Apple's App Store will not reveal how its top charts' ranking system works, but a study from Boston app marketing agency Fiksu found that it is not purely driven by download volume and speed. Somehow, ratings factor in. And critics think it is ripe for exploitation.
"Apple is a super helpful company. But its algorithm needs to change. It's still a mystery. You'll see two-star apps in the top 10, and you say, 'Why?' There are companies out there that will pay to download your app. And there are guys out there that are a complete sham," Chris DeWolfe, CEO of the Social Gaming Network, told Adweek.
His allegation may be a bit exaggerated, as a recent study from Readdle found that it takes between 3,500 and 4,000 downloads per day for a 4.5 ranked app to make it into the top 10. But a cursory look at the top 20 apps does show the occasional app that has more one-star ratings than five-star ratings.
There are certainly dubious services available to inflate an app's ranking. SafeRankPro.com, for example, offers "a large network of USA reviewers (several thousand) that can download and rate your apps favorably," with positive reviews available from 80 cents—and that was information provided by the company's sales manager Karan Khubchadani.
Developers told Adweek that it is common to see a message coming from a country like Nepal that promises to give an app thousands of American downloads for a price.
But the consensus seems to be that these manipulations are increasingly marginal.
"Last year was all about chart-boosting. Buying as many app installs as possible [in] as short a timeframe as possible to get to the top of the charts. Now there are fewer loopholes available to artificially inflate rankings, and legit companies won't spend their time with it," Bill Clifford, chief revenue officer at the mobile ad agency SessionM, told Adweek.