Apple App Store Top Grossing Ranking Algorithm Update — 2.17.17
2/20 Update: Since this post was written, Sarah Perez of TechCrunch cited Apple’s weekend top chart reshuffle as possibly a conscious tweak to favor paid iOS apps over in-app-purchased-monetized apps (specifically subscriptions). Given Apple’s recent focus on subscriptions (Apple went so far as to even cut its 30% cut of app revenues in half, to 15% after subscribers reach one year), this would seem almost like a course reversal and a harmful move to apps which have been encouraged to pursue subscription models. However, this does indicate Apple’s challenge of attempting to retro-fit the top grossing chart (created long before subscriptions) to fairly rank both one-time and subscription-monetized apps. While algorithm tweaking is one method that Apple’s can leverage, another couple of solutions would be to either provide a sub top grossing chart for one-time vs subscription, or a new top chart altogether for subscription apps (which could be a boon for users at any rate).
Indeed, this challenge of balancing subscription vs onetime-purchase apps is not the only juxtaposition that Apple’s App Store faces in terms of its user experience. For example, in keyword searches, there is often a juxtaposition between games and non-game apps, which are currently and inefficiently lumped together into one results page, forcing users looking for non-games to sift through games they have no intention of downloading, and vice-versa.
“I swear, we’ve got the right rankings. They were right here in this file over here and uh, well, we may have misread the results. That’s our fault, not any of you top grossing IAP-monetized apps’ fault — it was right here in front of us. We uh, well. Oops!”
Over the weekend, top charting evidence points to the fact that Apple’s top grossing ranking algorithm experienced a significant change in displaying top grossing results, as stalwart top 10 apps suddenly lost ranking and other apps catapulted from lesser top ranking positions to top 10 category fame, and basked in this newfound limelight for a few days.
However; per the post update above, it may be that Apple’s “oops” was more of a conscious change than gaffe, as Apple may have decided to favor paid apps over in-app-purchase-monetized apps.
Here you can see The Weather Channel, a top-ranking app for months straight, suddenly dip and then recover its top ranking.
Here we can see another weather app, which suddenly lost its top grossing rank and is just now starting to recover its top rank.
Here we can see a utilities app that appears to have benefited from this bug/update; though admittedly at $14.99, it wouldn’t be difficult to rack up a top grossing rank if people actually did suddenly begin buying this app in bulk.
Here is another utilities app that benefited, again with a high price tag.
Even a few Moji apps, like StephMoji and ZAYNmoji earned their way to top 10 grossing ranks, which again is plausible, yet suspicious in that they share this sudden and sustained weekend rise with other paid apps for which it is less plausible to believe in a sudden popularity spike, like Construction Manager Pro, which is shown here with an hourly graph and a 365-day graph, to illustrate the relative significance of this weekend’s grossing spike.
From what we gather, then, it seems that in cases where lesser top grossing apps (both with and without upward momentum) usurped their more steadfast top grossing apps, it was when the ouster was a paid app.
The Bottom Line: From February 17th 2017 to on or around February 20th 2017, it appears that Apple’s top grossing algorithm experienced a change and began favoring paid apps over free apps monetizing via in-app-purchases. This could be a bug, redacted algorithm update or testing for a future algorithm update. In any case, keep an eye out on category/country ranking charts, as well as keyword ranks, which could also be affected.
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