Following the initial buzz surrounding Apple’s WWDC event earlier this month, brands and mobile agencies are starting to come to terms with the impact Apple’s significant app store changes could have on them.
One of the biggest questions the new developments give way to surrounds the future of incentivized advertising and the importance of ranking in the app store to drive an app’s visibility.
Apple announced the launch of “trending searches,” “related searches,” and an “explore tab.” These additional search mechanisms will open up virtual space for new apps to surface at the top of the store ranks. They also mean that app developers will no longer have to rely so heavily on ranking strategies or incentive-based marketing to gain traction within the app store.
Previously, the velocity of downloads almost individually determined app rankings within the Apple App Store. The old algorithm paved the way for marketers to leverage paid advertising to drive a mass number of downloads in a short period, through what marketers call a “burst” strategy. These downloads help to push apps up to the top of the ranks, where they can be noticed by users who would then download the app out of genuine interest in the product.
The most common mechanism to date for driving cost efficient downloads through ads is through incentivized advertising. Companies like Tapjoy, Sponsorpay, and Flurry place ads in other apps, often in gaming apps, which incentivize active users to either watch an app trailer or download a secondary app in exchange for in-game currency. Because the ranking algorithm will no longer rely quite as heavily on download metrics, incentivized app downloads may no longer be capable of creating the same organic boost as was previously possible.
However, the question has become not whether or not incentivized downloads will be useful, but whether or not they will be allowed. Rumor has it that Apple has recently been rejecting apps that incorporate incentivized video ads and sharing on social networks — previously key mechanisms for monetization by the home app and for influencing rank by the app purchasing the service. Apple reviewers cite clauses 2.25 and 3.10, which state that the company prohibits “promoting other apps not your own” as well as offering “free in-game credits for watching videos of other apps by developers other than yourself.” The decision to eliminate incentivized video ads opens the door for future crackdowns on incentivized downloads.
Apple’s actions reflect the company’s longstanding desire for the app store to represent an app meritocracy, with the truly excellent products rising to the top of the ranks without having to battle falsely inflated apps. The app store is now becoming a closer approximation of a true marketplace. With around 300 million visits a day, consumer demand is clearly abundant. Apple’s changes aim to stop big players from artificially limiting the supply of apps that reaches those consumers.
Incentivized advertising is unlikely to exit the playing field entirely, but it will likely play a less influential role due to the introduction of trending searches. Apple has yet to make a definitive statement on whether or not apps can be retroactively punished for containing incentivized ads, and downloads still factor into app ranking significantly enough to make using them worthwhile. Come September, when iOS8 launches, developers will have a firmer understanding of what kind of incentivized ads will still be permitted. Regardless of what happens this fall, it’s clear that app marketers will need to further emphasize brand awareness strategies. More traditional tactics that create buzz surrounding an app, thus leading to organic searches, will become increasingly valuable.
James Connelly is co-founder and managing director of mobile marketing agency Fetch.