Google's Play Store may have a new problem that is affecting app discoverability for many developers. Over the last two months or so, some developers have been claiming that their applications aren't surfacing in the Play Store's search results as they should, with some apps that accrued hundreds of thousands of installs not even appearing in direct searches for that app's name. Thankfully, new reports within the last twenty-four hours indicate that some kind of fix may be rolling out, resolving the issue for some developers.
For a bit of context, apps that are published to the Play Store always take at least a little bit of time to be "indexed," which is when Google crawls an app's title and listing to pull relevant names and keywords that dictate how the app surfaces in search. This initial delay can take up to a week or two. For a good example, the recently published, official Craigslist app still doesn't surface for "Craiglist" searches on the Play Store at the time of writing — it's just too new.
All apps suffer from some indexing woes in their first few months of life, as in the case of the recently-released Craigslist app.
Usually, this temporary issue resolves itself quickly, but for some developers, newly published apps were still not surfacing as they were expected to in search months later. Not even a search for the application listing direct name would surface apps in some cases, requiring an awkward, underscored "app_name_here" search to bring them up. When developers contacted Google for support, we're told they were advised to pay for AdWords to increase engagement and their chances of being indexed, with some claiming they saw no difference in indexing results even after a $350 a day campaign.
We've been following this story for the past week, and while some of the affected apps have begun to surface for direct app name searches in the last week or two, we're told by developers that the behavior is still different than it used to be, with some of those affected reporting unusually low app organic Play Store search conversion metrics. In some cases, apps with over 500,000 downloads were affected.
We don't know what the cause of this issue might be, and Google isn't saying on any of the related support threads. The Play Store may have some kind of bug with its app indexing over the last couple of months (that's even happened to Google Search in the past) or some indirect change in Google Play's personalized results (which just got a newly published site to itself) could be to blame. Humorously, Google even just released a new report titled "How Google Play Works: 2019 Google Play Public Policy Report," which mentions how important search is for developers — at least, when it works, I guess. Thankfully, some of the affected developers have been reporting the issue as fixed within the last twenty-four hours or so, with their apps now surfacing as expected.
Although we have reached out to Google several times while researching this story over the last week, the company has not responded to our requests for comment. Now that a fix is seemingly rolling out, we hope that the issue is resolved for all affected developers soon — though Google's silence to our repeated questions and developer inquiries continues to speak volumes. Those promises for "better communication" back at I/O didn't really pan out. We hope the company offers an explanation to all the affected developers soon.