Friday, June 29, 2012

More Apple App Store Search Changes (Good News!)

Just a quick update today saying that Apple "fixed" (in my opinion) the bug where they weren't searching a combination of app titles and keywords. While I would have liked a heads up before the change, at least they are willing to listen and fix things when they screw up. I noticed a few other quirky things today as well just as a heads up.

1. It seems they have given a bit of weight to "exact matches" of titles IF the title isn't generic. I have no idea how this is determined algorithmically, but one of my apps is now the only result where it didn't used to be. Another of my apps doesn't show up for keywords I have that is an exact search of another app. Other, more generic app names that I have do not get the same treatment. No idea how exactly this algorithm is working, but it is definitely a bit different. This is probably a good thing for most cases, though the auto-complete makes this slightly less useful.

2. It seems only free apps (or exact match title) will show up if you use "free" in the search. I would probably consider this a good change if it weren't for my app that helps people become "debt free." Generally speaking when someone searches for free they probably just want free apps, this corner case is a little frustrating though. I guess it's time for me to make a lite version :-)

For more on Apple's search change check out parts 1 and 2 that I wrote earlier this week:

Apple Changed Search Algorithm for App Store
Apple's App Store Search Change - Part 2

If you've read this far and are interested in the mobile app market you may want to check out my newsletter. It's periodic emails (no more than 1-2 a month) on mobile app sales and the different markets.

Discuss on Hacker News


Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Apple's App Store Search Change - Part 2

Update: More Search Changes (Good News)

This weekend I wrote about changes to the iPhone App Store search algorithm. That post got quite a bit of attention, including the front page of Hacker News and a mention in TechCrunch. From that article, "Nonetheless, it’s hard to blame developers who tried to game the old system, any more than I’d blame websites that use SEO to get more traffic from Google."

I just thought I'd take a minute to respond to that, and clarify a few things I didn't explain as well as I'd like. First off, I think the idea behind the change is a good thing. It seems to me they want to lower the importance of the title and give more weight to other aspects. The point of this would be to presumably get people to stop stuffing keywords in their titles giving them 10 word titles for an app name. That also sounds like a good idea to me.

The problem, as I said in the last article, is that one small part of the change did exactly the opposite. They stopped searching on a combination from the title and keywords. For example (from the original article):

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

Also note that it used to be against the rules to have your title also appear in your keywords. This means that this app, which doesn't have a huge keyword stuffed title, now DOESN'T APPEAR AT ALL for my top search phrases. I'm not complaining about getting knocked down a few notches in the search results (though that did happen in a few places), I'm complaining about being completely removed from almost every search that could have found my app except for a search of my exact app name. I've dropped to #2 for that search, replaced by:

"Debt Free - Pay Off your Debt With Debt Snowball Method"

Just to be clear as I throw my competitor under the bus, this is a very good app. However, the title illustrates my point very well so I'm going to use it. Without touching his keywords as I don't know what they are, this app shows up for all of those key phrases simply by having all of the words in his title:

debt snowball method
debt free
pay off debt

It turns out that this small modification of not combining the title and keywords has given the keyword stuffing app less competition, and completely taken out my non-keyword stuffing app. If you'll note my apps on the right, in the past I've done a few apps with titles that can definitely be considered keyword stuffing. Those apps haven't been hurt very much with this update. The apps that didn't have been all but killed. That's what I've been frustrated with. 

All of this could have been avoided by some simple communication from Apple. Just send a note that says we are making some changes to move away from people stuffing keywords in titles. If you want your apps title to be part of your keywords we are now allowing this. You should submit an update with your modified keywords if you want to appear for search phrases including both. Hopefully the huge loss of sales this week won't kill my rankings once my updates get approved and I start showing up in the store again.

Auto-Complete

Now, this last part doesn't have to do with the changes, but rather something I think should be changed. The auto-complete for the app store doesn't make any sense to me. When you start typing it doesn't work to complete the word you are typing, rather it puts down app titles that are close to what you are searching for. If you start typing "debt ..."instead of complete the word you are typing like "debt free" it gives the most popular apps. In this case, the top result is again "Debt Free - Pay Off your Debt With Debt Snowball Method." Now, there are probably 30+ apps that have 6-8 of those keywords. Before the recent change 3 apps were returned that happen to have all of them. Currently, only one app is returned (technically 2, the lite and full version).

I don't think that is the best user experience. While this is a good app as I mentioned earlier, I think it makes a lot more sense when someone is typing "debt free" to show all of the apps that are trying to solve this problem, and not just one of them. This could be solved in 1 of 2 ways. The first is to obviously stop auto-completing to app names and just use search terms. That being said, I assume the reason they don't do this is that they don't want people to get empty searches. Since they are doing only keyword matching, if someone throws and extra word out there they would have to improve their search algorithm. Empty searches are a very bad thing from Apple's perspective.

The second option, would be to also show apps similar to the exact match. Show the genius recommendations or the "other apps people bought with this" or something. When someone types in the word "debt" they should really be getting lots of options. There are quite a few very high quality apps in this niche (glad I decided to go for the easy niche, oh well). More than 1 app should show up for the user.

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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.

Examples:

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
etc.

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
etc.

Conclusion

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.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Where Do I Go From Here - 1 Year Anniversary

My business just turned 1 on June first. I made over 50k last year on the app store starting from almost nothing. April was my highest revenue month yet thanks to a new app launch, and June is likely to be higher. Last week was several hundred dollars better than my previous best. So why do I feel like this isn't working and I need to do something else?

Just to be clear before I get into this, I'm not complaining about how things have gone over the last year. The last year has been amazing, and I don't regret quitting in the least. This is just me sharing my thoughts over the last few weeks to maybe help someone else going through the same thing, or maybe find someone to share what they've learned with me.

As I've shared before, my plans going into this year was to focus on niche apps that might not sell a ton, but each one sells consistently and added together they become a decent salary. At this point I have a decent lifestyle business going. That's great, and that's the problem. I've recently realized that my focus for the last year isn't quite in line with my long term goals. 

I want hire people and have high 6 figure if not 7 figure revenue. I want to work on big problems, and make the world a better place, even if it's only for a few people. None of those things are going to happen with my app business. I can keep growing it as long as smartphones and apps continue to be popular, but it is a long ways from growing into 7 figure revenues. Hiring someone is also quite a ways down the road.

I'd also like to have a more stable revenue source. The lifetime value of most of my customers is 70 cents. Seriously, think about that for a minute. That is scary. Some form of recurring revenue that is just a bit higher looks really good to me right now.

Now I've focused on the cons, there are some pros to what I've done over the last year. The first is that while we aren't swimming around in dollar bills, we don't have to worry about going hungry any time soon. Having this revenue coming in from apps gives me the freedom to pursue something more ambitious. My goal would be to have that big payoff so that I can do something even more ambitious after that. This was a good first stepping stone though.

The only question is what now? I've spent my last year thinking entirely about mobile. I have a long list of ideas for things to implement that is entirely composed of apps. My next two months are mostly booked with an app that is already in progress and a couple of freelance projects. 

The (seemingly) obvious choice is to start taking more consulting projects. There is certainly plenty of demand in that area. The projects I'm working on now I haven't searched out at all. They just came from friends of friends that heard I do app development. 

That being said, I hate freelancing. With a passion. The only thing about it that I like is the paycheck at the end. That is not a good way to live. With the app business at least enjoy every day. That being said, if I decided to grow a consulting business that would allow me to do the hiring I want, and growing into low to mid 6 figures revenues wouldn't be too hard. It could be another stepping stone.

Is there another way though? I'd like to think there is. I have enough revenue and savings now to give me a pretty long runway if I can find a something interesting to work on that I can get to MVP by myself. I just don't have any idea as to what that project is right now.

Well, that's my rant for the day. I'm not sure it will be helpful to anybody else, but at least I got it out there. If you've been in this position before let me know what you did.