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.

'Google Anal'

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”).

'Horrible penalty'

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.