Incipia blog

Google Play Algorithm Update 12/3

Gabe Kwakyi | December 8, 2016

Recent trends in ranking data from apps in the Google Play Store point to a recent Google Play ranking algorithm update. Also be sure to check out the February 2017 Google Play ranking algorithm update, which caused a massive and lasting impact on the way that the Google Play keyword ranking algorithm works.

After noticing a pattern of significant changes in category/country rank for some of our clients starting on December 3rd, we investigated other apps across the marketplace using ASO tool App Annie. We found that, while many apps did not see a significant change on 12/3 that was out of character given the app's past 30 day ranking trend, a good number of otherwise stably-ranked apps did share a conspicuous, significant rank change on and moving forward from 12/3.

Of the 20 randomly selected apps we investigated, Reddit's ranking change was the most interesting. While it was subsequently corrected, Reddit's ranking exhibited a criss-cross from 12/2 to 12/3, losing a massive number of application rank spots, while also gaining an equally massive number of US overall rank spots.

This Google Play algorithm change appears to have affected all major categories of apps, from applications, to games and family too. For example, Sonic Dash and Panda Pop exhibited a similar non-parallel ranking movement to Reddit, though the direction of each chart's rank for Sonic and Panda Pop were opposite Reddit. Additionally, Nickelodeon's Sky Whale (which ranks for family apps), also saw a large change from 12/2 to 12/3.

To be clear: apps experiencing significant changes in rank isn't strange; it's when so many apps with (relatively) smooth rank histories experience a significant and sudden change in rank, all on the same day that is odd, and which implicates a Play Store-wide cause. The average, absolute value change of the 20 apps we surveyed was +/- 38% from 12/2 to 12/3.

It's not yet clear what traits these apps have in common, whether the effects are long-term or short-term or whether this is indeed a systematic change. Two possible causes include:

  1. Google's recent File-By-Patching compression algorithm update, released on or around 12/6, which purported to shrink app sizes by 65% on average, and in some cases by 90%.
    1. On Google's above-linked blog post reads the line "Saving data and making our users (& developers!) happy." While some may be happy for an artificial ranking boost, other developers likely were not very happy to discover they were on the wrong end of an algorithm update.
  2. Google's recent change to report more data in the Google Play Console related to "active" users, vs. "installations" (i.e. boolean installed yes/no). Toby Skinner comments that his app saw a big change in rank (+57%, from 180 to 78) and ventured a theory that:

[Google] introduced some new metrics on the Developer Console around installs with active devices - so we wonder if the algorithm no longer looks at the total number of devices with your app installed - only active devices with the app installed.

If the cause is something related to active users, it would mean that apps which have empty installs (i.e. users who are not active and simply haven't deleted the app from their phones) would be punished, while apps with active installs (i.e. users who open the app at least once in the trailing 30 days) would be rewarded.

Reddit – Loss/Gain

reddit google play algorithm change

reddit google play algorithm change2

Tinder – Loss

tinder google play algorithm change

tinder google play algorithm change2

Layout by Instagram – Loss

instagram google play algorithm change

instagram layout google play algorithm change2

Sonic Dash – Loss/Gain

sonic dash google play algorithm change

sonic dash google play algorithm change2

Panda Pop – Loss

panda pop google play algorithm change
panda pop google play algorithm change2

Voxer – Gain

voxie google play algorithm change

voxer google play algorithm change2

That's all for now, folks! Be sure to bookmark our blog, sign up to our email newsletter for new post updates and reach out if you're interested in working with us.

Incipia is a mobile app development and marketing agency that builds and markets apps for companies, with a specialty in high-quality, stable app development and keyword-based marketing strategy, such as App Store Optimization and Apple Search Ads. For blog/video or speaking requests, business or press inquiries please contact us or send an inquiry to hello@incipia.co.