The developer David Barnard – whose apps have reported millions of dollars and has been repeatedly presented by Apple – has written a blog post calling on Apple to take tougher action against rogue developers who play on the App Store.
It describes ten methods that they use to give their apps an unfair advantage in terms of visibility or earning money through in-app purchases. Some are simple and known, like the purchase of false reviews, others more insidious, like those described below …
The tips he describes range from improving visibility in search to absolute fraud against users. For visibility, for example:
Search for a keyword that generates a reasonable amount of organic search traffic. The obvious words are keywords such as "weather", "calculator", "lonely", etc., but these keywords are so competitive and the rest of the tactics are so powerful that you can get away with targets of second level keywords. Now go to App Store Connect and name your app with the exact keyword. "Weather" is already taken and Apple does not allow duplicate application names, so you must add a symbol. Let's go with "Weather".
Here's the thing, the App Store search algorithm gives a huge boost for an exact match with what the user has been looking for, and the algorithm ignores the symbols, so "Weather Weather" will get a huge benefit in terms of research, which will help create organic moments of the app. There are many other tips for manipulating the search algorithm of the App Store. I have not followed all the tactics of the "black hat", so I do not know what works and what does not work anymore, but here is a fun solution: the App Store search algorithm indexes multiple languages by location of the App Store, then you can double your keywords in the US App Store by inserting them into the Spanish localization (Mexico) of your App Store page.
Some tips for playing at the App Store are fooling other developers.
Weather data costs money and we try to maximize revenue at all costs. Therefore, address some weather applications when they request data and "borrow" all API keys that you have found. Apple's weather app may be a good place to start.
While others cheat users.
Set up a complex subscription page with high-priced subscriptions and the far-off price of some sort of "Continue to Test" button. Also hide the button used to close this page (bonus points to completely hide the close button for a few seconds) so that users feel compelled to press the "Continue" button.
Barnard acknowledges that Apple has started cracking down on this type of behavior – as a result of the spotlighting of piecemeal apps – but there are still many examples.
He says do not denigrate Apple here. He is grateful to be able to make a living from his apps, but wants Apple to do more to level the playing field.
I would like to see Apple handle [its] power to shape the App Store so as to support and encourage meaningful development instead of continuing to allow the platform to be stacked against it […]
I want to see this incredible platform created by Apple to be the best possible. The App Store is an incredible market that has generated tens of billions of dollars while allowing billions of people around the world to do incredible things with these little magic computers that we have in our pockets. But I think the overall success of the App Store has blinded Apple on the need to make various course corrections over the years.
Barnard says Apple needs to do more to reward best practices and punish those who play at the App Store.
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