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Improve the Store search results by placing more emphasis on keywords RRS feed

  • General discussion

  • Store search use cases

    In my view, the two main use cases for the Store search can be summarised as follows:

    1. As a Windows app consumer, I want to be able to search for apps by name, so that I can find and download the specific app I am looking for.
    2. As a Windows app consumer, I want to be able to search for apps by functionality, so that I can find and download an app that will help me perform the task I want to carry out.

    An example of the first might be:

    “I’ve heard that Wordament is good, so I’ll type ‘Wordament’ into the search box so I can download and play it during my commute to work”.

    An example of the second might be:

    “I really enjoy doing crossword puzzles, so I’ll type ‘Crosswords’ into the search box so that I can find and download a crossword app that I play during my commute to work”.

    The issue

    The Store search heavily favours matching the search term to the app name over matching to the keywords. It would seem that the search algorithm has been developed to optimise results for use case one above at the expense of use case two. In my view, and I can see from the forums and user voice channel that I am not alone in this, the Store search provides a poor customer experience by not catering effectively for use case two. It is my belief that the search algorithm could be improved to cater for use case two without adversely effecting use case one. Intuitively, if a user already knows the name of an app then it is likely that it is already fairly popular, and so would be ranked highly in search results without the algorithm favouring the app name. In addition, app names are quite specific and so searches for 'Facebook' and 'Wordament' should return a narrow set of results compared to searches for generic terms such as 'crosswords'. Conversely, new apps that are not yet popular would be unknown to consumers, and so would only be found when a user browses categories in the Store or searches for apps by functionality as in use case two. Developers can market their apps elsewhere to provide the initial downloads required to achieve some visibility for their keyword searches in the Store. An optimised search algorithm would then ensure quality apps rise to the top of the rankings over time.

    An example

    My app, Calculator², is one of the most popular calculator apps in the Store, with almost 3 million downloads across all devices and an average rating of 4.3 from thousands of reviews. In the Windows 10 Store (UK) it is currently ranked 153 in the Top Free apps. However, searches using its keywords such as 'unit converter' or 'currency converter' do not return the app in the top few results despite its popularity. Instead, apps with 'unit converter' or 'currency converter' in the title are returned before it, even though most of these have no rating, an indication of few downloads and low popularity. An example search for 'unit converter' is shown in a screenshot at the end of this post. Interestingly, Calculator² is the first suggestion in the drop-down when typing 'unit converter' into the search box. Of course, what is most frustrating about this is the obvious low quality of the apps returned before Calculator²; one app uses the Visual Studio app template logo and shouldn't have passed certification, while others have names such as 'main_unit_converter'.

    To illustrate this further, the image below shows the number of ratings each of the top 40 apps returned by a search for 'unit converter' has received. As I don't have access to total downloads, this is the only data I can work with to give an indication of the popularity of each app. As one can see, most apps have no rating at all, while the app with the most ratings, Calculator², is ranked 33rd, with only two apps before it with a significant rating count.

    Rating count of apps returned by a search for 'unit converter' in the Windows 10 Store

    Regression in the Store search with Windows 10

    Finally, it is worth pointing out that the search algorithm has seemingly regressed with regards to use case two from Windows 8.1 and Window Phone to Windows 10. The image below compares the ranking of Calculator² for each of its keywords in the Windows Phone and Windows 10 Mobile Stores. Despite much effort on my part to produce a UWP version of the app, and then promote this version on Windows Central, Calculator² is significantly less visible in the Windows 10 Store than on the older platforms. Unfortunately, this is compounded by other regressions in the Windows Store app, such as not being able to sort search results by rating on Windows 10.

    Keyword search ranking comparison: WP8 vs W10M

    Summary

    The search algorithm in the Windows 10 Store does not appear to be optimised for consumers needs due to the heavy emphasis on matching the search term to the app name. The is bad for all stakeholders involved: users find it more difficult to find quality apps that meet their needs; developers have reduced visibility in the Store resulting in reduced revenue; while for Microsoft the perceived quality of the apps available in Store is lessened and developers leave the platform, both contributing to the 'app gap' issue currently plaguing the ecosystem.

    Vote in the User Voice Channel

    https://wpdev.uservoice.com/forums/110705-universal-windows-platform/suggestions/11072484-improve-the-store-search-results-by-placing-more-e

    Further reading

    https://wpdev.uservoice.com/forums/110705-universal-windows-platform/suggestions/7580193-issues-with-search?page=1&per_page=20

    https://social.msdn.microsoft.com/Forums/windowsapps/en-US/a3ce97f1-69ce-4070-b6d9-f1e2c900419b/dev-centerlistings-whats-the-point-in-keywords?forum=wpsubmit

    https://social.msdn.microsoft.com/Forums/windowsapps/en-US/6b745c02-d5ea-4761-8ec9-c2b22d888422/searches-in-the-windows-store-favour-the-app-name-too-highly?forum=windowsstore#08e6af0f-e30b-4338-b321-3469c02a7bc4

    Search results for Unit Converter in the Windows 10 Store






    Sunday, December 13, 2015 2:53 PM

All replies

  • Excellent elaboration of the issues! (already supported your user voice suggestion)

    I'd find it highly relieving to read a reaction from a Microsoft representative recognizing there is an urgent need for improvement, and announcing something is done about it.

    It is obvious that the Store Search situation, as it currently is, is driving away developers and investors (and as a result, users) from a platform which on many other levels has a lot to offer.

    As on many other levels there are great and impressive efforts to push the Universal Windows Platform, it is perplexing to observe that on the Store Search level seemingly nothing is done for preventing the impression that Microsoft does not care about its platform and its content providers. Still I want to keep a positive spirit and hope good news on this topic will follow soon.
    Monday, December 14, 2015 10:56 PM
  • It seems that these bugs will never be fixed.

    The Windows Phone\Mobile Store search result has another bug namely if I search for my publishername only part of my apps displayed in the search result, but not all.

    Microsoft customer support not helping at all.

    Wednesday, December 16, 2015 6:02 AM
  • Something I'd like to add:

    The importance of "store discoverability" also depends on the type of app.

    For instance, for a new global dating app, a wide range of marketing channels may be much more important than both (a) Store Search ranking and (b) the possibility to find the app searching with descriptive keywords only. Even if the app can be found by its name only, for such a type of app this will hurt much less than for certain other types of apps.

    An opposite example would be apps in the utility category. For apps like these store discoverability is crucial. Finding apps using keywords must work. And the ranking algorithm must work in the sense that apps with good ratings and with a high relevance to the search terms must not be hidden far behind other apps to which this does not apply. The thought that small but useful apps should not rely on Store discoverability, but should find their users solely through marketing activities outside the store, is absurd.

    For the whole Windows platform many of these "small but useful" apps are highly important. Many of them are "app gap fillers", providing functionality users may be used to from other ecosystems and expect to find in the Windows ecosystem as well.

    Hiding such apps - as to some extent is currently the case - hurts everyone:

    • App developers whose hard work remains invisible and does not gain users/customers.
    • Windows Platform users who do not find the apps they need for their purposes.
    • The Windows Platform, where the "app gap" appears much wider than it actually is.

    From my point of view it is almost impossible to not see the urgence of improving the Windows store app discoverability situation.
    As mentioned in my previous posting, I'd find it highly relieving to see this officially acknowledged.

    Wednesday, December 16, 2015 10:44 AM
  • After months of back and forth trying to get Microsoft to fix this, I have come to a conclusion that this no longer worth of my time. To get around the problem I have renamed all my apps so that the search engine picks them up on Windows 10 store. Obviously I was wrong to assume Microsoft will do everything to support dev adopting their dying platform. All the store team have done so far was nothing but to alienate developers who bother spending time to support their platform

    Never mind, the simplest work around to the current dysfunctional store search is to insert keywords to your app name. Of course, the more keywords you use in the app name gives it better chance being discovered by the search, but at the same time the name might also look stupid. So the trick is to have no more than 3 of your most important keywords in the app name. Also because the store search is pretty dumb, make sure you have space character separate these keywords in your app name.

    To change your app name

    ------------------------------

    open your app dash in the dev center,

    at the bottom of the 1st page, click manage app name

    enter your new app name, then click add

    From your visual studio, open the app project, change the 'display name' in manifest, both package and application ui display name need to be update to the same as the new app name you requested from the dev center

    Create a new store package with new app name from visual studio, you will be prompted a list of app at some point to associate with app store list, choose the old app name on the existing app list.

    Create a new app release from the dev center, upload the new app package with the updated manifest.

    Once pass certificate, you should see your app in new name on store list (dev center still use the old name, but that's fine)

    ----------------------

    Wednesday, December 16, 2015 1:56 PM
  • Update

    As Liang suggested, I updated my app name to include all the keywords in the title. Fortunately, it is possible to use a different name for app as it appears in the Store to as it appears in a user's app list. In the app manifest, leave 'Display name' (under 'Application') as it is, and use a different value for 'Package display name' (under 'Packaging'). You can still use values from resource files for both in order to localise the name for different languages.

    Result of including the keywords in the app name

    So, I changed the name of my app from Calculator² to Calculator² : Scientific Calculator : Financial Calculator : Programmer Calculator : Currency Converter : Unit Converter. Ugly, I know! Here is the difference in search ranking on both desktop and mobile:

    An incredible difference in visibility, particularly on mobile. Unfortunately, even including keywords in the app title wasn't enough to move the app above all unrated ones with titles that match the search term exactly. See this screenshot as an example.

    Insights from Google Play

    I recently ported my app to Android and released it on Google Play this week, so I've been researching ASO (App Store Optimisation) to help ensure the Android app's success. When publishing an app to Google Play, developers do not supply keywords. Instead, Google search picks out common keywords from the app title and description. There's plenty of data on the web where people have analysed the importance of including keywords in the app title and description, and then keyword density, etc. Google search does slightly favour matching to keywords in the title to the description, but downloads and ratings play a much more prominent role in the ranking of apps. What's immediately obvious when viewing the results of various searches is that there are no unrated or poorly rated apps in the top 20, or apps with less than 10,000 downloads. Such a simple statement cannot be said of the Windows Store.

    A plea to Microsoft

    Please can someone respond to this thread and let the developer community know that the Store search is being worked on and improvements will be released soon? It is now 5 months since the public release of Windows 10 and there has been no impactful improvement to the Store search as far as I'm aware.

    Friday, January 15, 2016 9:40 PM
  • I've given up now. My very first android app is almost ready, driven by pure frustration of how Microsoft is handling this.

    Just imagine, 10 of your apps disappearing just like that and with no explanation for over 3 months.

    I will no longer be developing apps for Windows and Windows Mobile anymore.

    https://social.msdn.microsoft.com/Forums/Windowsapps/en-US/9b8bd372-43df-40c2-8443-56d0b94a142f/urgent-windows-phone-app-missing-from-the-store-not-searchable?forum=windowsstore



    • Edited by LastBattle Sunday, January 17, 2016 10:21 AM
    Sunday, January 17, 2016 10:17 AM
  • In the latest "Building Apps for Windows" blog entry, https://blogs.windows.com/buildingapps/2016/01/15/give-your-apps-more-visibility-six-recommendations-for-2016/, there is at least an acknowledgement that the Windows Store does not work as it should:

    "We are aware of several bugs impacting the Store that result in some apps not showing up in the Store search; we are working quickly to resolve these issues".

    Unfortunately this statement is a very incomplete account of the issues with the Store. Still I take it as a (small but) good sign that finally, after all these months, there is some reaction (other than telling people that the Store works as intended).

    Maybe posting under this blog entry gets more attention from Microsoft?

    Monday, January 18, 2016 10:40 AM
  • Just to echo everyone else's experience my recently released app, quyre, cannot be found via keyword search against any of the associated keywords.

    Hellishly frustrating and downright bonkers.

    I've currently got 86 issues under discussion with PMs at Microsoft on the tooling and the APIs. I've found another half dozen issues with the store portal. All in all it's been a dismal and demoralising experience. I'm currently porting the app to iOS to get the bad taste out of my mouth.

    The statement in the infamous "Changes to Store listings and search algorithms" post that "Irrelevant keywords can hurt your app’s rating as the algorithms detect inaccurate keywords, the app could potentially drop in the rankings" fills me with dread. Quyre is an old english variant of quire, which originally meant a pamphlet or notebook before being taken up by the print trade to be 1/20th of a ream. Given The potential for typos, pronunciation differences &al I've included "quire", "choir" & "query" in the keywords but I can see that an algorithm might well view these as irrelevant.


    • Edited by csnazell Wednesday, January 27, 2016 1:23 PM
    Wednesday, January 27, 2016 1:22 PM