It seems like unbeknownst to us, Apple, as a part of its usual drill, has again tweaked the algorithm that rules over developer and app ranking and thus by extension, controls important factors such as visibility, downloads and revenue on its app store.
However, instead of causing app rankings going topsy-curvy over the whole store, the changes seem to have affected only a section of iPad app developers, in the U.S. App Store.
This may not be a complete surprise, as it is known that Apple makes changes to its rankings algo. from time to time, to make sure that the same apps don’t occupy the top spots, as that would be not-so-fair to other developers.
There are several ways to spot such a change, with the most common method being to keep an eye on the list, where the top apps are so huge, that a sudden drop or spike in popularity may be a fair indication of changes in Apple’s ranking algorithm.
Although strictly speaking, the change may also be a result of some sudden change in the app itself or even a bug or a ranking glitch, which is why this method is not completely foolproof.
However, something has been going on with the iPad app rankings, that resemble Apple messing around with its algorithm. For example, Facebook’s iPad app, which was placed comfortably at the No. 2 position in “Social Networking” and a No. 7 ranking “Overall” on Thursday, slipped down to No. 4 and No. 24 positions respectively, in both the sections in a single day.
The cascade did not stop there, and Monday saw the app at 38 in “Social Networking” and at No. 858 “Overall”. Sad. Certainly not something you could expect happening due to natural causes — Unless of course, Google revives an infinitely superior version of Orkut.
However, the following days saw a reversal of fortunes with the app climbing back to No. 2 in “Social Networking,” and No. 9 “Overall” in a few days.
While that being left to its own, would point towards a glitch, the fact that many other apps, which fell alongside Facebook didn’t make it back up, sings a different tune.
Another factor that reduces the possibility of a glitch, is the fact that the keyword rankings for a number of popular apps including the likes of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Minecraft, YouTube and Snapchat had also changed — which is another thing indicative of a no-glitch.
As per a statement given to TechCrunch by Craig Palli, Chief Strategy Officer of Fiksu, a prominent mobile marketing firm,
The apps that dropped have jumped significantly back up today, but not all of them have returned to the ranks that they were at before the drop started on Friday.
further adding, that the pattern of changes was consistent with how the ranking changes occurred in the past.
Be that as may, while the end of the week saw many, like Facebook sitting exactly or nearly — give or take a few slots — exactly where they were prior to the move, many others were at ranks that differed by as much as 50 slots from their previous rank.
The changes did not affect only the main rankings either, other lists, such as the Top Grossing and stuff such as how well a particular combination of keywords worked towards generating traffic to a particular app was also found to be different.
The secret to why only a section of Apps/developers and not everyone was affected seems to lie with the way they advertise. Just like with any other products, there are a bunch of methods to advertise an app on the Play store, such as App Store Optimization by tweaking Keywords, using promotions, using other apps, you get the idea.
It may be that Apple targeted apps and developers employing a particular method of advertisement. Course, it’s only a guess. But that is what we think may have happened.
A harder question is why Apple would choose to directly manipulate app rankings on the Store. While there may be a whole sack full of reasons, Dan Held, co-founder, Analytica, attempted to explain what might have been the reason according to him.
The purpose of the change is to more accurately rank apps based on criteria Apple deems ‘quality.’ They might have found a large exploit some app developers were taking advantage of, but this seems more like a very large change of what Apple sees as important ranking factors – reviews, downloads, keywords, etc.,
Whatever the reason, the fact that the majority of changes took place in apps belonging to the iPad section of the store seems to denote a motive to improve apps built specifically for Apple’s tablets by boosting the best of them, to positions with better rewards.