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Solving the Mystery Behind Drops in Organic Game Downloads

by Jiri Chochlik

In theory, it would seem quite easy to anticipate and interpret a sudden drop in organic downloads. It can be due to simple factors like a recent keyword optimization, or changes to store assets. But what if these adjustments are not the real culprit, or what if there hasn’t been any ASO activity at all? That’s where the fun (or not so fun) mystery begins.

In reality, understanding the behavior of organics is much more complex, and checking the results of ASO changes is just the tip of the iceberg.

At Tilting Point, we always try to look for new ways to grow games. Our organic growth team in particular strives to analyze installs behavior and why certain things happen in the store. In this article, I’ll share some of the major activities that should be analyzed when witnessing a change in organic downloads. This will provide a better understanding of why organics sometimes behave in strange ways, and should help you address these potential problems faster and more efficiently. We’ll also cover other activities that should be checked on regularly by ASO managers, and key action points on how to help organics grow.

For this analysis we will be focusing on iOS and Android, the two primary mobile gaming platforms.

1. Data

Checking organic downloads as a whole is a common mistake, as data needs to be separated by the traffic source type. ASO experts know there are two major ones:

  • Search (Android, iOS) — A type of traffic where players download a game from search results.
  • Browse (iOS), Explore (Android) — An explorative type of traffic where players download a game when exploring featured games, collections, new releases and more.

The reason for filtering organics is that it will provide a better understanding of exactly where the drop happened, if it’s Search or Browse only, or if it’s both. For example, if the drop happened in Browse, we can assume that something happened within the category ranking, featuring, views from Similar Apps, etc. (more on this later).

Traffic source type can be filtered directly in the console on both Android and iOS, as in this screenshot from App Store Connect (iOS).

2. Paid UA

Once we specify the traffic source where the drop happened, we can proceed to the next step of plotting the organic source type with the paid UA. The more installs from paid UA, the more revenue for the game which means more visibility from Google or Apple, which means we can expect organics to go up. Of course, it works the same way in reverse.

Regardless of whether the drop is in Search or Browse, paid UA can have an influence on both. From the graph below, we can see that paid UA (blue line) influenced organic traffic a lot, both in terms of Search (green line) and Browse (orange line).. Note that misattribution plays a role as well.

For Search, paid UA can help to improve rankings immediately and vice versa. Below you can see an example of keyword ranking. The red dot shows when there was an increase in UA traffic. Since then the ranking skyrocketed.

For Explore (Browse), thanks to the paid UA, a game or app can start getting featured more, and the category ranking might increase as well. I will talk about this more in-depth later.

Paid UA can be checked directly in the console and it’s called App Referrer (iOS) and Third-Party Referrals (Android). Remember that on Android, Google Ads are attributed to Explore and Search. Therefore you should open your MMP and check each traffic source separately. The chart below shows full details of how Google attributes traffic sources.

3. Brand terms

A drop in organic downloads from Search might be due to the fact that fewer players search for a game’s brand term on the store. In general, if lots of downloads are coming from brand terms, it is crucial to check each one’s popularity history. This metric shows how popular a certain keyword has been over a certain period of time on the store, based on user searches. Players often type brand terms directly into the App Store rather than clicking through ads, so this is very important to check.

This is another area where paid UA has a major impact. The lower UA traffic is, the lower a brand term’s exposure, and its historical popularity decreases. Below you can see how the paid UA (blue line) influences the search popularity of a brand term (red line).

Right now, we can only check the search popularity of keywords on iOS, using the ASO tool. It’s not yet possible to check search popularity on Android, but we can check page views and downloads for a certain brand term in Google Play Console, which will provide similar data.

4. Category ranking/Featuring/Similar Apps

When seeing a drop in downloads from Explore (Android) or Browse (iOS), it’s important to check that there wasn’t any decrease in the category ranking, featuring, or views from Similar Apps.

Note that these three metrics can be influenced by paid UA too. Below you can see the strong correlations (purple lines) between the paid UA (blue line) and the category ranking (red line).

Keep in mind that your game can rank across multiple categories like Games, Games-Puzzle, and types like Free and Grossing. Therefore it is important to check all of them and see if there wasn’t any change that would cause a drop in organic downloads.

It’s also possible that your game got completely delisted from a certain category. Below you can see an example of how a game ranked very high in the Top New Free — Game/Sports category (green line) and then it got delisted which resulted in a massive decrease in downloads from Explore.

Similar Apps (Android) and You May Also Like (iOS) can be also the reason for sudden spikes in organics. See below the correlation between views from Similar Apps, Page Views and Installs.

5. Vitals (Google Play Store)

Regardless of a drop in Search or Explore on Google Play Store, if the ANR rate or the Crash rate is above the bad behavior threshold (0.47% ANR rate, 1.09% Crash rate), it can:

  • Affect negatively user experience
  • Increase negative reviews
  • Affect keyword rankings
  • Affect ability to get featured

The downsides of high ANR rates, in Google’s own words.

Therefore Vitals should always be under the bad behavior threshold to avoid any punishment from Google or potential players. The same goes for crashes on iOS; however, as opposed to Google, there is no official threshold under which it should be kept.

If Vitals are above the bad behavior threshold for 1 month or more, Google may start decreasing the game’s visibility. Having high Vitals can also lead to more negative reviews which can affect the opportunity to get featured.

My colleague Alejandro Gutierrez conducted research for one of our games and found that since the ANR rate decreased on August 2nd, there was an increase of +35% in installs and organic revenue increased by +44%.

6. Piggybacking

When your game is competing with a big brand and they are running lots of paid marketing campaigns, then it is possible that you benefit from it in the form of organic installs. The overall trend depends on their marketing activities and how much they are pushing.

When players see competitors’ ads, some will go to the store and search for a game directly. When they find it, some won’t download it right away but will look for alternative games appearing in the same search result. That is the first method of piggybacking.

The second cause is that when your game looks similar to a competitor’s, players might mistakenly download your game instead.

So conversely, when the competitor starts pushing less on their own marketing activities, it can negatively affect organic installs of your game. Therefore it is also important to keep an eye on potential piggybacking sources, and figure out which competitors could influence the traffic you are getting. Below you can see an example of the organic trend that was reacting to the trend of a competitor.

Key takeaways:

The metrics to check we mentioned in this article are only the beginning when analyzing sudden organic changes. We also recommend checking on other metrics such as algorithm changes, rating, reviews, and app size.

Here’s a summary of the metrics we covered, which should be always taken into consideration:

  • Data: Filtering organic installs by source type
  • Paid UA: Comparing a UA trend with an organic trend
  • Brand terms: Checking changes in the historical search popularity
  • Featuring/Similar Apps: Checking correlations with organic installs
  • Vitals: Making sure it’s below the bad behavior threshold
  • Piggybacking: Analyzing competitor marketing’s impact on organic installs

Apart from analyzing organics behavior, it is also important to push your ASO and UA teams to address the right problems in order to see organics grow. For example:

  • Fixing ANRs, Crashes
  • Having stable paid UA or increasing it
  • Having custom pages for specific ads
  • Lowering the app size
  • Running live ops cards/in-app events

Organics and ASO are not just about growth, but also about being able to explain the sometimes mysterious behavior of organic installs and trying to understand what lies behind it. Since we know this is not always an easy task, we hope that the steps mentioned above will help you with your own analysis.

Increase Organic Downloads With the Tilting Point ASO Team

Want to learn more about Tilting Point? Visit our website, or sign up for our company newsletter. For even more timely updates, follow us on LinkedIn!

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