You probably saw this type of tweet, or self congratulation message in your timeline or mentioned around you. “we’re number 1 free app in the App store!”
Good for you developers, if this has ever happened to you. Except there is absolutely nothing to really be proud of.
Hitting a top 10 rank is something that can easily be gamed or purchased – and it can’t be considered as a performance in itself.
What matters is the context of your rank and its consistency
Some developers have such a strong footprint in the app store that no matter what they launch, their app will reach a high rank instantly: that would typically be the case for any new app launched by mega developers like Rovio (Angry Birds) or Zynga (quoted above). Even if they were launching another useless battery life app, they would reach a top 10 score
But is that really a milestone? No. Because, as Newton would put it, anything that goes up, goes down. That’s the law of attraction which works also in the world of apps. The difficulty is not reaching a top rank. The difficulty is keeping it. Even strong developers like Rovio have a hard time keeping some games in the top 25 – remember Amazing Alex?
Are there many apps that can proudly claim that they reached the app store and stayed there for a long time (more than 2 weeks)? no.
Those are very rare examples: Youtube/Google maps [not yet 2 weeks, but surely will stick around] are part of this group of all time rock stars, Instagram too – because of the network effects around it, Snapchat same thing, Apple Apps show up because they are auto suggested to new App store users….It helps to understand the context about what is around a sudden success or a permanent success. See the map below
But take for example Google earth: it was never part of the Top 25 Free until a couple of days ago. How did it get there? And how does it stay there? Google maps is such a success that it drives a massive amount of downloads to Google earth, which is accessible 1 click away from from any location in Google maps. Will it stay in the top 25? Probably because of that same reason. It is more important to understand the context of this rank than the rank itself.
OK. For big developers the situation can easily be explained.
But take the case of a developer with no strong footprint in the App store: How can a small developer reach the top 25 free ranks? What are the different elements of contexts to which you can attribute a high rank?
1. It can be featured by Apple. That has a massive impact for a few days.
2. It can try to game the App Store by confusing users (endless episodes of Temple run clones) or using weird download technics (like this mystery low quality Nose Surgery App with so many bad reviews)
3. It can pay users (With cash) to download apps (yes there are still services of that nature in USA, France, UK,…)
4. It can buy legitimate advertising with a bunch of ad networks (including Apple’s iAd, Ad mob, and many more [disclosure: we can be one of those]
5. it can have a stunning PR coverage on massive publication (New york times, CNN,…)
6. It may have created a big discount operation in order to generate more temporary interest (Gameloft and EA often do this)
7. Did Facebook help in promoting your app in the organic newsfeed leveraging the Open Graph? [remember Viddy/SocialCam?]
All those reasons are very different but one thing matters: When you see an app being top ranked ask yourself “Why?”, “Why is it happening?”
Is there a reason to brag about a rank if this is due to media buying? Seriously no. Any one can buy and spend money. This is not the reward.
The real reward is: stickiness to an app, consistent ranking across time and stores (not just the USA), engagement, revenues, time spent, recurring visits, outstanding consistent (and not gamed, or played at scale) positive reviews
SongPop is an example of amazing and consistent achievements [disclosure: a partner of Appsfire] because it has a great consistent mix of ingredients to generate new users and keep them. This is something you can’t “buy”. Whatsapp is another great example in the paid category
But the App store has made it such that there is no or close to no visibility on what generates a hit in terms of download numbers [other than checking regularly the offer walls, big ad networks banners or app discovery services …]
Conclusion: Don’t brag about your top rank if you only paid for it, and If you do, at least provide context – a top rank is not an indicator of success in itself. Finally when you see an app top ranked, asked yourself “Why is this happening” and hopefully the grid above will open your eyes a little more.