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Ranking algorithm on App Store and Android Market tips balance back to apps people really love and use regularly.

Stephanie Pottinger
  • 22 april 2011



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This article titled “Apple and Google reward apps that have the ‘sticky factor'” was written by Stuart Dredge, for guardian.co.uk on Tuesday 19th April 2011 11.14 UTC

Want your app to fly high on the iOS App Store or Android Market? You’d better make it sticky then. Both Apple and Google are thought to have tweaked their ranking algorithms to reward apps that have lots of active users, rather than just those with lots of downloads.

The App Store change appears to have only just taken place. Inside Mobile Apps cites chart boosts in the US for free iPhone apps including Facebook, Pandora and Netflix, with Facebook back at the top of Apple’s Top Free Apps chart, having spent the last year and a half sitting between 10th and 20th spot.

“We’ve been noticing changes in the ‘Top Free’ rankings for at least three days now,” says Peter Farago of analytics firm Flurry. “From our point of view, Apple is absolutely considering more than just downloads, which we believe is the right direction to go to measure the true popularity of an app.”

Apple’s move follows changes made by Google in late March, which weren’t noticed until US firm myYearbook spoke out about its Android app rocketing up from 63rd place in the Android “Top Free” chart to 11th.

“We believe the new ranking algorithm is now more complex, taking into account a measure of activity in the application and not simply new installs per day,” wrote Geoff Cook earlier this month for Business Insider. “In particular, we believe the ranking now considers either Daily Active Users (DAU) or the ratio of Daily Active Users to Monthly Active Users, which is sometimes referred to as the ‘sticky factor’.”

Talk of DAUs and MAUs pinpoints the significance of the changes made by Apple and Google, since they are bringing their app rankings into line with the metrics that have long been used to gauge the success of social applications and games on Facebook. Getting a large base of users to sign up (or in apps’ case download) may be easy enough, but keeping them? That’s success.

The app store changes are good news for developers and users alike. At times in the last two and a half years, it has felt like app success is as much about gaming the chart system as it is about making a great product. The changes tip the balance back towards the apps people really love – and most importantly, use regularly.

So who benefits? Facebook and Twitter, obviously. Music apps such as Pandora and Spotify should enjoy a bump, as will video apps such as Netflix and the BBC’s iPlayer. Games with longer shelf lives – particularly social titles such as Zombie Farm, The Smurfs’ Village and the rest – will prosper, but shorter games that aren’t updated regularly are likely to fall in the rankings.

Meanwhile, less entertainment-focused productivity apps will also be getting more credit in the charts – although only the ones that are good enough to have become a mainstay on people’s handsets. Word of mouth has always been an important factor on the app stores, but these new changes should spawn a few more slow-burning success stories.

There are also important implications for the apps of newspaper and magazine publishers, who may have to refine their thinking about encouraging loyalty from their users. Think of it this way: newspaper apps (including The Daily) are by definition hoping to be opened at least once a day, so may benefit from the new algorithms.

On the other hand, magazines shunting a glorified PDF on to the App Store once a month with no additional content may suffer. The changes may spur more hybrid apps from publishers, encouraging them to add in content feeds from their websites and social features in an effort to make these apps worth opening more often.

Apple and Google’s changes should not be presented as a revolution – they’re significant tweaks to chart algorithms that could and should evolve over time. Good apps with loyal users will benefit, while bad or average apps will have to get better, even if they continue to use every promotional trick in the book to rack up downloads.

But what do you think? Have you noticed changes for better or worse in your apps’ rankings on the App Store or Android Market? What do you think the wider impact of the changes will be? Join the debate by posting a comment.

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010

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