Category : Google Play

Posted by Peter Armitage, Software Engineer, Google Play

Releasing a new version of your app is an exciting moment when your team’s hard work finally gets into the hands of your users. However, releasing can also be challenging – you want to keep your existing users happy without introducing performance regressions or bugs. At Google I/O this year, we talked about staged releases as an essential part of how Google does app releases, allowing you to manage the inherent risks of a new release by making a new version of your app available to just a fraction of your users. You can then increase this fraction as you gain confidence that your new version works as expected. We are excited that starting today staged releases will be possible on testing tracks, as well as the production track.

We will take a closer look at how staged releases work, and how you can use them as part of your release process.

Advantages of a staged release

The first benefit of a staged release is that it only exposes a fraction of your users to the new version. If the new version contains a bug, only a small number of people will be inconvenienced by it. This is much safer than releasing a new version to all of your users at once.

Another benefit is that if you discover a bug, you can halt the rollout, preventing any new users from downloading that version. Instead, they will receive the previous version.

These capabilities should relieve a lot of the uncertainty of rolling out a new version. And that will allow you to do it more often. We encourage releasing versions of a server more often because it reduces the number of changes between each release, allowing you to more easily test and troubleshoot. The same principle applies to apps, though there will be a delay before most of your users upgrade to the latest version.

Staged releases as part of your normal release process

Let’s look at a typical release process for an app with 100,000 users.

  1. Every Monday the developer builds a new version of the app from the latest version of the code that passes the automatic tests. They push the new release to Google Play’s internal test track, and their QA team immediately starts testing it manually. Any bugs they find can be fixed and a new version can be built and pushed for them to re-check.
  2. On Tuesday, if the QA team have approved the latest release, it can be promoted to the app’s alpha track. All the employees at the company have opted in to testing. Once the new release is pushed to the alpha track, the employees can download the new version. They can do this manually, or they may have auto-updates enabled, in which case they will probably update within a few hours.
  3. On Wednesday, if there are no reported issues with the release, they can promote the release to the production track and start a rollout at 10%. This means 10,000 users will have the opportunity to upgrade. Some will upgrade immediately, others will wait. The 10% of users that receive the app first are randomly selected, and the users will be randomly chosen each week.
  4. On Thursday, the developer checks the Play Console to see their crash reports, Android vitals, and feedback. If these all look good they can increase the rollout to 100%. All users will be able to upgrade to the new version.
  5. On Friday, the developer doesn’t change anything, to ensure a stress-free weekend!

For big apps and small apps

Some apps are just starting out, and although there’s no QA team, it’s still worth testing the app on a few different devices before releasing it. Instead of having a track for employees, the developer has added their friends and family, who can contact them if they see an issue.

When an app gets larger and uses the open testing track, it may have 5,000 testers. These testers won’t give public feedback on the Play store, but will be able to give feedback to the developer directly. If this app has 1 million users, they may first release to 1%, before going to 10%, then 100%.

Once an app becomes very popular, it could have over 100,000 testers. In that case the developer is now able to do a staged release on their testing track.

How to bounce back from issues

Bugs happen, and if you discover a problem with your new version you may want to halt the release. This will stop users from getting the new version, either by upgrading or installing for the first time. However, those who have already got the new version will not downgrade.

If the issue was not in the app itself, but on a server that the app communicates with, it may be best to fix the issue in the server, then resume the release. Resuming it allows some fraction of your users to access the new version again. This is the same set of users that were able to download the release before it was halted.

If the issue was in the app, you will have to fix it and release a new version. Or alternatively, you may choose to rebuild the previous version with a higher version code. Then you can start a staged release to the same set of users that the previous release went to.

API support

Staged releases are supported in v3 of the Play Console API on all tracks. Mark a release as “inProgress” and set a fraction of the population to target. For instance, to start a staged release to 5%:

{
  "releases": [{
      "versionCodes": ["99"],
      "userFraction": 0.05,
      "status": "inProgress"
  }]
}

Alternatively, if you release using the UI, it will suggest a fraction.

What next?

We hope you find these features useful and take advantage of them for successful updates with Google Play. If you’re interested in some of the other great tools for distributing your apps, check out the I/O 2018 sessions, and learn more about test tracks and staged updates.

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Posted by Tom Grinsted, Product Manager, Google Play

We’ve updated the Play Console acquisition reports to give new insights into what users do on the Play Store to discover your app. It’s a great way to super-charge your App Store Optimization (ASO) and onboarding experience.

One of the things every developer wants to know is how people discover their app or game. User acquisition reports in the Google Play Console are a great way to understand this. For many apps and games, a stand-out source is Organic traffic — it’s usually the largest or second largest source of store listing visits and installs.

Organic traffic is made up of people who come to your store listing while exploring or searching the Play Store. These visitors might find your app in a seasonal collection, from featuring, or while searching for a specific use case or term.

Until recently, this traffic has been bundled together with no breakdown of data into user behavior. With our latest updates we have changed this by introducing new and exclusive acquisition insights to the Google Play Console. These enable you to understand what people in the Play Store do to discover your app or game. They reveal how many people discover your app through exploring the store, and how many search to find your app, and even the search terms they use!

App Store Optimization (ASO) is vital to driving your organic traffic and this update enables you to do this with more data and better understanding.

A new data breakdown

When you visit the user acquisition report, the first change you’ll notice is that organic traffic is broken down. This breakdown means you can see how people arrive at your store listing by searching or exploring (actions that aren’t search like browsing the homepage, visiting a category list, or viewing related apps).

This change has been of immediate benefit to developers, enabling their growth teams to optimize acquisition strategies. For example, Scopely found that:

“Isolating [explore] from search and then a deeper dive into search gives the whole organic picture. It allows us to focus on acquisition areas that really matter.” Dorothee Pinlet, VP Partnerships, Scopely


Click through for more insights

From the new search row, you can click-through to see the aggregate number of people using different search terms to find your store listing, and which of those lead to the most installs. This breakdown is a view into the Play Store that has not been available before.

Our pilot partners, who helped us refine the feature ahead of launch, were very happy with how this data has helped them make more informed decisions.

Evernote found that the breakdown:

“… offers surprising and actionable insights about the effectiveness of search terms in driving installs and retained users.”
May Allen, Product Manager, Evernote

Some partners changed their in-app onboarding experience to highlight features that reflected the search terms that were driving installs, to better meet user expectations. While others evaluated if their influencer marketing was having an impact by looking for their advocates’ names in the search results after adding them to descriptions.

Better coverage

The new organic data also includes information about when people visiting the Play Store saw previews of your listings, not just when they visited your full page.

People see these previews when they make certain searches, such as searching directly for a brand or app name. As well as more generally in some markets.

This new information gives you more visibility into where people see your assets. It helps you decide how to optimize these assets, for instance by ensuring that your screenshots are impactful. And when you come to do that, you’ve got Store Listing Experiments.

This change means that your total reported visits and installs are likely to increase as of July 30, 2018. This increase is because previews will be counted as listing views, previously they were included in the category “Installs without store listing visits”.

Putting the data to work

The developers who had the opportunity to test Organic breakdowns have given feedback that they loved them. They’ve also been kind enough to share some insights into how they plan to use the data. Perhaps these thoughts on how to use the data will spark some ideas for your business.

Some developers will be using this new data to evaluate their acquisition strategies by looking at the breakdown between explore and search. They will use this breakdown to evaluate the impact of exploring behaviors, especially around times when the app has been featured on the Play Store.

Using the information about popular search terms, several developers plan to change their app or game’s Google Play listing to reflect user interests better. This change involves adjusting the descriptions and screenshots to tie more directly into the top search terms.

Others plan to use the insight provided by search term information to optimize their in-app onboarding. Here they plan to make sure that the onboarding talks about the features related to the most popular searches people made when discovering their app or game, highlighting and reinforcing the benefits.

Final word

Our team is always thinking about the tools we can build to help you optimize the discovery and installation of your app or game from the Play Store. Organic breakdowns is just one of these tools, a new way to help drive your success. Ultimately, your success is what we work towards. Organic breakdowns give you a more comprehensive picture of how people discover you on the Play Store so you can optimize your store presence, turning more visits into installs, and more installs into engaged users.

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