Apple’s changing its app store ranking algorithm, according to a new report from Fiksu. Now ratings are joining sheer number of installs in the ranking factors — and it’s calculating updates every three hours.

“With these new algorithm changes to its App Store, Apple seems to be emphatically linking user ratings and app rankings,” Fiksu’s chief strategy officer Craig Palli said in a statement. “For app marketers, delivering a positive app experience earning high app ratings from loyal users has never been more critical.”

Apps with ratings of four or more stars saw a boost in app store ranking starting in late July, Fiksu says, while poorly rated apps — 3 star average or below — dropped off “precipitously” and average apps with a 3.5 star rating dropped slightly.


This is a big deal for app developers and marketers, who have previously relied on massive numbers of downloads to hit the app store charts and good rankings in app store searches. Apple has been looking for ways to avoid gaming the app store charts for months, and it has yanked app discovery apps such as AppGratis off the store, claiming they violated Apple’s guidelines and skewed legitimate download numbers.

AppGratis had helped developers drive up to half a million downloads a day, but many other options exist. In fact, app marketing platform TradeMob says that $96,000 buys you a top-10 rating in the U.S. app store.

Perhaps not anymore.

“Download velocity is still the most important factor in determining rank,” Palli added. But, he said, “Delivering a positive app experience earning high app ratings from loyal users has never been more critical.”

One other change: Apple is now updating app store rankings every three hours. That’s down from every 15 minutes, and the effect is to minimize massive jumps in ad-fueled — or bot-fueled — downloads.

“We suspect they are adding a ‘buffer’ period to prevent rank manipulation through short download bursts often associated with robotic downloads,” Fiksu’s Tom Cummings wrote.

It’s too soon to tell if these are permanent changes, and Palli expects more app store ranking algorithm updates in the near future as iOS 7 is released. But clearly, buying a huge number of downloads via advertising and in-app cross promotion is no longer going to work as effectively as it once did.

Now quality is even more important than it once was. Which is exactly the lesson that perennial app store leaders like Kabam and Zynga have already learned long ago.