China App Store Optimization: A Local Developer’s Experience

This week, Chinese app developer Yiwen Kang shared his experience and opinions on app store optimization for the Chinese Apple App Store. Kang is an experienced SEO and blogger who started testing different Chinese-language ASO strategies last year. His apps, which provide wireless printing management, currently rank #1 and #11 for keyword ‘打印’—Chinese for ‘print’—in the China app store. Here’s an overview of how he got there:

App Name: 打印管家 (Print Manager)

Overview: The app was uploaded to the China Apple App Store in July, 2011. Kang started playing around with various ASO elements on October 3rd, 2012. Before optimization, the app ranked #5 for keyword ‘print’. By January, 2013 it ranked #1 for keywords ‘print’ and ‘wireless printing’

App Name: 打印管家FREE (Free Print Manager)

Overview: Since Kang’s previous app had already been in the app store for a while before he started ASO, it’s rankings were being affected by more than just keyword data. In order to isolate these factors, Kang recently uploaded a new free version of his app. After one week of submission to the China Apple App Store, Kang’s new app had not broken into the Top 100 for the keyword ‘print’. After ASO, the app now ranks #11.

Kang’s test factors included:

  1. App name
  2. Copyright information
  3. Keyword density in keyword listings
  4. Keyword density in app description
  5. Grammar and description structure

Kang had the following comments on the relation between his selected test factors and Chinese app results page rankings:

  1. Similar to SEO, ASO requires 2-3 months before having a noticeable affect on rankings
  2. Copyright information has no weight on rankings, do not both to include keywords
  3. Keyword density in keyword listings had little weight on rankings
  4. Keyword density in app description had moderate weight on rankings
  5. Grammar and description structure had significant weight on rankings, specifically:
    1. The Subject – Verb – Object logic must be simple and clear (ex.: Print Manager app supports wireless printing)
    2. Apple’s App Store has a poor understanding and interpretation of more complex Chinese sentence structure
    3. The first few words of the app description have significant weight

Thanks to Mr. Kang for sharing, you can read more about his full experience (in Chinese) here.

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China App Monetization: Don’t Make Them Pay (Up-Front)

It’s confirmed: Chinese smartphone users are less willing to pay up-front for mobile content and services. Monetization via mobile ads and freemium models seem to be promising alternatives in light of the facts that Tencent generates approx. 80% of revenue from in-game purchases and AdMob has upped it’s valuation of the Chinese mobile ad market. Erik Lundberg comments on the peculiarities of the China market and the implications for app developers looking to monetize in China.

5 Chinese App Stores You Cannot Afford to Ignore

Think of the Android app market in China as similar to the Roman Empire after the death of Julius Caesar: a vicious power struggle where the winner will (eventually) take all. But until the Augustus of the China Android Empire comes into clearer focus, app developers seeking to boost downloads and installs from Chinese smartphoners will need to consider the full range of platforms. Let’s look at some stats, here’s a query I ran today on Alexa:

China App Stores Traffic

3-Month Trailing Traffic for China’s 5 Most Popular Android App Markets (www.alexa.com)

GFan.com emerges as the highest-ranking of the top 5 for traffic (3 months trailing). Closely following GFan are HiAPK.com and Mumayi.com. Anzhi.com follows after that, with game specialist D.cn ranking lowest of the top five. The five all share similar audience demographics—single, young adult Chinese males with a college education browsing from school or work—and are all driving traffic primarily from Baidu, Google, QQ and Weibo. More importantly, all five have very active discussion groups and app user communities, serving as invaluable marketing channels to launch word-of-mouth campaigns and drive installs.

#1 – GFan.com claims more than 90,000 apps and 15 million registered users. In 2012, the platform entered into a partnership with US-based Tapjoy, an app cross-promotion platform that was previously slammed by Apple for degrading the usability of apps running on iOS. The path to monetization offered by the GFan/Tapjoy “incentivized freemium zone” is a strong example of a product feature that might irk US smartphone users to the point of abandonment, but that Chinese users will tolerate in exchange for not having to register a credit card number. Look out for more GFan partnerships with developers and monetization platforms in the future.

#2 – HiAPK.com although there have been rumors of unorthodox user acquisition methods, namely through paying grey-market hardware vendors to pre-install their software onto devices imported into China, the platform has impressive traffic that cannot be overlooked. Although the URL is pretty cryptic to the layman, the the platform is branded as 安卓网, best translated as AndroidNet, so it does pretty well targeting new users looking to get some info and app suggestions for their Android device, namely through Baidu and Google’s Chinese search engine results.

#3 – Mumayi.com is up there with GFan and HiAPK in terms of absolute traffic. What makes this platform a bit of a hidden gem is its’ level of user engagement. Drilling down a bit deeper into the Alexa report, we can see that Mumayi is a leader for key user engagement metrics like average time spent on site, pageviews per user and bounce rate:

China App Stores Time on Site

Mumayi is a long-shot leader among China app stores for user engagement metrics like time on site. (www.alexa.com)

China App Stores Pageviews per User

Mumayi also leads China app stores in pageviews per user. (www.alexa.com)

China App Stores Bounce Rate

Mumayi’s bounce rate is the lowest among China app stores. (www.alexa.com)

Mumayi’s ability to engage visitor’s for longer and to view more pages is in large part due to a superior UX: the portal has an excellent layout for app reviews and solid app suggestion tools which are based on the app review a visitor is currently viewing. App marketers seeking to get the most downloads out of Mumayi’s traffic would be wise to research Mumayi’s app categories and relationships so that their app appears more frequently in front of targeted users.

#4 – AnZhi.com (formerly GoAPK.com) is one of the oldest Android markets, launched in 2008 with backing from Chinese gaming giant Shanda. Interestingly, it seems as though AnZhi is losing market share, which probably explains the new URL and site design. Six month trailing traffic stats show a downward trend:

Anzhi China App Store Traffic Trend

Shanda-backed Anzhi has seen a downward trend in traffic over the past 6 months.

Nevertheless, as the 4th most trafficked China app market for Android, Anzhi cannot be overlooked.

#5 – D.cn offers a range of apps, but mostly focuses on games. In 2011, they won the right as China’s exclusive distributor for Rovio’s Angry Birds. After a quick scan over some search query data, my rough estimate is that DangLe generates about 25% of it’s search engine traffic from game-related keywords like ‘temple run’, ‘android games’, ‘angry birds’ and their Chinese-language equivalents. To sum up DangLe, it’s a must for game-focused app developers, and a worthy consideration for ‘foreign-branded’ apps that offer game-like content.

Up-and-Comer – AppChina.com has financial and operational support from Google’s former China Chief Lee Kai-Fu’s Innovation Works and the kind of volatile traffic trend that suggests a potential to explode:

AppChina Android App Store Traffic Trend

AppChina’s traffic is relatively volatile, can it break through the ceiling? (www.alexa.com)

Most importantly, AppChina has an advantage in the emerging mobile ecosystem by way of close relationships with Innovation Work’s other ventures such as WanDouJia, an app portal that offers a very popular (claims of 10 million registered users) cloud-to-desktop syncing app. Together, AppChina and WanDouJia have managed to secure first-mover rights for the new Chinese version of Flipboard.

Inaugural Post – China App Market: Siren’s Song or a Mere Mt. Everest?

A High-Growth Mobile Economy

With 150 million smartphones by end of year, 5.5 billion downloads, and double-digit growth in app and mobile ad sales, the China app market appears to be a gold-laden opportunity for iOS and Android developers operating anywhere in the world. The proliferation of 700,000 apps combined with slower absolute growth in smartphone adoption has made the US and Euro markets increasingly competitive. Developers and mobile marketers can no longer afford to ignore the China opportunity .

 

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A Complex Local Ecosystem

Of the estimated 60 million iOS devices operating in China, only 10 million have a registered account on the Apple App Store with a credit card attached. More than 50% of those devices are jail broken, giving leverage and market share to third-party iOS app markets. Between these independent markets, 8% of Apple App Store paid apps—about ~20,000 apps—are found in pirated (and usually free) form. Because Apple’s China App Store does not require a credit card to create an account, shuabang companies have emerged to sell installs and user ratings’ to the highest bidders. 

Of the 140 million Android devices operating in China, less than 10% are registered with Google Play, the official Android app store. This is in large part because Google has made a strategic decision to not release a China version of Google Play. The result has been an explosion of third-party Android app stores, with dozens in existence today. 

Whether iOS or Android, Chinese mobile users’ show a large preference for Chinese-language products. Close to 50% of the Top 25 most downloaded apps in China have Chinese-language names. The majority of popular apps in Asia—such as Dianping, QQ Messenger, Weixin, PPS and others, are only popular in Asia, emphasizing the importance of app localization. 

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To take full advantage of the China opportunity, foreign developers will need to overcome three key challenges:

1)  A fragmented and opaque aggregate app market, especially for Android.

2)   A strong preference for Chinese-language apps and marketing channels.

3)   Chinese users’ reluctance to pay for mobile products and services.

By innovating marketing and monetization strategies that play to the set of marketing channels and consumer behavior unique to China, foreign developers and mobile app companies can overcome these challenges.