Tag Archive | "Store"

Google Ads store visits, store sales reporting data partially corrected

Google says it is making progress, but there are still days for which reporting is inaccurate.



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Easy Marketing Investments to Improve Your E-Commerce Store

Posted by KaneJamison

At least once or twice per month, I talk to a small e-commerce store owner who wants to invest in content marketing. Often times, I have to break it to them that they’re not ready for content marketing.

You see, before you spend a bunch of time generating traffic from your target audience, it’s important to make sure those visitors get the best experience possible while browsing your store.

So, in this post, I want to give store owners and e-commerce newbies a clear idea of where they can invest their time before investing in more paid and organic traffic to their sites. Many of these can be accomplished for less than $ 1,000 or a few hours of your time.

With a few small-scale investments you can help drive performance on conversions, SEO, and more.

So what are they?

  1. Rewrite Your Weak Product Descriptions
  2. Take Better Product Photography
  3. Build Lookbooks & Product Collections
  4. Start Adding Product Videos
  5. Upgrade Your Review Software & Process

Let’s look at these opportunities in detail, and better yet, show you some actual examples of what your site could look like.

Rewrite your weak product descriptions

From product details to features and benefits, product descriptions must pack a lot of information in a short format. You may have overlooked some missed opportunities.

If you answer “yes” to any of the following questions, consider investing in improved product descriptions.

1 – Does your current product page copy speak only to your ideal customer?

If you’ve built buyer personas for your brand, make sure the copy addresses the appropriate persona’s unique pain points and concerns. Bland descriptions meant to appeal to everyone — or just bots — aren’t as effective.

This high chair example from 4moms.com focuses on the three things that matter to their audience: single-handed adjustments, spilt-food prevention, and easy cleanup.

2 – Does your copy focus on benefits rather than features?

You can list features all day long, but customers really want to know how your product will make their life better.

The Amazon Echo sales page does a great job of focusing less on the technical features of the product, and more on the cool things you can do with it.

3 – Are you describing your product with the same words that your customers use?

Using the same language that your customers do will help you better communicate with your target audience in a way that sounds natural for them and touches on their pain points.

A simple way to find these words is to do some reverse engineering. Start by looking at customer reviews and feedback you’ve collected (and those of your main competitors as well) to pick out common words and phrases that satisfied customers are using. From here, you can tie that customer language back into your own descriptions.

I was shopping for a new tent last week and saw this awesome reviewer on Amazon drive home a point that the copywriters had missed. If you read that entire review, the phrase “family tent” is mentioned about 13 times.

But if you read the product description, “family tent” only shows up once. The description fails to mention many of the benefits covered by the reviewer: lots of pockets, sleeping arrangements, ability to catch a breeze but keep the doors closed, etc.

There’s an opportunity here for a competitor in the tent or outdoor space to improve their own product descriptions for the same tent (or even put together a larger guide to family tents).

4 – Are you telling your product’s story?

The folks over at Rogue Brewing understand that the people buying gifts from their website are probably passionate about well-made products, not just well-made beer. Here’s a great example from their site that tells the story of their 28-year search for a decent beer shucker (bottle opener):

Take better product photography

Photography matters. Research from BigCommerce suggests that 67% of consumers consider image quality “very important” when making a purchase online.

Good product photos do more than just show shoppers what you’re selling — they provide context and help customers visualize using your products. Plus, high-quality photos will reduce product returns that happen due to misleading images.

So what can you do to upgrade your product photos?

Smartphones aren’t going to cut it

Use a DSLR camera, not your smartphone. Although modern smartphone cameras can take higher resolution photos than ever before, you’ll get better results from a DSLR. Lower-end models start at around $ 500 — try finding a used body online and spending more money on a better & cost-effective fixed lens that can handle video, too.

Build a cheap lightbox

Create a lightbox for well-lit photos with a solid white background. For less than $ 10, you can build your own lightbox that will vastly improve the quality of your product images.

Use creative angles

Shoot products from multiple angles. Be sure to include several images on every product page. The more perspectives and viewpoints you have, the better customers will be able to judge your product.

It’s OK to tweak & process your images to make them pop

Process your images with filters that enhance color and overall image quality. Photo filters resolve poor lighting or color issues and vastly improve your product photos. Just try not to get carried away with dramatic filters that distort the color of your products, as this can be misleading for the buyer. Here’s a good example from ABeautifulMess.com showing the difference before and after image edits:

If you don’t have time or the inclination to take your own photography, outsource it to a professional. No matter what route you go, know that upgrading your product page photography is well worth the investment.

Build lookbooks & product collections

You can also provide more context for your products through lookbooks, which showcase your products in use. The term “lookbook” is mostly common in the fashion industry, but the concept can be extended to a variety of industries.

The photos in the lookbook for Fitbit’s Alta model of fitness tracker help shoppers envision themselves wearing them. Fitbit’s lookbook also establishes a brand lifestyle promise — impossible with product photos alone. Even better? The various photos are clickable and take you to the product page for that color/style of wristband:

Product collections are another great variation on this strategy. In this “Mediterranean Collection” page on Coastal.com, shoppers get an opportunity to shop by “style,” and to see examples of the glasses on actual faces instead of just a white background:

As I alluded to before, this isn’t just an opportunity for fashion sites. The trick is to make sure you’re showing your products in action.

Plenty of other retailers have an opportunity to show off their product in use, like these photos from the Klipsch website showing off their soundbars in various settings:

Car accessories? Same thing.

Heck, even office furniture is easier to purchase when you see how it looks in a workspace.

Start adding product videos

Adding video to product pages is another relatively low-budget improvement you can make, yet it has extreme value for shoppers and your bottom line.

Why? Because video’s ability to quickly educate shoppers is a powerful conversion tool. Eyeview Digital reported that including video on landing pages can improve conversions by as much as 80%, and ComScore indicated that online shoppers are 64% more likely to buy after watching a video.

So how can you put video to work on your product pages?

Whether you’re demonstrating a how-to or simply showcasing a product and outlining product details, adding video on your product pages provides a whole new experience for online shoppers that helps overcome purchase objections and answers their questions.

Video also allows you to give shoppers a more complete overview of the product and to go beyond static pictures with a story element. These engaging visuals can help shoppers envision themselves using your products in a way that photography alone simply can’t.

Zappos is well known for including videos on what seems like every listing, but what’s more impressive to me is how much personality and brand voice they show off. While shopping for boots recently, I have to say Joe was my favorite video personality:

Click image to open product video in a new window.

If you’re up for taking this on with a DIY approach, it’s reasonably easy to create your own product videos at home with the right equipment. Or, outsource this project to a local professional or videographer for hire.

Upgrade your customer reviews software & process

In the current e-commerce landscape, competition is fierce — and there’s always someone willing to deliver cheaper and faster.

That’s why social proof is more important than ever before. Research from eConsultancy shows that 61% of consumers indicate they look to product reviews before making a purchase, and that product reviews are 12x more trusted than product descriptions from companies.

Customer reviews make your product pages more effective, allowing shoppers to evaluate the product based on real customer opinions — and can help you spot product issues.

I’m listing a few common platforms here, but you should really check out Everett Sizemore’s guide to product review software, which has some great insights on the performance of the entire marketplace of product review software options, including technical SEO concerns:

Traditional product reviews may not be right for all stores…

The best option for you will depend on the tool’s ability to integrate with your store, your preferred functionality, and your budget. Sometimes, traditional product reviews won’t be the best choice for your product or store.

In this example from ThinkGeek, they’ve opted to just let people leave Facebook comments rather than any product reviews at all. Which makes sense, because they’re Star Trek garden gnomes, and it’s not like you need to tell people whether they were the right size or not. Even better than Facebook comments, they also solicit product photos via social media on their #geekfamous hashtag.

Here’s another example where my favorite wallet company, SlimFold, simply highlights great product reviews that they received from press and customer emails. While it makes it harder for them to solicit new reviews, they only have a handful of products, and this format allows them to put more emphasis on specific reviews.

There are many different tools that will allow you to showcase elements of social proof like ratings and reviews, so take your time carefully reviewing different options to see which is the best fit for your needs and budget, and if normal product reviews aren’t the right fit, feel free to take a different approach.

Make enough of these small investments and you should see big improvements over the long term.

Tackling these small investments — as your schedule and budget allows — will dramatically improve the overall user experience and the effectiveness of your e-commerce store.

Consider which aspects are the most important to complete first, and then start doing your research and put together a strategy for how you’ll prioritize these site upgrades. With a well-thought-out plan of action, you can focus on the projects that will drive the best results for your business, rather than trying too many different tactics all at once.

Looking for more ideas? Take a look at our guides on product page optimization, category page optimization, and conversion rate improvements for e-commerce.

This is by no means the complete guide to investing in your e-commerce store, so in the discussion below, I’d like to hear from you. What creative ways have you improved your e-commerce site content in the past that boosted conversions or organic search?

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Getting Local Store Locator SEO Right

Posted by MiriamEllis

[Estimated read time: 9 minutes]

Right now, a customer is trying to find your local business. How quickly are you delivering the NAP, directions and other details he needs, on the go?

Volumes of excellent free advice have been written for small businesses about creating quality, optimized local landing pages, but today, I’d like to talk about a topic that has received much less attention: helping customers discover locations when you’ve got a ton of them. This article is for the medium-to-large business with 20, 100, 500 physical locations and a pressing goal to have each one be found by the customers local to it. Let’s talk about store locators!

Shopping wisely for store locators

A business with 5 or even 10 locations can easily work them into a menu tab labeled ‘Locations’ and trust that customers hitting the site will be able to click to their landing page of choice to access NAP, hours of operation, photos, reviews, etc. But when your company has grown beyond this, it simply isn’t practical to list dozens of locales in your top level navigation, whether on desktop or mobile devices. The solution, then, is a store locator widget that enables customers to enter a city and/or zip code, or click on an interactive map, to be guided to the right resource.

There are six main things you are looking for when assessing the quality of a store locator widget:

  1. Does it let me build and/or link directly to a customizable, permanent landing page for each of my locations? If so, this is a good sign. If not, your SEO opportunities will be severely limited.
  2. Does it allow me to search by city as well as zip code? If not, then you’ll have a problem with all travelers who may be trying to find your business in a strange city and have no idea what the local zip codes are.
  3. Does it work properly on all devices? This is must these days, given that as many as 50% of mobile queries may have a local intent.
  4. It’s a must that the widget will work with your existing website, whether that’s running on WordPress, Magento, Shopify, or what have you. You don’t want to have to redevelop your website, just to get your widget to function.
  5. A bonus to look for would be automatic geolocation detection — the ability of the widget to detect where a customer is searching from. This provides convenience.
  6. And, finally, there may be extra features you’d like to have to ensure the best possible experience for both users and your business. This might include search text autocompletion, the ability to sync with Google Docs to upload location data, or search filters that allow users to refine results based on personal criteria.

Keep all of these necessary and optional features in mind when evaluating Store Locator widget choices. Captera has recently done a good job of profiling a number of popular options which should help you hone in on the right solution for your company.

Pricing varies widely, from free to upwards of a $ 1,000 initial investment with reduced rates for subsequent years of service. WordPress offers a number of free and premium store locator plugins with varying degrees of popularity. For any paid product, I recommend choosing only those which offer a free trial period of at least 1–2 weeks so that you can be sure the solution works for you.

Weak landing pages? Weirdly, not a big worry!

I’m now going to write something kind of shocking you thought never thought you’d read on the Moz Blog: you can evidently get away with thin and duplicate content on location landing pages — if your brand is established enough.

I’m writing this because, having looked at a considerable number of live store locators while researching this article, I found landing pages like this one with next to zero content on them, landing pages like this one with a very meager attempt at content that is observably duplicative, and landing pages like this one with some duplicate content, but also, some added value for local users. Not trying to hurt anyone’s feelings, but, with the exception of the last example, the sheer volume of locations operated by these companies has likely caused their marketers to settle on the most minimal effort possible to differentiate between landing pages. The last of these (REI) has actually done a good job of adding interest to their pages by including a regional event schedule. I like what they’ve done, but is it necessary?

The answer may surprise you

In a word: no. Google is correctly finding for me each of these businesses in the right cities, both organically and locally, when I search for them. While I would never advise a small business to take a least-effort approach with their store landing pages, it’s my conclusion from my research that established brands can get away with a great deal, simply because they are established. It seems you can get the right data in front of the customer with a very minor effort, and that the minimum requirements for data on those pages would be that they have correct company NAP on them and are indexable.

Am I handing out a lazy pass for all?

Are lax standards a good reason to go with the minimum effort and call it a day? In another word: maybe. The investment you make in landing page development for your brand is going to be dictated by:

  • Funding
  • Scalability
  • Creativity
  • Competition

If funding is modest, you may need to spend elsewhere in your marketing for now. If you have hundreds of locations, the cost of going the extra mile on your store landing pages may not show any easily-discernible ROI. If your marketing department throws its hands up in the air regarding differentiating store #157 from store #158, there may be a lack of available creative solutions to the scenario. But this last bullet point — competition — this is where things get interesting.

Besting your toughest competitors

Let’s say you’re operating one of three sporting goods stores in town. Competitor A has zero content beyond NAP and hours on his landing pages. Competitor B has thin, duplicate content on her landing pages. But, you, you smartie, have not only got a unique paragraph of text on your pages, but also store-specific reviews, and a maintained schedule of guided hikes in the region. All three of you link to your respective landing pages from your Google My Business listings. If you were Google, would A, B, or C look like a more authoritative resource to you?

And let’s look at this from the perspective of me on my cell phone on a winter’s day, looking for a high end snowboard and being given raw NAP by one competitor, a generic message by the second, but a promise of a free cup of hot cocoa (according to your reviewers) and a welcome message from you that states that every employee at your shop is a fanatical outdoors enthusiast, ready to show a novice like me the ropes of investing in sporting goods.

In a competitive scenario, if your store is the only one maximizing the potential for consumer engagement on your store landing pages, you are working towards impressing not just search engines, but customers, too. You could end up earning more than your fair share of those 50% of local-intent mobile queries, in city after city.

Supercharge your landing pages

Here’s a quick brainstorming list of both typical and optional content you could include on store landing pages to make them extra useful and extra persuasive:

  • NAP
  • Hours of Operation
  • Driving Directions
  • Unique welcome message
  • Proofs of local community involvement
  • Store-specific reviews or testimonials
  • Links to major review profiles for the store
  • Social media links
  • Live chat apps
  • Store-specific specials, including coupons
  • Location-specific schedule of in-store or topically related regional events
  • A summary list of brands, goods and/or services offered at that location
  • Indoor/outdoor imagery of the specific store
  • Video content relative to the store or region
  • A statement of guarantees offered at the store
  • An interactive map
  • Calls-to-action for how to communicate with the brand after hours
  • Education about the availability of beacons or other in-store apps

Looking for more inspiration? Try this Moz Academy video to spark extra landing page content ideas.

You may necessarily end up with a minor amount of duplicate content, but by brainstorming a list like the above, you will be making a maximum effort to inspire bots to consider your pages authoritative and to inspire searchers to become customers.

Discovery and indexing: Making landing pages pay off

Now that you’ve made the effort to create all of these individual landing pages for your locations, your top priority is to be sure they can be discovered by customers and indexed by search engines.

Simple enough

The first is really easy: be certain your Locations or Stores link is in your top level navigation, at the top of every page of your website. Don’t count on users finding it if you’ve stuck it in a box somewhere within your homepage layout. Many users will not be entering your website via the homepage and you want to deliver the link to find the store nearest them immediately. Don’t make them search for it.

Take care here

Ensuring that search engines can crawl and index your local landing pages requires a bit more thought, given that different store locator widgets are developed with different types of code. Google can crawl CSS, and they can typically crawl Javascript and AJAX. Hopefully, the widget you choose will facilitate your landing pages being properly indexed with no additional effort.. But, to make this foolproof, here are additional things you can do:

  1. Be sure you are linking from the Google My Business listing for each location to its respective landing page on the website.
  2. Be sure your other citations also consistently link to the landing pages instead of to the homepage.
  3. Submit an XML sitemap to Google Search Console.
  4. Create a permanent sitemap on your website, that includes links to all of the landing pages.
  5. On the main Locations page of the website, include an alphabetical directory of all locations with crawlable links. You can see an example of this at REI.com.
  6. Earning inbound links to these pages from third parties and, also, linking internally to landing pages from other pages of the website or blog posts, where appropriate, are other forms of insurance that they will be discovered, crawled and indexed.

You say “local landing pages,” I say, “customer service!”

Comscore/Neustar Localeze have estimated that more than ½ of desktop local searches and more the ¾ of mobile local searches result in an offline purchase. The same study asserts that almost half of the searches surrounding services, restaurants and travel are performed by users looking for companies with whom they’ve never had any previous transactions.

In this lively scenario, the smart business will be that one which gets name, address, phone number and driving directions in front of the customer fast. The winning business in a competitive environment may be the one which not only extends the courtesy of basic data to the customer, but which offers extra inducements (in the form of additional useful information) to be that customer’s choice.

Store locator widgets and local landing pages have become an established component of customer service. Properly implemented and developed, they may be the very first sign you give to a major percentage of your incoming customers that you are there to serve their needs. Serve them well!

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SearchCap: Google+ Pages, App Store Search & Google Maps Trick

Below is what happened in search today, as reported on Search Engine Land and from other places across the web.

The post SearchCap: Google+ Pages, App Store Search & Google Maps Trick appeared first on Search Engine Land.



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Deconstructing the App Store Rankings Formula with a Little Mad Science

Posted by AlexApptentive

After seeing Rand’s “Mad Science Experiments in SEO” presented at last year’s MozCon, I was inspired to put on the lab coat and goggles and do a few experiments of my own—not in SEO, but in SEO’s up-and-coming younger sister, ASO (app store optimization).

Working with Apptentive to guide enterprise apps and small startup apps alike to increase their discoverability in the app stores, I’ve learned a thing or two about app store optimization and what goes into an app’s ranking. It’s been my personal goal for some time now to pull back the curtains on Google and Apple. Yet, the deeper into the rabbit hole I go, the more untested assumptions I leave in my way.

Hence, I thought it was due time to put some longstanding hypotheses through the gauntlet.

As SEOs, we know how much of an impact a single ranking can mean on a SERP. One tiny rank up or down can make all the difference when it comes to your website’s traffic—and revenue.

In the world of apps, ranking is just as important when it comes to standing out in a sea of more than 1.3 million apps. Apptentive’s recent mobile consumer survey shed a little more light this claim, revealing that nearly half of all mobile app users identified browsing the app store charts and search results (the placement on either of which depends on rankings) as a preferred method for finding new apps in the app stores. Simply put, better rankings mean more downloads and easier discovery.

Like Google and Bing, the two leading app stores (the Apple App Store and Google Play) have a complex and highly guarded algorithms for determining rankings for both keyword-based app store searches and composite top charts.

Unlike SEO, however, very little research and theory has been conducted around what goes into these rankings.

Until now, that is.

Over the course of five studies analyzing various publicly available data points for a cross-section of the top 500 iOS (U.S. Apple App Store) and the top 500 Android (U.S. Google Play) apps, I’ll attempt to set the record straight with a little myth-busting around ASO. In the process, I hope to assess and quantify any perceived correlations between app store ranks, ranking volatility, and a few of the factors commonly thought of as influential to an app’s ranking.

But first, a little context

Apple App Store vs. Google Play

Image credit: Josh Tuininga, Apptentive

Both the Apple App Store and Google Play have roughly 1.3 million apps each, and both stores feature a similar breakdown by app category. Apps ranking in the two stores should, theoretically, be on a fairly level playing field in terms of search volume and competition.

Of these apps, nearly two-thirds have not received a single rating and 99% are considered unprofitable. These studies, therefore, single out the rare exceptions to the rule—the top 500 ranked apps in each store.

While neither Apple nor Google have revealed specifics about how they calculate search rankings, it is generally accepted that both app store algorithms factor in:

  • Average app store rating
  • Rating/review volume
  • Download and install counts
  • Uninstalls (what retention and churn look like for the app)
  • App usage statistics (how engaged an app’s users are and how frequently they launch the app)
  • Growth trends weighted toward recency (how daily download counts changed over time and how today’s ratings compare to last week’s)
  • Keyword density of the app’s landing page (Ian did a great job covering this factor in a previous Moz post)

I’ve simplified this formula to a function highlighting the four elements with sufficient data (or at least proxy data) for our analysis:

Ranking = fn(Rating, Rating Count, Installs, Trends)

Of course, right now, this generalized function doesn’t say much. Over the next five studies, however, we’ll revisit this function before ultimately attempting to compare the weights of each of these four variables on app store rankings.

(For the purpose of brevity, I’ll stop here with the assumptions, but I’ve gone into far greater depth into how I’ve reached these conclusions in a 55-page report on app store rankings.)

Now, for the Mad Science.

Study #1: App-les to app-les app store ranking volatility

The first, and most straight forward of the five studies involves tracking daily movement in app store rankings across iOS and Android versions of the same apps to determine any trends of differences between ranking volatility in the two stores.

I went with a small sample of five apps for this study, the only criteria for which were that:

  • They were all apps I actively use (a criterion for coming up with the five apps but not one that influences rank in the U.S. app stores)
  • They were ranked in the top 500 (but not the top 25, as I assumed app store rankings would be stickier at the top—an assumption I’ll test in study #2)
  • They had an almost identical version of the app in both Google Play and the App Store, meaning they should (theoretically) rank similarly
  • They covered a spectrum of app categories

The apps I ultimately chose were Lyft, Venmo, Duolingo, Chase Mobile, and LinkedIn. These five apps represent the travel, finance, education banking, and social networking categories.

Hypothesis

Going into this analysis, I predicted slightly more volatility in Apple App Store rankings, based on two statistics:

Both of these assumptions will be tested in later analysis.

Results

7-Day App Store Ranking Volatility in the App Store and Google Play

Among these five apps, Google Play rankings were, indeed, significantly less volatile than App Store rankings. Among the 35 data points recorded, rankings within Google Play moved by as much as 23 positions/ranks per day while App Store rankings moved up to 89 positions/ranks. The standard deviation of ranking volatility in the App Store was, furthermore, 4.45 times greater than that of Google Play.

Of course, the same apps varied fairly dramatically in their rankings in the two app stores, so I then standardized the ranking volatility in terms of percent change to control for the effect of numeric rank on volatility. When cast in this light, App Store rankings changed by as much as 72% within a 24-hour period while Google Play rankings changed by no more than 9%.

Also of note, daily rankings tended to move in the same direction across the two app stores approximately two-thirds of the time, suggesting that the two stores, and their customers, may have more in common than we think.

Study #2: App store ranking volatility across the top charts

Testing the assumption implicit in standardizing the data in study No. 1, this one was designed to see if app store ranking volatility is correlated with an app’s current rank. The sample for this study consisted of the top 500 ranked apps in both Google Play and the App Store, with special attention given to those on both ends of the spectrum (ranks 1–100 and 401–500).

Hypothesis

I anticipated rankings to be more volatile the higher an app is ranked—meaning an app ranked No. 450 should be able to move more ranks in any given day than an app ranked No. 50. This hypothesis is based on the assumption that higher ranked apps have more installs, active users, and ratings, and that it would take a large margin to produce a noticeable shift in any of these factors.

Results

App Store Ranking Volatility of Top 500 Apps

One look at the chart above shows that apps in both stores have increasingly more volatile rankings (based on how many ranks they moved in the last 24 hours) the lower on the list they’re ranked.

This is particularly true when comparing either end of the spectrum—with a seemingly straight volatility line among Google Play’s Top 100 apps and very few blips within the App Store’s Top 100. Compare this section to the lower end, ranks 401–)500, where both stores experience much more turbulence in their rankings. Across the gamut, I found a 24% correlation between rank and ranking volatility in the Play Store and 28% correlation in the App Store.

To put this into perspective, the average app in Google Play’s 401–)500 ranks moved 12.1 ranks in the last 24 hours while the average app in the Top 100 moved a mere 1.4 ranks. For the App Store, these numbers were 64.28 and 11.26, making slightly lower-ranked apps more than five times as volatile as the highest ranked apps. (I say slightly as these “lower-ranked” apps are still ranked higher than 99.96% of all apps.)

The relationship between rank and volatility is pretty consistent across the App Store charts, while rank has a much greater impact on volatility at the lower end of Google Play charts (ranks 1-100 have a 35% correlation) than it does at the upper end (ranks 401-500 have a 1% correlation).

Study #3: App store rankings across the stars

The next study looks at the relationship between rank and star ratings to determine any trends that set the top chart apps apart from the rest and explore any ties to app store ranking volatility.

Hypothesis

Ranking = fn(Rating, Rating Count, Installs, Trends)

As discussed in the introduction, this study relates directly to one of the factors commonly accepted as influential to app store rankings: average rating.

Getting started, I hypothesized that higher ranks generally correspond to higher ratings, cementing the role of star ratings in the ranking algorithm.

As far as volatility goes, I did not anticipate average rating to play a role in app store ranking volatility, as I saw no reason for higher rated apps to be less volatile than lower rated apps, or vice versa. Instead, I believed volatility to be tied to rating volume (as we’ll explore in our last study).

Results

Average App Store Ratings of Top Apps

The chart above plots the top 100 ranked apps in either store with their average rating (both historic and current, for App Store apps). If it looks a little chaotic, it’s just one indicator of the complexity of ranking algorithm in Google Play and the App Store.

If our hypothesis was correct, we’d see a downward trend in ratings. We’d expect to see the No. 1 ranked app with a significantly higher rating than the No. 100 ranked app. Yet, in neither store is this the case. Instead, we get a seemingly random plot with no obvious trends that jump off the chart.

A closer examination, in tandem with what we already know about the app stores, reveals two other interesting points:

  1. The average star rating of the top 100 apps is significantly higher than that of the average app. Across the top charts, the average rating of a top 100 Android app was 4.319 and the average top iOS app was 3.935. These ratings are 0.32 and 0.27 points, respectively, above the average rating of all rated apps in either store. The averages across apps in the 401–)500 ranks approximately split the difference between the ratings of the top ranked apps and the ratings of the average app.
  2. The rating distribution of top apps in Google Play was considerably more compact than the distribution of top iOS apps. The standard deviation of ratings in the Apple App Store top chart was over 2.5 times greater than that of the Google Play top chart, likely meaning that ratings are more heavily weighted in Google Play’s algorithm.

App Store Ranking Volatility and Average Rating

Looking next at the relationship between ratings and app store ranking volatility reveals a -15% correlation that is consistent across both app stores; meaning the higher an app is rated, the less its rank it likely to move in a 24-hour period. The exception to this rule is the Apple App Store’s calculation of an app’s current rating, for which I did not find a statistically significant correlation.

Study #4: App store rankings across versions

This next study looks at the relationship between the age of an app’s current version, its rank and its ranking volatility.

Hypothesis

Ranking = fn(Rating, Rating Count, Installs, Trends)

In alteration of the above function, I’m using the age of a current app’s version as a proxy (albeit not a very good one) for trends in app store ratings and app quality over time.

Making the assumptions that (a) apps that are updated more frequently are of higher quality and (b) each new update inspires a new wave of installs and ratings, I’m hypothesizing that the older the age of an app’s current version, the lower it will be ranked and the less volatile its rank will be.

Results

How update frequency correlates with app store rank

The first and possibly most important finding is that apps across the top charts in both Google Play and the App Store are updated remarkably often as compared to the average app.

At the time of conducting the study, the current version of the average iOS app on the top chart was only 28 days old; the current version of the average Android app was 38 days old.

As hypothesized, the age of the current version is negatively correlated with the app’s rank, with a 13% correlation in Google Play and a 10% correlation in the App Store.

How update frequency correlates with app store ranking volatility

The next part of the study maps the age of the current app version to its app store ranking volatility, finding that recently updated Android apps have less volatile rankings (correlation: 8.7%) while recently updated iOS apps have more volatile rankings (correlation: -3%).

Study #5: App store rankings across monthly active users

In the final study, I wanted to examine the role of an app’s popularity on its ranking. In an ideal world, popularity would be measured by an app’s monthly active users (MAUs), but since few mobile app developers have released this information, I’ve settled for two publicly available proxies: Rating Count and Installs.

Hypothesis

Ranking = fn(Rating, Rating Count, Installs, Trends)

For the same reasons indicated in the second study, I anticipated that more popular apps (e.g., apps with more ratings and more installs) would be higher ranked and less volatile in rank. This, again, takes into consideration that it takes more of a shift to produce a noticeable impact in average rating or any of the other commonly accepted influencers of an app’s ranking.

Results

Apps with more ratings and reviews typically rank higher

The first finding leaps straight off of the chart above: Android apps have been rated more times than iOS apps, 15.8x more, in fact.

The average app in Google Play’s Top 100 had a whopping 3.1 million ratings while the average app in the Apple App Store’s Top 100 had 196,000 ratings. In contrast, apps in the 401–)500 ranks (still tremendously successful apps in the 99.96 percentile of all apps) tended to have between one-tenth (Android) and one-fifth (iOS) of the ratings count as that of those apps in the top 100 ranks.

Considering that almost two-thirds of apps don’t have a single rating, reaching rating counts this high is a huge feat, and a very strong indicator of the influence of rating count in the app store ranking algorithms.

To even out the playing field a bit and help us visualize any correlation between ratings and rankings (and to give more credit to the still-staggering 196k ratings for the average top ranked iOS app), I’ve applied a logarithmic scale to the chart above:

The relationship between app store ratings and rankings in the top 100 apps

From this chart, we can see a correlation between ratings and rankings, such that apps with more ratings tend to rank higher. This equates to a 29% correlation in the App Store and a 40% correlation in Google Play.

Apps with more ratings typically experience less app store ranking volatility

Next up, I looked at how ratings count influenced app store ranking volatility, finding that apps with more ratings had less volatile rankings in the Apple App Store (correlation: 17%). No conclusive evidence was found within the Top 100 Google Play apps.

Apps with more installs and active users tend to rank higher in the app stores

And last but not least, I looked at install counts as an additional proxy for MAUs. (Sadly, this is a statistic only listed in Google Play. so any resulting conclusions are applicable only to Android apps.)

Among the top 100 Android apps, this last study found that installs were heavily correlated with ranks (correlation: -35.5%), meaning that apps with more installs are likely to rank higher in Google Play. Android apps with more installs also tended to have less volatile app store rankings, with a correlation of -16.5%.

Unfortunately, these numbers are slightly skewed as Google Play only provides install counts in broad ranges (e.g., 500k–)1M). For each app, I took the low end of the range, meaning we can likely expect the correlation to be a little stronger since the low end was further away from the midpoint for apps with more installs.

Summary

To make a long post ever so slightly shorter, here are the nuts and bolts unearthed in these five mad science studies in app store optimization:

  1. Across the top charts, Apple App Store rankings are 4.45x more volatile than those of Google Play
  2. Rankings become increasingly volatile the lower an app is ranked. This is particularly true across the Apple App Store’s top charts.
  3. In both stores, higher ranked apps tend to have an app store ratings count that far exceeds that of the average app.
  4. Ratings appear to matter more to the Google Play algorithm, especially as the Apple App Store top charts experience a much wider ratings distribution than that of Google Play’s top charts.
  5. The higher an app is rated, the less volatile its rankings are.
  6. The 100 highest ranked apps in either store are updated much more frequently than the average app, and apps with older current versions are correlated with lower ratings.
  7. An app’s update frequency is negatively correlated with Google Play’s ranking volatility but positively correlated with ranking volatility in the App Store. This likely due to how Apple weighs an app’s most recent ratings and reviews.
  8. The highest ranked Google Play apps receive, on average, 15.8x more ratings than the highest ranked App Store apps.
  9. In both stores, apps that fall under the 401–500 ranks receive, on average, 10–20% of the rating volume seen by apps in the top 100.
  10. Rating volume and, by extension, installs or MAUs, is perhaps the best indicator of ranks, with a 29–40% correlation between the two.

Revisiting our first (albeit oversimplified) guess at the app stores’ ranking algorithm gives us this loosely defined function:

Ranking = fn(Rating, Rating Count, Installs, Trends)

I’d now re-write the function into a formula by weighing each of these four factors, where a, b, c, & d are unknown multipliers, or weights:

Ranking = (Rating * a) + (Rating Count * b) + (Installs * c) + (Trends * d)

These five studies on ASO shed a little more light on these multipliers, showing Rating Count to have the strongest correlation with rank, followed closely by Installs, in either app store.

It’s with the other two factors—rating and trends—that the two stores show the greatest discrepancy. I’d hazard a guess to say that the App Store prioritizes growth trends over ratings, given the importance it places on an app’s current version and the wide distribution of ratings across the top charts. Google Play, on the other hand, seems to favor ratings, with an unwritten rule that apps just about have to have at least four stars to make the top 100 ranks.

Thus, we conclude our mad science with this final glimpse into what it takes to make the top charts in either store:

Weight of factors in the Apple App Store ranking algorithm

Rating Count > Installs > Trends > Rating

Weight of factors in the Google Play ranking algorithm

Rating Count > Installs > Rating > Trends


Again, we’re oversimplifying for the sake of keeping this post to a mere 3,000 words, but additional factors including keyword density and in-app engagement statistics continue to be strong indicators of ranks. They simply lie outside the scope of these studies.

I hope you found this deep-dive both helpful and interesting. Moving forward, I also hope to see ASOs conducting the same experiments that have brought SEO to the center stage, and encourage you to enhance or refute these findings with your own ASO mad science experiments.

Please share your thoughts in the comments below, and let’s deconstruct the ranking formula together, one experiment at a time.

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Search In Pics: Google+ Keychains, Instagram Printer & Google Wear Retail Store

In this week’s Search In Pictures, here are the latest images culled from the web, showing what people eat at the search engine companies, how they play, who they meet, where they speak, what toys they have, and more. Print Your Instagram Selfies: Source: Google+ Google Developer Group Chefs:…



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App Store SEO: The Inbound Marketer’s Guide to Mobile

Posted by iseff

The app ecosystem is growing quicker than almost any other ecosystem has before, and the shift from desktop web to mobile app is happening faster than even the most optimistic predictions thought. Traditionally, the Moz blog hasn’t included much content about mobile, the app ecosystem, and app marketing. Rand has written before about his thoughts on App Store Optimization (ASO) and mobile apps, but with the dramatic shift in consumer attention to mobile, times are changing. Your goal as a digital marketer is to reach customers where they are, which increasingly is their mobile devices (smartphones, tablets, etc.) and through the app stores.

As CEO of an app store optimization and app marketing tools startup, I’m deep into the world of the app stores, following the algorithms and helping our customers make sense of this brand new playing field. We are still at Day One in the app ecosystem. It’s changing fast and every new announcement (like iOS 7) brings big changes to app marketing.

Today, I’m incredibly happy to be writing a beginner’s guide to mobile app marketing on the Moz blog. I’ll talk briefly about all app marketing channels, but I’ll focus on ASO (SEO for the app stores). This post is a high-level overview of app marketing; not meant to make you an expert in any one aspect, but meant to give you the spark you might want to begin looking at specific parts, such as ASO.


Mobile App Growth Continues to Explode

Let’s start with a quick overview of the app ecosystem.

The ecosystem as a whole is very young, with the iOS App Store launching just five years ago in 2008. Generally speaking, over the last five years it has quickly become a two-horse race, with iOS and Google Play being the main competitors. No doubt, there are other viable contenders playing for third, such as Amazon, Microsoft, and RIMM, but iOS and Google Play are clearly leading the pack.

Both iOS and Google Play are very close in total number of downloads, with iOS surpassing 50 billion total downloads and Google Play surpassing 48 billion in May. With exceptions, the general rule is that iOS apps produce far more revenue than Google Play apps. Internationally, the game can change quite drastically depending on your country. For example, in developing countries such as India and China, we see other Android platforms and app stores coming up quickly. Here’s a great look at international market share in mobile.

App marketing has matured tremendously, just as the ecosystem as a whole has. It started with very simple channels such as CPM banners in other apps (these were basically the equivalent of, “Honey, I shrunk the web banner”), then came more complex, but less user friendly channels such as incentivized installs (“Out of poker chips? No problem, get 10 more just by installing this other app”), and then quickly moved towards better paid channels (CPI – Cost Per Install, video, and so on). App marketing is now moving towards a better blend of paid and organic channels, such as app store search, social, and more. Sound familiar?


How Do Users Find Apps?

Unlike the web, there’s no great way to determine exactly where your downloads come from. Instead, app marketers rely on studies, anecdotes from other marketers, and data from platform owners (Apple, Google, etc.) to find out what the most effective and used channels are for app distribution.

Two big studies which many ASOs point to come from research firms Nielsen and Forrester (click through to see the full study results, rather than my edited versions below). Both studies show that inbound, organic channels in the app store are the biggest drivers for downloads. In particular, both agree that search in the app store is the single largest channel, with 61% of consumers finding apps through app store search.

Moreover, some of best data, if not fully complete, comes from the platform owners themselves. Google Play’s Head of Search and Discovery, Ankit Jain, recently shared a wonderful quote about the magnitude of app store search in his presentation at Google I/O:

Just like on the web, organic app store search is only one component of Inbound App Marketing. Inbound in the app ecosystem comes in many different flavors, including search, social, top charts, web-to-app, and more. One in particular to note that is different from the web is the Top Charts in an app store.

Distinct from app store search, the Top Charts can be an incredible driver of downloads for your app, especially if your app is a general consumer app. Getting into and managing your Top Charts position is an art and science in and of itself, one which could warrant an entire series of blog posts. One of the most interesting facets of the Top Charts is how you can use paid marketing as lighter fluid for inbound marketing, by essentially buying your way into the Top Charts.

Be careful, though: Apple doesn’t like those who blatantly game their system, and could try to find a way to reject you from their store (think Panda or Penguin for apps). Additionally, I believe that the Top Charts are a short-term game in the app stores: they were moderately interesting with 100,000 apps, they’re bought by marketers at a couple million apps, and they’ll be useless with 100,000,000 apps.


How Does App Marketing Differ From Web Marketing?

In many aspects, app marketing is significantly different from web marketing. It’s important to recognize which of your skills will translate and which additional skills you’ll need to learn.

First, the app ecosystem really is a two-horse race, and those horses couldn’t look any different. In the web world, if you’re thinking about search, there’s really only one contender most SEOs look at (sorry, Bing). In the app ecosystem, however, you have to make a very specific decision as to which platform(s) you want to focus on based on developer resources, marketing resources, and so on. Each platform works in a completely different manner (especially in search), so it’s important to know that you’ll really have to focus on each one independently.

Photo credit to Paolo Camera

The web and app ecosystems differ because there is no attribution in the app ecosystem. By default, the app stores are gatekeepers, and it’s very difficult to see where your installs come from. This can depend on which platform you’re on (and is certainly more the case in iOS), but it exists in both platforms. So, while on the web you often get to see where your visits come from (even if Google is hell-bent on user privacy and increasing the (not provided) keyword), it is the norm in the app stores to never know where your installs come from, even at a high level. There are some tricks to this which I’ll outline below, but just remember, attribution in the app stores is hard.

Lastly, it’s still Day One in the app ecosystem. That means we still have a lot of growing up to do. In particular, the long-tail is still growing and learning what it will take to build successful businesses. I often equate the app ecosystem to the web in the late 90′s: search algorithms are still being created, and the money is still concentrated in the head publishers. This provides a great opportunity for those willing to take the plunge and be around early on in the process, but it requires an understanding and willingness to put in the time to try to help mature the entire ecosystem through education and evangelism.

Here’s a graph I often draw of how I see the app ecosystem landscape: a few publishers make a lot of money, while the majority make very little, with almost no middle. Compared to the web ecosystem, where there is a fat middle of businesses who make an interesting amount of money, the app ecosystem needs to continue to grow and push this curve out to look more similar to the web. I believe this will happen, just as it happened with the web over the years.


How to Optimize for App Store Search Engines

Let’s dive into search in the app stores, and how the search engines differ based on platform.

First things first; remember I mentioned that the app ecosystem reminds me of the web in the mid-to-late 90′s? Keep that picture in your head when you think of search. App store search hasn’t been “figured out” in the same way that Google “figured out” search on the web. Simply put, we’re still in AltaVista mode in the app ecosystem: something better than Yahoo’s directory provided, but not incredibly sophisticated like Google would become in a few more years.

Just like the web has on-page and off-page SEO, apps have on-metadata and off-metadata ASO. On-metadata ASO include factors totally within your control and are often things dealing with your app store presence. Off-metadata ASO include factors that might not be entirely in your control, but which you can still influence. Here are a few of the most important knobs and levers that you as a marketer can turn to affect your search performance, and some quick tips on how to optimize them.

On-Metadata

App Title

An app’s title is the single most important metadata factor for rank in ASO. It’s equivalent to the <title> tag in your HTML, and is a great signal to the app stores as to what your app is about. On the web, you want your title to include both a description of what you do (including keywords) as well as some branding; both elements should also exist in the app store. Be sure to include the keywords, but don’t be spammy. Make sure it parses well and makes sense. Example: “Strava Run – GPS Running, Training and Cycling Workout Tracker

Description

Patrick Haig, our VP of Customer Success, likes to break descriptions down into two sections: above the fold and below the fold (sound familiar?). He says, “Above the fold language should be 1-2 sentences describing the app and its primary use case, and below the fold should have a clear and engaging feature set and social proof.” We’ll dig into some of the differences about the description field across platforms below.

Keyword Field

The Keyword Field in iOS is a 100 character field which you can use to tell iTunes search for which keywords you should show up. Since you only get 100 characters, you must use them wisely. A few tips:

  • When choosing your keywords, just like on the web, focus on relevancy, search volume, and difficulty.
  • Don’t use multiple word phrases; break out to individual words (Apple can combine them for you).
  • Don’t repeat keywords that are already in your title (and put the most important ones in your title, leaving the keyword field for your secondary keywords).
  • Separate keywords with commas, and don’t use spaces anywhere.

Icon

Consumers are finicky. They want apps which are beautiful, elegant, and simple to understand. Your icon is often their first interaction with your app, so ensure that it does a great job conveying your brand, and the elegance and usefulness of your app. Remember, in search results, an icon is one of the only ways you can convey your brand and usefulness. Think of it as part of the meta description tag you’d create in SEO. For example, SoundCloud does a great job with their icon and branding.

Screenshots

The most important rule to remember when creating your screenshots is that they should not be screenshots. They are, instead, promotional graphics. That means you can include text or other graphics to tell your app’s story in an interesting, visual way.

Especially in iOS, where the card layout shows your first screenshot, it is incredibly helpful when an app displays a graphic which explains the app right up front, increasing conversions from search results to viewing the app page and, ultimately, installing the app.

The best app marketers also use their screenshots promotional graphics together to create a flow that carries the user through the story. Each graphic can build off the previous graphic, giving the user a reason to continue scrolling and learning about your app.

Here’s a great example of using the screenshots effectively by our friends at Haiku Deck.

Off-Metadata

Outside of your direct control, you’ll also want to focus on a few things to ensure the best performance in ASO.

Ratings

Every app has a rating. Your job as a marketer is to ensure that your app gets a great overall rating. Rating is directly tied to performance in app store search, which leads us to believe that rating is a factor in app store search rankings.

Reviews

Similar to ratings, you want to ensure that the reviews your users write about your app are positive. These reviews will help increase your conversion rate from app page views to downloads.

For a great product to help you increase your rating and reviews, check out Apptentive.

Link-building

This is discussed further below, but suffice it to say, link building to your app’s page in the app store matters for Google Play apps. Given you all are SEOs, you know all about how to rock this!

How Do iOS and Google Play Differ In App Store Search?

The differences in the platforms mean that there are different levers to pull depending on the platform. Google Play and iOS act completely independently, and often, quite differently. The differences are wide-ranging, but what are a couple of the main differences?

In general, the way to think about the differences is that Google is Google and Apple is Apple. Duh, right? Google has the built the infrastructure and technology to learn from the web and use many different data points to make a decision. Apple, on the other hand, doesn’t have indexes of the web, and comes from a background in media. When in doubt, imagine what you’d do if you were each of them and had the history each of them has.

Here are a couple concrete examples.

Description versus Keywords

In iOS, there’s a keywords field. It’s easy to see where this came from, especially when you think of iTunes’ background in music: a song has a title (app title), musician (developer name), and then needs a few keywords to describe the song (“motown,” “reggae,” etc.). When Apple launched their app store, they used the same technology that was already built for music, which meant that the app title, developer name, and keywords were the only fields used to understand search for an app. Note that description isn’t taken into account in iOS (but I expect this to change soon).

On the other hand, there is no keyword field in Google Play; there is only a description field. Thus, while iOS doesn’t take the description into account, in Google Play the description is all you have, so be sure to do exactly the same as you do on the web: cater your content towards your keywords, without being spammy.

Leveraging PageRank in Google Play

Another big difference in iOS and Google Play is that Google has access to PageRank and the link graph of the web, while Apple does not. Thus, Google will take into account the inbound links to your app’s detail page (for example, https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.symantec.mobilesecurity) as a factor in Google Play search, while Apple has no such factor.


How To Measure Success In App Marketing

It’s very difficult to measure success in app marketing in the same way you can measure success in web marketing. This is especially true when you’re working with inbound channels. It’s still early, but it’s continuously getting better, with more tools and services coming out all the time to help marketers understand success. Here are some of the ways I recommend measuring success in the app store today:

Search Rankings

Just like on the web, a great way to measure your success in app store search is to track your ranking for specific search terms you care about over time and versus your competition. Rank tracking is incredibly valuable for ASOs to understand their progress.

Top Charts

Top Charts, especially Top Charts within a particular category, do a great job of allowing you to understand your success in relation to the rest of the apps in your category.

Ratings and Reviews

Just as ratings and reviews will help your ASO, they are also great metrics to track over time for how you’re doing with your app marketing. Keep track of what users are saying, how they’re saying it (pro tip: listening to their language is a great way to do keyword research!), and what they’re rating your app.

Downloads

Taking it one step further, correlating your search rankings to downloads will allow you to understand the effect your increased ASO is having on your app performance. One way we do this is to integrate with iTunes Connect and overlay your search rankings with your downloads so you can visually see how closely related any one keyword is with your downloads. It’s not perfect, but it helps!

Conversion and Revenue

At the end of the day, revenue is the most important metric you should be understanding. Of course, you should be tracking your revenue and doing the same correlation with search performance. In addition, you should watch your conversion rate over time; we often see apps whose conversion rate soars with an increase in ASO because the users are so much more engaged with the app.


Tools And Resources To Use To Help With App Marketing

To conclude this post, I want to quickly talk about some tools and resources to use to help your app marketing process.

Sylvain has written some great content and has some incredible insights into app marketing and ASO on his company’s (Apptamin) blog.

I mentioned Apptentive above, and they really are the best way I know to impact your ratings and reviews, and get great feedback from customers in the process.

In addition to having a great, free, in-app analytics product (Flurry Analytics), as well as an interesting paid advertising product (AppCircle), Flurry also posts some of the most interesting data about the app ecosystem on their blog.

If you’re looking to obtain some amount of attribution for your paid advertising (inbound can’t be split out, sorry!), MobileAppTracking is where it’s at. It allows you to understand which paid channels are performing best for you based on the metric of your choosing. Best of all, you only pay for what you use.

App Marketing Tools

This is, of course, a shameless promotion. That said, our product is a great way to understand your performance in app store search, help you do keyword research, and give you competitive intelligence. We offer a free (forever!) tool for Indie developers and scale all the way up to the largest Enterprise customers.


Now It’s Your Turn

By now, I hope it’s clear that there’s a lot going on in the app ecosystem. It’s still Day One, but there is far more opportunity in front of us than there is behind.

This guide was meant to whet your appetite; to show you some of the amazing things happening and help you understand the game, mostly at a high level. I didn’t cover even one percent of the entire app marketing spectrum, but I hope I’ve taught you some things about the ecosystem and ASO in the process.

Now it’s your turn: get out there and start working in the app ecosystem! If you’ve been working with apps already, or you’re thinking about doing so, but have questions, please light up the comments or send me an email anytime (iseff@mobiledevhq.com). I’ll do my best to answer anything I can as transparently as possible.

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