According to a new report from research firm Fiksu, which regularly tracks changes to App Store charts, Apple might be experimenting with new algorithms for iTunes and App Store rankings that incorporate user ratings. Apple previously only used the number of downloads and how fast an app was being downloaded in order to rank apps for its top charts, but Fisku thinks it has recently started incorporating user rankings:

In late July, we first began to notice apps unexpectedly shifting position without a corresponding increase or decrease in downloads. Upon closer inspection, we discovered these position changes correlated with the apps’ ratings. As evidenced by the graph below, apps with ratings of 4 or more stars received a rank boost in late July and have maintained that rank throughout August. Poorly rated apps with less than 3 stars received the opposite treatment about two weeks later, dropping off precipitously in rank and staying that way. Average rated apps, between 3 and 4 stars, suffered a slight degradation in rank but have generally been less affected.

The report also notes that, in recent weeks, Apple appears to be updating App Store charts every three hours opposed to the 15 minute intervals it was using previously. Fisku speculates that the increase could be to help prevent manipulation of the app charts, noting that “three hours allows enough time to identify anomalies and remove apps before they suddenly appear at the top of the rankings.” 

Additionally, Apple has in the past adjusted the timeframe of rank updates during periods of extremely high volume — specifically, during the infamous holiday ‘freezes’. Could it be that Apple is anticipating extraordinarily high volumes of downloads after the release of a rumored two new phones and a new iOS in September? Or is the change in the interface part of the rollout of the new algorithm — in other words, is Apple giving itself some buffer time to see how their new algorithm is affecting rank in the real world?

TechCrunch spoke with other developers and analysts keeping an eye on the App Store that have noticed additional changes including Apple taking refunds into account and “processing revenue data differently for free-to-play games.” There is also some evidence that user engagement (how long & often users spend using an app) might be playing a role in rankings as well. Others noticed tweaks to search in the App Store, adding more proof that an overhaul of discovery features might be underway alongside improved rankings.

While today’s report reminds us that the changes could be entirely experimental, the inclusion of user ratings into App Store charts seems like an obvious move to help improve the quality of rankings and combat tactics developers often use to sway the charts.

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5 Responses to “Apple reportedly testing changes to App Store ranking algorithms, now including user ratings”

  1. mpias3785 says:

    I have a strong feeling that many apps have had their ratings artificially raised by unscrupulous developers using multiple accounts. That can be the only explanation for some of the highly rated though useless and badly written apps I’ve seen. Apple should have some process in place to guard against that.


  2. rymc02 says:

    Screw ranking algorithms! You can’t search the store to begin with. Apple’s app store is like searching a website from 2001. Why don’t they fix that first?


  3. drtyrell969 says:

    Apple has turned back into Apple from the early 90s. iTunes is the WORST application to store / find music in. Moving your library erases all your historical voting, and purchase history. Yeah, cuz that’s hard to maintain in a file system. iPhoto has turned into a kitchen sink of sluggish NSA face combed binary trees that NO ONE wants or needs. iMovie is the NSA iPhone face scrapping (that can’t be turned off) on steroids. Apple has turned their software into gimmicks to close sells, and little else.