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Everything you Need to Know about the Explore Traffic on Google Play Store

Gabe Kwakyi | January 14, 2024

This is a guest post by Maud Panier, who is Content & Social Media Manager at ASO Tool: TheTool. She enjoys sports, traveling and is always willing to discover new things and to face new challenges.


For a long time, Search in ASO was believed to be the most important (if not the only) thing about ASO optimizing, and all the efforts were put into the objective of making an app searchable on the stores. However, ASO is not all about app keywords. Search is not the only way users can discover  apps or games, it has actually never been, and with time, people are being more and more aware of that. It’s more - nowadays, it is a very relevant source of traffic, especially for games.. First, let’s go back to Google Play Store’s history and see what changed since its beginning. Then, we’ll see in details what we can do to increase the Explore traffic. Let’s go!

An Historic of the Explore traffic on Google Play Store

Google Play Store was launched in 2012. Before that, you could download apps and games from a store called Android Market, music from another market, books from another one…

For this reason, Google Play Store was created, to provide users with an all-in-one store. Since the very first days of existence of the Google Play Store, browsing has changed in many ways. When it was just launched, there was only two ways to explore on the store: through Top Charts and through Featured apps. There was no other way to explore the store, and the truth is that it was no good, neither for the users nor for the developers or for Google Play itself. Users had very few opportunities to discover new apps or games, it was more than hard for apps to gain visibility in Explore as there was very few space to appear there, and Google Play was not retaining users because of this lack of possibilities.

With time, Google Play started to create new ways for the users to browse the stores and discover new apps. New sections and tabs started to appear, such as: Recommended for you, New & updated games, Popular apps & games, Games you might like, Recently updated, Pre-registration games, New apps, Most famous games, Games on the rise, Most sold games, Apps on the rise, Most sold apps, You might like, Similar Apps, etc.

Some of these sections are generated by Google Play according to your own use of the store and, thus, are tailor-made for each user. For example, that is the case for the section You might like, where apps are related to the apps you already checked or downloaded on Google Play Store. Other sections are general, which means that every user sees the same apps in these sections and that they do not depend on users’ own use of the store, such as the Similar Apps section, for example. This means that Google Play is selecting apps appearing in these section according to a range of factors and criteria that you should be aware of to make it possible for your app / game to be listed there.

In short, these new sections brought up a bunch of new possibilities for apps / games to gain visibility on the stores in Explore. How to make the most of these new possibilities? This is what we are going to see in this article.

Mastering the Explore traffic on Google Play Store

Through Explore, there are 3 areas where an app can appear by working on ASO (but not only): Featured, Top Charts, and Similar Apps. Let’s find out what you need to work on to become the master of the Explore traffic on Google Play Store.


Who never wished that its app / game was featured in the Google Play Store? Being featured a great achievement, and it can bring thousands of downloads (or even more) but it doesn’t come that easy.

Even though there is no exact formula, there are some criteria that the app needs to respect to have the opportunity to be featured on Google Play. 

  • Be unique - If your app looks exactly the same and offers the same value as many other apps out there, it is very unlikely that your app gets featured. We are not saying that being unique is the only factor, we’re just saying that being unique helps being featured.
  • Quality of the app - first things first, the app needs to be functional and provide users with a great user experience. For it to be featured, it should not suffer from any bug, be updated and offer a quality experience, in terms of usability, of content, of design - of the app as a whole. The design should be simple, seamless and engaging. It is recommended that it respects the Material Design Guidelines from the proper Google, as well as the Android App Quality Guidelines so that it fits basic quality requirements. In a few words, the app or game should be: usable, functional & safe. Google Play checks quality taking into account user retention, Android vitals and user ratings and reviews.
  • Powerful visual assets - just as the app / game needs to respect a certain quality, the visuals should as well, and it actually goes together. Provide users with as much screenshot as possible (up to 8), the most important ones being the first ones as the user won’t need to scroll to see them. You also have the possibility to work on a video preview highlighting the app’s functionality or the gameplay. These visuals should be actionable, which means that they should convince users and make them want to download. Google can actually recognize good quality visuals and, of course, the most downloads, the most probability to appear in Featured apps.
  • Localize - make the app / game available on the most countries possible so that it is global and gets more chances to be displayed in the Featured section. However, this is not something you can do on the run. When localizing in other countries, make sure you provide a proper version adapted to each country, with translation and a content adaptation to the country, its cultural customs, etc.
  • Work hard on ASO - study how and where to use which keywords, which visuals to use and, in a more general sense, work on all on-metadata factors of ASO to make the store listing as optimized as possible on Google Play. By doing so, you’ll give the app much more chances to stand out. 
  • Get influencers to work with the app / game - nowadays, the digital world has taken so much importance that it is almost impossible not to work with influencers. Doing so enables the app to get much more visibility. However, be cautious about which influencer you wish to work with. The app needs to be adapted to the market on which he / she usually works on and awake its followers’ interest for this strategy to be effective.
  • Get the most ratings & reviews possible - receiving good reviews from users is key to be displayed in the Featured section of Google Play. It is one of the best ways for Google to know if users like your app. For this reason, it is crucial that you work hard on providing users with a high quality app and that you solve any kind of bugs as fast as possible to keep them satisfied.
  • Work on PR - make people talk about the app / game, so that you directly catch the eyes of the editorial team of Google Play Store itself! Share and broadcast in on high-traffic platforms such as Product Hunt or TechCrunch to increase the app’s visibility and have a chance to be noticed by Google Play. 
  • Promote the app - obviously, promoting the app / game will provide it with much more visibility on the store, and potentially more downloads, so it should favour its possibility of being displayed there in the Featured section. 
  • Update your app - make sure that your app is always updated, for various reasons mentioned earlier such as being up to date with Google’s updates and getting good ratings and reviews. In general, it is also good that Google sees you are updating the app regularly and not leaving it unupdated for a long time.
  • Keep Android regulations and recommendations in mind - follow all of Android recommendations such as its launch checklist. Make the app / game available for all devices and for all versions of Android, respect the recommended sizes - in short, make sure that you do not just take an iOS app and upload it on Google Play. It needs to be adapted to Android to be fully functional and have any chance to be featured.

TIP: Analyze other featured apps - simple but key: always keep an eye on the competition, and if you want an app to be featured, you should study what kind of competition you have there. Download featured apps and use them (analyze the product), study their ASO KPIs and analyze their common characteristics. Investigate their similarities to find out why these apps are featured and not their competitors. By doing so, you’ll find out the elements having an impact on the fact that they are displayed in Featured and you’ll be able to work on them for your own app.

Call of Duty®: Mobile downloads data with the Spy Downloads tool from TheTool

If you work hard towards this goal, users will notice it, and Google Play might as well - that’s how an app can be selected to appear in the Featured section. Still, keep in mind that there is no “magic recipe”, so you can never be sure that an app or game gets featured by respecting a specific series of criteria, but these points are the best guidelines you can follow.

PS: Apart from all this stuff, you can try to contact someone at the Google Play editorial team and ask for your app or game to be featured… Trying is free!

Top Charts

Moving on to the next section, let’s have a look at what you can do for an app or game to appear in Top Charts. 

First, we will begin with an overview of the different Top Charts you can find on Google Play Store. Top charts are divided into apps, games and each category available on the store:

  • Apps:
    • Top apps
    • Top selling apps
    • Top grossing apps
  • Games:
    • Top games
    • Top selling games
    • Top grossing games
  • For each category:
    • Top apps / games
    • Top selling apps / games
    • Top grossing apps / games

As you can guess, appearing into the Top Charts of all apps or all games (Overall) is not easy, so we recommend you to focus on getting into the Top Charts of your category first. To do so, you need to choose the right category for the app / game and then start generating downloads, which is the main ranking factor for Top Charts. 

Here are a few tips on how to choose the perfect category:

  • The category should be relevant to the app / game - it should correspond to the features / content that the app is offering
  • The category should be one where you can beat your competitors, which means that it should not be too competitive (for example, the category Action for games is a very competitive category as there are a lot of games on the market)
  • The category should be where you think the app naturally classifies
  • The category should be where users will look for the app / game
  • The category should correspond to your competitors’ one

Following these tips will make it easier for the app / game to rank higher in the chosen category.

Anyway, you can always change the category on Google Play Console. You don’t know what is the “perfect” category for your app? Easy: test some categories, get downloads data and take the right decision.

Another thing you could think of if you have a free app is to make it a paying app. Why should you do so? Most developers are working on developing free apps, so there is a lot of competition within free apps / games Top Charts, with apps with millions of reviews. However, if you decide to make your app a paying app, there will be much less competition there, so you would rank much more easily within its Top Charts - this could be a technique that you could go for. 

Finally, just like for the Featured, there is no magic formula, but you can consider that apps are selected according to their downloads volume and speed, their users ratings (the more, the highest, the better) and their retention rate.

Similar Apps

The third place where you can try to rank in within Explore is Similar Apps on the Google Play Store.

 It is a bit different as it is a tab that is displayed within the app store listing, while Featured and Top Charts are displayed within the store itself.

As it is the case for these two, we do not know for sure any exact way to appear in the Similar Apps tab of another apps or games, as Google has not published how Similar Apps work 100%. However, we do know some factors that are having an impact on this selection:

  • Image recognition - Google Play understands the visual assets of an app (colors and shapes of icons + screenshots) and takes it into account to identify similar apps. Indeed, if you have a look at the Similar Apps of an app, you’ll notice that the icons are often very similar, so think about what your icon represents, if it is similar to your competitors’, etc.
  • Language recognition - Google Play also understands the texts of an app (on-metadata optimization = title, description, short description, keywords within user reviews, etc) and also takes it into account to list Similar Apps.
  • App category - just like we mentioned earlier for Top Charts, it is also important to choose the category well for Similar Apps as an app / game will appear more easily in the Similar Apps cards of one of the same category than one of a different category.
  • Downloads volume - usually, apps that are displayed in the Similar Apps cards have a similar downloads volume to the app in question.
  • Ratings volume & average rating - just as for Featured and for Top Charts, the more the better ratings the app / game receives, the more visibility it gets in Similar Apps.
  • Android vitals - the same way, the app needs to be working properly to be able to be displayed in Similar Apps cards. ANRs, crashes, bugs and so on have a BIG impact on Similar Apps visibility.

These are, according to what we know until know, the factors that impact Google Play Store’s selection process for Similar Apps cards.

How to track visibility on the Similar App Cards

Spy SVRank Evolution tool from TheTool

TheTool ASO tool allows you track visibility on the Similar Apps (SVRank) for any mobile app or game per day and per country. Also, it helps identifying which apps refer or link to your app in their Similar Apps.

To sum up

Explore on Google Play has evolved through time and is giving developers more and more opportunities for their apps / games to be found by users. In the end, the apps and games that are appearing in Explore (Featured, Top Charts & Similar Apps) are, in general, well-functioning apps that are optimized and that, in result, receive a high amount of traffic, downloads and ratings / reviews from users. Make the app the safest & “healthiest” possible to have the opportunity to appear in Explore. Keep in mind that all these tips should be applied and are good guidelines, but there is no magic wand to achieve your objectives - it requires both efforts & time (and maybe a bit of luck).


Good luck in conquering the Explore traffic on Google Play, and happy optimizing for 2020!

Bio: Maud is Content & Social Media Manager at TheTool. She enjoys sports, traveling and is always willing to discover new things and to face new challenges.