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Summary:

App developers are at the mercy of the app store charts, which play a huge role in determining an app’s success. That prevents a lot of good apps from being discovery and can lead to chart manipulation, said a panel of experts at GigaOM’s Mobilize conference.

While thousands of apps are crowding into stores like Apple’s App Store and Google Play, too much of their success comes down where they rank on app store charts. That was the consensus of several app experts at GigaOM’s Mobilize conference, who decried the importance of rankings on the app discoverability.

Ourial Ohayon, co-founder of app discovery platform Appsfire, went so far as to suggest that Apple do away with its charts in order to help people use other tools to find the right apps for them. He said at the very least, Apple should break out games from the App Store because they dominate the charts and keep other apps from being discovered.

Chris Dury, CEO of third-party app store GetJar, said only 1/10 of 1 perent of apps generate 50 percent of all downloads. That’s due in part to the power of charts on informing consumers’ download decisions. But he said charts make it appear that all consumers are alike and enjoy games. He said his research found that only 14 percent of users like casual games, but because the second most popular category grabs only 8 percent of users, games dominate the charts.

The reliance on charts also prompts developers to game and manipulate the rankings because they factor so heavily into their success. Even with Apple’s work to cut down on incentivized downloads and the use of bots, Tomer Kagan, co-founder and CEO of app search engine Quixey, said chart manipulation is still a big problem. In China, a developer can pay $40,000 to guarantee a spot in the top ten list, he said. 

“Charts are very detrimental. Consumers think (an app on the charts is the) only app that can do that. Very few apps have ever made it to the charts,” said Kagan.”

So what can developers do if they don’t want to play the chart game? Kagan suggested putting their efforts into a big launch with a lot of mentions, reviews and social media buzz because some app stores are taking into account more search engine optimization.

But what isn’t needed is more app stores, said John Ellis, Chief Technologist of Ford’s Connected Services and Solutions. He said companies don’t need to create their own app store, but are better off making catalogs of curated apps that leave the actual transactions to the big players.

Check out the rest of our Mobilize 2012 coverage here, and the live stream can be found here.

Watch live streaming video from mobilize2012 at livestream.com

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  1. Charts may be bad for app developers but people love them. Think of all the top 10 lists you see out there. Top 10 ways to loose weight, Top 10 ways to find a new job and on and on. There’s a reason why magazines, websites, TV shows and more keep recycling these things – people love them. Getting rid of charts doesn’t seem to be a great solution particularly when Apple’s ultimate goal is to please users, not developers. Yes, they want to keep developers happy too but their end / ultimate consumer are the people who buy their products. Developers may be frustrated by them, but that doesn’t mean they don’t server a purpose.

    Kagan’s suggestions are really good. Boil it down and he’s saying “do marketing for your app”. Kind of a “no duh” statement but one that needs to be said as there seems to be a misconception that you can just launch an app and the marketing will take care of itself. When has that ever been true? Well, it was at the start of the App Store but that’s when selection and competition was low. Now it’s incredibly high and think of any other competitive marketplace, marketing is key. And with good marketing, buzz, etc. what happens??? A good ranking on the charts…aha!

    Can companies buy there way to a top chart, of course they can. But that’s nothing new. Where there’s money to be made people will try to game the system. The system will improve with time but people will still try and game it. Look at SEO, Google spends billions on it’s search algorithms / technology and people still find ways to game it. It gets harder and harder to do, but it’s still done.

    At AppMyWorld we use lists also to help users find good apps. Our lists are a little different though in that they are based on aggregating professional review scores from around the web. They are also time based so you can look at the last 7 days, 30 days, 60 days or all time. It means our lists are always updating to show the newest and greatest apps based on professional human reviews. Can the system be manipulated? Of course, there are definitely ways to do this. But we accept it as a fact of doing business, work with it the best we can and try to improve as we go. That’s about all you can do.

  2. Instead of charts, App developers should be jockeying for 1st place rankings inside App Store Search for certain key search terms with good volumes. Study search rankings for any keyword, any app on SearchMan.com

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