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Why Apple needs to fix App Store search

Michael Simon | May 8, 2014
Search has become the foundation of everything we do online. From Google and Bing queries to Siri, Spotlight and Songza, the apps and services we rely on would be worthless without those tiny magnifying glasses and shaded bars to guide us.

But if being featured doesn't help, Sensor Tower thinks it can. The mobile search-engine optimizer proudly counts such perennial high rankers as Clash of Clans, Notability and Soundhound among its clients, and has narrowed App Store searches down to the letter — literally. As the company explains, simply making keywords plural can have a dramatic effect on position. A search for photograph yields more than 11,000 apps with the same keyword, essentially diluting the results. But adding an s to the end eliminates about 90 percent of those returns.

Not all developers are keen to play this tedious game of trial and error.

"As for boosting rankings, the only reliable way is marketing, where you pay up to $3 per download (of a free app)," said Thorsten Rauser, a developer with the Binary Family and force behind Please Fix the App Store. (That site's manifesto declares, "Paid apps have become almost invisible...regular updates are penalized, apps don't get visibility or stand a fair chance against old titles.") Rauser says that such pay-for-play marketing can only be financed by apps that manipulate users into making as many in-app purchases as possible — "a road we don't want to walk down."

Rauser, who said he has all but given up on iOS app development, has gathered the support of some 70 developers to his cause, but fears Apple is unwilling to fix the problems.

So what else can developers do, except keep trying to game the Store in hopes their apps will rise to the top? Omer Perchik, founder and CEO of Any.Do, is "definitely not happy" with search status for his company's Cal calendar app. (It's currently ranked number 45 in a search for calendar in the iTunes app store and falls to 77th in the iOS App Store app; don't even get developers started on the discrepancies between OS X and iOS searches.) Still, he's willing to put the work in to get it higher.

"I believe it's a process. When you launch you get promoted within the search results. But after a while you get to your actual position and then you need to start climbing back."


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