Case Study – Do Backlinks Increase Android App Rankings?

In the world of search engine optimization for webpages, Google looks at dozens of individual factors but at the end of the day, it boils down to only TWO main factors.

They are the links pointing from one webpage to yours and the content on your webpage. Without going into too much detail since this isn’t another SEO blog, the relevancy of pages that link to you, as well as the quality, play a very important role in increasing your website rankings. When you match this with the actual content on a webpage, that provides extreme value, it’s a deadly winning combination.

But how do backlinks increase rankings? Simple. The anchor text that one webpage uses to link to another is how Google interprets the context and importance of a page. So if a link had the anchor text how to build an app then Google should rank your website higher in the results for that particular keyword phrase.

Obviously this is an over simplification of how SEO works and if you are curious, I recommend to check out a blog like Niche Pursuits which breaks down what works today in the world of SEO.

How does this relate at all to apps? At recent Google I/O conferences, several Android speakers mentioned the importance of getting links to your app store pages.

So we decided to put this theory to the test!

WARNING: Yes, this is a ‘gray hat’ tactic and we put our developer account and app at risk by performing this case study. If no one puts Google’s theories to the test then we would never know what works and doesn’t work. Our goal here was NOT to game the system but to find out if one factor can have a noticeable impact on our app rankings.

Among our portfolio of app was an app that had been released for a few months (Nov) with less than stellar results. Perhaps it could of been due to the competition but our other similar apps had fared much better.

Our last case study involved testing the theory of Google +1′s and the impact. For this case study, we made sure that NOTHING else was changed aside from link building. This meant no optimization or changes to the title, description, icon, APK, etc.

Earlier we mentioned the importance of anchor text and how it dictates where a page ranks on Google. For this case study, we did a 50/50 split of anchor text between two keywords.

Why two? Simply because our app was already ranking for the first keyword so we wanted to see if we could see an uptick. The other keyword was a keyword that we wanted to rank for but were not, even though we had the keyword mentioned in the description. So the goal was to see if backlinks alone can put an app on the map.

There are a thousand ways to build links to a page ranging from tools, outsourcing, or the old fashion way of doing it yourself. For the sake of this case study, we hired a professional link builder to build roughly 400 links to our app page over the course of several days to not raise any red flags. This process started around the third week of February and was completed on the first week of March 2014.

To verify the links were actually produced, we used a tool called Ahrefs which basically will show you all the links pointing to a page.

In our case, the URL was our Google Play app page. Google obviously can’t find every single link right away because of the scale of the interwebs but so it’s not surprising to see the number of domains (orange line) continue to increase into April. Ahrefs was able to pick up 221 backlinks from 85 referring domains so far which is down from the 400 promised but that’s still OK since 221 should be enough to do damage.

Screen Shot 2014-04-16 at 10.35.20 PM

Screen Shot 2014-04-16 at 10.34.17 PM

We also can confirm that the request to only use two keyword for the anchor text was fulfilled as the anchor cloud showed nearly a 50/50 split variation.


So what does this all mean and did it prove to be worth the time and money? Let’s first take a look at our rankings!

Weeks prior to the start of the case study, we had been tracking several keywords pertaining to this app just to see some trends and to get a baseline.

The first keyword had been hovering around the mid 40s and actually took a dip at the end of February. Since then it’s been on a sporadic trip jumping +/- 8 positions daily. Sign of the backlinks causing movement? You be the judge.

We never showed up for the second keyword before the case study and we definitely still don’t after all the linkbuilding was done.

Screen Shot 2014-04-16 at 10.42.08 PM

Looking at the graph below shows the daily download trends for the last 6 months. As you can see there was a huge uptick around December 25 (not sure why) but slowly over the last few months it has died down week after week, even after all the backlinks created. Maybe it’s time to focus on other areas of optimizing.

Screen Shot 2014-04-16 at 10.17.52 PM

Google strongly advises you to share your app online with bloggers or app reviewers but our case study is a clear indicator that your time and effort might be better spent elsewhere. Either way, correlation does not equal causation so take everything with a grain of salt.

Until our next case study :)


  1. says

    Thanks for writing this up. The more info on rankings, acquiring reviews, monetization around Google/Android – the better!

    Videos – help or no help
    Optimized Landing Pages – yes/no
    G+ product pages with likes – yes/no (we will talk about this one soon on the podcast)

    • Charlie says

      Hey Chris,

      Totally agree. Too many iOS resources and not enough Android. We have a few more case studies in the works including some eye opening ones. Let’s connect via email, would love to bounce ideas off each other.

  2. says

    Thanks for the write up Charlie. The uptick on December 25 is most likely due to people getting Android devices for Christmas. People get a new device then go on an app install binge.

    Would be interesting to know if your app is focused at tablets or phones… I’m guessing tablets as I’d wager there are more Android tablets gifted at Christmas time.

  3. says

    Nice case study there Charlie.

    Really helpful work. I was just thinking about applying SEO method for my ASO and your article nails it. The use of backlinks in SEO is in up and down on the past years. The quality of the backlinks should also be considered and of course the relevance and anchor text. I am excited for your next post.



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