Acquisition & Engagement

The Influence Of Earned Media on Rankings

Becky Doles

Welcome to the fifth Insider by MobileDevHQ, a monthly newsletter focused on app store optimization. The Insider will consist of a Deep Dive, where we take a closer look at an innovative app and the strategy behind it, and Trendsetters, which will hone in on a specific aspect of ASO. In our Deep Dive this month, we take a closer look at how earned media impacted Snapchat’s rankings. In the Trendsetters section, we will look at what a normal day-to-day ranking change in the app store looks like. Enjoy!

Any publicity is good publicity… Or is it? With over a million apps in the Apple app store alone, getting yours discovered is no easy task. How are you supposed to get your app found in the literal ocean of mobile applications? Optimizing your app for search is the most important strategy to start out with. All your other marketing efforts are built on this. ASO is your bedrock and allows you to get the most out of whatever other marketing strategies you decide to implement – paid or unpaid. This Deep Dive is going to explore earned media and how big news about your app can influence your downloads and rank in the app store. How influential is it actually? Does it help? And how bad can it hurt? Let’s find out.

Snapchat’s Media Rollercoaster

While researching this topic, we wanted to highlight an app that has had a lot of recent media attention – both good and bad. Snapchat was the perfect case study. We also highlighted them in November’s Insider where we talked about how their ASO strategies needed some serious improvement. Thankfully, this edition is more positive; we looked at three different instances where Snapchat was heavily covered in the media and analyzed how that influenced their rankings in the Top Free iPhone Apps. We found two positive stories, and one negative one, and saw some interesting results.

Good Press Helps… Sort Of

The first big instance of media coverage took place at the end of September when Snapchat released a new feature called Stories, which allows messages to be viewed an unlimited number of times for a 24-hour period. This was big news because Snapchat is known for it’s photos and messages that disappear after only a few seconds. The headlines appeared in numerous blogs and publications including Mashable, TechCrunch, and The Verge between October 2nd and 3rd. So how did this influence their rankings?

In the days leading up to the news, Snapchat was ranked down in the low 20s. However, on the same day the media started to cover the new update, their ranking soared up to 9. A few days later it went up even more, making it all the way to the 5th spot. Shortly after the peak at 5, Snapchat dropped back down to the mid teens, hovering between the 12th and 15th spots.

The next big boost Snapchat received was from the exciting news of a $4 billion dollar valuation, which was quickly followed by the shocking announcement that they had turned down a $3 billion dollar cash offer from Facebook. This all happened within a two week period, starting at the end of October.

On October 30th, news started coming out in publications like AllthingsD, The Washington Post, and Venture Beat announcing that Snapchat was thinking about raising a round at a $4 billion dollar valuation. That story alone helped Snapchat rise almost 10 spots from the 14th spot it had been stuck at following the Stories announcement, all the way up to number 8.

Then the big news hit on November 13th when it was released that Snapchat had turned down $3 billion dollars in cash from Facebook. This story got covered by all the major news sources including Yahoo, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and CNN. The coverage helped Snapchat soar all the way to the number 2 spot in the Top Free iPhone Apps. It was short lived however, and by December they fell back down to their previous spot in the low teens.

Bad Press Hurts… Sort Of

Both of those news stories seemed to provide a short lived boost to Snapchats rankings. Unfortunately, 2014 didn’t start out as well for Snapchat. On January first, it was announced that information to 4.6 million Snapchat accounts had been leaked to hackers. Yikes. This story took off and was covered by sites like The Huffington Post, CNN, The Washington Post, and USA Today.

Their ranking paid the price. Snapchat had recently risen back up to the low single digits, topping out at the number 2 spot. However, come January 5th, a few days after the news broke, they had dropped down over 10 spots to number 12. Again, the effect was short-lived, and only a few days later they were back up in the low single digits.

The Spinach Effect

The examples above show that earned media can clearly have a positive or negative influence on your app’s rank. However, it’s also clear that these boosts or drops are not permanent and won’t make or break your app. It has a similar effect to spinach on Popeye; it will strengthen your app’s ranking, but it’s definitely not a long term solution.

The influence the earned media has is also more influential (in terms of how many spots your app rises or drops) the higher your initial rank is. We also looked at the app Songza. After they received coverage about a new update they released, Songza’s ranking shot up 100 spots from 225 to 125. Again, this was short lived and after a few days they were right back to where they started. The reason for this huge jump, compared to Snapchats rise of only a few spots, is not because the stories about Songza were more popular (they weren’t), but rather because the app store ranking is logarithmic. This means that the better your rank is, the harder it is to keep moving up. A small jump from 13 to 2 is just as hard, if not harder, to accomplish as moving 100 spots from 225 to 125.

The Takeaways

So what are the important takeaways? Well first, earned media can definitely provide a boost, and you should always be looking for ways to spin updates or news about your app into something a major publication will be interested in. However, we also learned that you need the proper ASO tactics in place to fully take advantage of the increased downloads. If you have ASO strategies optimized, you can get more out the earned media because the influx in downloads will also help influence your ranking for search terms, which will increase your organic downloads through the app store search.

Although we saw that earned media might not have a long lasting effect, it is still a very powerful marketing strategy, especially for the price. There are very few things that can move an app up or down the charts as quick as press coverage. And the best part is, it’s free.

We know that in the days following a media publication, Snapchat’s rank was significantly impacted. Day-to-day it dropped or rose as much as six spots. But how does that compare to normal ranking changes? We looked at all the apps in the top 10 of any category, and calculated the average number of spots an app moved. We found that over the period of a month, the average change in rank from one day to another was 2.4 spots. For apps ranked in the top 5, it was even less at 1.6 spots. Below is a graph mapping out the average changes in ranking over the month.

Keep in mind, these changes also take into account more volatile sub-categories and include more than just the Top Free iPhone Apps.

If we look specifically at the same period where Snapchat’s rankings dropped due to the bad press, we can see that the average ranking change for top 10 apps was less than 2 spots. That means Snapchat’s 10 spot drop from 2 to 12 was almost 10 times greater than the change of other apps. This further proves the influence media can have on your app.

Don’t forget to sign up for a free account to get your ASO strategies in place. You’ll want to take full advantage of any media you get.

Becky Doles

Becky is the Senior Content Marketing Manager at TUNE. Before TUNE, she led a variety of marketing and communications projects at San Francisco startups. Becky received her bachelor's degree in English from Wake Forest University. After living nearly a decade in San Francisco and Seattle, she has returned to her home of Charleston, SC, where you can find her enjoying the sun and salt water with her family.

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