5 Tips for Working with Review Sites

Our guest post this week is written by Carisa Kluver of Digital Storytime. She tells the story of getting started in the app world, both as a storybook app resource, and as a husband/wife development team. Don’t miss her five tips about working with app review sites. Thanks Carisa for the contribution!

A whole ecosystem has evolved around the world of kids apps that includes dozens of new review sites, mostly run by tech-savvy parents who are early-adopters of tablet technology. This is the story of how our site, Digital-Storytime.com, got its start. At the end, I’ve added five tips for developers hoping to get reviewed, advertise or partner with sites for promotions.

Back in early 2009, my programmer husband was laid off from his job at Microsoft while I was on extended leave from my career in child & maternal health research at the University of Washington. Staying home with our son had been an important decision for me as a mom and I don’t regret a minute of that time. However, I imagined I would go back to work once our child was in school. With the recession and gap in my resume, I found myself unsure about what to do next, right as my husband was also out of work.

Soon our family business was all about apps, starting with a few Android apps and then moving into iOS. Then came April of 2010. Yes, the iPad launched, but I also turned 40 (as did ‘Earth Day’) and got an iPad as my gift to myself. Almost immediately I began to have some new ideas about apps. Within just a few months I was downloading more book apps than anything else. The digital picture book became a singular obsession for me.

My husband suggested I design a book. He could then program & release it as an interactive app. I actually got as far as storyboards and some basic image sets, but something about this felt very wrong. Everything I saw in the marketplace told me, deep in my gut, that this wasn’t the best use of my natural abilities. By October of 2010, I had convinced my husband that I should start a book app review site instead. He happened to be taking a .php class for database management and decided to build a site for me as part of his classwork. And before we knew it, our site had grown to include a blog and daily deal page for kids apps. Soon Digital-Storytime was a top resource for book app reviews …

As traffic increased and it became clear I was up to the challenge of writing reviews daily (with nearly 600 to date), we increased the time we focused on the review site and decreased our time on other app projects. We now support our site with ads as well as a small commission from iTunes. We also decided recently to offer paid ‘expedited’ reviews, although we are strict about limiting them to a very small percentage of our overall content. 

Our most recent app, in fact, is a version of the Digital-Storytime site. Like many small development teams, we have found this to be a very exciting adventure with many unexpected turns and twists. But if you are open to following the market, there are many opportunities still to be discovered in the app world, especially for curators/reviewers.

Based on my experiences on both sides of the app review process, here are my “5 Tips for Working with Review Sites”:

  1. Check every site out first … don’t waste your time asking for reviews on every site you can find, but instead take your time to find out about sites that might fit your app in a specialized way. Indicate in your request how your app fits with the site’s content. If you are new to the marketplace, carefully consider options to pay to get a review prioritized on sites that offer this type of service. It can get very expensive, very fast if you decide to pay to get reviewed quickly and may not be worth it, depending on your overall marketing plan and the app itself.
  1. Don’t expect a response and don’t take this personally. The average app review site gets dozens of requests a day and typically only reviews 1 out of 10 submissions. There simply aren’t enough hours in the day to even thoroughly preview all the apps submitted to most sites, so requesting a review can feel like sending a message into the ether and never hearing back. If sites could respond, they would – it really isn’t personal but a matter of being overwhelmed by the volume of apps coming into the market at this time. Knowing this in advance can help developers be prepared and set realistic expectations for how much app review sites can be counted on as part of a marketing or launch plan for any app. Most kids app review sites are run by parents who are very busy. School holidays, summer break and other times kids are out of school may be times when these sites are especially difficult to reach. If you do contact a site directly, keep your email brief and clearly state any questions you have about the process. If you send a long-winded email with more than one question, it is unlikely you will get a response at all. While this is hard to understand, being on the receiving end (and I’ve been on the sending end, too), it is simply impossible for sites run by just a couple people to respond to hundreds of emails a day, so chances are that any long emails will simply be deleted.
  1. Consider marketing more broadly and focus on what you have the time to be good at … reviews alone are not enough for most apps to get noticed, but part of a larger marketing strategy. Consider setting a series of ‘google alerts’ with keywords related to the need your app meets for consumers. You can comment on posts, as well as share these links on your social media pages to attract people with similar interests. Review sites are not an option for every new app from a new developer and shouldn’t be seen as the only key to success. If you can get traction with your app in a specialized market, general app review sites may notice. Think outside the box when looking for reviews of your app. Sites that specialize in app reviews or even just kids apps are often inundated with requests, but there are lots of blogs out there that review apps as part of their other content. Find bloggers with specialized interests based on your specific app and you may get a much faster response, as well as reach an audience that is not as saturated with app news.
  1. Advertising and partnering with sites, whether you have been reviewed or not, is also an option if you have your heart set on being featured on a particular site. Most app review sites have advertising you can buy at a reasonable price per/month. If you are unsure of where to advertise, comparing a few sites in your apps’ genre on Alexa.com can be helpful to decide where and how much to spend on ads. You can also offer review sites promo codes for giveaways, but it is important to know that these giveaways are time-consuming for review sites to administer and are rarely an incentive to promote or review your app.
  1. Consider the buzz your app will drive for a review site when ‘pitching’ your app as something a site should review. If you have a solid social media following you will promote the review to after it is done, this is vital information to share with a review site. Often, I hear developers discuss how much a review on any given site will impact their sales, but remember that review sites are also concerned about driving the same kind of interest when they make decisions about what to review. If your app review is unlikely to create buzz on a site or drive traffic, it is unrealistic to expect a review site to cover your app quickly. Review sites are also businesses, just like the ones app developers are in, so please don’t ask us to review your app just because you love it or developed it with your kids (or need to sell it to feed your family). Trust me – we hear variations on this every day and it doesn’t impress us or make us more likely to promote your app. Your app should be phenomenal for users. Period.

It has been a great honor to be involved with MomsWithApps and I enjoy the conversations with developers that this organization has facilitated. We take feedback from our readers AND developers into consideration when designing each new phase of our site and really appreciate the constructive advice we have gotten so far. Thank you!

15 Replies to “5 Tips for Working with Review Sites”

  1. Hi, Carisa, Your advice is very helpful as we design our first app using our PopcornPark puppets. Our focus in our public television programs and DVDs for the past 25 years is teaching kids how to make good choices in life. We have noticed that there are very few apps in the area of guidance and character education. We want to turn that tide. I would love to share with you our design. Any advice you could give me would be very appreciated.
    Keep up your wonderful work.

  2. Wow-thank you for the insight. This is coming at an incredibly opportune time, as we launch our first app (today!) and are wending our way through the review sites, bloggers, Twitter and Facebook in an effort to gain brand recognition.

    At a time when our in-boxes are flooded with offers from people offering to review our site in exchange for compensation, and simultaneously wondering whether our outreach will resonate with anyone, this is some great perspective. Would love to know what you think about paying for expedited reviews and whether you’ve found that to be successful in increasing visibility and/or sales.

    Thank you!

  3. Your story is truly an inspiration for moms like me. (mother of a 3 year-old girl)
    I’ve been laid off just recently. But I’m not much of an IT/techie persons. That’s why when somebody told me to learn how to blog, I thought it’s a good start to post reviews till I find the guts to have my own blog site. There i found Reviews Good Bad.

  4. Thank you for sharing your insight into a brave and brand new world for most of us. Trying to make an app visible to people who would like to buy it is an interesting challenge. Your article is very helpful.

  5. Great article Carisa! Thanks for keeping things realistic – I really resonate with #2 – when I first started my review site I aimed to review every app submitted to me, I was able to do that for a few weeks but I was quickly swamped with requests. Now, as you mention – I’m sometimes unable to reply to all the emails I receive. I’d love to provide more personalized attention, but I too am a busy mom (4 so far) running a single-person website and it just isn’t possible anymore due to the number of requests I receive.

  6. Really interesting to get a reviewer’s perspective and learn that only about 1 in 10 apps are selected for review. And thanks for taking the time to post some tips to help our submissions make it!

  7. Good advice about alternatives to review sites that might be useful for getting attention. I’ll be setting up more Google Alerts today!

    Thanks for sharing!

  8. I’m so glad this post has been helpful. Like Jennifer (from AppsforHomeschooling.com), I think it is easy to start out as a reviewer thinking you can respond to everything. It feels like the right thing to do, but reality soon takes over when most sites get more requests than anyone can humanly respond to …

    I’ve gone from responding to everything to deleting nearly all requests not submitted properly through our form or for apps not clearly in our genre. If I didn’t ignore them, I would never eat, sleep or get to be a mom at all, but it is still hard to do, since I know there are real people on the end of almost all of these requests (and often other moms & dads that I can identify with readily).

    Really, the hardest part for me (and many of my peers in the industry) is finding a way to manage our time when we could easily work on our sites for 25 hours a day, if such a thing was possible. What this means, most likely, is that we need a lot more curators and reviewers to join us in this marketplace. I would encourage anyone with a passion for apps to start a site with specialized reviews of just one area of the app market. We need specialized sites more than general ones, which are plentiful and often cannot review the depth and breadth of the market as easily, given the volume of new ‘hot’ apps being released every day.

    In the meantime, for those seeking reviews, finding other less ‘app’ focused sources of promotion online can be both a way to improve the ROI on your time seeking coverage and a way to connect with a much wider audience.

  9. I’ve just come across your posting, which I came across while researching promo opportunities for our apps on US review sites for parents and home schoolers (we’re from England). It was good to get the perspective of well established app reviewers, including the tricky matter of “expedited reviews”.

  10. One of the best sites I have found for finding the best apps is http://TheAppMagazine.com – They take free app review requests and also have featured app advertising for only $20. Being an app developer this is some of the best advertising I have been able to find.

  11. Carisa – What a great find of an article; thank you for sharing. Not too long ago, a few of my close friends and I decided we would put our 30+ years of enterprise app development to good use developing kid-oriented apps (you can call us DadsWithApps!). The tips in here will definitely help us as we market our apps. If you’re not too busy, you should do a follow-up article to explain to us all of the different advertising terms and options that are available these days (like the differences between reviews, sponsored posts, ads, social media support, etc).

    Our company (which we named someidea inc.) just released 2 apps: one app to help kids who wake up too early develop better sleeping habits (called Kids Clock: A Sleep Trainer for Children) and another app as a fun holiday game where they can look for invisible elves (called Elf Finder 2013: Search and Track Hidden Elves). I’m hoping we’ll have as much success as you have had! Thanks again for the great post.

    A good follow-up article

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