’t see a drop in your game’s growth, it is important that you continually measure the performance of your tactics.
Here are the key metrics you need to be measured at all times.
1. Active users (DAU, WAU, MAU)
The very first metric that you need to be measuring, is seeing how engaged your players are, right from the point of acquisition. Monitoring and measuring their activity on a daily, weekly and monthly, will keep you up-to-date on how a player intends to interact with your game, and how often.
You could make this metric more actionable, by measuring how your players interact with a specific feature or an app screen in your game. The data will help you optimize your user engagement strategies to maximize app sessions and their lengths.
2. App stickiness (DAU and MAU)
Has your game been successful at bringing players back to it? Has it been able to become a part of their break time?
App stickiness refers to the ratio of your daily active users to your monthly active users. It indicates the number of times your players are coming back to the game in a month.
For instance, if the app stickiness of your game is just 40%, people are coming to the game for a session, for only 12 days. On the remaining days, they are exploring other games in the market or getting further engaged with one they are playing.
This metric is extremely important, as it helps you strategies your user re-engagement campaigns.
3. App retention (D1, D7, D30)
The very obvious metric that shows whether or not your game’s engagement strategy is working, is the retention rate. Now, most games tend to lose 70-80% of their players by day 30, from the point of acquisition. And the number one reason behind this churn is the lack of an effective engagement strategy – they didn’t know how to hold the player back and what channel they should be using to communicate with them before they lose interest.
You also need to closely measure your week 1 retention in order to understand if the onboarding has been effective at hooking a player’s interest. Similarly, moving ahead to D7 and D30, you will be able to understand how the player has been progressing through the game and how effective your engagement strategies have been.
4. In-app journey and milestones
A player’s in-app journey says a lot about how engaged they are. The Google Play Store ranking algorithm changes want you to dig deeper into exactly that data. You need to clearly identify the milestones in a typical player’s in-game journey, as per your conversion goal.
Here are the two things you need to be taking note of here – the screens that are being viewed the most and if they are aligned with the milestones you identified, and the app session lengths. This can be extremely useful in also identifying the players who are slipping away and implementing engagement strategies in a timely manner.
5. App crashes
The number of times a technical glitch occurs, may not seem like an obvious player engagement metric to measure. But if your game hasn’t been working as it should be, there is a greater chance of you losing your player’s interest.
Keeping a little tab on this will not just help you identify where to improve your game, but also how to timely communicate it to the players when a crash happens. It’s important to communicate with your players in a timely manner if you want to keep them engaged!
6. In-app conversions
Getting a user to install your game, is just the first step. It is what the player does after a few app sessions, is what defines their level of engagement with your app.
If you don’t want games like PokemonGo stepping in occasionally and sweeping your players away, it is important for your user engagement strategy to include driving them towards an in-app conversion. This might include asking them to subscribe to a PRO version of your game, purchase an in-game feature or any other form of bigger commitment.
Seeing the impact of the Google Play store ranking algorithm changes, we’re sure there’s a lot more that needs to be tackled.
Countering Google Play Store ranking algorithm changes
The developer community is calling the Google Play Store algorithm changes and its impact, Playmageddon. And we’re all facing it together!
When it comes to facing the challenges due to market changes, including app store algorithm tweaks, the best way to find a solution, is to work together.
There are hundreds of app developers and marketers trying and testing different user engagement strategies, to keep their organic growth from hitting rock bottom. The best approach is to learn together, and that’s why it is a great idea to join a few groups, communities and forums.
To start with, here are the two we absolutely recommend: