Microsoft’s unified Windows Store brings new changes to listings and search algorithms for developers

Image Credit: WinBeta

Part of Microsoft’s new initiative with Windows 10 is to unify Windows users experiences across multiple devices. During Microsoft’s developer conference //Build/ 2015, Microsoft sold its vision of a unified buying experience that would occur in a combined Windows, Windows Mobile, and Xbox Store, eventually. More than directing Windows users to a single purchase point, the combined Store is intended to help developers make money.

As Windows 10 nears its July 29th launch date, curious Windows developers are finally getting answers regarding Microsoft’s progress on its //Build/ 2015 unified vision. According to Microsoft, the changes to the Store are finally coming. The new Store changes affect lists, search algorithms, a new web experience, and updates to ratings and reviews.

Aside from the most obvious “app gap” compliant, the Windows Store on both PC and Mobile were criticized for their lack of discoverability. Many Windows app developers complained about their app’s lack of surfacing among the sea of copy-cat apps or misdirected tutorial pages that used copyrighted material. With today’s announcement, the Windows team is addressing that specific concern with its new listing and search algorithms.

  • Search algorithms optimized for apps, games, movies, and music rather than the general web search used earlier. These algorithms take a more holistic approach when evaluating an app’s relevancy to the search terms, factoring in attributes such as click-through rates in the Store listings, ratings and reviews, keywords, and total downloads.
  • Apps that customers have previously acquired are not currently filtered out of searches or app lists. As a result, customers may see apps they already own in the Store lists and recommendations. We are planning to remove previously-owned apps from the recommendations in a future update.
  • Lists will not include ‘top grossing.’ The lists available today include ‘top free,’ ‘top paid,’ ‘best rated,’ and ‘new and rising.’ The ‘top grossing’ app list, which is currently available in the Store on Windows 8, will be temporarily unavailable, with plans to bring back this capability in a future update.
  • Store lists always show Apps first, then Games, then Music, then Movies. When users search for items, the order of the results might not be the ideal, and that is also a focus area for future improvement.

Microsoft offers a note of caution regarding the new algorithm. Due to the changes being applied to current Windows 8 and Windows Phone data, developers may experience some ranking changes in both Store lists and search results. Microsoft is encouraging developers to evaluate their app’s descriptions and keywords to ensure they are best optimized for the list and search results they would like to be displayed as.

Image Credit: Microsoft

Alongside the new Store found on Windows devices, Microsoft is also putting its Store on the web for easier accessibility. Windows 8 had a version of the Store that could be accessed via the browser, but Microsoft’s new web-based Store now includes listings for media content such as music, movies, and TV shows. The inclusion of Windows Media content now offers a more full-featured Store experience to Windows users on any device.

  • Windows Phone screenshot auto-rotation orientation no longer available. Windows Phone Dev Center enabled developers to submit vertical screenshots, and Dev Center would rotate them. The new Dev Center does not have this ‘auto rotate’ filter. So you might see some Windows Phone screenshots appear vertical instead of horizontal in the Store. The fix is easy: re-submit the screenshots rotated with any image editor, and then upload to Dev Center.
  • New web Store and URL redirects: The previous Store URLs windows.microsoft.com and www.windowsphone.com now redirect customers to the new web Store apps.microsoft.com. Existing URLs and links continue to work and automatically redirect customers to the new Store.
  • Installing apps from web Store not available. Installing apps to a Windows Phone when using the Store in a PC browser is not supported. Apps must be installed from the device itself.
  • Logged out customers may see both Windows and Windows Phone apps. If a customer is not logged in to their Microsoft account on Windows 8.x or Windows 7, the web Store will show both the Windows and Windows Phone apps. This means the customer may see duplicate apps (for non-linked apps).
  • URL to show all apps from one publisher no longer available. The URLs that pointed to all apps from a single publisher in Windows Phone (e.g. https://www.windowsphone.com/en-US/store/publishers?publisherId=xxx) are no longer supported. Customers can select a publisher’s name in an app’s product description page to view a list of the publisher’s apps.

Image Credit: WinBeta

Once again, Microsoft is issuing some suggestion to help guide developers through this change, which include, adjusting their app descriptions as a heads up about app versions. According to Microsoft, “The app description pages do not include which devices the app works on, nor does it show the app version and last update date. We are working to bring these popular features back in a future update.” To get around this, Microsoft recommends putting the app version in with the app description when apps are updated.

Lastly, Microsoft is addressing the Ratings and Reviews portion of the Store. Now users will be able to read the combined reviews for both Windows and Windows Phone apps together.

  • New Ratings and Reviews Algorithm. The Windows 10 Store uses new review sorting logic to improve the customer experience in a variety of ways:
  • The most recent reviews with most ‘helpful’ votes are bubbled to the top of the list, ensuring comments on are relevant and useful for customers looking at your app.
  • The profanity detection algorithm has been updated and improved. As customers change the way they use profanity in reviews, the algorithm will adapt and further refine the way it detects inappropriate language.
  • New spam detection will detect and remove more spam before customers see it.

We reported on the unified Dev Center dashboard before, but it looks like Microsoft is offering a bit more detail in this recent announcement.

Image Credit: Microsoft

  • Unified Ratings and Reviews for Linked Apps. The unified Dev Center dashboard treats linked Windows and Windows Phone apps as a single app with multiple packages. Ratings and reviews for any package in the linked app are applied to the app, regardless of whether the rating was provided on a Windows Phone app or a Windows 8.x app. In Windows 10, customers will see combined reviews and ratings for both apps in the new Store as well a unified star rating.  Customers accessing the Store on earlier OS versions (e.g., Windows Phone 8.1) will not see the new combined rating.  A device-specific filter is planned for a future update, enabling customers to see just reviews for their device type.
  • Ratings and reviews submitted in Windows 10 previous to July 15 were deleted. Ratings and reviews submitted by customers using the preview versions of Windows 10 were removed from the Store on July 15, 2015.  This action was taken to ensure an app’s rating and reviews are not based on customer experiences with preview versions of Windows 10.  Instead, apps will only show Windows 10 ratings and reviews generated after July 15. Depending on the ratings your app received in the Store Preview, you may see your average star rating change.

Similar to many of the Windows teams most recent offerings, the Store is a “from the ground up” process that is going to take a little bit of time to work out. Hopefully, developers stay on board long enough to see their efforts as well as Microsoft’s pay off.

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