Report: Apple Reweights App Store Rankings, De-emphasizing Downloads

Apple has reportedly tweaked the way it ranks apps on the hugely successful App Store for iOS devices. The company has reportedly stopped relying so heavily on download numbers when ranking apps, and may be using data such as how often an app is used. The move may be in response to pay-to-install promotions run by app networks that have been used to artificially boost app rankings.

The changes were first reported by InsideMobileApps, which talked to operators of mobile app networks Flurry, Tapjoy and W3i, as well as to individual developers. Those networks all ran pay-to-install promotions where developers pay the networks to have other apps in the network reward users with in-app virtual goods in exchange for downloading the promoted app.

These types of promotions would result in an often meaningful jump in an app’s ranking, a jump that might be sustainable if the app (usually a game) was good, but it’s a practice that is essentially gaming the system. There’s a lot of money at stake for developers who can get their app in the top 20 in a category, making such cross-app promotions worth the money paid to the networks.

The change in the ranking algorithm, however, mean that such gamesmanship will no longer work, though that is likely to push many developers into looking for other ways to game the system. Once the news in the ranking hit, some developers told TUAW that apps they submitted that included pay-to-install promotions have been rejected, suggesting that Apple is serious about ending that practice.

Be that as it may, Mike Breslin, head of marketing for Glu Mobile, told InsideMobileApps that, “Most of us in the industry are still going to use any meaningful strategy we can to get downloads. The hardest thing is to get someone to download a game. That real estate is so valuable. But we’re confident that once we get there, users will like our games. Quality is king.”

Mr. Breslin applauded the new ranking system, however, saying that “Download numbers can have a lot of duplicity.” He noted that several of his company’s games benefitted from the shift away from reliance on download numbers. He believes that Apple is now weighting both daily and monthly use as a factor, though no one yet knows for sure what changes Apple made.

What we do know is that Facebook’s iPhone app jumped to #1 in free apps, when before it had usually ranked between #20 and #10 (it has since fallen to #7). Other apps like Netflix and Pandora also saw boosts, though both have since fallen.