Whether you’re in a business or technical role, in a team of 1 or 100, the Play Console can help you with more than publishing
You may have used the Google Play Console to upload an Android app or game, create a store listing, and hit publish to reach an audience on Google Play. But you may not realize that the Play Console has a lot more to offer, especially to those focused on improving the quality and business performance of their app.
Join me for a tour of the Play Console; I’ll introduce each feature and point you to some useful resources to make the most of them. Once you become familiar with the features, you can take advantage of user management controls to grant your teammates access to the right features or data that they need. Note: when I say ‘app’ in this post, I generally mean ‘app or game’.
Find your way around
If you’ve been invited to help manage an app or you’ve already uploaded an app, when you access the Play Console you’ll see something like this:
In this post, I’ll assume you have an app. If you’re getting started and publishing your first app, take a look at the launch checklist. I’ll come back to the global menu options (games services, alerts, and settings) later.
Pick an app from the list and you are taken to its dashboard. On the left-hand side there is a navigation menu (☰) with quick access to all the Play Console’s tools, let’s look at each in turn.
Dashboard and statistics
The first two items are dashboard and statistics. These related reports give you an overview of how your app is performing.
The dashboard answers key questions you have about your app with summaries of installs and uninstalls, top installing countries, active installs, ratings volume and value, crashes, Android vitals, and pre-launch reports. For each summary, click explore or view for more detailed information. You can switch the view between 7 days, 30 days, 1 year, and the app’s lifetime.
Hopefully, the summary shows your app is succeeding with great install rates and few crashes. A quick glance at the dashboard is a simple way to see if anything isn’t going as expected, look out for: increasing uninstalls, increasing crashes, a sliding rating, and other poorly performing metrics. If all isn’t as you hoped, then you or your engineers can access more details to find the cause of different issues.
Statistics lets you build a view of the app data that matters to you. In addition to seeing data over any date range, you can plot two metrics simultaneously and compare them to a previous period. You can get a full breakdown of statistics by a chosen dimension (such as device, country, language, or app version) in the table below the graph. Some states offer plots at hourly intervals, for more detailed insights. Events (such as app releases or sales) appear on the graph and in the timeline of the events below it, so you can see how they impacted your stats.
As an example, you might be running a new app promotion in Brazil. You can configure the report to show installs by country, filter the country list down to Brazil (from the dimensions table), and then compare the data with that from an earlier campaign to get a clear picture of how your promotion is going.
Android vitals is all about your app’s quality, as measured by its performance and stability. An internal Google study conducted last year looked at one-star reviews on the Play Store and found 50% mentioned app stability and bugs. By addressing these issues you’ll positively impact user satisfaction, resulting in more people leaving positive reviews and keeping your app installed. When there is enough aggregated data, Android vitals can provide information about five aspects of your app’s performance: battery life, rendering (also known as jank), stability, startup time, and permission denials.
The first two measures — stuck wake locks and excessive wakeups — indicate if the app is adversely affecting battery life. The reports show where the app has asked a device to remain on for long periods (an hour or more), or is frequently asking the device to wake up (more than 10 wakeups per hour since a device was fully charged).
Information on app stability takes the form of the ANR (App Not Responding) and crash rate reports. The summary, as all the summaries in this section do, provides breakdowns by app version, device, and Android version. From the summary, you can drill down into details designed to help developers identify the cause of these issues. Recent improvements to the dashboard provide significantly more detail on ANRs and crashes, making them easier to diagnose and fix. Engineers can get more details from the ANRs & crashes section and load de-obfuscation files, which help improve the readability of crash reports.
The next two measures — slow rendering and frozen frames — relate to what developers call jank or an inconsistent frame rate within an app’s UI. When jank occurs, an app’s UI judders and stalls, leading to a poor user experience. These stats tell you about the number of users who have:
- Had more than 15% of frames take over 16 milliseconds to render, or
- Experienced at least one frame out of 1,000 with a render time of greater than 700 milliseconds.
Information on slow app startup time gives you details of the percentage of sessions where cold starts took more than 5 seconds, warm starts took more than 2 seconds, and hot starts took more than a second.
The last vital is permission denials, where you see the percentage of daily permission sessions during which users denied permissions or denied permissions by selecting ‘never ask again’. A count of the approximate number of sessions recorded is also provided.
For each metric, you’ll see a bad behavior threshold. If one of your Android vitals exceeds the bad behavior threshold, you see a red error icon. This icon means your app’s score is higher than other apps for that metric (and, in this case, being higher is worse!). You’ll also see anomalies in any vitals when there’s a sudden change you should be aware of. You should address poor performance as soon as possible, because your audience is having a bad user experience, and your app will be performing worse on the Play Store. This is because Google Play’s search and ranking algorithms, as well as all promotional opportunities that include the Google Play Awards, take into account an app’s vitals. Exceeding bad behavior thresholds contributes to downranking.
I’ll pass over this section; it’s a few tools for technical users of the console. The services and APIs section lists the keys and IDs for various services and APIs, such as Firebase Cloud Messaging and Google Play games services. While FCM statistics shows you data associated with messages sent through Firebase Cloud Messaging. For more info visit the help center.
In the release management section, you control how your new or updated app gets to people’s devices. This includes testing your app before release, setting the right device targeting, and managing and monitoring updates in the testing and production tracks in real-time.
As an app release is taking place, the release dashboard gives you a holistic view of important statistics. You can also compare your current release with a past release. You might want to compare against a less satisfactory release, to make sure that similar trends aren’t repeating. Or, you can compare against your best release to see if you’ve improved further.
You should use staged rollouts for your releases. You choose a percentage of your audience to receive the app update, then monitor the release dashboard. If things aren’t going well — for example, crashes are spiking, ratings are falling, or uninstalls are increasing — before too many users are affected, you can click manage the release and suspend the rollout. Hopefully, an engineer then resolve the issue before resuming the rollout (if the issue didn’t need an app update) or starting a new release (if an update was needed). When everything is going well, you can continue to increase the percentage of your audience who receive the update, until you reach 100%.
App releases are where apps (your Android App Bundles or APKs) are uploaded and prepared for release. Apps can be released to different tracks: internal, closed, open, and production. Use the internal track to release your app to up to 100 testers in seconds for internal testing and quality assurance checks. Use the closed testing track to test pre-release versions of your app with a larger set of testers. If needed, you can also create multiple closed tracks to test different versions of your app. When you’re ready, you can move to the open testing track to expand your test to a wider audience. Ratings and reviews you receive during your open test won’t affect your app’s public store listing. Saving your release as a draft is a good way to ensure all your app’s details are accurate and avoid mistakes before you’re ready to roll it out.
When you upload an Android App Bundle, Google Play automatically generates split APKs and multi-APKs for all device configurations your app supports. In the Play Console, you can use the App Bundle Explorer to see all APK artifacts that Google Play generates; inspect data such as supported devices and APK size savings; and download generated APKs to deploy and test locally.
The Android Instant Apps section is like app releases, except it’s for instant apps. If you’re not familiar with instant apps, they allow users to instantly access a part of your app’s functionality from a link, rather than having to spend time downloading your full app from the Play Store. Check out the Android Instant Apps documentation for more details.
The artifact library is a technical section. It’s a collection of all the files, such as APKs, you’ve uploaded for your releases. If there’s some reason you need to, you can look back and download certain, old APKs from here.
The device catalog includes thousands of Android and Chrome OS devices certified by Google, offering the ability to search and view device specs. With the granular filtering controls available, you can exclude a narrow range of problem devices in order to offer the best experience on all devices your app supports. You can individually exclude devices and/or set rules by performance indicators such as RAM and System on Chip. The catalog also shows installs, ratings, and revenue contributed by each device type. A low average rating on a specific device, for example, could be the result of a device issue not caught in general testing. You could exclude a device like that and temporarily halt new installs until you’ve rolled out a fix.
Play App Signing is a service we introduced to help keep your app signing key secure. Every app on Google Play is signed by its developer, providing a traceable verification that the developer who claims to have written the app did write the app. If the key used to sign an app is lost, it’s a major issue. You wouldn’t be able to update your app. Instead, you’d need to upload a new app, losing the app’s history of installs, ratings, and reviews and potentially causing user confusion when you try to get them to switch over. With app signing, after opting in you upload your app signing keys to store them securely in Google’s cloud. It’s the same technology we use at Google to store our app keys, backed by our industry-leading security infrastructure. The uploaded keys are then used to sign your apps when you submit updates. When you upload a brand new app, it’s easy to enroll in app signing during the first upload. We’ll generate an app signing key for you.
The final option in this section is the pre-launch report. When you upload your app to the closed or open testing tracks, we’ll run automated tests on popular devices with a range of specifications in the Firebase Test Lab for Android and share the results. These tests look for certain errors and issues relating to crashes, performance, and security vulnerabilities. You can extend the standard tests to harder-to-reach parts of your app by creating demo loops for games written with OpenGL, recording scripts in Android Studio for the test crawler to follow, identifying deep links, and providing credentials to go behind logins. In addition to reporting crashes, performance, and security issues, screenshots of your app running on different devices and in different languages are available to view. Tests are also run for apps using Google Play licensing services.
Limited or incomplete testing can result in the launch of an app whose quality leads to low ratings and negative reviews, a situation that can be difficult to recover from. The pre-launch report is a good starting point for a thorough test strategy and can help you identify and fix common issues in your app. However, you’ll still need to run a suite of tests that comprehensively check your app. Building tests in the Firebase Test Lab for Android, which offers additional functionality over the pre-launch report, and taking advantage of the lab’s ability to run those tests automatically on multiple devices, can be more effective and efficient than manual testing.
This section is where you manage your app’s presentation on Google Play, run experiments on your app’s listing content, set pricing and markets, get a content rating, manage in-app products, and get translations.
A great store listing has an eye-catching icon; a feature graphic, video, and screenshots (from all device categories and in all orientations supported) that show what’s special about the app; and an attention-grabbing description. For games, upload a video and at least three landscape screenshots to ensure your game is eligible for video/screenshot clusters in the games section of the Play Store. Knowing what content will work best and drive the most installs can be a challenge. However, the next section of the console is designed to take the guesswork out of answering that question.
Store Listing Experiments enable you to test many aspects of your store listing, such as its descriptions, app icon, feature graphic, screenshots, and promo video. You can run global experiments on images and videos and localized experiments on text. When you run an experiment, you specify up to three variants of the item you want to test and a percentage of the store visitors who will see the test variants. The experiment runs until it has been exercised by a statistically significant number of store visitors and then tells you how the variants compared. If you have a clear winner, you can choose to apply that variant to your store listing and display it to all visitors.
Effective experiments start with a clear objective. Test your app icon first because it’s the most visible part of your listing, followed by the other listing content. Test one content type per experiment to get more reliable results. Experiments should be run over at least seven days and, particularly where store traffic is low, on 50% of store visitors — but, if the test could be a little risky, keep the percentage low. Plan for iteration by taking the winning content from one experiment and testing against further variations on the theme. For example, if your first test finds a better character to include in a game’s icon, your next experiment could test the effect of variations in icon background color.
Pricing & distribution is where you set the price for your app and can restrict the countries to which its distributed. This is also where you indicate whether your app is optimized for specific device categories such as Android TV and where you opt your app into programs such as Designed for Families. Each device category and program has requirements and best practices, I’ve added links to more information about each below.
As you set your prices, you’ll notice a localization feature where the console automatically rounds prices to match the convention most appropriate for a particular country. For example, ending prices in .00 for Japan. At this point, you may also want to create a pricing template. With a pricing template, you create a set of prices by country that you then apply to multiple paid apps and in-app products. Any changes to the template are automatically applied to all the apps or products whose prices are set with the template. Find your pricing templates in the global settings menu of the console.
Having set the details for your app, the most likely reasons for returning to this section are to run a paid app sale, opt-in to a new program, or update the list of countries in which your app is distributed.
Next up is your app’s content rating. A rating is obtained by responding to a content rating questionnaire and, once complete, your app receives the appropriate rating badges from recognized authorities around the world. Apps without a content rating will be removed from the Play Store.
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The in-app products section is where you maintain a catalog of the products and subscriptions sold from your app. Adding items here doesn’t add functionality to your app or game, the delivery or unlocking of each product or subscription needs to be coded into the app. The information here governs what the store does with these items, such as how much it charges users and when it renews subscriptions. So, for in-app products, you add their descriptions and prices while for subscriptions, in addition to descriptions and price details, you add a billing cycle, trial period, and non-payment grace period. Item prices can be set up individually or based on a pricing template. Where prices are set individually for countries, you may accept the price based on the prevailing exchange rate or set each price manually.
The last option in this section is the translation service. The Play Console gives you access to reliable, vetted translators to translate your app into new languages. You’re much more likely to increase your store listing conversion rate and increase your installs in a particular country when your app is available in the local language. There are tools in the Play Console that can help identify suitable languages to translate into. For example, using the acquisition report you can identify the countries with many visits to your store listing but low installs. If your technical team is working on translating your app’s user interface via this service, you can get your text translated too. Do this by including store listing metadata, in-app product names, and universal app campaign text in the strings.xml file before it’s submitted for translation.