Last week I wrote a little bit about what I suspected was some kind of Google Play Search/Algorithm change, a lot of developers on a couple of different forums were reporting a pretty noticeable drop in downloads. In the last week there has been a bit more speculation about the issue so I thought I would write about it again. To keep things short it seems that it isn’t really an algorithm change – it is more of a UI change that is causing this phenomenon. Some developers, more recently, are even reporting that their downloads have stabilized and returned to normal.

Google Play Search UI Change

I’m not really sure if it is just an A/B test for now, or if it is a staged roll out but it looks like on some devices(particularly Pixel Oreo devices) Google Play now shows full height cards for search results. These kinds of cards used to pop up for terms that the system was sure it had an almost perfect match for, with the new change the cards reportedly appear for basically any kind of search term and every result is a card. The previous layout everyone is used to was more basic, it just showed the app’s name, icon and star rating. You can watch a video here to get an idea of the newer UI. And here’s a screenshot of the original layout taken from my Motorola G4:

Google Play Search UI

Possible Implications

I think anyone can agree that this change has caused a noticeable drop in downloads for apps that don’t rank first or second for a particular keyword. It also makes paid search results a lot more prominent, almost to the point where non-paid results wouldn’t appear at the top for popular terms. I’m not sure if Google has some kind of plan to even the playing field for this aspect of the change. It seems like a move that(to start with anyway) will mostly help big players and big advertisers – not indie developers. This is a bit of a shame in my opinion.

Some other developers are saying it is the end for indie Android development, I’m not so negative about it. People seem to forget that the App Store has had a similar layout for a while now. Screenshots take up a large space of the search results, I have faith users will adapt to the new layout and learn to scroll more – it might take time though. Let’s also not forget that this could just be an A/B test that is never completely rolled out. All everyone can do really is wait and see what happens. I’ll probably post about this again if there are any other developments. As always, if you have any information or input please feel free to comment below.