Understanding The Current State of the App Stores (iTunes & Google PlayStore)

Up until just after the App Store updated its algorithm in 2014, launching a new app with the intention of gaining organic traffic was difficult, but the relatively simple exercise of creating the strongest app in your niche. It was a linear but very competitive climb to the top which often resulted in the apps with the most/best content hitting the top five positions in the “ASL” App Store Listings. The state of the ASL was stable but in direct conflict with the App Store’s anti-spam and keyword ranking manipulation policy which on the surface is a logical policy for app stores (iTunes & Google Play Store) to have.

A lack of foresight at Google & Apple

Within the past two years, we’ve seen algorithm updates dramatically shake up the ASLs with what we assume is Google and Apple’s intent to fix a broken, easily manipulated system. In theory, by targeting the spams and keyword manipulations, these App Stores should be giving back the ASLs to those app developers who are genuine providers of content without the intention to manipulate ASLs. To an extent, it has worked, but what App Stores didn’t foresee is how bad the non-ASO savvy developers really are at providing good content. After several algorithm updates, we have seen countless examples of deteriorating ASL result quality. What Google & Apple didn’t realize is that ASO experts or online marketers who are labelled “blackhat” by Apple and Google provided much of the quality content on the internet. Why? Because these spammers care about converting users, they care about understanding their target audience and they provide the best answers to queries in the App store.
Providing user’s search queries with exactly what they are looking for is what blackhats do best.
To an extent, Google & Apple have achieved their intention of ASLs with higher listings for apps which don’t engage in keywords spam, but in the process, they’ve suspended/banned blackhat apps that contain little to no answers for a Google user’s search query. There are many examples of search results where authority apps who have perfected their content have been replaced by reskinned apps. And as always, when a system this harsh is actioned there have been many instances of collateral damage where good honest mom’s and pop’s businesses have been wiped out with no explanation or indication of the problem. This surge in confusion and anger can clearly be seen in Google and Apple’s developer forums on a daily basis.
Other driving factors behind the App Stores’ change of policy. It is possible that the “do no evil” that was much loved has turned into a corporate cash grab. When you step back for a moment and take a look at the bigger picture a few things become apparent about these App Stores’ policies and actions. Firstly they have shareholders who continually demand an increase in profit in order to keep up the facade that they are growing every year, they will not allow the company’s market value to drop by any means. With this in mind, we’ve seen an aggressive stance towards ASO and organic search results.

What this means for us

It means that Apple and Google’s imperfect system has become unstable and problematic for users, online marketers and themselves, in fact, in the past week Gabriel Machuret sent an open letter to Apple, something which I think highlights that the App Store search is flawed and it needs immediate fixing (Problems include: paid apps have become almost invisible, regular updates are penalized, and that new apps don’t get visibility or stand a fair chance against old titles). What we have to do as ASO specialists, is to begin to change our approach to APP STORE OPTIMIZATION by evolving and adapting to the current state of the App Stores’ ASLs, something I’ll talk about in my blog. In essence, I will be looking at what currently ranks, how and why this is happening and how we should plan future App Store Optimization campaigns to cope with the App Store’s updates.

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