Is Google Playing Dirty And Downgrading iTunes Links?

By Alexandra Burlacu | Apr 03, 2013 11:09 AM EDT

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Google search is apparently making it more difficult for iOS apps to surface with typical user queries, prompting questions about Google's fairness.

Searching for direct links is a very popular way to find apps, but it seems that Google is now downgrading Apple's App Store links.

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In the past, as TechCrunch points out, searching apps by name or by typical user queries such as "Whatsapp iPhone" would return a page of search results where iTunes URLs ranked highly. Now, however, it seems that those links are further down in Google's search results pages, sometimes even on the seventh page. The purported change in operation seems to affect apps differently, and does not downgrade all URLs leading to iTunes.

Searching for "Whatsapp iPhone" now, for instance, does not return any iTunes URLs on the first page of results, or the second, or the third, for that matter. In fact, the first iTunes link to pop up for this query is at the bottom of Page 13 in Google's search results, and the link is actually for DrawTo for WhatsApp on the App Store. Many other popular apps, including Facebook and Twitter for iOS, don't show links to iTunes on the first page.

The results can vary depending on the query, as well as on whether the user is logged in or out of Google. For affected apps, however, the links remain low in the rankings nonetheless. Apps left unaffected by this so-called "search bug," meanwhile, continue to rank high in Google search results. Searching for "Temple Run: Oz iPhone" or "Minecraft: Pocket Edition," for instance, return top-ranked iTunes links.

When it comes to Facebook, searching for "Facebook Android" will deliver a link for the app on Google Play on the first page of results, ranked highly, while searching for "Facebook iPhone" makes no mention of iTunes on the first page of search results.

TechCrunch and The Next Web tried several other examples of apps that appear affected and it remains a mystery just how Google ranks them now. As TechCrunch notes, however, adding "iTunes" to queries usually works to deliver the proper links, though this may not always be the case.

"For most apps, adding 'iTunes' works to deliver the iTunes URL results, whether logged in or out," notes the tech site. "It's the other types of queries that are difficult, and it's difficult to pinpoint an exact time when these changes began. Because Google is constantly refining its algorithms, and many users are on Google while logged in, tweaks to search rankings are rarely spotted immediately, unless it's a case where a URL has been banned entirely, whether on purpose or by accident."

Google has yet to issue a response as to why the iTunes links now seem to be oddly ranked in search results. 


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