How Apple’s Algorithm Changes Affect App Developers

Apple has been busy with algorithm changes over the last 15 days. With its third change in as many days, Apple tweeked the iOS App Store’s search algorithm. The tweak affected how the system weights keyword and app name metadata to allow for more accurate results. The story first broke on TechCrunch.

Why does this matter? If you’re an app developer, you care where your app appears in search. It impacts visibility, downloads, usage and profits. If you’re a consumer, you care about how easy it is to find the apps you’re searching for with a modicum of hassle factor.

Some theories on the changes focus on semantic search—and the ability to provide searchers with what they’re looking for more quickly. Semantic search is (or should be) a consumer’s best friend, as it focuses on serving up results based on relevancy, context, intent – exactly the thing that means your search results are what you’re looking for, not a bunch of junk that you have to wade through.

How does that apply to app search? For instance, if you’re searching the App Store using the word “gas,” it’s likely you’re looking for something to fuel your car rather than a game that has the word “gas” in the title.

It’s suggested that these recent refinements have something to do with Apple’s acquisition of Chomp, a search engine that “gives you the apps you want”– which totally makes sense. Chomp’s algorithm is all about delivering search results based on what apps do, not just what they are called. And isn’t that better for everyone? For people and for developers?

App Developers, Take Note: Review Your Keywords and Metadata

Admittedly, the changes discussed here are making things a little crazy in the app developer world. Here are some specifics to show you the changes, and how it might impact your SEO as an app developer.

After the first news about the algorithm changes broke, Tomasz Kolinko, a developer and one of the founders of App Store analysts appcod.es noticed some changes in his own app’s appearance. Kolinko noticed the changes both away from and back to previous search rules. Kolinko’s app has metadata for “advice” and it stopped showing up briefly for the search for “writing advice.” Then, on this past Friday when the same search was executed, Kolinko’s app reappeared as one of the top results, which clearly illustrates that previous search rules had been reinstated by Apple.

Bottom line – Apple now appears to be putting a bigger emphasis on keywords plus names, something that in one of the prior updates in the past 15 days it had seemed to devalue. It also appears as though ratings and comments play a role in where an app is served up in the search process, which also makes sense.

Unsure in all of this is the affect on app SEO, and how it could actually be negative?

Here’s a quote from Kolinko’s post:

The big news for the devs last week was that if your app was called “Dunkin,” and your keyword was “Donuts,” you stopped appearing for a search phrase “Dunkin Donuts” in the App Store Search.

For example, our app, “Love Letter Writer,” had “advice” in the keywords and Apple’s search didn’t show it in the results.

Until today (Friday, 29th June)

We just checked, and this rule is no longer valid. “Instagram Camera” shows up “Instagram” again, and “Writing Advice” shows up our “Love Letter Writer” again. So do other searches that we’ve tested.

 

The changes were confirmed by Matthäus Krzykowski, co-founder of app search firm Xyologic. When interviewed by TechCrunch, Krzykowski said, “It’s hard to read Apple’s cards, of course. However we are not surprised to see Apple tweaking their algorithms. App Discovery on iOS, while still better than Google’s, continues to decrease. Less and less new apps and developers benefit from the current approach each month. They clearly know they need to tackle this and we are expecting them to continue to tweak their algorithm and test things out.”

With some 850,000 approved apps, of which some 650,000 are active — it seems that Apple better get that trend of decreasing App Discovery on iOS turned around. Less people searching for apps is not a good thing, not when you’re an App Store. Is the most recent change a complete rollback or is it based off of Apple’s recent acquisition of app search company Chomp? We don’t know. However, it is clear that Apple is experimenting with new ways to better optimize search, and to also integrate semantic search technology in its massive catalog of both free and premium apps.

Here is a very helpful slideshare from Kolinko detailing how the changes are working in the New rules in App Store Search.

New rules in App Store Search

View more presentations from AppCod.es

What about you? If you’re an app developer, have you checked out whether these recent tweaks to Apple’s search algorithm have impacted your app? If so, we’d love to hear how it’s impacted you—if at all.

Image by Nanagyei via Creative Commons

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