Does Your App Have a Privacy Policy?

Google to Punish Apps that Violate its User Data Policy

Did you by chance receive a notice like this? If yes, then Google would probably descend on your app – and they mean business.


One of the most common violations of Google’s User Data Policy is the lack of a privacy policy. The absence of a privacy policy means that you, as a developer failed to properly disclose the whys and hows of handling sensitive user data within your app.


Several of the sensitive user data that apps often handle are:

  • Personal information used for identification purposes
  • Financial and payment information
  • Authentication information
  • Contact list
  • Data from camera sensor
  • Sensitive device data

If your app handles any of these types of sensitive data, then you must provide a privacy policy in the Developer Console and within the app itself. The policy also includes the secure handling and transmitting of user data.


So, if you are still unable to comply by March 15, Google will “limit” the visibility of your app in the store listing or remove it altogether. A lot of tech news outlets call Google’s drastic policy enforcement as a “purge”. The said purge is estimated to “cleanse” the Play Store from millions of apps. Even some app developers think that this is a positive thing. A few of the cited benefits are:

  • The decongestion of the Play Store
  • A safer app experience
  • Improvement in the standards of the store listing through the elimination of low-quality apps and “zombie apps”. The so-called zombie apps refer to apps that had been up and running for several years without being updated
  • Increased visibility for original apps


What Can You Do About This?

The simple answer would be to comply with Google’s policy. There are two ways you can do this.

  • If you don’t have any experience in creating a privacy policy, you can either learn through basic privacy policy templates and guides or you can use a privacy policy generator service.
  • Remove all requests for sensitive user data. This is possible if your app’s function doesn’t depend on the input of user data.

At the end of the day, this is not just about the apps but the welfare of the app users. The Carnegie Mellon University revealed that of the 18,000 free Android apps they analyzed, almost half lack a privacy policy. Not only that, 71% of these apps’ permission request handle personal user data. You won’t want your app to be a part of that 71%.


As the Carnegie Mellon University reiterated, there are federal and state laws in the US that require mobile apps to have a privacy policy and follow the said policy.   Therefore, this privacy policy requirement is not limited to the Google Play Store.

How to Write a Great App Store Description

Whether it is within app stores or in mobile SERPs, the competition is literally just a click away. Some may argue that the app store description is not as important as app reviews and ratings. But a great app store description is part of a holistic ASO approach. A bad app description can drag down even excellent app icons and high ratings.


An app store description serves more than one purpose. It captures the users’ attention and also educates them about your app. But how easy or how difficult is it to really make an app description great?


7 Tips for an Effective App Store Description

  1. Adjust your style of writing. Technical details are important but rattling off features can be off-putting for users. Just because it is called a “description” doesn’t limit it to a single pre-defined format and style. The first step is to change the point of view from developer to user. How would you describe an app that you really like using?


A second person narrative helps users easily picture using the app’s features. You are basically selling a story without making it sound so “salesy” and over-dramatic.

  1. Optimize the “above the fold” text. The intro or the first 255 characters matter the most. If you users tap on the “more” link, it either means that your intro was convincing, interesting or confusing (that they want clarification). Whatever the case may be, the users paid attention. The common formula is for the first sentence to have an emotional pull, the second sentence contains the value proposition and then the next sentences would be a teaser for the description’s main body.


Even if you are using narration, avoid starting the description with backstories. This would appear as a signal for a long-winded story or a filler that won’t really be informational.

  1. Present social proof. After presenting the app’s USP, you can add social proof before or as the teaser itself. Common social proofs are:
  • Number of downloads/active users
  • Previous successes (‘from the makers of…’)
  • Third-party endorsements (‘as seen on…’
  • Qualified reviews/testimonials snippet
  • Awards, citations
  1. Don’t forget the keywords. Keywords are the core of the app store optimization (ASO) strategy. Make sure that you rank for the most relevant keywords and avoid common optimization mistakes when it comes to keywords.
  2. Highlight key features in the long description. The long description or the main body of the description is where you can talk in detail what the app is really about. Keep the style as consistent as possible and use concise statements. To emphasize the app’s core features, use bullet points and bold verbs. Also, state the problem the app is solving for the users and how the app is tackling the solution.
  3. Don’t forget to localize. Localized content, especially descriptions are actually very important. Just a simple translation of the app’s description helps a lot in convincing non-English speakers of the app’s worth and reliability. This will also assure them that they can use and navigate the app with ease.
  4. You don’t need to fill the entire word count. Apple sets the limit to 4000 characters. But you can write the description within the limit or as short as you are comfortable with. You don’t need to place fillers just to make it longer. As long as everything that needs to be said is there, and the presentation is succinct but not curt, it is the perfect length.

Mobile Search and App Visibility

Does Mobile SERPs Matter for Apps?

The Significance of Mobile Search

Apps appear as “App Packs” in mobile search results. This type of result is triggered more often as more searches occur in mobile than on desktop. Mobile search is even attributed as the main method for discovering mobile content.  And with the emphasis on mobile-friendly content and app content deep linking capabilities on both Android and iOS, more apps will appear higher in the mobile SERPs – pushing organic mobile search results lower on the page.


Mobile App Indexing

Before, only the web content from an app’s official web page appear in search results. But now, indexed app content can appear as app packs or individual mobile search results (like in iOS devices). This is made possible through deep linking within apps. Google claims to have already indexed 100 billion app content links. App indexing was initially designed as an incentive for businesses with apps. It  offers functionality with implications on the app’s downloads and re-engagement.


With deep linking capabilities, Google can retrieve information from within the app and provide a link to the user. The user receives either a link that would redirect to the app (if the app is already on the user’s device) or the app’s download link. App listings certainly change both the SERPs environment and provide another opportunity for app discovery.


Google indexes both Android and iOS apps and just recently, iOS 9 Search was introduced. This mobile search capability has three APIs. The NSUserActivity object is used to index in-app activities and app states that users can return to as applicable in their search. The CoreSpotlight framework enables you to index app content (including user-generated content) and then manage this on-device edit. Then there is the Web Markup API. It links the app to related web content and ensures that search results from the app’s website content open using the app (if installed already).


Apple’s app indexing is different in a way that there is an effort to protect user privacy.  Apple provides a private indexing option. Device Index’ main function is to index content that is only accessible to a single user ID. Google has a generalized restriction. An XML file inclusion , noindex.xml in order to specify links and URIs to exclude in the index.


How Apps Rank in SERPs

But how can apps land a spot above the fold where it matters most? Ranking factors may differ between Google and Apple but a combination of ASO and traditional SEO practices are at play.


Ranking signals are different for apps. Google determines the authority of app deeplinks through the Firebase App Indexing API or SDK. The use of the app indexing API itself is a positive ranking signal. Google search also share several ranking signals with OS-specific app stores. This means that apps that rank high in specific search queries in the app store would also appear in a SERP App Pack for the same search queries.


SEO also plays a big role in app SERPs ranking. Google considers app metadata like title and description as title tags and on-page text. App titles with exact-match keywords are often in the first six results in the app pack. Keywords like “app” and “download” appear in Google search queries but not in play store queries. Keywords from user reviews also serve as ranking signals. These keywords are an accumulation of sentiments from users and somehow serve as a gauge for the app’s quality and reliability.


App rating is also a strong ranking signal. The minimum star rating of apps in app packs is 3.5. Google sometimes places the app pack at the bottom of the mobile SERPs or in the middle of organic results. The latter happens if there are only a handful of apps in the pack or if the app’s ranking is low. On the other hand, apps with high star ratings can overtake other apps with exact-match keywords in their titles.


Ranking factors for Apple search is a different matter but the basic framework is the same.

Ranking Signals for Apple Search:

  • Apps already installed in the device rank higher.
  • The authority of the associated web URL.
  • Click-through rate of the specific search result.
  • Structured data implementation.
  • App screen engagement as determined by session analytics.
  • The rate of user engagement.
  • Association of screens to either a single user ID or URL of different indexing methods


There are also factors that can negatively affect the app’s ranking:

  • Over indexing.
  • Low engagement of indexed app screens.
  • Keyword stuffing, especially if the keywords are irrelevant to the indexed content.
  • High bounce rate.
  • Interstitial ads that may prevent the direct access of content.