Getting hit by an app store penalty

January 14, 2017

I recently experienced what I can only assume is a penalty on the Google Play app store. One of my apps has around 250 downloads per day. These are purely organic installs and I have not run any campaigns for over a year.

On the 5th of January I noticed a sudden usage and install spike. As luck would have it, I had real-time Google analytics open at the time, otherwise I would have missed it. Usually between 1-10 people are using the app at any one time but this suddenly increased to around 40. I’ll never know exactly what caused it, but I’m guessing it was a mention on radio or TV.

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By the next day, the usage numbers had returned to normal. However, I saw a dramatic decrease in installs. Because all other things remained equal, I can only assume that the sudden increase in users raised a flag at Google who applied a penalty to my app: The app currently no longer appears in the Google Play search results when searching for certain keywords (e.g. “insults”).

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I’m assuming that the installs will eventually return to normal and of course it’s no big loss for me. But I do wonder what would happen to a commercial app (which pays people’s wages) were it hit by a similar usage spike.