Do App Review Sites Solve the Problem of App Discovery for Developers?

The App Store presents a difficult problem for developers:

How are people going to find your app in the store?

Fundamental to the problem is the sheer number of apps. November 2013 – there are over 700,000 apps in Apple’s App Store. That’s a lot of apps (check out for updated metrics). There can only be so many apps on display in the virtual store window.

Of course, it’s possible to search the App Store, but most people would agree that the search functionality is poor. Searching for a known app works fine, but if people already know the name of your app, the battle is mostly over. Searching for what an app might do, or the capabilities that a user is interested in – that’s less effective.

Consider another search problem – the Internet. Google does a pretty decent job with search for the Internet despite it being a considerably larger landscape than the App Store. But the Internet has search problems of its own. Internet search can be artificially influenced, gamed, to drive more traffic to a given source. There’s a whole industry based around the practice – “SEO”.

In contrast Apple provides a very limited set of tools for describing an app. What’s more, those keywords are checked for validity when an app is submitted for review. Whilst this approach removes the problem of policing the way developers describe their apps for ‘search’ (in the way that Google continually refines their search algorithm) – the current system has a void when it comes to app discovery.

Another part of the problem is the chart system in the App Store: Top Paid, Top Free and Top Grossing. There are charts for the whole store and charts per-category. The apps that are doing well are given centre stage in the store…

Is that a bad idea? The apps in the charts are often either very good or very popular, sometimes both. Is the act of being in a chart enough to ‘keep the ball rolling’, to keep an app in that chart? Do we see the same apps recycled over? A cynic might say that ‘the rich get richer’.

There’s more too it than this – but the fact is, it’s not easy to penetrate these lists.

The App Store does have other categories and app-lists, the most prominent one being New and Noteworthy. Apps are placed in the limelight following some kind of human review – in many cases this happens when the app is still new and has not yet had many downloads.

New and Noteworthy is a great for developers: following the review of your app, in addition to approving it, if Apple likes it, they’ll present it to the masses as noteworthy. But it’s also a long shot; due the number of apps being submitted each day there’s a lot of competition…

App Review Sites

This brings us to App Review sites, of which there are many. This list provides a good reference. If you consider sites established purely to review apps, it’s common for their goal to be something like:

“To find the best apps in the App Store and present them to you”.

That’s good, right?

Yes. We know that people like to read reviews and we know that people are interested in new apps. This is one of the ways for iOS users to follow what’s going on, to stay informed, to discover apps interesting to them. And some of the app review sites do a really good job. They provide good reviews, they write good articles, and consequently some of them have large followings.

Getting your app reviewed and therefore promoted by one of the big sites will have a positive effect.

But what do you need to do to make that happen?

Hopefully nothing. Best case scenario they discover your app, they’re interested, so they review it. They might ask for a promo code – but that’s a (slightly) different discussion, for another day.

As a developer you may want to actively promote your app. If you’ve tried to make the connection yourself and asked for a review, you’ll be aware of things like automated email responses, structured app-detail forms to complete, long turn around times for reviews and perhaps most importantly, payment structures for a premium service. These things all hint at problems with this model.

App review sites are clearly inundated with requests for reviews.

Is this an extension of the app-discovery problem:

How are you going to get your app reviewed?

Some of these review sites do a great job. They don’t just wait for developers to submit apps to them. They’re in tune with what’s being developed, they’re looking for interesting apps, they review those apps independently.

Yet they’re still part of the same ecosystem. They’re all working in amongst a huge volume of apps where the demand for app review is high. Will they discover your app that happens to be great without being told about it? Will they have the time to review it? Will they favour other apps that have paid for an app review?

The number of apps causes problems here, too.

Parting Thoughts

It’s not enough to ‘just’ have a good app. You need a good app that people know about. The number of apps is increasing. The landscape is changing. Success might require some work outside of Xcode.

An organic review of your app is always a good thing.

If you’re promoting your app and reaching out, review sites are definitely an avenue worth exploring. You could get a review that helps in a big way.

You could also remain lost in the sea of apps applying for reviews.