Patrick Larsson

Thursday 27th October 2011

Review Buyer Beware!

When an app developer launches a new app he needs to get the word out in order for sales to take off. An app won’t sell itself in the presence (read clutter) of 500K+ other apps. If your company is called Rovio, Tapulous or EA it is not much of a problem to let people know you have a new app out. But if your name is John Doe it is a bit harder. If, on top of that, your app is a niche product, let’s say an educational app for young kids, it is even harder to get noticed.

For a lot of indie developers this is exactly the situation. So what to do then? Well if we had a great answer to that we should probably be in the app marketing business instead of the app development business…

The fact is that there isn’t a single short answer to what you need to do in order to get your app noticed. At the end of this post we will suggest a few things that you can do (if you are not doing them already). These will be things we stand by and also do ourselves.


Paying for a Review – Don't !

Speaking of things to stand by… One thing that we have learned the hard way not to do and that we in no way possible stand by is paying review sites to review our apps. Paying to get your app reviewed and the review posted online can at first glance seem like a good idea. But before you go ahead and do it read on…

Let’s say that you know you have a good app and that people would buy it in droves if they only knew about it. You have already done everything you can think of when it comes to promoting your app. But every day when you get your App Annie report (if you don’t get this, sign up it’s a great service) your sales are still just 1 or 2 copies. At this point it can seem pretty tempting to spend a few hundred dollars to get a couple of reviews out there. A while back we found ourselves in this exact situation in the US App Store.

Our app, Happi Reads, actually did sell in droves in Scandinavia and at least decent in the rest of Europe but not at all in the US. Our conclusion was the one above; we had a good app, people would buy it, also in the US, if they knew about it – Let’s do what all those reply letters we get back when we ask for a review say namely pay for an “expedited review”.

We chose to pay for two reviews (site names available upon request) for a total of about $300. Both sites claim excellent visitor statistics and tens of thousands of Facebook friends and Twitter followers. At least some of these people ought to have young kids and an iPhone, right?

Well, they probably do but if so they either did not visit these “favorite” sites during the week in question or they thought our app sucked. Or, which is our personal favorite, the review sites are not interested in attracting a quality audience but rather “collecting” friends, visitors and followers any way they can in order to post good looking numbers.

Anyway, we got good reviews on both sites (4 and 5 stars) but we did not get ONE SINGLE SALE during the seven days following the reviews. Not one, zip, zilch, nada.


Back log – Doubtful…

When it got time for us to release a new app in the US (Happi Spells), even more of the 50 or so app review sites we contacted replied back to us with a payment scheme in order to get a review out of them. They all claim the same thing, a 2-3 month waiting list that you can magically bypass for a small fee (which, btw, grows larger with every page of the ordering process you click through). At this point, we would like to point out that it is only US review sites having this “back log”. At least we haven’t seen it on the app review scene in any other country so far.

As a developer of children’s apps we are members of the Moms with Apps forum. When researching this blog post there, we could not find a single thread that had a positive view of review sites charging for reviews. Neither could we find any positive (unbiased) information while googling the same topic. On the other hand, there were tons of pages and forum posts recommending against paying for reviews.

At this point, it is our view that app review sites charging money to review an app makes a negative contribution to the app ecosystem that we all try to live off of. They take hard earned money from small (sometimes desperate) developers and give very little back.


Find Your Audience

If you are a developer and has made it all the way through this blog post, you most likely send out app review requests yourself. As you also probably know, there are some pretty impressive email lists with review sites floating around the Internet. However, don’t fall for the temptation of blowing all of your promo codes on the top 50 review sites on those lists (unless you have a very original, flashy and mainstream game). Instead, try to find quality niche sites that writes (only) about your specific type of app. Big review sites tend to only review big name apps (unless you know someone on “the inside”).


Things You Should Do To Get Noticed

In addition to building your own quality review sites list, here are some more things (and ways to do them) you can do to get your name and your app out there:

  • Instead of sending out a regular “App XYZ Just Released” message try to spin the story in a broader way and put it in a proper press release instead. For example, instead of sending “Happi Reads Just Released – Please Review it” to a bunch of review sites, we might send a press release called “Apps for Schools Going Digital” through a PR service.
  • Try the excellent mail sending site Mail Chimp. Here you can build your distribution lists (one for each country perhaps)and nice looking mail templates including merge fields that merge information from your distribution lists at the time of sending (individually named emails and promo codes for example).
  • Use to shorten all your links. On top of being able to fit more info into your Tweets (you are using Twitter and TweetDeck right?), you also get statistics on how many times one of your links has been clicked.
  • Create a Flickr stream to store all your screenshots, press pics, icon images and videos. (Don’t forget to use when sending out the url to your Flickr stream)
  • Use (if you are poor) or (if you feel rich) for your press releases. You can also use MyNewsDesk which is pretty big in Europe but has a site in the US as well.
  • Put out interesting information about your app, company and processes on a regular basis. For example, when we started writing this blog and tweet about it, people started to follow us on Twitter. We get new followers on a daily basis. Having a large (interested) base of Twitter followers and Facebook friends is very advantageous when you launch a new app. If you have a large enough base you can even start building a buzz about your new app well before launch day (like, for example, the app “The Heist” did).

The above is, by no means, a comprehensive list of marketing activities for your new app. Feel free to share what has worked for you in the comments.

Patrick Larsson Patrick is co-founder of Happi Papi.
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