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 bit.ly 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 bit.ly when sending out the url to your Flickr stream)
  • Use prmac.com (if you are poor) or prweb.com (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.

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  • http://smartappsforkids.com Ron

    I find the generalization that all review sites who allow developers to pay for an expedited review are the same (meaning bad) to be tremendously unfair.

    First, having run a review site for one year and been in communication on this topic with the writers of many other sites, you are essentially saying that an independent single-person review site can never be more than a small, poorly-paid part time job. Would you like someone to say that your app development business should be non-profit?

    Developers don’t really buy ads in and of themselves in any great quantity at any great price from a Mom-and-Pop review sites and certainly not in enough quantity to make much of a difference. Many review sites don’t sell enough ad space to even cover their costs and you’re doing REALLY well to make $150-$200 a month from iTunes commissions.

    You need to understand that reviewers have families to feed and responsibilities to uphold just as you do. If we’re going to spend the full-time job hours or more I believe it takes to run a good review site properly, then we’re going to need to find ways to monetize our sites.

    Second, your experience with a few sites not helping your sales should not be used as a basis for a conclusion that that will be the same experience with ALL sites. I’ve had developers tell me I boosted their sales considerably and some that said I didn’t help at all. That’s business.

    Third, regardless of the sales, almost all of the developers I have worked with have found my review (expedited or otherwise) to be an extremely beneficial situation in the development of their apps. My reviews have been responsible for specific changes in probably 100 apps and the developers are VERY appreciative of a conscientious, honest review even if it their app didn’t rate as highly as they would have liked. I currently have about a 75 percent advertiser retention rate and a waiting list for several spots. Before I offered an expedited review as part of my ad packages, which was a developer’s idea BTW, I had zilcho.

    I could go on and on, but finally, your speculation that U.S. review sites may not really have a backlog of reviews is just flat wrong. I’ll be happy to forward you the past month’s worth of review requests to my site if you’d like to see for yourself. 3-5 requests a day is not unusual. If you trust Carisa more than me, ask her.

    I’ll be happy to discuss this further if you like at the email address listed above.

    Ron

    • patrick

      Hi Ron!

      Thanks for your comment. I think your view of the matter adds a good balance to our fairly critical post on paying for app reviews.

      /patrick
      Happi Papi

  • http://appsforhomeschooling.com Jennifer @ Apps for Homeschooling

    I’m afraid the review queue is real, and all too long for our site as well. Unless I can spend full time hours writing reviews for free (which I can’t do, just as developers can’t work for someone else full time for free either), there’s no way I can keep up to the number of review requests I receive (5-6/day, ever day).

    Could it be that sites focused on US apps are swamped with requests as opposed to smaller markets because it’s a ‘hot’ market for apps? Perhaps Scandinavian reviewers don’t have the demand because there are fewer Scandinavian language apps.

    As far as traffic and social media reach goes, a good review site that accepts advertising should have those stats readily available so they can be publicly verified by any interested parties :).

  • http://childrenstech.com Warren Buckleitner

    At the USA based CTR we are always eager to find amazing new apps, and are happy to review any app from any publisher — large or small; no fees & no gimmicks. We just need a download code. But we are backed up, and our reviews tend to be rather factual and description, which you may or may not like. More frequently, unless your app is newsworthy, we might not have time to review it.
    Thanks for bringing up this topic.
    W Buckleitner, Editor
    Children’s Technology Review



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