How Google Has Changed Its App Store Algorithm Over the Years?


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Google’s very own app store algorithm known popularly as the Play Store was first announced in August 2008, a short 5 months after Apple. The launch took place in three months. By early 2009, the Play Store had 2300 apps on board, which had quadrupled by the end of the year and another 10 times by the end of the next year. The apps slowly grew in number, size and user base. The number of downloads had reached 10 billion in three years.

The Play Store offered benefits to the developers in terms of increasing the permitted size for the apps and granting permission for interacting with the consumers through reviews. They got access to many features to help them increase their reach and by July 2013, the downloads crossed the 100 billion mark. The developers, in return, had to abide by stricter rules regarding the apps, their titles, icons, payments, privacy and ads. After a stage, the apps were required to be reviewed and approved by the staff before they could be taken on board.

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What Does an App Store Algorithm Do?

With the increasing number of apps, the consumers had access to a wide variety of apps and the apps had to compete with each other to be downloaded by the consumers. To become popular, they are required to follow fair competitive means. With the help of App Store Optimization services, they can optimise their app page to appear in the results page when a consumer searches for a particular app or category. To evaluate the relevance of an app in accordance with the search keyword, the Play Store utilises an algorithm. This is improved upon regularly and the apps need to keep updated with the changes so that they don’t lose their rankings.

Why Does Google Change Algorithms for Google Play Store?

The reason behind this is an improved user experience when searching for an app. When a user searches for an app, they deserve to see the apps that closely match their query and are highly relevant for them. They should not have to go through apps that are not suitable enough. As developers become familiar with the algorithm, they learn to manipulate the rankings and the results delivered may not be as accurate. The changes in the algorithm ensure that the experience does not deteriorate. The algorithms change as and when required. The changes may be small most times and the major changes are far less frequent. 

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What Factors Are Important for ASO?

The major consumer factors that affect the rankings in a Play Store are the number and quality of ratings, the number of downloads, the growth in downloads over time, the uninstallation rate and the frequency of usage of the app. The factors that you can control are the choice of keywords and their use in the description, title, video clippings and images used to provide information about the app. ASO services are similar to search engine optimization services and can help you use these to get the best results. 

How Does a Change in Algorithm Impact Developers?

Google does not reveal the change in the algorithms but just applies it. The developers, who have been working on the basis of a past algorithm, could suddenly face a loss in ranking. They take time to figure out the new algorithm and need to rework their ASO strategy to gain their ranks.

What Have Been the Major Changes in Google Play Store Algorithm? 

  1. December 2016 saw an update to the algorithm. It took into account the number of active users of the app as against the number of devices that the app was installed on. This was meant to impact the apps that boasted of more unused installations and lesser active users and benefited those apps that were used by those who had installed them, i.e. where the engagement with the app is higher.
  2. The July 2018 algorithm change made use of keywords less important and paid greater attention to the apps that rank high on consumer-oriented metrics. The quality of the app also gained in importance. This was welcomed by developers who had products with excellent quality and could focus on the quality rather than thinking of keywords to rank on.
  3. In September 2019, the most recent ratings received by an app carried the maximum weightage towards its ranking. If many consumers are rating the app and giving it good ratings, it is likely to gain in rank. This also takes into account the current game and not how good or bad it was in the past.
  4. In a recent update, the Google Play Store algorithm focuses less on the keywords per se but pays more attention to LSI and NLP, i.e. the attention is more on how the searched terms are related to the content on the app page. The description is hence important. It should detail the content and purpose of the app in a manner to make it relatable, without actually using the search term. You can rank for a particular search if you have relevant content but not the keyword.
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Google Play Store algorithm updates are designed for the benefit of the users but are kept secret from the developers. They need to figure out the changes with the changes they apply to the strategy and the impact on their rankings.