We wanted better App Store search results, but we got ads instead

By , Jun 21, 2016

App Store search ads teaser 003

Search in the App Store is something both users and developers have been complaining about for years, because quite frankly, it’s terrible. Unless you know exactly what you’re looking for, you’re more than likely to not find anything really relevant when typing in basic search terms.

With Phil Schiller now in charge of App Stores, we were all hoping for some big changes, and to be fair, there have been. App review times have tremendously improved, for instance. Personally, I was hoping that Apple would finally fix search in the App Store, but instead, the company gave us search ads.

Announced a couple of weeks ago ahead of its developer conference, search ads is a new initiative by Apple which supposedly will be an “efficient way for you to promote your apps.” Regardless of the truthfulness of this statement, it seems to me Apple is basically outsourcing discovery in the App Store to developers, and making them pay for it in the process.

Ultimately, search ads offer a solution that doesn’t fix the main issue, which is that App Store search sucks.

Google has been incredibly successful since it implemented search ads back in 2000. Not only it’s been able to generate colossal amounts of money from it, but it’s also helped marketers get visibility in a growing internet landscape. Search ads can work. I don’t dispute that.

The difference is that when it introduced its AdWords ad program, Google had already mastered search. Its page rank algorithm had already made it the best search engine in the world.

In contrast, App Store search is awful and more often than not provides irrelevant, or even spammy-looking results from companies that have figured out how to game the system. Apple’s solution to this problem doesn’t seem to be geared towards improving its search algorithm, but to let developers pay to get to the top. This is what bothers me the most here.

A better approach would have been to first level the playing field by fixing search in the App Store, then and only then let developers compete for better placements through ads.

App Store bad search ads

Search ads is currently in beta, and from what I’ve seen so far, it’s everything but impressive. Search for “Slack” and what you get is an ad for “Stack.” Search for “Instagram” and what you get is an ad for an app that helps you get more followers on the social network. Again, not impressed, and it seems Apple is winging it and learning along the way here rather than having a solid base for its beta program.

In the end, I’m not arguing search ads is a good or bad thing for developer. I’m merely saying that before asking developers to pay to get their apps to surface in search results, Apple should have gone to the root of the problem and improve its search algorithm to begin with.

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  • We don’t need ads if there are high quality apps on the App Store! Just improve the damn search! Also the App Store on the Mac is complete trash.

    • Jack Wong

      If Mac App Store is the only way to bring app to Mac(like iOS devices), it would be as good as iOS App Store.

  • :D

    Hardly a nuisance – scroll down a little and it’s gone!

    • Byambaa

      You need your phone to talk to your mom? Hardly a nuisance – run to her and it’s not needed!

      • :D

        What a clever response! You should ask Mummy for a nice big pat on the back. Well done!!

      • Byambaa

        You got a pat from your mom for developing the ad-app named stack? Well done 😀

    • You either didn’t read the post, or missed the point. It’s not about ads being annoying or not. It’s about Apple basically outsourcing app discovery to developers by making them pay,

      • Jackson Grong

        Beyond that I don’t think it’s acceptable to have ads on stock applications of such expensive hardware.

      • :D

        To be honest I only read the title and looked at the pictures lol
        Guilty as charged XD

  • malhal

    Excellent article, agree 100%

  • Mark

    So when you type in slack or instagram, what would you expect the results to give you? I’ve never had a device with the Playstore so I’m not sure exactly what you’re talking about with the app store search being so terrible. I search for an app and every time it comes up with what I was looking for….?

    • Byambaa

      if you look for an app named slack, slack should be on top of all. if it does not work like this, you would end up installing bullshit ad-apps, specially if for example a friend recommended an app and you don’t know how the icon looks like or what the exact name and description is. even writing the exact name does not help here lol. Apple always acts, their users were not money making products

  • Matt

    Absolutely agree. Instead of incoraging app discovery, Apple is pushing devs to compete by paying more. This is rediculous. Imagine how high quality indie devs are going to suffer from this.
    “Apple, fix your shit”

  • ShadowBlader

    Nice article and I agree we don’t need ads when the search bar is terrible. But they don’t really bother me that much.

  • James G

    Google indexes the web to improve their rankings. Apple likely does no such thing which makes it harder. Ads aren’t the answer, though, that much is certain.