Google tests a new ad slot on the Play Store ahead of its I/O developer conference

Google has been spotted testing a new Play Store ad slot ahead of its I/O developer conference in May. If rolled out publicly, the change could significantly expand the company’s Play Store search ads business by offering developers access to new prime real estate for their app marketing efforts.

The test comes two years after Apple made a similar move with the addition of a new ad slot that appeared on the store’s Search tab itself, instead of only at the top of search results, as before.

Similar to Apple, Google is also testing an ad slot that appears when Android users navigate to the Play Store’s search menu, where they can type in keywords to find apps. The test was first spotted by the Android news site, Android Police, which noted that Google had been testing app “recommendations” in this slot as of late last year. When queried about those app promos at the time, Google had clarified they weren’t ads, just personalized suggestions.

Now, that’s changed as the same spot includes both app recommendations and suggestions that are actually labeled as ads. (A few examples can be found in this Twitter thread here.) The ads aren’t yet showing for everyone, however, which indicated this was likely a test, as Google has since confirmed.

Users have reported seeing the test in multiple markets worldwide, so it’s not a U.S.-only update.

Reached for comment, a Google spokesperson confirmed the experiment by noting the company tests new features on the Play Store from time to time. However, they didn’t offer any further information about this specific ad test — a possible indication Google doesn’t want to spoil a planned announcement. Or perhaps, there’s no determination yet on an ETA for a public launch.

“We regularly test new features and ad formats to improve app discovery for Play users and help developers reach their audience, but don’t have anything specific to announce right now,” a Google spokesperson told TechCrunch.

Finding a new way to pull in revenue from Play Store ads could help Google boost its bottom line at a time when it’s had to make concessions on Play Store commissions. Due to new regulations and pressure from lawmakers, Google has been rolling out third-party billing options to global markets, offering developers reduced fees if they don’t use Google’s own billing services. Spotify has been an earlier adopter of the program, and dating app Bumble is also planning to participate.

The availability of new Play Store search ad slots could significantly impact Play Store revenues, if rolled out broadly. When Apple introduced new App Store ad slots last year in less prominent locations, experts forecast the change could generate another billion in revenue for the tech giant, for example. Google doesn’t break out the size of its own Play Store Ads business, but it’s also likely a sizable figure. Data from Statista had estimated Google Play generated approximately $48 billion in 2021 through mobile apps. However, unsealed court filings in a Google antitrust case revealed Google Play app store revenue hit $11.2 billion in 2019.