Sunday, June 24, 2012

Apple Changed Search Algorithm for App Store

Update: See Part 2 of the App Store Search Change
Update 2: More Search Changes (Good News)

Ouch. My sales have dropped by over a 30% over the last few days. I was a little confused as to what happened. I was wondering if maybe I got a few bad reviews or something. Nope. Actually quite a few good ones since I'd last checked. It turns out I just stopped showing up in the search results for all of my major keyword phrases. Not lowered in the rankings. GONE.

So obviously Apple doesn't release their ranking algorithms, but there are plenty of guesses going around. It seems that they have lowered the weight placed on the title and added weight to things like downloads, ratings, time on the store, etc. At first glance, that sounds like a good thing to me. I have a lot of apps that have been on the store for awhile, have lots of downloads, and are ranked very highly. This should be a boon right? Right?

Another small change as part of this, which is much easier to test as a developer, is that they stopped mixing the title and keywords. In other words, you show up for searches of your title or keywords, but you don't show up for search phrases including both. They really don't want you to use keywords in the title apparently.


Debt Snowball+
This app has been on the store for a few months, has quite a few downloads, and is ranked a perfect 5 stars for both the current version and for all versions. It has 28 reviews. 24 of them are 5 stars and 4 of them are 4 stars. Not a single bad review. Highest sales day - 568. Average - ~45-50. Yesterday - 2. 

App Name - Debt Snowball+

Keywords - method, pay, off, free - etc

Doesn't show up for these phrases:

debt snowball method
debt free
pay off debt

Clearly almost any phrase you'd use to find this app includes the word debt. Until recently you weren't allowed to put your app name in the keywords. This restriction has been recently lifted.

Radar Gun
This was a simple app I made just because I like baseball. Nothing too crazy, just some simple math. Speed = Distance/Time. You can actually get pretty accurate results if your reaction times are decent. It's been tested with a real radar gun and you can get pretty consistent. It also has lots of downloads and pretty good reviews, though not as many. A few people didn't like it, but that's to be expected with an app like this. If you don't understand math and have bad reaction times you are going to think it sucks.

App Name - Radar Gun

Keywords - baseball, softball, etc.

Doesn't show up for these phrases:

baseball radar gun
softball radar gun


Lest you think I'm just whining about losing some money over the last few days, I actually think these changes overall aren't too bad. Or at least the thought is good. Implementation is lacking. Highly ranked popular apps should probably show up a bit higher in the search rankings. The keyword stuffing in titles was/is a big problem. I'll admit I've done it a few times, though not nearly to the extent of my competition. My biggest competitor has a 10 word app name. "Debt Free - Pay Off Your Debt With Debt Snowball Method." Ironically, he hasn't been hurt at all by this, as all of the keywords are right there in the title. No need to worry about phrases.

The problem with all of this isn't the change. The problem is that Apple didn't give devs any kind of heads up. It used to be against the rules to put your app title in the keywords. It was considered stuffing. I assume their algorithm did some weighting based on the words that were in the search versus keywords and title. If you had the same words in both you'd be on top most likely. Now it's apparently allowed, and as it turns out, 100% necessary in my case. I made my apps 2 word descriptive titles and I'm losing out to the 10 word keyword stuffed titles. The exact opposite of what they probably would have wanted to happen. If they told us about this change, I could have had an update ready with my keywords updated. I can only hope that my rankings don't drop so badly in the next week while I wait for my updates that I can recover. 

If you've read this far and are interested in the mobile app market you may want to check out my book on how I make money on the mobile app stores called Building an App Business.


  1. Wife has a great App in the App store and was selling nicely....hovered around 12-15 in the inventory number 54 or worse ...sales zero today.  It's really network scanner now number do list ....her App tracks retail inventory, sales, safety stock, reorder points, reports in text and PDF....what a mess....

  2. Hope your inclusion in tech crunch will help out sales and pop you up there. i'll be supporting you and downloading your debt app

  3. ok thanks for this post it's quite informative and I have learned new things.