updated 09:25 pm EDT, Fri August 23, 2013
Giving more weight to user ratings, lack of refunds, usage
According to app marketers and developers, Apple is making quiet changes to the way it weighs and ranks apps on its App Store. Once driven almost entirely by download counts, the formula is now accounting for not only user ratings (which can be manipulated), but also how many refunds have been issued against the app, the popularity of in-app purchases or subscriptions, and longer-term user engagement.
While the inclusion of more methods should help produce better rankings, another likely aim of the changes would be to reduce the possibility of app marketing companies gaming the ratings system. Developers have told TechCrunch that they've noticed that ratings are updated less often (about every three hours rather than the previous 15 minutes), helping prevent marketing companies from engaging in short-term mass automated downloads to try and boost an app's position in the charts. The extra time is likely required for review of the records to determine automated spikes of download activity.
App marketing company Fiksu says that recently Apple has been giving apps with four-star or higher ratings a boost in the charts, while apps with less than three stars fall in the rankings -- even if the number of downloads remains the same as before. New or newly-updated apps also seem to be getting more of a boost in the rankings over older or not-recently-updated apps.
App discovery and marketing company Appsfire has reported that Apple is also evaluating factors like the number of refunds given out for an app, and evaluating revenue data differently as well. Now, paid apps are weighted differently than "free to play" or depending on IAP type apps are, since they gain revenue in two different ways. The fact that a program was initially free may have in Apple's view been unfairly skewing the results.
The company is also said to be studying usage information, which is routinely collected from apps. Apple is allegedly looking at factors such as how many times the app was opened on the first day, the second day, a week later and so on. Measures such as these reveal the level of engagement a user has with an app beyond the "novelty factor" and may prove useful in attracting and delivering results to advertisers.