New Google Play Console and ASO: How to Isolate Play Store Ad installs?

The new Google Play Console will be officially replacing the current one on November 2, 2020. Many ASO practitioners are anxious about one particular change introduced in this new version: Google Play ad installs will now be included in either Search or Explore.

“The new acquisition report tracks traffic sources based on where the user was immediately before they arrived at your store listing, regardless of whether this was from an ad or organically.

If a user visits your store listing from an ad on Google Play search results and then installs your app, that acquisition is attributed to Google Play search. If a user visits your store listing from an ad elsewhere on Google Play, it’s attributed to Google Play explore.” Source: Play Console Help.

That’s a problem because Google Ads does not offer a way to report on installs that happened specifically via Google Play ads. Or at least, not through the default campaign reports. There is a way around that, and I’m going to show you how in this article.

First, I think it’s important to clear up a misconception that I heard a few times from UA/ASO managers: the one that Google Play search ads installs are counted in the Google Ads “Search” network: that is wrong.

Conversions resulting from Google Play search ads and Google Play navigation ads are both included in Display.

I will show you that Google Ads for App campaigns is not exactly the black box that we think it is. There is not much control available, of course, in terms of targeting, but you can see what’s going with your ads if you dig into the reporting data available.

We will be looking into the details of your app campaigns. Note that this assumes that these are app installs campaigns and not focused on in-app actions.

Here are the steps. In Google Ads, create a new report by selecting “Conversions” and then, under Attributes, select (or search for) “Placement (group)” and “Placement Type”.

Placements are where your ads appear. And in the case of Display ads, this will tell you on which apps your ads appeared.

Once you’ve built the report, sort your conversions by high to low and you should see something like this:

Look for the placement named “mobileapp::10002-ca-app-google-play-browse”. That corresponds to the conversions that occurred from Google Play ads. Since Google Play is a mobile application, it is listed there, just as the other apps that are part of the Display network.

The placement name for Google Play is constant, it might change at some point but for now, it’s the one specifically mentioned here. If you do the math by the way, what you will realize is that Play Store ads installs are actually sometimes a big chunk of Display/Mobile Apps conversions. At least this was the case on the games I studied.

And even though Google used “Browse” here in the naming, it does include all Play Store ads, both Explore and Search ones. I will actually give more details on that later in this article to confirm that for you.

You may ask, but Conversions are not necessarily Installs? Well, that is true. Here I used Conversions because Conversions actions (where we could specifically see “Installs”) or Conversions categories are not compatible with Placements in the online custom reports. But that level of detail is available through the API, which I will explain below.

So, the number of conversions reported for each placement in the web reports could actually be close to app installs if you opted to choose “One” in your Conversion counting settings.

There is a small downside though: you cannot filter Placements with Location parameters. So you won’t be able to have a list of placement conversions by Country if your campaigns target multiple regions. If you have campaigns that are only targeting one country, that would allow you to see specifically Google Play ad installs for that country.

The most reliable way to isolate Google Ads installs attributed to Google Play is via their API.

To retrieve the placement field, you will need to use the field “detail_placement_view.display_name”, and then pull installs conversions associated with the placement “mobileapp::10002-ca-app-google-play-browse”

Because Placements can be segmented with conversions categories here, unlike the web reports which limit you to just one segment (conversions) as we saw earlier.

So with the API, you will specifically be able to measure “Install” conversions by placements (apps), and then identify the ones associated to Play Store ads.

And again, as confirmed with the API, you will not be able to segment by Country or location. So, you can isolate Play Store ad installs on a country basis from your Play Console Search and Explore installs only for countries that are targeted by separate Google Ads campaigns.

I mentioned earlier that there should be no confusion as to whether or not Play Store Search ads are accounted for in Display (Play Store app) or Search.

And to show you that the placement “mobileapp::10002-ca-app-google-play-browse”, despite its naming, does include both Search and Explore ads, take a look at the chart below.

Google Play Installs: Paid vs Organic

This compares Google Ads “Play Browse” installs to Play Store Explore and Search Installs (using the old/previous Play Console numbers) before and after Google Ads were running for a game.

What you can see is:

  • First, that there is a clear case of cannibalization from Google Play ads over organic Explore and Search installs
  • Second, that both organic Explore and Search Installs are very likely included in the Google Ads “Play Browse” placement as both sources increased once Google Ads had been paused.

In the example of the Android game I used here, Explore installs grew 74% once Google Ads was paused and organic Search installs grew by 79%.

I have seen this occur on several games for which Google Ads was paused to safely affirm that they contain both Search and Explore ads.

Once you collect Google Play ads installs, you can subtract them from the number of installs coming from New users for Google Play Explore and Search in the new console:

To do that programmatically, you would have to wait for Google to provide a way to get these metrics via Google Cloud (if they do that at all), until then, you would need to manually get the data or scrape it.

Play Store Organic New Installs (almost )=

Search & Explore New Users Installs minus Google Ads “Play Browse” Installs

Discrepancies:

If anything, the solution I propose here for measuring Google Play organic installs with the new console will only serve as an approximation.

The main consideration is that installs on Google Ads and the Play Store are computed differently. With Google Ads, conversions are based on the click/impression date. On Google Play, installs are based on the actual install date. Also Google Ads will count re-installs as installs.

There are also other factors tied to the way the New Google Play Console measures installs, for instance, unlike before, the new report only tracks installs that happened shortly after a user visited a store listing page. So this already caused different numbers between the old and the new console for what Google qualifies as new users.

Despite that, I can say that this method has a good degree of reliability, as the percentage of Play Store Organic new users Installs with the New Console after subtracting Play Store ads installs came to be close to the previous console Store Organic first-time installers by a difference of -3% on average on the games where I did this calculation.

As you can see, estimating your true Store Organic installs with the new Play Console was not that complicated. Depending on your Google Ads traffic (ie. the share of re-installs), you may see different types of results in terms of how close your store organic installs came to be compared to the previous console.

But this method is the really the best solution available to evaluate your Store Organic installs performance with the new Console, past November 2, 2020.

I would also like to mention, as it’s still not the case yet, that ASO managers must work closely with their UA colleagues to really understand the effect of both channels on organic installs.

As an ASO manager, even if you are not directly managing UA campaigns, you should understand how UA channels operate, especially Google Ads and Apple Search Ads. And UA managers should also operate closely with ASO managers, especially to announce campaign launches and to educate on tracking and conversion measurement.

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Nadir Garouche

UA/ASO/Growth/Product Marketing. Mobile Games. Previously worked at Tilting Point, Spil Games and Gameloft. Views are my own.