The relationship between App Store Optimization (ASO) and Search Engine Optimization (SEO) might not be too obvious, at first.
They’re clearly different strategies for different products and markets, but there are overlapping components. Technically speaking, there are different algorithms and methodologies governing the ranking systems for search engines and app stores.
Apple doesn’t incorporate anything from outside the App Store in order to rank apps. However, the Google Play Store does incorporate some SEO into its store rankings.
This is no surprise, as Google is the king of search engines and virtually all SEO strategies focus solely on Google rankings. Because Google’s ranking factors are proprietary and ever-changing, good SEO strategies involve a lot of research, testing, and continual tweaking and modification.
It should, because good ASO involves these techniques as well.
So for the Google Play Store, the better your web SEO is, the higher you will rank in the store.
There’s one clear place to start when it comes to tackling your app’s SEO opportunities in order to rank higher: backlinking.
What are Backlinks?
There are a multitude of factors to consider for good SEO:
- Quality keyword-rich content
- Social media shares
- ..and the list goes on
But for your app, a crucial factor is good backlinks.
Backlinks are simply incoming links from other websites.
For example, when we here at Mobile Action link to other sites in our blog entries, those pages receive a tiny boost in SEO credibility. The relevancy and quality of the linking page also factors into how much of a “boost” that link gives.
These weighted elements are part of Google’s algorithm called PageRank.
For ranking in the Play Store, rather than a web search engine, the backlinks that matter are website links to your Play Store URL.
The higher the quality, quantity, and relevance of your backlinks, the better you will rank in the store.
How Do You Get Backlinks?
If you’re just starting out in app development or marketing, you might be scratching your head right now thinking, how do I get backlinks?
Experienced SEO strategists will recommend focusing on quality content when it comes to link building. In the past, getting better backlinks often involved link exchanges and even paid placements.
But the best brands now use good, useful content to build better backlinks.
How does this work?
It can seem like more of an art than a science.
If you don’t already have your own website or blog, start there, and begin linking to your own Play Store URL. Ideally, in the midst of content that is informative or entertaining to your reader (e.g. not just “hey, come check out my new app!”). Use your full Play Store URL in your social media profiles, like your Twitter bio, and try searching for some app directories to submit your app to.
Great content also attracts others whose sites have more ranking authority than yours, and that’s where the magic happens. If big brands or influential people link to your app’s Play Store URL, you’ll see a rise in your rankings. This may take a little time and luck, but you can better your chances with marketing promotion activities like interacting with those influencers on social media, writing guest blog posts, and submitting press releases when you hit major milestones.
Backlinks are a key element of ASO, but not the only one. If you haven’t invested time and effort into the key elements of ASO like a well-written description, your backlinks may help you raise in the rankings but won’t necessarily result in downloads and engaged users. So be sure to focus on your ASO strategy holistically.
How Do You Measure an App’s Backlinks?
Monitoring your backlinks is just one of the key metrics you should keep track of.
Luckily, it’s a fairly manageable and straightforward data point to track.
First, set up some Google alerts for yourself: the name of your app, your own name, maybe even a key phrase you’re targeting as a keyword. These alerts won’t necessarily tell you when you get a backlink, but they will give you insight into online coverage you’re getting. If you catch a good mention without a link, you can reach out directly to the poster and ask for one–which may turn into more opportunities.
You should also use link research tools like Moz Open Site Explorer (OSE). With OSE, you can “research backlinks, find link-building opportunities and discover potentially damaging links.”
Essentially, you’ll enter your Google Play Store URL and get a variety of metrics around valuable inbound links and linking domains…AKA backlinks.
Note the Inbound Link data from Facebook’s Android App Google Play Store URL:
Some of their top backlinks come from external news and blog sites, but some are from Facebook’s own “newsroom” site.
Can Backlinks Actually Hurt Your App’s Rankings?
You may never run into this problem–and if not, lucky you–but it’s important to know that irrelevant or even malicious links can hurt your app’s ranking in the Google Play Store.
You could have a non-relevant site repeatedly linking to you, or even worse, maybe a competitor figures out a way to get your app linked by an adult or vice-related site. Again, this isn’t a problem that most app developers and marketers run into, but if it happens to you, there is some recourse.
Google created the Disavow Tool in order to prevent third-party links from negatively affecting the website (or in this case, your app) being linked to. Basically, you’ll be asking Google not to incorporate specific links into their ranking algorithm.
This is a tool you should only use when you’ve exhausted other options, like reaching out and asking directly for a link to be removed, and only when you actually know that the link is causing negative effects in your ranking–another good reason to keep close track of your backlinks and your app’s performance.
The steps to use the Google disavow tool can be found here. If you’ve unfortunately received a toxic backlink, be sure to take advantage of the tool, but be responsible about it.
How do you improve your app’s backlinks?
Once you start to track your app’s backlinks, you can determine their quality and relevance based on your own knowledge of your app’s audience, category, and competition.
Improving your backlinks involves continually putting the time and effort into the same strategies that you used to get backlinks in the first place. If you find that you’re receiving a lot of links from niche blogs, keep pitching ideas to bloggers and writing guests posts. If you started seeing a boost in your Play Store rankings once your first press release came out, plan press releases into your editorial calendar.
There’s a saying:
“Success is the sum of small efforts – repeated day in and day out.”
You’ll soon come to find how true that is in regards to backlink improvement.
Final Thoughts on Backlinks
For Play Store apps, including some outside-the-store strategies like backlinking can have a big impact on in-store results. This is a strategy specific only to Google, as the iOS App Store doesn’t incorporate any influences from outside that store.
The continual effort you put into securing and improving good quality, relevant backlinks from across the web will help cement your app in the rankings.
Let the downloads begin!
About the Author
Rachel Wilson is a writer, marketer, and content creator living in NYC. She’s worked for technology companies like BetterCloud and Microsoft, and believes her English degree prepared her to write about pretty much anything. She misses the ocean and the mountains of the Pacific Northwest but can’t give up New York pizza.