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

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.