More Evidence Shows Apple App Store Search Changes (Including Some Sad Developers)

We now have more information about the changes to Apple’s App Store search algorithm, thanks to a blog post from Ian Sefferman at MobileDevHQ.

TechCrunch broke the news about the change on Saturday, but our story was based on the impressions of individual app developers and some searches of our own. Sefferman, however, actually crawled App Store search results, and offered this summary of his findings:

The headline of the Chomp Update is that there is a big change happening that affects a widespread number of search results. Keywords in app title’s now matter less, overall downloads matter more, but there appears to be no change in how app rating affects search ranking.

More specifically, MobileDevHQ says that on June 21, its crawlers started seeing changes to search results “in a magnitude that was not previously seen.” And since then, those crawls are showing a drop in the correlation between app titles and search terms — put another way, there are fewer apps in the search results that include the search term in their title. Sefferman sounds less confident in assessing which factors have become more significant, but, as mentioned above, the early results suggest that it’s more about downloads than ratings. (Another caveat: There hasn’t been any definitive evidence saying that the changes stem from Apple’s acquisition of Chomp, which is what we and others have speculated.)

The blog post also points to the accounts of individual developers whose businesses were affected by the change. The first, Derek Clark, saw sales go down 30 percent. The second, Justine Pratt, says sales have gone down by about $30 per day. And I received an email from another developer who was worried about the impact this could have on their about-to-be-launched app.

All those stories are a big contrast to the developers I interviewed initially, who were excited about the change, because it meant they weren’t being outranked by less popular apps that happened to have better-chosen names. As a consumer, I suspect the new search rankings will make it easier to find good apps. Nonetheless, it’s hard to blame developers who tried to game the old system, any more than I’d blame websites that use SEO to get more traffic from Google. In both cases, however, you’re vulnerable when the algorithm changes.