Google recently announced its plan to change the Play Store app ranking algorithm to account for app quality. Apps that frequently crash, eat up excess battery, or render slowly will find themselves much lower in Play Store searches.
This change is just a further indication of an overall shift in search ranking priority criteria that began years ago with Google's Panda algorithm: Quality content is what really matters.
App developers need to be aware of this change, especially if they've received low ratings due to quality issues in the past: Unless you're highly ranked, searches in the Play Store likely account for quite a few of your installs and this change could cause that number to drop.
Quality is king
The performance and quality of both mobile apps and webpages are becoming the dominate factor in search result rankings. Google has been factoring it in since 2011 when it released Panda and Facebook recently announced News Feed changes that will downrank slow loading pages.
SEE: How to save battery life in Android (TechRepublic)
Until this update, search results in the Play Store would prioritize popularity over support. Now the Play Store will account for crashes, render times, battery usage, and number of uninstalls when presenting search results and ranking popular apps.
The update was released to a small subset of Play Store users this past week, and Google says they've already seen a difference in user retention—the higher quality apps that are being filtered to the top are used more and uninstalled less.
What Android developers should do
Developers scared that their apps may fall from a high ranking due to poor quality have a lot to fear from this update, but there is hope: If an app is popular despite flaws, it will likely be even more popular with a better user experience.
First off, Google recommends taking a good look at the Android Vitals dashboard in the Google Play Console. It displays a lot of statistics on performance issues and other app flaws that may be causing downranking.
Second, developers should pay attention to low-rated reviews and take them seriously. If a user goes out of their way to report a quality issue they're probably not the only one experiencing it. Ratings are an excellent place to discover app problems that aren't being caught in the Vitals dashboard, or through other means.
SEE: Android: From Beginner to Paid Professional (TechRepublic Academy)
Lastly, there's the Playbook app. It's Google's very own "how to succeed in Android app development" guide, and it's free on Google Play. It's chock full of good information for app developers and is regularly updated with info on the latest changes and best practices. If you want to know what Google's doing to change how an app will perform then you need to install it.
The added weight of quality in comparison to popularity isn't going to fade anytime soon—if anything it's only going to become more prominent on more platforms. Now is the time for developers and businesses to step up their app development game and ride the new criteria to the top.
Top three takeaways for TechRepublic readers:
- Google has just released an update to its Play Store ranking algorithm. App rankings and search results will now prioritize performance over popularity when determining how high an app sits.
- App performance is determined by several factors, including crashes, render times, battery usage, and number of uninstalls
- Developers should turn to the Android Vitals dashboard, app reviews, and Google's own Playbook app to discover how to improve their apps and take advantage of the new search algorithm.
- New Android spyware can record your voice, take photos with your camera, and steal app data (TechRepublic)
- Android as we know it is dead, but it's not going to go away (ZDNET)
- Easy ways to make your Android device more secure (TechRepublic)
- Location tracking Android spyware found in Google Play store (ZDNET)
- 15 books every programmer should read (free PDF) (TechRepublic)
Brandon Vigliarolo has nothing to disclose. He does not hold investments in the technology companies he covers.
Brandon writes about apps and software for TechRepublic. He's an award-winning feature writer who previously worked as an IT professional and served as an MP in the US Army.