A little while ago, I posted about how Apple doesn't currently do enough to protect developers from others cloning their app's name and functionality (to some degree) and then appearing right next to them on the App Store for a quick buck through aggressive keyword marketing.
What's worse is that, to get the most exposure and hit different keyword searches, some rival developers will just release batches of the same app under slightly differing topics or keywords to “cast a wide net” across several categories.
Honest sellers are almost being penalized for playing by the rules and maintaining a single app, but Apple in particular is rarely enforcing any sort of exclusion when it comes to this.
Internal ranking metrics aren't enough
In these marketplaces, the one thing reliably separating many developers from this noise is their external web presence… which can be a huge driver of traffic rooted in actual history and relevance on the entire internet. — This can reach far beyond just the scores generated when comparing against other apps and their download rankings and reviews on the app stores themselves.
The only tools that anyone has are to roll the dice with Apple's keyword algorithms (or sometimes, roll the dice multiple times with several clone apps as unethical developers are doing, as mentioned) or to drive more targeted web-traffic from outside of the marketplace.
The sources for this traffic are either:
- Existing organic web traffic to a website of the publisher.
- And, you probably guessed it already… search-engines like Google.
Google Search has always factored in the blogosphere and external links as a way of building a reputation for websites, and this wider signal-base has helped established developers stay protected against shameless competition and clones. — If someone produces a cheap clone of an app, they're unlikely to outrank the original in Google search results (at least quickly) unless they use something like black-hat SEO to manipulate results for the short-term, and for this they'd probably get caught and penalized by being removed from Google entirely for a while.
At the same time, it's fascinating that these app stores are part of the internet, as in some ways they seem to completely neglect their surroundings within it while trying to be like Google Search. — They just want to thrive within their own ecosystems and “walled-gardens” of sorts, while conveniently ignoring the reputations of content outside their own walls.
This opens the door for cheap clones to appear immediately next to primary results when searching by keyword or browsing categories.
There's only one App Store for the iPhone. — On other platforms, some developers have chosen to distribute apps themselves on websites and largely sidestep this issue, although it doesn't entirely protect them against cheap clones clouding their visibility in some other ways.
App stores need to factor in some sort of wider-ranking metric like Google's PageRank, or it's going to eventually drive developers crazy. — Download counts can be manipulated through paid traffic, keywords can be stuffed or completely irrelevant, and even app ratings can be a complete false signal when it comes to relevance. If these are the major ranking factors that these marketplaces have… that's a problem, and the response (if any) from the maintainers of them can't simply just be “tough luck” as it has been in the past due to the high-volume of submissions that they receive.
UPDATE (2015/03/02): Here is an interesting and related article, “Why Nintendo doesn't release Mario on the App Store.”