Effect of App Store only feature on ranking and downloads

A week ago, iOS 8 update of my main app – Run 5k – was approved and released and few hours later was included among the “best new apps” on the US App Store front page. App Store editorial content is updated on Thursday, so this was just-in-time release. Run 5k was at the last visible slot in the best new apps scroll (16th app in the list). It was listed there until this Mon/Tue (depending on your time zone), when they added Sesame Street Go app outside of normal schedule and this bumped me down to 17th place, which is not immediatelly visible on the iPhone’s App Store app. It’s effectivelly like it’s not even featured.

So, let’s see what a feature like this does for your app. I believe the analysis below will be most useful to small, barely-known app developers who do not have media contacts and thus no ability to do big launch. While I have been fortunate to have good press reviews of my other apps, I was not that lucky with Run 5k. During the time it was featured, it was its one and only media exposure. There were no reviews on any website, no mentions anywhere that I could see. Thus this is a good test case of what effect such feature, at that place, has on the number of new downloads of a free app.

Effect on rankings

The wonderful AppAnnie has a very useful feature called hourly rank history which is available on their free plan. This is the Run 5k’s history between Nov 18 to 28th (today, when I write this).

I started from well below 1000 on the Health & Fitness category chart for free apps on US App Store, which is what you get for 20-30 downloads per day. Previous version of the app was over a year old, coded and designed in iOS 6 era, thus I’m more than thankful to anyone actually taking the time to find it and try it out. (I assume majority of those were driven by word of mouth.)

On Thu, Nov 20th, around 20h CET (11am PDT), Run 5k appeared on the front page. Just few hours later at 2pm PDT it jumped out of nowhere to no. 128 on the category chart. Additional 3h later, it was at no. 55, then 3h later at 28, then in another 3h at no. 20, then 3h later it was no. 17. You see a pattern here – the charts seem to be updated every 3h. By now it was already night in US, thus it stayed at 17 until 8am next morning when it appeared at no.9, at 11am it was no.8, at 8pm it was no. 6. At 3am Sat it rose one place to 5th and finally reached no. 4 (the best result it had) at 11am Sat. At that point, it was also visible in Overal Free apps ranking, around 550-600 position. This is extremely crowded list, even more extremely chart-top heavy, thus my mere 4k downloads got me that much up.

It was fluctuating between 4th and 8th throughout the weekend and then started falling more noticeably on California’s Monday morning. This was strange so I checked the front page and sadly (for me) App Store editors added Sesame Street Go app to the start of the best new apps list and this pushed my app over the edge and was not visible anymore on the front page. Luckily for me, the fall from ranking was not that drastic and it started to slowly drift down over several days.

Effect on downloads

I already hinted that these lists are probably very top-heavy. This means that top 10-20 apps require disproportionate number of downloads versus the lower places. Download numbers are not available on hourly basis, thus this is the same period (minus two days) with the download numbers.

So, with almost 2500 downloads you are no. 128, and less than 2k more gets you to no. 4. Wow. When you look at this, it’s not really that much top-heavy as I thought. It seems that with decent media exposure you can get pretty consistent number of downloads and chart ranking.

(update, Nov 29): To be more clear – about 4000 downloads throughout the day was enough to keep the app in top 10. If the charts are truly updated each 3h, roughly speaking app needs 4000 / 8 ≈ 500 downloads every 3h. Thus, steady 170~200 downloads per hour is likely enough for top 10 in US free Health & Fitness chart, quite possibly top 5. Any more than that and you might have a good chance to aim for the top. If only developers of Fitbit, Nike+Running or Calorie Counter (MyFitnessPal) would confirm this O:).

It’s relevant to contextualize this: it’s November, when most of USA is entering winter, thus people are not really thinking about running outside, especially not newbie runners which are target audience for Run 5k.

The hard part for me now is to figure out how to properly market Run 5k in the spring, which is the start of the best northern hemisphere season for running apps. As it is now, if it stays around 200 downloads per day over the winter, I will be more than happy. Mind you – that’s 10x more than what I started with. :)

p.s. If you are reading this and you have a magazine/website/blog and any interest in fitness/running or good modern iOS apps in general - may I humbly point you towards Run 5k minisite which has ready-to-use press kit? 😇