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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 :)

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Case Study – Do Google +1′s Increase App Rankings?

There’s always been a theory that Google +1′s impact rankings of Android apps. Google Play store factors in at least a dozen or more variables when it comes to ranking your app and some of these variables are often more heavily weighted than others like when the app contains the keyword in the title.

We wanted to test the significance of Google +1′s and if it held enough weight to make a significant increase or decrease in our app rankings.

Here’s what we found out….

From our experience, most Google +1′s will come naturally. Some of our apps already have a couple hundred without us even asking for them.

We had an app that was released back in November that wasn’t doing too well compared to it’s sister apps. Its ranking had never reached the top 10 and for the most part has been stagnant this whole time.

Before the case study even started, we only had 7 Google +1′s. How were we supposed to increase the count into the hundreds?

Buy them.

We headed over to Fiverr, home of the worlds most desperate workers where you can find literally anything for just 5 bucks. We found a guy who promised us at least 300 Google +1′s for just $5. He could even do upwards of 2000+ but we figured 300 should be enough to make a dent in the rankings…. or so we thought. We requested the seller to drip the Google +1′s over several days to not raise any red flags.

When it was all said and done, our Google +1 count increased to over 300 more than before the test began. The drip was completed sometime in early February so it’s been at least a month which has given the app enough time to cause movement in the rankings.

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Luckily, we were using our handy Google Play store keyword rank tracker to track various keywords pertaining to this app. From looking at the graph below, I think it’s safe to say that Google +1′s had little to no impact whatsoever on our keyword rankings. The slight uptick in March wasn’t anything we did as we were/are not actively marketing this particular app. Maybe a slight algorithm tweak by Google?

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As always, correlation does not equal causation so take these results with a grain of salt. The bottom line is we decided to not focus on Google +1′s and let them come naturally for now.