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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About the Author

Jordan Kahn

Jordan writes about all things Apple as Senior Editor of 9to5Mac, & contributes to 9to5Google, 9to5Toys, & He also co-authors 9to5Mac’s Logic Pros series.