How App Stores Work

A Keynote by Japheth Dillman @NGDC2015

A few weeks ago, I was at the Nasscom Game Developer Conference (NGDC) held in Pune, where I did a lot of things. Like meeting Japheth Dillman, for example. The CCO of YetiZen, one of the first game accelerators, had a very interesting keynote at the event. So interesting that I wrote a Medium post about it.

Yeah, ‘cause I’m that hard to impress *sarcasm*.

So anyways, I’m an iOS programmer, in case you didn’t know. That’s the reason I chose to go to this keynote, instead of joining my colleagues at the “Art & Design for VR” keynote. I wanted to learn about ASO (App Store Optimization) and about how App Stores work generally, because I knew nothing about how App Stores work. Literally nothing.

The iOS App Store

The App Store on an iPad

The (original?) App Store has probably had the crudest ranking systems among all app stores. The first ranking formula for the App Store was the number of installs over the last 7 days. That’s as simple as you get.

Download Metrics

The ranking system on iOS is mostly weighted on the number of installs and the velocity of installs. For example, an app that was installed 400 times in the past 4 hours would fare better than an app downloaded 3,000 times in the past 2 days. But an app downloaded 100 times in the past 4 hours, 400 times in the past day and 3000 times in the past 3 days would fare much better than the other two.

80% Ranking System = 8 * today’s installs + 5 * yesterday’s installs + 5 * installs from 2 days ago + 2 * installs from three days ago

Performance Metrics

The ratings and reviews also play a big role in the ranking of your app. The number of stars that your app gets is heavily weighted, along with the number of reviews that your app receives. Note that the ratings that the app receives a heavier weightage.

Engagement, which is the number of times that the app is opened after installation, is incremental as well. So you need to get your users addicted to get better rankings on the App Stores. Engagement, along with the revenue generated by the app make up the rest of the metrics based on which your app is ranked.

20% Ranking System = Rating (Stars) + Reviews + Engagement + $$Sales$$ NOTE: Rating > Reviews > Engagement > Sales

Capitalizing on the iOS ranking formula

During weekends, the App Store sees a humongous 20% bump in traffic coming in. That’s why campaigning and advertising during weekends is a giant 50% more expensive.

So if you could campaign during the days leading up to the weekend, say Thursday, you would be avoiding the 50% inflation, while also taking advantage of organic visibility during higher traffic download times!

So always remember that Thursday is the best campaigning day.


When a user searches the App Store for an app, there are 4 apps shown. When you tap next, 4 more apps are shown. Hence, there is a huge difference between having your app in the 9th position and in the 8th position.

Higher the threshold, higher the number of organic installs.

Google Play

The Google Play app on a phone

Think that ASO for the App Store is complicated? Well, you will get stupefied by how intricately and complexly the Play Store works.

“If the Play Store search is Google circa 2004, the App Store is Yahoo! circa 1994…” — Ian McGee, YetiZen Innovation Lab

Google Play does have a bigger reach compared to the App Store, because it is present on every Android phone (which is basically all smartphones, except for iPhones). Also, the number of apps on the store is 1.6 million, a slight amount higher than the App Store’s 1.5 million.

Apple updates its ranking algorithm every six months. Google does it bi-weekly.

Individual Components

There are loads of individual components that make up the ranking formula of Google Play, and I think I have all of them below (hopefully).

  1. Install/Uninstall Rate — The early days, there used to be loads of garbage on the Play Store. This kind of makes sure that apps of better quality appear higher up the store.
  2. Google — The rankings on the store are also greatly impacted by your appearance on and the amount of SEO you have done for your app. Why do they care so much about how you appear on Google?
    Because that’s where they make money.
  3. Web-clicks to Google Play — This basically means that the more number of times that a user opens Google Play by clicking on a link to your app, the better the ranking that you get on the store. This helps Google drive more traffic to the Play Store (to make more money) and also promotes SEO and advertising on (also, to make more money).
  4. $$Sales$$ — This is basically the basics of any ranking. The more money your app makes, the higher it appears on the store. This includes In-App Purchases, but sadly not ad revenue (You Mustn’t Use Ads).
  5. Geo-signal location — Tweets and other ways that tag the popularity of your app to a particular location. This promotes your ranking within a region. Say your app is mentioned a lot on Google+ by Italians. Your ranking in the Italian Play Store would be much higher than on other stores.
  6. Google Play Services — The more that you use Google Play Services, the better your app fares on the Play Store. These include Google+ integration (or login), Multiplayer, Quests and more. This is to promote the number of apps that use Google Play Services and to make it more standardized and practiced.
  7. Location of servers — This is important if you’re using servers (obviously). The closer the servers are to the user’s location, the better the quality of networking for the user. That’s why Google uses it as a component in Play Store rankings.
  8. Freshness — How new your app is. This also includes updates. So the higher frequency of updates, the higher your app is placed. So UPDATE!
  9. Social Media Mentions — The rankings is also affected by the number of times that your app is mentioned on social media. Remember its ‘mentions’, not advertisements. There is a heavy weight on Google+ (‘cos Google, right).
  10. Speed/Performance — The speed and the performance that your app displays on devices also is a component in the Google Play ranking formula. So Google also looks into your app for the ranking, it’s not just marketing in the end.
  11. Usability & Behavioral Algorithms — This is another component that proves that marketing is not all that is needed for ASO on Google Play. Usability is basically the ease-of-use and the simplicity in the UX of your app. This comes from reviews and testing as well. Behavioral Algorithms or Machine Learning Algorithms are when apps learn from your behavior and employ predictive ways to produce data to the user. May it be predictive text on a keyboard or a whole AI assistant that learns how you work, it pushes your app up the Play Store.

So, yeah…

That’s all you need to know if you’re submitting your app to the Play Store or to the App Store.

Good luck!

Oh, and if you are submitting to the Windows Store… Well, all I’m gonna say, is that it’s pretty slow.

Like constipated-elephant-on-a-skateboard slow.