Why Google Play Search Results Suck

Yes that’s right, search results for Google Play suck!  The apps displayed in results are consistently irrelevant to the topic searched and the search results are  most certainly not appropriately ordered to give users relevant results for their search terms.  On top of the fact that the search results suck, SEO for Google Play is a black box which makes it even more frustrating.

Since we launched Migration+ in early March on both the Apple App Store and Google Play (formerly Android Market) we’ve spent a bit of time trying to optimize how our app gets found by users.  After recently reading a TNW article about Instragram being buried in Google Play results, I decided it may be valuable to detail our efforts in this area to illustrate how challenging it really is for a startup in this space.

In the first version we published on both the App Store and Google Play, we naively published a simple paragraph about our app.  For the Apple App Store we put in keywords describing what we wanted the app to be (i.e. move docs, sms, etc.) not what it was at the moment (contacts migration) – newbie mistake.  It’s relevant to note that Google Play does not have a specific field for keywords.  After publishing we expected that it would take a little while for indexes and search results to show our app, so we stayed patient – roughly a week.  After a week and after reading a good existing theory about Google Play’s search algorithm as well as several for the Apple App Store, we adjusted our description to reflect the search queries we thought would be relevant to for users to find Migration.  We also adjusted our title slightly and for Apple we adjusted our keywords.  Here are a few sample search terms we were targeting:

  1. move contacts
  2. migrate contacts
  3. contact migration

Less than 24 hours after changing the description, keywords, and title we saw Migration+ show up in the top 25 results for many of our search terms in the Apple App Store.  However, in Google Play we were only showing up in the top 25 for one search term, “contact migration”.  Since then we’ve been tracking search term rankings for Migration+ thinking that more downloads/installs/time in the respective app repositories would increasingly benefit the ranking.  That assumption seems to be true on Apple, but not currently true on Google Play.  Although we’ve had ~250 downloads over the first few weeks of launch on each OS, our Google Play ranking has not improved in any significant way.  Because of the lackluster ranking on Google and the fairly good ranking on Apple we’ve been trying to figure out what’s going on.  We’ve noticed two big problems…

Problem 1 – Irrelevant Search Results on Google Play.  Take the search term  ”move contacts” for example, where we are ranked #4 of the Apple App Store and #316 on Google Play.  In the search results on Google Play we’re ranked behind apps like:

  1. Green wold [Go Contact The
  2. ES File Explorer
  3. Luma Live Wallpaper
  4. Antivirus Free
  5. DrunkBlocker
  6. Locavore
  7. Menards®
  8. PicFolio for Picasa HD
  9. Gift Shopper Pro
  10. Shead Spreet Pro
  11. RadiantWalls HD – PlanetScapes
  12. ToDo List Task Manager -Lite
  13. MoneyWise Pro

…and about 200 other apps that are fairly irrelevant to the search term used.  Essentially this seems like a case of “downloads are most important, not content”.  If an app that has been downloaded many times and has either of the search terms in it’s title or description, it comes before less downloaded apps with more relevant or exact match search terms in the title or description.  Here are a couple detailed examples of how irrelevant the results can be:

  1. If you go to Google Play from your web browser and search for “migrate contacts” on the first page of the results, you’ll find Pocket Agent® by State Farm Insurance.  If you look at the description for the app it has nothing to do with contacts, it’s for insurance claims!  The app description has no mention of the word “migrate” and there is only one sentence that says “contacts” and it states “Read contacts data – Used by On The Move™ as an optional privacy measure to determine if an incoming text message is from someone in your contact book.”  However, this app has been downloaded between 100,000-500,000 times in the last 30 days.
  2. Currently, our best search term for Google Play is “contact migration” where we rank 12th.  If you search Google Play for that search term, the 8th result on the page is Mighty Grocery Shopping List.   It’s a nice looking app that has absolutely nothing to do with the Google Play search terms.  The description does have the word “migration” in the description but it’s used to describe upgrading from the lite version of their app to the full version.  The description also has the word “contact” used in a sentence where they leave their email address so you can contact them.  This app has been downloaded between 10,000-50,000 in the past 30 days.  Almost all other results on the first page do not even have the word “migration” anywhere in the title or description!  However, almost all of them do have a significant amount of downloads in the last 30 days.

Problem 2 – Number of Results on Google Play.  This second problem is intertwined with the first problem.  If you search the App Store for any of our noted search terms, most of them are low to medium competition (less than 50 results).  In fact, only 3 of them are over 50.  All of our search terms and essentially every search on Google Play results in what would be considered a “highly competitive” search term (hundreds of results).  To get specific, all of our search terms yield at least 250 results on Google Play and most yield 500!

I emailed a few people at Google with polite messages about my concerns in hopes of getting information about their direction on search for Google Play or perhaps a brief explanation of how best developers can work with their search results.  Unfortunately, I haven’t got any responses.  Before anyone flames, let me freely admit that I am not a professional when it comes to SEO.  I should also state plainly that I am typically a happy Google product and service user.  I hope this post draws some attention from the right people at Google about how challenging this has become – especially for small developers.

NOTE – there was one other problem we were going to list, lack of exact name match.  However, for Migration+ at least, this has seemingly been fixed recently.


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