Changes to iTunes app ranking algorithm will have wide impact: experts

ITunes is rumored to have made modifications to its App Store ranking algorithm, now taking into account qualitative information such as reviews and frequency of usage on top of download statistics, according to ABI Research.

While the company has not confirmed the reports, many in the industry would welcome a move away from using the number of times an app has been downloaded as the primary gauge of its success. The use of additional data could provide a more useful assessment of an app?s value.

?App store browsing on devices has been an issue with users, who can face difficulty finding an app of interest,? said Neil Strother, Kirkland, WA-based practice director at ABI Research. ?Having many misleading apps hogging the top charts for a week at a time does not help either, so this could not be a better time for Apple to reform its app ecosystem in an environment where competition and consumers? heightened expectations are increasing the pressure.?

The move would address a big issue for some developers. This is that while many consumers download an app and only use it once while other apps are used daily, this information has not traditionally been reflected in an apps ranking in the iTunes App Store.

Apple did not respond to questions by press time.

Fewer incentivized downloads
Because of the way the rankings have been structured, developers feel that some apps move up the rankings based solely on how they are marketed.

One popular way of influencing an app?s ranking has been to offer an incentive for consumers to download the app.

?If you went with a ranking that was more frequency based, that is pretty solid and indisputable,? said Mark Beccue, senior analyst at ABI Research, Oyster Bay, NY. ?It means that you?re not a clever marketer but that you?ve put out something that people really want.?

If the industry does start to focus more on frequency of use in how it ranks apps, this could affect how apps are marketed.

Incentivized installs, for example, would play a smaller role.

?Some publishers may have to dramatically change their business models,? said Howie Schwartz, chairman and cofounder at Offermobi, New York.

?We believe this is a positive change for the market as developers will have to spend more time thinking about quality/retention of their apps,? Mr. Schwartz said.

A better understanding of how apps are used could help developers create more useful apps that consumers will engage with more regularly.

It could also affect the value that is attached to users.

Frequent use equals value
?If someone downloads an app and never uses it, that?s a one-time impression and less valuable to companies,? Mr. Beccue said. ?It would be great if the industry got information about how frequently apps are used because this would show you how valuable an app is to consumers and developers.?

The most valuable apps are ones that consumers look at frequently, per Mr. Beccue. The list typically includes weather, travel and traffic apps, he said.

Knowing how many active users an app has can also help a company in its efforts to monetize its installed base with in-app purchases and mobile advertising, per Mr. Schwartz.

Whereas buying on a cost-per-click basis in the mobile space can make it hard for mobile developers to optimize and track campaigns.

?We believe that a focus on non-incentivized installs is the next step in app discovery,? Mr. Schwartz said.

?This allows developers to understand a fixed price per install and provides higher value users that actually wanted to install and use their app versus an incentivized ?bribe,?? he said.

?These real installs are more likely to make in-app purchases and interact with mobile advertising and become active loyal users.?

Final Take
Offermobi on pay-per-call