David Barnard Discusses Rogue Developers That Game the App Store

The App Store is not an open market and Apple dictates pretty strict rules. But that doesn’t mean some developers haven’t figured out ways to game the system.

David Barnard is a developer that has sold his apps through the App Store for years, and while the digital storefront has worked well for the developer over that stretch of time, he’s gone out of his way to “pester” the company publicly and privately in an effort to clamp down on the scams that are present in there. According to Barnard, the strict policies in some areas, and the “hands-off approach” in other areas has “disproportionately rewarded bad actors”, while at the same time stifling other developers not working to game the system.

Barnard does say that this isn’t about bashing Apple, even if it could be taken that way:

“My critique of Apple’s management of the App Store (which began in 2008) has never been about embarassing Apple or denigrating its employees or motives, I want to see this amazing platform Apple created be the best it can possibly be. The App Store is an incredible marketplace that has generated tens of billions in revenue while empowering billions of people around the world to do amazing things with these magical little computers we carry around in our pockets. But I do think the overall success of the App Store has blinded Apple to the need for various course corrections over the years. And as the financial incentive to build and maintain great niche apps dries up, the beautiful and diverse forest of apps that is the App Store will slowly start to look more like the unkempt Play Store.”

Barnard then breaks things down, looking at how these “rogue developers” can take advantage of the system. The first of which comes down to keywords:

“Find a keyword that drives a decent amount of organic search traffic. Obvious ones are keywords like “weather”, “calculator”, “solitaire”, etc, but those keywords are so competitive, and the rest of the tactics so powerful, you could get away with 2nd tier keyword targets. Now go to App Store Connect and name your app that exact keyword. “Weather” is already taken, and Apple doesn’t allow duplicate app names, so you’ll need to add a symbol. Let’s go with “Weather ◌”.

Here’s the thing, the App Store search algorithm gives a massive boost for an exact match to what the user searched, and the algorithm ignores symbols, so “Weather ◌” will get a huge search advantage, which will help to drive organic instals of the app. There are lots of other hacks to manipulate the App Store search algorithm. I haven’t kept up on all the “black hat” tactics, so I’m not sure what works and what doesn’t anymore, but here’s a fun one: the App Store search algorithm indexes multiple languages per App Store localization, so you can double your keywords in the US App Store, by stuffing keywords into the Spanish (Mexico) localization of your App Store page.”

And while some efforts are behind-the-scenes, there are other efforts by these developers that simply try to cheat the end user right up front. That can include a “tricky subscription page”:

“Implement a tricky subscription page with high priced subscriptions and the price far removed from some sort of “Continue to Trial” button. Also, hide the button used to close this page (bonus points for completely hiding the close button for a few seconds) so that users feel compelled to tap the “Continue” button.”

It is worth noting that Apple has managed to wrangle this particular effort a bit, pulling “scammy subscription apps” from the digital storefront. But it’s a practice that’s apparently still popping up from time-to-time.

Again, Barnard isn’t simply attacking Apple here. He simply wants to bring these practices to light so that rogue developers can’t keep taking advantage of the end user, and so that the developers that are trying to make an honest living aren’t beaten back by the scam artists.

“My critique of Apple’s management of the App Store (which began in 2008) has never been about embarassing Apple or denigrating its employees or motives, I want to see this amazing platform Apple created be the best it can possibly be. The App Store is an incredible marketplace that has generated tens of billions in revenue while empowering billions of people around the world to do amazing things with these magical little computers we carry around in our pockets. But I do think the overall success of the App Store has blinded Apple to the need for various course corrections over the years. And as the financial incentive to build and maintain great niche apps dries up, the beautiful and diverse forest of apps that is the App Store will slowly start to look more like the unkempt Play Store.”

The full rundown is definitely worth a look, and you can find it through the source link below.

[via David Barnard]

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