Is The New iTunes Search System Chomping Up Indie Developer Sales?



Yesterday, we reported on a story about the new search algorithms in the iTunes App store. It was speculated that the new search results seen by iOS developers were due to Apple’s acquisition of Chomp, a search company that had found some success in the crowded market.

The developers who noticed the result reported better than average search rankings, with the implication that the new search would filter out the bad apps, only leaving the good ones.

Today, we heard from a developer of an app with a different story.

Dawn Malsbury is an app developer. Her app is called On Shelf – Retail Inventory Manager and it purports to “Maximize your retail income by using On Shelf to help optimize your inventory levels. Don’t waste money on items that just sit on your shelves. Easily see which items are ‘hot’ and those that are not.” This isn’t a cloned app, or an app with mega keywords trying to game the system – both things that a new search algorithm should be filtering out. This app is one of the thousands of niche apps that many folks find indispensable to their lives and businesses, and an example of the power of Apple’s app ecosystem.

“I first noticed that the app store search algorithm was being changed on 19 June. During searches for the keyword ‘inventory,’ my search ranking went from 17 to 39 in one day,” said Malsbury in an email this morning. “Searches for the next few days were inconsistent – one time it would use the old algorithm and the next it would use the new algorithm. During that time, my sales were not significantly impacted.”

That changed, however, once she noticed a full change to the system. “Now that they have fully transitioned to the new algorithm, I’ve had about a 60% drop in sales,” she said. “Sales for Friday, Saturday and Sunday this week were down 60% over same day sales for each of the previous two weeks. This morning, my search ranking was 56 so it’s pretty obvious that the lower my sales, the lower my ranking.”

She noticed that the new search terms bring up apps that include miscellaneous lists, like gun logs, pantry apps, and to do lists, whereas before, her customers had to search through many other home inventory list apps.

“The new algorithm isn’t all bad,” she said, “it is smart enough to screen out the zombie game that used to show up during inventory searches.”

The question here remains: Is iTunes using a new way to point consumers to apps and content? Whether it is powered by Chomp technology or not, is it truly helping consumers find quality apps – namely, apps with content rather than clones or keyword traps? As with any new system, there are bound to be issues that favor some apps and not others. Let’s hope that the folks in charge of the search functionality at iTunes take some time and optimize things so that developers like Malsbury can connect with the consumers who need her app.

  • Hubert Kunnemeyer

    I’m having a similar experience. My app is named Dosage, and is in the medical category. If you search for my app by name, exactly as it is spelled(“DOSAGE”) it would come up in the first three entries found. Now all of a sudden it’s number 56! 56 searching for an app by name? WTF! My sales were a big fat 000 today! No apps sold! I suppose this is just the beginning of the “Death of the indie developer”. Apple seems to have forgotten that the developers are the reason people buy iPhones and iPads. Without apps they’ve got shit! I’m almost through with developing for iOS and mac. Seems like every time I turn around, the indie developer is getting screwed by Apple. And by the sound of things in the developer community I’m far from alone in my thinking.

    _Hubert K.

  • technochick

    This is a brand new change and will take a little time to shake out. the only folks that will be majorly affected are those that assumed they could just post the app and do nothing to market it to possible consumers. Anyone that is actually actively and creatively reaching out to customers will do fine.

  • bestroadtrip

    We are an indie developer and having the opposite experience. Our app, Best Road Trip Ever has jumped up dramatically, landing this week in the top 10 in travel category for both paid and top grossing.

  • CfC

    The iPad app search, was bad before, but much worse now, but the real problem is it’s original UI and it’s defaults.

    Why have an iPad app store, that when given a search, half of the screen space is devoted to iPhone apps? Why would anyone with a NEW 1080p screen, or any other iPad screen want to download an iPhone app, and see how really bad it looks on iPad? And… why would you give up half the screen real-estate to show an iPad customer iPhone apps when you could be showing them other great iPad apps?

    In fact, many of the results for the top and lower half of the screens in an iPad app store search are identical, because the leading apps have all been written in universal code for both devices. So, it shows many results twice. This original UI has been so neglected it’s nuts. The UI and it’s defaults are more the problem than search itself.

    This is a huge blunder which is still going on now that the device is over 2 years old. It’s a total disincentive to develop for iPad, because you’re competing against the entire iPhone universe when you search for an app. Giving up half the screen to iPhone results = killing half of your shelf space. Why do it?