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App search on two platforms

When it comes to discovering apps on the two major app stores from Google and Apple, Google is a pretty clear winner. That’s the conclusion of a study by SearchMan.com, a search-tracking tool startup for mobile apps.

searchman 2In a variety of ways, the Google Play store offers more search results when it comes to finding apps. According to Nielsen, search is the biggest driver of app discovery, which is a very difficult problem for game and app makers in stores with hundreds of thousands of active apps. With Google Play, a simple search for the word “poker” reveals seven or eight apps on a single page for the user (see picture at top). By contrast, Apple only shows a single result on the screen.

On top of that, it’s easier to see lower-ranked search results on Google Play. The Google Play store search result pages can scroll down endlessly, allowing a user to see the top 25 apps for a given search with the flick of a finger in one second. With iOS 6, searches take more work and time. To see 25 results, you have to swipe sideways 25 times.

On top of that, the number of actual search results returned by Google Play exceeds those of iOS even though there are more apps in total for iOS. No surprise there. It means that Google is better at search than Apple.

On top of that, Google appears to expand its results by simultaneously adding search results from synonyms to what the user is searching for. That’s how it expands and gets more results. Google Play also allows for misspellings, returning results on what the user likely intended when they incorrectly type a word into a search query. That kind of mistake is common on smartphone keypad screens.

If you spell a word “hotwls” instead of “hotels,” you get zero results on the iPhone. On Google Play, you get 15,630 results. Developers appear to be investing more time and energy into their iOS apps than their Google Play apps based on the huge number of updates per day on iOS compared to Google Play. So that means there is actually less competition on Google Play, and some app makers may be better off investing in apps there.

searchman 4Google Play has historically trailed behind Apple when it comes to monetization since Apple has many more credit-card registrations thanks to the strength of content on iTunes. But in markets such as Japan, Google has begun improving its monetization because of reverse-billing deals with carriers.

“We are getting anecdotal feedback,” said Niren Hiro, the chief executive of SearchMan. “Our customers who build and market apps for the Japanese mobile markets tell us that they make more money with carrier billing than credit cards, possibly because users have fewer security concerns.”

Hiro said that SEO and app store optimization is easier for developers on Google Play. Keyword changes are not subject to review whereas in iOS, keyword changes in an app’s name and iTunes keywords (limited to 100 characters) require a binary update and a review. With Google Play, the review isn’t necessary.

With Google Play, developers don’t have to create tags for their apps. They just create an app name and a description, which is infused with keywords. With iOS, developers must carefully select iTunes keywords (tags) to help the iOS search engine. Those tags must fit inside 100 characters and cannot be changed unless a new app is submitted for review. It’s not clear how much weight Apple gives to those tags.

“At this time, it feels like  vying for discoverability in the Google Play store search is a good investment,” SearchMan concluded. “Our goal is to help developers track and improve search rankings to grow their businesses. Our vast data does enable us to decode some of the unknown patterns, but there’s much more to figure out in terms of search engine biases — revenue bias, social signals, ratings added, reviews entered, download velocity, etc. It would benefit the app ecosystem greatly if all the platforms were open about their search ranking algorithms.”

Here’s a link to SearchMan’s slides.

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