Apple Tweaked App Store’s Search Algorithm to Demote Its Own Apps in Search Results

Apple has adjusted the App Store algorithm to ensure that its own apps don’t show up too much or higher up in the search results.

In an interview with the New York Times, Apple executives Phil Schiller and Eddy Cue accepted that Apple’s own apps showed up as top results for many of the searches on the App Store. As pointed out in the article, Apple’s own apps would show up as the top-ranking results in the App Store for completely unrelated searches. In some cases, as many as 14 Apple apps showed up in the top results before rival apps were shown.

The Apple executives said that the company’s own apps showed up frequently as the top results in the App Store because of their popularity and not because it had altered the search algorithm to favor its apps.

“There’s nothing about the way we run search in the App Store that’s designed or intended to drive Apple’s downloads of our own apps,” Mr. Schiller said. “We’ll present results based on what we think the user wants.”

Apple has come under scrutiny for pushing its own apps in the App Store and ranking down third-party apps that compete with it. For example, Spotify used to rank as the number one app for the keyword “music” before Apple Music was launched. After its launch, Spotify fell to fourth place and in late 2018, it fell down to the 23rd position. Ultimately, this led Spotify to file a complaint against Apple’s monopolistic App Store policies with the European regulators. Soon after this, almost all of Apple’s apps disappeared for the search term “music.”

The Times analysis uncovered other surprising examples of Apple apps’ success. On March 25, the company unveiled an Apple-branded credit card that can be used via the Apple Wallet app. The next day, Apple Wallet was the No. 1 result in searches for “money,” “credit” and “debit.” The app had not ranked for those search terms before then.

Eddy Cue and other Apple executives explained that the marketing team must have added “money,” “credit,” and “debit” to the app description which must have led to it showing up in the search results.

“We can just tell you that we’ve not done anything to drive that — that is, other than launching a great wallet, an Apple Card and marketing the heck out of it,” Mr. Schiller said.

New York Times notes that many Apple apps have fallen sharply in rankings on July 12. This was because of Apple demoting its own apps in the App Store search results.

Our Take

The top-ranking apps in the App Store rake in billions of dollars in revenue every year. The survival of many apps also depends on their position in the App Store search results. While Eddy Cue and other Apple executives have a decent explanation for why the company’s own apps have ranked higher than others in the search results, there’s still a lot that Apple could have done to ensure that the position of third-party apps in search results was not affected. As the owner of the App Store, it is up to Apple to ensure that third-party apps thrive and that its own apps don’t end up eating into their business.

[Via New York Times]