Finding apps in mobile stores is getting harder as more programs join the fray. And for developers, getting your app in front of a consumer is harder too. But now Google is planning to offer a new way to surface apps -- and maybe even make some money off it.
Developers looking to increase awareness of their apps will soon be able to buy space in search results in Google Play's mobile apps marketplace. When users search for app topics, the results will be topped by a "sponsored search" ad. The ads, which will be clearly marked, will start showing up in search results within the next few weeks.
Helping consumers discover their apps has become an increasingly troublesome issue for small developers. Though major developers -- Facebook, Pandora and others -- that offer wildly popular apps have no trouble attracting would-be downloaders, small developers aren't so lucky. At last count, Google Play's app marketplace had more than 1.3 million available apps, making it extremely difficult for certain programs to get attention.
Both Google and Apple, which has its own mobile marketplace called the App Store, have tried to boost app discovery by improving search results and refining their stores to include relevant suggestions. Many app developers have reported that if they're lucky enough to be placed into a "featured apps" category, downloads soar. Revenue gains, however, are a bit of a mixed bag.
"Overall, the effect of getting featured is larger on downloads than on revenue," Distimo, an app analytics company, wrote in a publication last year. "This also indicates that being featured has a higher effect on free apps than on paid apps."
Distimo's findings followed a report from the company in 2013 that showed that just 3 percent of the top 250 app makers in the Google Play store were new, independent publishers.
Several third-party services, like AppCrawlr, have tried to solve the issue of app discovery by allowing users to search around certain activities, interests or demographics. Other services, like App Annie, try to provide developers with advanced analytics to find better ways to surface their content and maximize downloads. Still, no single company has fully addressed the problem.
Google said in a blog post Thursday that it realizes "app discovery plays a critical role" in the success of mobile developers, and it pointed to a list of best practices that will increase app discovery on Android. Among other things, the company suggests building a high-quality app and offering it globally. Google also suggests developers utilize its AdWords platform to promote their apps through Google Search -- Google's main Internet search engine -- and through display ads on websites.
With sponsored search results now in the works for Google Play, Google has offered developers another way. And like the AdWords program, Google is looking to generate some cash off its latest option. The company didn't provide a framework for monetizing the sponsored search results on Google Play, but the setup will likely work in much the same way AdWords does. Customers set a daily budget and then Google displays ads at the top of results for Web searches on certain topics, based on the advertiser's budget and the price of placing an ad.
For now Google Play's sponsored search results are being offered only to developers that already promote their apps on Google Search. Google says it will share more on the program "in the coming months," as it evaluates feedback.
"We believe search ads will be a useful addition to Google Play for users and developers alike, and we hope this will bring even more success to our developer community," Google Play Product Management Director Michael Siliski said in a statement Thursday.
Google did not immediately respond to a request for comment.