Something “interesting” happened on Friday around 4PM: we noticed that all of a sudden, all of the really malicious and nasty reviews sorted to the top of the review site. It looks like a competitor (or maybe just some malicious user?) decided to astroturf us by upvoting the bad reviews. It turns out that, while Apple requires that you need to have actually purchased the app in order to review it, anyone can go in via their iTunes account and click “Yes” to the “Was this review helpful to you?”question. Apple then sorts by the “Most helpful” reviews, “Most helpful” at the top. Since these reviews were the first ones people saw when they checked out our app, our rating began to plummet (would you buy an app where the top review was a one star review with the subject “Snoozers”?) We had been riding high in the top 20 or so paid iPad apps, and holding steady at #1 in Entertainment until then.
I was unsure of next steps, so went ahead and called Apple’s developer helpline asking if they could remove not the bad reviews but simply the malicious sorting. The developer service rep was super kind and understanding (a big shout out to Nysha!) and escalated this to the App Store team. She filled out a service request and sent it off to the App Store team. I had hoped that they’d be able to respond in time to salvage our rating, but by that evening, we’d dropped off the top 10 in Entertainment (in their defense, I’m sure they’re slammed after the iPad2 launch on Friday, and “please remove the bad ratings/sorting” is probably something they hear all the time)
Here’s what we learned in the process:
- App description is incredibly important. The nastiest reviews were from people who misunderstood a (really great!) app review that we added to our description and thought that they were going to download the next Angry Birds. In fact, just don’t mention Angry Birds in your app description.
- Reviews are incredibly important (especially if you’re not featured!) This appears to be the main factor in people’s purchasing decisions.
- Reviews can be easily gamed by competitors (not just by posting fake bad ones, but by promoting real bad ones). This means that you need to keep an eagle eye on your app reviews and encourage users who like your app to upvote the good ones.
- Updates to the app can be dangerous. You have to start from scratch on the reviews for that version, and you lose the good reviews (along with the bad!) and all the upvotes for the good reviews.
- Review damage control is up to the developer and needs to be immediate. Hopefully you’ll have a solid user base, with a Facebook page and ideally a mailinglist to which you can send out plaintive cries for help.
I’m bummed that people would use such malicious tactics, but I guess that’s life in the cruel, harsh world of the App Store. Lesson learned.