iOS Search Store Algorithm Changes, Throws This Developer For A Loop

Four years ago we put our first app in Apple’s App Store, a product called FastFigures. This was our first experiment and, for a short while, it did quite well. This were back in the days when Apple looked at your name, description, ratings and downloads to rank your app. Since we had an app that did lots of stuff — everything from finance and business to conversions and scientific functions — and we discussed that in our description, we ranked very high in a lot of searches. We tried a number of different price points, finding that $5.99 was the right combination of units and revenues to generate the most income. We also tried $9.99, $4.99 and $1.99, where $1.99 was the best at getting us high in our category. We were ranked #2 in Finance at that price.

But then Apple made a change. They stopped using the description and started using keywords and title only. Keywords were restricted to 100 characters (including spaces and commas to separate them). While the title seemed to weigh higher, the keywords and title were mixed together to create a pool of words with which Apple used to rank us for search. This change caused us to drop from #2 in our category out of the top 100, pretty much killing our sales in a matter of weeks.

Because of what happened here, we decided to revert back to our original brand and released a new version as powerOne. We were smarter here. We did a bunch of research, figuring out keywords to use, making adjustments with each release. For the last couple of years we could count on a pretty consistent volume of sales day in and day out, allowing us to plan for the future with a consistent base of sales.

Sometime over the last few days, all of that was thrown out the window again as Apple changed their algorithms. We pay the closest attention to our powerOne Finance Pro product, which traditionally generates 50%+ of our sales. We went from top 25-28 on iPhone Finance category with our primary paid product, powerOne Finance Pro, to top 50-75. (Interestingly, we didn’t change drastically on the iPad.) Our sales dropped across our entire product line nearly 30%.

The reports coming in from others (see here, here, and here for a few of them) believe that, among other changes like increasingly emphasizing downloads and ratings, the biggest change is that Apple is now treating titles as titles and keywords as keywords, not mixing the two.

My data proves this out. Every one of our keywords were specifically chosen and honed over the past two years but now we don’t appear for a number of them. Key phrases like “mortgage calculator,” “loan calculator,” “business calculator,” and “real estate calculator” do not show our products at all. Each of the first words are in our keyword list but we omitted “calculator” since it is in our title. As mentioned the old rules didn’t require it to be in both places. One example that proves this change is our keyword “rpn.” We rank 10 and 8, iPhone and iPad respectively, for the term alone. But if you change it to “rpn calculator” we don’t rank at all. Another example is “mortgage”. No rating for “mortgage calculator” but “mortgage” alone ranks us 14 and 5.

We do, however, still show for “finance calculator” and “financial calculator,” which is very interesting. We have traditionally had to include related words like this. However, we do not have “financial” anywhere in our title or keywords, which means Apple is now grouping related or similar words. This is a great improvement.

In the end these changes (and I’m sure others to come) will be a huge improvement in finding the app for which you are looking. Given that, every one of these changes means massive changes for developers.

Now I get to fret about sales for the next few weeks as I wait to see the ramifications of these changes. I also have to divert attention to a new set of powerOne releases so I can update the keywords. (You can only change app name and keywords on a new product release.) Luckily, it is a simple fix, though, as adding “calculator” to our keywords should solve our problems.

Given all that, the worst part is it feels like I can never count on revenues for long in this world. But that will be a discussion for another day.

2 thoughts on “iOS Search Store Algorithm Changes, Throws This Developer For A Loop

  1. Pingback: App Stores Are No Place To Make Money « Elia Insider

  2. Pingback: Search Changes, Falling Sales and a powerOne First (With Data!) « Elia Insider

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