First, some background: since May/June last year, posts from disgruntled developers have been surfacing, complaining of drops in traffic to store pages and downloads (1,2). There was a lot of confusion at the time, and several developers went to Google directly to get answers. Google’s response was:
“As part of our continued effort to deliver the best possible Google Play experience, we regularly update the the Play Store to help people find and discover safe, high quality, useful, and relevant apps and games.”
While some people’s interpretation of this response was Google saying “git gud” to developers, we feel it’s important to understand the context of this change: Google finds it difficult to compete with the level of quality in the Apple App Store, and is taking steps to raise the bar for the Play Store. One of the ways that they are doing this is through Google Play/Android Vitals, which is a new addition to the Google Play Developer Console. It shows developers how they perform against several key metrics such as crash rates, app not responding rates, excessive WiFi, location or processing in the background (read more here). Developers are advised to improve their performance against these benchmarks, and anecdotally, if they fall in the bottom approx 25% of one of the benchmarks (unclear if this is overall or at the category level), then their rank position in the charts and feature chances are heavily impacted.
In fact, when we spoke to experts in our network about this, we heard that the impact can be significant. Kristian Rabe, of boutique mobile consultancy Dynamo Partners said:
“When it comes to ASO or Performance Marketing Consulting in a project, I check the Google Vitals signals of these apps first. If those signals are bad in terms of what Google says, this needs to be addressed first. Improve the Google signals first (i.e improve your product/stability first), then perform any ASO or performance marketing tasks. It's as simple as that. Problem is, most product manager's and especially marketing managers do not know the impact of the Google signals in terms of visibility in the Google Play Store.”
What does this mean for developers?
It means that performance metrics other than user acquisition will need to be a much higher priority going forward. This means that ignoring Vitals as an item to be fixed post scale might not be an option. If Google de-ranks apps very fast based on these signals, developers will find it hard to gain visibility, because even if a developer is buying high volumes of installs, the increase in rank (and visibility) will be significantly impacted.
From what we’ve heard, these signals are also being taken into account in the Similar Apps rankings, featured apps, and other promotional placements, so developers will really have to remain on top of their app’s performance.